The Battle of the Eastern Scruff

During the First World War, Brixham trawlers would often find themselves under attack from German U-Boats. One of the most famous encounters would be remembered as the ‘Battle of the Eastern Scruff’. Alas the only casualty was the ship’s cat from one of the vessels. It’s all now part of Brixham folk lore.

The Battle of the Eastern Scruff

The tin fish surfaced amid the Brownsail fleet,
A deep dive menace in manufactured metal so shiny and so sleek
Taking aim without a sound and peppering ships with shells,
Splintered jibs and sullied sails to sink to their watery hells.

Sometimes a soul acts braver than it ordinarily could.
The sea became a jumbled mess of ropes and sail and wood.
A bullhorn grabbed, a skipper yelled the first thing he could blurt,
‘Stop it now, you silly fools, or someone will get hurt!’

Some boats made sail and hauled in nets, began to drift afar.
Others braved a hail of shells losing masts and booms and spar.
A boiler bursts with repeated hits spewing smoke and flame and steam,
A cacophony of tangled wrecks now circled the submarine.

Ship after ship disabled now, shrapnel and shot galore,
Broken decks and tangled nets this outpost of an uncalled war
Till all at once as if their thirst at last was suddenly sated
The firing stopped, the fishing fleet was torn and emaciated.

When hearts are strong and souls laid bare and fortune is a dance,
When fate steps in enmeshed with luck and quirks of circumstance,
Not a soul did waver nor for their safety choose to weep
A day which started normally now threatened with the briny deep.

Yet not a life was lost that day and of the boats only two,
Towed to port or rescued by their fellow fishing crew.
Welcomed home by onlookers limping wrecked and ruined and rough,
Wide-eyed men with tales to tell of the battle of the Eastern Scruff.

One hundred years and more have passed as I wandered on the quay
To ponder on this episode and such high-seas gallantry,
And tales of fortitude and pride and undoubted bravery
Of souls unwittingly tied forever with Brixham history.

Author: Robert Garnham

Performance and spoken word artist.

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