The Lighthouse Keeper’s Christmas

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from Trinity House!

We hope everyone stays safe at sea (and everywhere else), especially at this cold, dark time of the year.

To help celebrate the period, we still have a number of seasonal cards and the 2013 calendar is still on offer at the online store.

For those of you wondering what the holiday period meant for lighthouse keepers, the following festive account is reproduced from Trinity House’s Flash magazine of 1987:

THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER’S CHRISTMAS

by Principal Keeper Handel (‘Andy’) Bluer, Pendeen Lighthouse  [1987]

It is the middle of December and a gale is blowing. The sky is dark although it is mid-day and the sea is the colour of lead with long white streaks of windblown spume scarring the surface.

The sort of day to put some more coal on the fire and curl up in front of it with a book if you do not HAVE to go out.

But there are people who DO have to go out and the keeper returning to the Lighthouse is one of them.

His period of leave is over and he huddles in the shelter of the buildings at the tiny airfield waiting for the sound of the approaching helicopter above the howling wind.

Eventually the helicopter comes into view its navigation lights flashing and twinkling in the gloom. Lower and lower it descends, facing the buffeting wind until it lands, not too far, from the waiting Keeper and his trolley loaded with boxes of stores.

This year he will be spending Christmas at the Lighthouse with two colleagues already out there and the boxes contain all the food they will need for the next month together, with some ‘extras’ for Christmas Day.

Once all the boxes are stowed into the cargo space of the helicopter the Keeper climbs in through a side door and sits on a bench seat behind the pilot and engineer. The rotor blades spin faster and faster and the tiny helicopter is in the air once more and is immediately blown sideways with the force of the gale but the pilot skilfully corrects the course and heads for the “Tower” some six miles further out in the Atlantic Ocean. After a few minutes flying they see it.

It looks very like a tall factory chimney standing all alone in the sea but with a lot of scaffolding around the top. As they get nearer the ‘scaffolding’ is revealed as a strong steel structure supporting a platform on which the helicopter will land. The platform doesn’t look very big but as they approach they see that it is quite large enough for their helicopter.

After landing all the boxes are unloaded and lowered through hatches in the landing platform to the Keepers waiting below. When all this has been done the Keeper going home climbs into the helicopter taking the place of the Keeper reporting for duty. A quick wave from the pilot and the helicopter zooms up and away, heading for land again.

On the Lighthouse the Keepers begin the task of emptying the boxes and stowing away the meat in the freezer or the ‘fridge. As they do so they are chatting eagerly and passing on the latest bits of news from ashore and from the other Lighthouses. Then, as they open one box, they find a letter inside. It’s from the local Round Table/Rotary Clubs informing them that this is a hamper donated specially to the Keepers who will be away from home this Christmas.

Apart from a plump fowl they find a big cake and a super box of crackers. Everything else in the hamper is in threes… three tins of fruit, three small Christmas puddings, three net ‘stockings’ of oranges, apples and nuts, and so on ensuring that each man gets an equal share of the ‘Goodies’. This may not be the only ‘present’ the Keepers get because sometimes the local Church will send out a hamper and occasionally Lighthouses get “adopted” by Guides or Brownie Packs or schools who will send letters and cards to let the Keepers know that they will not be forgotten.

It looks as though the Keepers will have a splendid time after all because, of course, they have all got presents from their own families too.

But, in the meantime, the work of the Lighthouse must go on. Every morning when the sun is above the horizon the light is extinguished and heavy curtains hung down the interior of the lantern to protect the ‘Optic’ from the sun. The Optic is a series of very strong lenses some six feet in diameter mounted in a bronze and steel rotating framework weighing about two and a half tonnes. It is massive and as soon as the curtains have been hung the Keeper sets to dust and polish it and oil the machinery and generally see that all is ready for lighting up later that evening.

