A poem to tug at the heartstrings

TUGS, though still important vessels on the Tyne, are no longer as profuse on the river as they once were.

Bob Buyers' father was a tug engineman and for more than a dozen years, from the Second World War until he joined the Merchant Navy in 1955, Bob loved to spend his holidays away from school aboard vessels of the busy tug fleet.

Bob, formerly of South Shields and now living in Forest Hall, Newcastle, has been a keen writer of both prose and poetry for more than 40 years.

Recently, he put together a compilation of his articles for family and friends, dedicated to Backworth Male Voice Choir of which he is a member.

They cover subjects as diverse as music, the experience of growing old, cats and old-fashioned sweets.

The poem on the right is from a small section devoted to ships and the Tyne, and captures the flavour of a typical working day on the river in the early 1950s.

The ship in question, the Ocean Monarch, was built in 1951 at Vickers Armstrong on the Tyne for Furness Withy.

IN the early hours of a winter's day we're with the Joffre's crew,

Huddling on Stanhope Landing, whistling 'cock-a-doodle-do.'

To many this may seem so strange but before you start to scoff,

It's a signal for the cabin boy to give us a way-off.*

From out the veil of morning mist he sculls the tug's small boat,

And we load it to the gunwale till you'd wonder it could float.

Then like seaweed wafting with the tide the upright figures sway,

As we head toward the silent buoys for getting underway.

Both the engineer and fireman make straight for down below

While the crew on deck get singled-up and the Joffre ready to go.

But the fiery roar from the stoke hold is a reminder of work unseen,

With the engine slowly warming-through to take the rising steam.

But now at last they're ready – the engine, the boat and its crew.

Off to a job up the river; on the way there'll be time for a brew.

The skipper rings down 'full-ahead' as a foyboat furls its sail,

To hitch a tow with its boat hook slung over our after rail.

Soon we're surging up the river, foyboat dancing in our wake.

To port there's Readhead's shipyard and the props in Jarrow Slake.

Then up past Palmer's, Hebburn, and as dawn peeps through the rain,

We berth at Walker Naval Yard 'neath the giant hammer crane.

The Ocean Monarch sails today out on her maiden trip,

But the water-boat's not finished yet and still 'longside our ship.

Their water-hose are leather and ideal for cobbling shoes,

So with luck we'll get some off-cuts while awaiting further news.

The four tugs on the tow now show the mastery of their craft,

As two take hold up for'd and the other two lay aft.

Then stern-first down the river till we come abreast Bill Quay,

Where she's swing about to point her eager bow towards the sea.

Once more heading down the Tyne on a tide that's ebbing fast.

She's got a bone between her teeth and the river banks slide past.

Then with a farewell blast on the whistle to the onlookers' echoing cheers,

She slips the town in the Haven and sails out between the piers.

* Way-off means water taxi.