In this vivid first-person tale of the Battle of the Atlantic in World War II, the Australian poet Michael Thwaites takes us into the hearts, minds and experiences of the men of the Royal Navy's `small ships'.
The converted trawler, named Wastwater after the Cumbrian lake, was only 57 feet longer than Christopher Columbus's Santa Maria and would have been dwarfed by Nelson's Victory.
Thwaites was a Rhodes Scholar, and the book launch took place at Rhodes House in Oxford. Robert O'Neill, the Chichele Professor of the History of War, described it as `giving some wonderful insights into what participation in a war is like.... One sees war through the eyes of a very perceptive and sensitive individual, but set within a wider story of the war itself.'
You can smell the oil in the engine room, feel the sting of salt spray in an Arctic gale, enjoy the irrepressible humour of the British seamen under every kind of duress, and taste the baked beans in the galley. Thwaites draws on his rich store of the classics to describe his experiences.
The author's love of his wife, Honor, of his fellow human beings and of Britain and Australia suffuse his tale. He includes the reader in his ship's company and in the pain of separation from Honor and their little son.
In one 20-month stretch on anti-U-boat patrol, Wastwater made an almost complete circuit of the North Atlantic, out from Aberdeen and back to Gourock. Iceland, Newfoundland, the United States, the Caribbean, Latin America and the West African coast are the setting for a well crafted tale of adventure, tension, danger, boredom, joys and shrewd but kindly insights into the diverse characters that made up the ship's complement of 32.
On escort duty in submarine-haunted waters, they did not lose a ship from their convoys. And, thanks to skilful navigation, they were in the right place at the right time to rescue 63 men from a torpedoed ship, and the airmen from a downed flying boat.
There is high drama and pathos here, reminiscent of Nicholas Monserrat's The Cruel Sea, yet with the added thread of faith in the weaving, and with honesty about his own nature by the author. Moving poems from his own pen illustrate the action and Honor's letters from England, often months delayed, tell of the waiting and hoping and keeping faith.
The vivid descriptions of the long, dark winter nights, riding herd to a slow moving convoy carrying life-saving supplies for Britain, recalled my own experiences on anti-U-boat patrol in an RAAF flying boat over the North Atlantic and North Sea following D-Day. So I suppose I am inclined to be partial in my praise of this very readable, often moving and always entertaining book.
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|Publication:||For A Change|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Aug 1, 1999|
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