Different days bring different tasks designed to keep the Lighthouse in tip top condition. One day is given over to washing the glazing… the ‘windows’ of the lantern… and although the insides are easy, it is a different matter when the Keeper has to clean the outsides, one hundred and eighty feet above the sea!!! Then there are the engines and electric generators to clean and overhaul so that they are ready for use at a moment’s notice.

Every day the floors will be swept and washed all the way down from the lantern to the entrance door… eight flights of curving stairs down!!

Only when the Keeper has finished all his routine duties is he free to spend time on his hobby or even just reading. Nowadays every Lighthouse has radio and colour television but keepers still will often spend time together playing games like Chess, Cards or Dominoes.

Christmas time is the time when they really ‘get-together’.

A couple of days before Christmas they put up a few streamers and decorations in the Sitting Room and display all the cards they have received and, from the cupboard under the stairs, they retrieve the old plastic Christmas tree that they have had for years. A few baubles and bits of tinsel and the room takes on quite a festive air.

All at once it is Christmas.

At breakfast the Keepers greet each other and exchange little gifts then, as soon as breakfast is over start to unwrap the presents from their families. There are “Oooh’s” and “Aaah’s” and “Blow-me-Downs” intermingled with the laughter as the brightly coloured wrapping paper covers the floor.

Over the extra cup of coffee they sit silent and their eyes glaze a little as they perhaps picture their own children opening presents under the Christmas tree at home.

“Come on… Shift yourselves!” calls one Keeper. “Can’t sit ‘ere all day”. He is ‘Cook-of-the-Day’ today and there is a bird to get in the oven, a pudding to steam, potatoes to roast and sprouts to boil and a hundred and one things that go towards dinner on Christmas Day.

The other two leave the Kitchen and take the opportunity to telephone home their “Merry Christmasses” to their respective families.

Christmas dinner is superb. The bird is done to a turn, the stuffing mouth watering. The ‘taters are brown and crisp and the pudding with Brandy Sauce… Mmmm.!! They really enjoy it and pretend not to notice the pile of pans and dishes in the sink waiting to be washed up.

Eventually when every cup is back on its hook and every pan In its place in the rack the Keepers retire to the Sitting Room where they will relax for a while. Coloured paper hats are donned as they pull a cracker or two. Then out come the ‘once-a-year’ fat cigars that seem to signify Christmas to a lot of men… and possibly a glass of home-made wine as they sit back and watch the Queen on the ‘telly’.

After the Queen’s Speech they jump up and turn on the radio transmitter. It has been a tradition ever since radio was introduced that, on Christmas Day afternoon, each Lighthouse will, on a special frequency, call up the neighbouring lights … some may be up to a hundred miles away… and in turn will serenade each other with a Carol or two that they have rehearsed. How the families ashore enjoy it, for they too have been listening in on the radio back home and for a few minutes the Keepers do not seem too far away after all.

But soon the reality of their position is brought home to the Keepers again as the approaching dusk tells them it is time to ‘light-up’. The Keeper on duty will go down to the engine room near the base of the Tower and starts up one of the powerful diesel engines that powers a large electric generator. When everything is running smoothly, he toils up the stairs again all the way up to the lantern. There he takes down the heavy protective curtains, switches on the electric motor to rotate the Optic then, after testing the ‘Standby Lamp’, throws the switch to light the ‘main’ lamp of some 3,500 Watts. The blinding light is magnified by the lenses in the Optic and rhythmic, monotonous spokes of light are revolving out over the sea. All night the five million candlepower beams will signal to passing ships the location of the lighthouse and signpost a safe passage for them.

In the Kitchen the kettle has boiled again and a pot of strong tea is brewed. The remainder of the bird is eaten, the cake is cut and shared out with a bowl of fruit and cream for each man.

After tea it is back to the Sitting Room again for more crackers and nuts and television for the rest or the evening… except for one man. He is on duty and often must leave the room to check the light… the engines… the visibility for even the slightest gathering of mist will alert him to prepare the Fog Signal machinery.

