Lay of the Last Signalman/Sparkers Ode

The Lay of the Last Signalman

On a thickly-wooded sponson, where the last projector stands, The museum pair of hand-flags hanging idly in my hands, With my jargon half-forgotten, of my stock-in-trade bereft, I wonder what’s ahead of me – the only Bunting left.

The relics of my ancient craft have vanished one by one. The cruiser arc, the morse flag and manoeuvring lights have gone And I hear they’d be useless in the final global war As the helio, the foghorn and the masthead semaphore.

The mast is sprouting gadgets like a nightmare Christmas tree. There are whips and stubs and wave-guides where my halyards used to be. And I couldn’t hoist a tackline through the lunatic array, For at every height and angle there’s a dipole in the way.

The alert and hawk-eyed signalman is rendered obsolete By electrically-operated Optics of the Fleet, And the leaping barracuda or the charging submarine Can be sighted as blob upon a fluorescent screen.

To delete the human error, to erase a noble breed, We rely upon a relay, and we pin our faith to Creed, So we press a button, make a switch and spin a little wheel. And it’s cent per cent efficient – when we’re on an even keel.

But again I may be needed, for the time will surely come When we have to talk in silence, and the modern stuff is dumb, When the signal lantern’s flashing or the flags are flying free – It was good enough for Nelson, and it’s good enough for me.

The Sparkers Ode

A nondescript nonentity, a limb of the oppressed, I wear no badges on my arm, no medals on my chest, But though my past is colourless, my future dim and bleak, I cherish a distinction which is probably unique.


Of all the mass of traffic through the torture ether hurled, By all the busy Tels of all the navies of the world, No morse of mine impinged upon a fellow sparker’s ear; I never sent a signal in the whole of my career.

I used to wonder meekly when control would let me inTo add my little quota to the universal din. Then realised my destiny, surrendered to my fate, Eternally to sit and serve by being told to wait.

But once – and only once – I found my baser self constrained To break the wireless silence I so rigidly maintained. My weary watch was over, my relief was overdue, I gently, briefly, pressed the key to see what it would do.

I often sit and wonder where that blameless dot has gone, If still through endless time and space it hurries bravely on, Disowned by its creator, and dismissed its parent ship, Unauthorised, attenuated, lonely little pip.

But though beyond our universe its travels may extend, It still will bear my fingerprints on reaching journey’s end And beings in some unknown world may trace it back to me, As surely as the Flagship did in 1943.