Hopefully that will not be necessary but he notices that the barometer is reading lower and they may be in for another gale. “Ah well!” he thinks; “We aren’t going anywhere for a while anyway and here inside the Lighthouse we are warm and safe.” “I’m Cook-of-the-Day tomorrow, Boxing Day, and there’s that Leg of Pork and Parsnips and Apple Sauce.”

“Merry Christmas”.

Pendeen Lighthouse

Pendeen Lighthouse

Editor’s note accompanying article:

Pendeen Lighthouse was established in 1900. In David Mudd’s book “Cornish Sea Lights” the author says of the station “It is not to the disgrace of the lighthouse to say that it has had an uneventful and unspectacular life and that in the period from the switching on of the electric light in 1926 to the outbreak of war its records are amongst the least exciting of any in Britain…”

H. (Andy) Bluer reckons that nothing has really altered. However there was a flurry of excitement in 1985 when the Crown Prince of Japan made an unscheduled visit. For all that, Pendeen has one of the most picturesque situations in the land standing between Gurnard’s Head and Cape Cornwall warning mariners of the danger of the Wra Stones off the head.

The first beacon was an ecclesiastical foundation, established in the sixteenth century as an adjunct to the nearby Chapel of St. Nicholas. It was maintained for the benefit of mariners to the cost of the church, and tended by a hermit; the antiquary John Leland (1506-52) notes that there stood “a pharos for a light for ships failing by night in these quarters”. The beacon disappeared at the dissolution of the monasteries.

The present lighthouse, established in 1900, and built of rubble stone rendered with cement mortar, was designed by a Cornishman, Sir Thomas Matthews, who was Engineer-in-Chief to Trinity House from 1892-1915.

Mr. Bluer’s tale was published in September 1986 by A & C Black in their children’s classwork A Christmas Tinderbox.

A Very Very Brief Introduction to the History of the Corporation of Trinity House

So as to give readers of this blog a little bit of an overview of Trinity House history, here is a very brief run through the basics of what we’ve been doing for the last 500 years. If you follow the blog, however, you’ll soon come to realise that we’re far more than the sum of the jobs that we have signed up to do; the blog will roll out over time the stories, the quirks, the characters, the photos, the treasures and more that will form a fuller, more descriptive picture of who we really are.

Setting the scene  Early British sea power

In the late 1400s, King Henry VII mandated the development of both a navy and a merchant marine, noting that the fleet vital to the kingdom’s military and economic security was so decayed that England would soon lack the power and ability to defend itself. The increase in overseas trade demanded a strong navy; Henry built three large men-of-war, which became the nucleus of the navy, including the 1,000 ton, four-masted Henri Grace a Dieu, with its crew of 700.

History 1

Henry VIII  Mariners’ petition  Royal Charter  Light Dues  Almshouses  Deptford yard

When Henry VIII ascended the throne, he built upon the momentum created by his late father, establishing the Royal Dockyards at Deptford and Woolwich on the banks of the Thames in 1513. In March that same year a group of mariners—describing themselves as “your humble subjects and true liegemen the masters rulers and mariners of your navy within your River of Thames”—sent a petition to the king on the issue of the lack of suitably qualified mariners to pilot ships on the River Thames.

The petitioners pointed out that many of the men being hired by shipowners to pilot ships up and down the Thames were inexperienced and unregulated. They also stressed that there could be serious consequences if this practice continued, as it was dangerous to allow “foreigners, including Scots, Flemings and French, the opportunity to learn the secrets of the King’s streams.”

The Charter was accepted on 20 May 1514 by Sir Thomas Spert, Master of the Henri Grace a Dieu and the first Master of the new Corporation, on behalf of The Master Wardens and Assistants of the Guild Fraternity or Brotherhood of the Most Glorious and Undivided Trinity and of Saint Clement in the parish of Deptford Strond in the county of Kent, the Corporation’s full name to this day.

The earliest charter is loose in its description of the Corporation’s powers, but does allow for the Corporation to collect a levy from ships using its beacons and buoys on the Thames. Payment was six pence for two-masted ships, four pence for one-masted vessels, two pence for others. In the seventeenth century, 90% of the nation’s commerce passed through London.

The Brethren (or Wardens and Assistants as they are also known) were responsible for, among other affairs, the maintenance and management of the almshouses for retired seamen and their benefactors at Deptford and Mile End. This duty is carried on today, with the homes at Walmer in Kent. The Brethren would also become responsible for the smooth operation, manning and victualling of the king’s yard at Deptford.

Act of Elizabeth 1566  Ballastage  James II Charter 1685

Through faithful and competent service, the Corporation’s powers were increased and evolved by various grants and charters, as well as the exclusive right in 1594 to sell ballastage dredged from the Thames, an important income for the Corporation’s charitable works.

The ‘Seamarks’ Act of Elizabeth, in giving the Corporation powers to erect seamarks, describes the corporation as “a company of the chiefest and most expert masters and governors of ships incorporate within themselves, charged with the conduction of the queen’s majesty’s navy royal, and bound to foresee the good increase and maintenance of ships and of all kind of men traded and brought up by watercraft most meet for her majesty’s marine service.”

Amongst several subsequent royal charters, including the rights conferred by James I 1604 concerning the compulsory pilotage of shipping, and the exclusive right to license pilots in the River Thames, that granted by James II in 1685 is most important in defining the constitution of the Corporation, and is still the governing document to this day.

New powers, new responsibilities

In the seventeenth century the sphere of the Corporation’s activities had become so wide that it would probably be difficult to discover any maritime matter in which the Brethren had not some authority or interest. It was their business to erect beacons, to lay buoys, grant certificates to Pilots, settle the rate of pilotage, examine and recommend Masters for the Navy (until 1874 they examined the Officers of the Navigation Branch, formerly known as Masters and Mates) and at times to act as an auxiliary press gang. They also examined the Mathematical Scholars of Christ’s Hospital and appointed British Consuls in foreign ports.

History 2

Lighthouses

The first lighthouse built by the Corporation was at Lowestoft in 1609. A long interval, however, elapsed before the Corporation became responsible for the management of all lighthouses owing to the continued practice of the Crown of issuing patents or grants of lighthouses to private individuals. In 1836 Trinity House was given compulsory powers to levy out the private owners and to maintain the lights itself at a cost of £1,200,000. The Lighthouse Board and its operational arm the Lighthouse Service is now responsible for 68 major lighthouses within its jurisdiction, as well as the great many buoys, beacons and lightvessels.

The Charity  Cadet training  Education  Welfare of seamen

As a charitable body, Trinity House has always maintained homes and offered welfare and pensions for mariners and their dependants; the last of the homes is now at Walmer, Kent. In addition, Trinity House has for centuries managed a number of legacies left by former Elder Brethren and other benefactors of the Corporation.

In April 1989, following a long-standing tradition of sending young men to sea through benevolent bequests, the Trinity House Scholarship Cadet Training Scheme was launched using the Corporation’s charitable funds to provide training for deck and engine room cadets—both male and female—for a career in the Merchant Navy or elsewhere in the shipping industry.

The charitable arm of the Corporation disperses around £4 million in grants for the welfare of retired seamen, the training of Merchant Marine and leisure industry cadets and the education and promotion of safety at sea.

Local Pilotage — Deep Sea Pilotage

The Pilotage Act, 1987 brought to an end over 4½ centuries of Trinity House’s superintendence of over 40 pilotage districts around the UK, most notably the examination and licensing of Master Mariners fit to bring ships in and out of Britain’s ports. Although these responsibilities were transferred to various harbour authorities, Trinity House has retained a hand in deep sea pilotage licensing.

History 3

The Master  The Elder Brethren  the Court  Uniform

The Corporation of Trinity House is led by a Court of Elder Brethren under the Master, HRH The Princess Royal. Power is delegated from the Court to two separate Boards which control, respectively, the charitable and deep sea pilotage activities of the Corporation, and the Lighthouse Service.

The Corporate Board consists of Elder Brethren, who are Master Mariners with long experience of command in the Royal and Merchant Navies, together with leading figures in the world of commerce, and the Secretary. The Lighthouse Board comprises Elder Brethren, senior staff and non-executive directors appointed by the Department for Transport and is supported by administrative and technical staff at the London headquarters, the Harwich and Swansea depots and the airbase at St. Just.

Well-known Masters and Brethren have included Samuel Pepys, William Pitt, William Gladstone, Winston Churchill, Duke of Wellington, Admiral Sir William Penn, Benjamin Disraeli, and Admiral Lord Mountbatten, among many others.

Sir Winston Churchill took pride in wearing his Elder Brother’s uniform, frequently courting curiosity in this distinguished attire. The much-beloved 17th century diarist Samuel Pepys, twice Master of TH, often enjoyed “a good dinner of plain meat, and good company” and maintained that “there was discourse worth hearing among the old seamen.”

History 4

Today  Mission statement  Functions  Quincentenary May 2014

Today, Trinity House performs three core functions:

– First, as the General Lighthouse Authority (GLA) for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar, responsible for a range of nearly 600 general aids to navigation, from lighthouses to a satellite navigation service. Its also inspects and audits over 10,000 Aids to Navigation provided by local port and harbour authorities and on offshore structures. Trinity House is also responsible for marking and sometimes dispersing wrecks which are a danger to navigation.

– Second, as a charitable organisation dedicated to the safety, welfare and training of mariners.

– Third, as a Deep Sea Pilotage Authority providing expert navigators for ships trading in Northern European waters.

It also provides the Admiralty Court with Assessors and assists judges on technical navigation issues at the same court; the fraternity’s pool of maritime knowledge also supports all of Trinity House’s other functions.

The mission statement of the three combined GLAs (alongside the Northern Lighthouse Board and Commissioners of Irish Lights) is “To deliver a reliable, efficient and cost effective Aids to Navigation Service for the benefit and safety of all mariners.”

There are not too many independent organisations that can take pride in almost half a millennium of service, broadly retaining the same constitution over that time. Lloyds List wrote of Trinity House in 1914, on the occasion of its quatercentenary, that “It has served the nation in this capacity and that, and all the while it has somehow managed to make itself so indispensable that, in an age of scant reverence for ancient institutions, it stands not only unassailed, but, we might also add, unassailable.”

Now that the brief introduction is through, hopefully you know a little more about us or at least enough that what follows on this blog will make sense. Let’s now get on with plumbing the depths of what we think you will find a very diverse and interesting history, and we hope that on 20 May 2014 (and for the rest of that year too) you will join us in celebrating our 500th anniversary.

ps. In case you were wondering, the Saint Clement referred to in the Corporation’s title is usually considered to be Clemens Romanus, third Bishop of Rome (but the first of that name), who died in AD101 and is regarded as one of the Patron Saints of sailors.

Trinity House and the Blitz

See the damage done to the area around (and including!) Trinity House at Tower Hill > Bomb Sight is Live.

“The Bomb Sight project is mapping the London WW2 bomb census between 7/10/1940 and 06/06/1941. Previously available only by viewing in the Reading Room at The National Archives, Bomb Sight is making the maps available to citizen researchers, academics and students. They will be able to explore where the bombs fell and to discover memories and photographs from the period.”

Congratulations to everyone involved with this project!

Trinity House lost a great deal during the Blitz: many paintings, historical artefacts, invaluable archives, ancient books and more when an incendiary bomb came down upon the house on the night of 29 December 1940; thankfully no staff members lost their lives.

Trinity House 1940 Bomb Damage internal

Trinity House 1940 Bomb Damage internal

THE LOSS OF THE HOUSE

Before the war was declared, arrangements had been made to evacuate not only the staff, but also most of the valuable contents of the house on Tower Hill. The silver plate and the most valuable paintings were safely removed to the vaults beneath the Tower of London’s Jewel Tower, with the remainder of the paintings sent to Bayham Abbey in Kent.

Knowing that the 17th century Trinity House comprised timber-built rooms connected by wooden stairs and passages, the Elder Brethren had, from the very first days of the war, organised themselves and their staff into trained fire-fighting parties who were on duty both day and night.

By late 1940 the paintings stored beneath the Tower were showing signs of damp, and so another house was found for them in Northumberland. They were temporarily brought back to Trinity House on 28 December 1940 for repairs, and were due to travel north on the 30th.

On the night of 29 December, however, Trinity House fell victim to the most severe of the air attacks on London. When incendiary bombs landed on the wooden beams of the house, fire fighters were able put out the first fire caused by the bombs, but the shortage of water prevented their efforts to extinguish subsequent fires.

On the morning of 31 December 1940 the staff found the whole of the Wyatt building and the offices at the back with their walls more or less intact, but the interiors completely gutted; apart from the separate East Wing, the only surviving portion of the building was the basement wine cellar. Many archives, rarities, fine models, hangings and paintings were destroyed, save for the paintings that had been at Bayham Abbey, and some archives and books that had gone to the countryside.

But normal business had to be resumed, and a number of interim offices were leased over the following years, as the various Departments occupied spaces at the Swedish Chamber of Commerce, Tower House, Hopetown House in Lloyds Avenue, the General Steam Navigation offices in Trinity Church Square, London House in Crutched Friars and Ocean House in Great Tower Street.

THE RESTORATION OF THE HOUSE 

Professor (later Sir) Albert Richardson initially submitted plans for building a new house, but the Brethren were determined to not only reinstate Wyatt’s building as it had been, but also to demolish the old Pilotage Service office building and build in its place a new library, grand enough to host functions and banquets, laid with carpet of the same pattern used in cabins of ships of the line at the end of the 18th century, as well as offices and sleeping quarters elsewhere in the building. In addition, an entirely new seven-storey office block was built at the rear, with laboratories, a research department and recreation rooms.

Wyatt’s building restored at last, the house was reopened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on 21 October 1953 — Trafalgar Day.

Trinity House 1940 Bomb Damage external

Trinity House 1940 Bomb Damage external

‘Homeward Bound’

The passage that follows is the first of many excerpts from the archived editions of the Trinity House in-house magazine Flash, which would later branch out into its public-facing sister magazine Horizon, available to all by subscription via the main website.

This recollection of a Royal Navy warship bringing sailors and officers home to English shores after a two-year absence was submitted anonymously to Flash magazine for its January 1959 issue.

HOMEWARD BOUND

He must, I thought, have been a writer—he had such a descriptive way of talking—a bit of a dreamer too, in a romantic sort of way. Actually, he looked neither. We met many years ago on a train bound for the West Country, and somehow I thought I had seen him before. We shared a carriage, and I put him down as a Naval officer going down to join his ship at Devonport. I was actually fairly near the mark for he told me when we got talking somewhere the other side of Reading that he had been in the Navy but was wounded in the 1st War and had to leave. He had a brother in it now, and stayed with him occasionally on board his ship and elsewhere.

He said he was sold to the sea—spent all the time he could on it—ocean trips in the winter, and sailing out of Falmouth in a boat of his own in the summer.

He said, “Have you ever come up Channel on a calm, clear moonlit summer’s night, with the Scilly lights astern and the Longships, Wolf and the rest of them coming up ahead of’ you? It’s something you don’t forget. Those lights, they are all old friends of mine. And old friends too, I know, to countless sailors. The sailor doesn’t say so”, he said, “takes it all a bit for granted. Not altogether though. Let me tell you a little tale, if it doesn’t bore you. It’s many years ago now.”

“My brother” he said, “was bringing his ship, a cruiser, home from a commission in the Far East, and he asked me if I’d like a passage home from Gibraltar. It suited me very well as I had friends out there who had asked me to stay. So, I had a fortnight on the Rock which I enjoyed very much, before my brother’s ship came in.

“A gallant sight she was, steaming in one blue, sunny morning, with her band playing and the long paying off pennant flying. I had a very happy welcome aboard. They had been 2½ years abroad and, although they held enjoyed their foreign service they were now longing for the first sight of England and their homeland.

“We had a pleasant passage North and, late one evening were running into soundings away down there to the West; the traffic getting thicker; the deep blue of the ocean water giving way to the muddy look of the Channel, and word had got round the ship that we would sight the first of the English lights at 11 p.m. Well, I thought, I’d go up and see this; and what a surprise I got. Up there were Ship’s Officers who could hardly have been on the bridge the whole commission—the Surgeon Commander, Paymaster-Commander, Padre—several others—all hanging out over the port side of the bridge, and down on the fo’c’sle below, I saw the rails packed with sailors, all too looking out over the port bow.

I was privileged and allowed on to the upper bridge, and there I found the Officer of the Watch, the Navigating Officer and the Midshipman of the Watch, all looking out too over the port rails.

“I never saw anything like that before this commission” said the Pilot (as they call the Navigating Officer) to me.

“No” I said, “but they haven’t had this to look for before.”

“You are right” he said. “After all these years, it seems hard to believe we are nearly home.”

And then, suddenly, an excited young voice: “There it is! Look Sir, out there, on that low cloud.” The Midshipman with his young eyes had seen it first.

“I can’t see a thing” said the OOW. “Oh, yes, you’re right—good for you—“ and then, remembering himself, “That’s not the way to report a light.”

“Sorry, Sir—Red 40, the glare of a light.”

And then, a hail from the lookout on the wing of the bridge below us—“Light on port bow, Sir.” And then we all saw it—the glare of a powerful light on the low-lying cloud. “Lizard Light,” I heard the NO say to my brother, who had just come up.

As watched we saw the glare get stronger, and then, up over the horizon came the light itself—what all those eager eyes were looking for—the first sight of England.

I stayed on for some time listening to the quiet talk of those young men on the upper bridge. I heard the Lieut. on Watch say to the Navigator “I remember, I was on watch here when we were outward bound over two years ago. Funny somehow to see that light again, flashing away exactly the same. “Well”, said the other, “there’d be awful trouble if it wasn’t.” “Yes”, said the Lieutenant, “but you know it’s different tonight.” Yes, I know what you mean” was the reply. “Last time it was saying goodbye, now its saying to us, “You’re home.”

My companion stopped there, and we were silent for a while as the train roared through Swindon and out into the open country beyond. I think both our thoughts were back with those young men in that ship coming home to this green countryside.

“That wasn’t quite the end?” I asked.

“No”, he said, “I’ll tell you. The morning found us sliding round the breakwater into the Sound. The King’s Harbour Master came on board to take the ship in and on she went round the bend by the Island until the green hills of the West Country came down and hid her from sight and all that could be seen were the mastheads with that long pennant flying.

But I was up on the bridge, and as we approached our berth I could see quite a crowd waiting—wives, mothers, fathers—waving, laughing, some crying. I watched the ship put neatly alongside, and the Captain ring off the engines for the last time.

I was in no hurry to go down, and on my way I looked into the Charthouse. There I found the Navigating Officer and his Chief Quartermaster packing up the charts and instruments for the last time.

The Navigating Officer had a chart out on the table and I saw he was comparing his estimated position with his fix when we made the Lizard Light away down in the West the night before. I heard him say to his Chief Q.M., “We saw the glare of that Light about 50 miles off last night.” “Did you, Sir?” said the Chief Q. M. “It must be a very good light.”

“Ah, yes” was the reply, “but then, you see, it’s a Trinity House Light.”

“Well, there it is,” my travelling companion said, “It probably sounds a bit fanciful and sentimental, but it is true.”

“Yes,” I said, “I know it’s true. I was the Navigating Officer.”

Lizard at Night from Housel Bay

Lizard Lighthouse at night from Housel Bay. All rights reserved.