The Snipes Lament

The Snipes Lament

NOW EACH OF US FROM TIME TO TIME, HAS GAZED UPON THE SEA,

AND WATCHED THE WARSHIPS PULLING OUT,

 TO KEEP THEIR COUNTRY FREE.

AND MOST OF US HAVE READ A BOOK; OR HEARD A LUSTY TALE,

ABOUT THE MEN WHO SAIL THESE SHIPS;

 THROUGH LIGHTING, WIND AND HAIL.

 

BUT THERE’S A PLACE WITHIN EACH SHIP,

 THAT LEGEND FAILS TO TELL

IT’S DOWN BELOW THE WATERLINE,

 IT TAKES A LIVING TOLL

A HEATED METAL LIVING HELL

 THAT SAILORS CALL “THE HOLE”.

 

IT HOUSES ENGINES RUN BY STEAM,

 THAT MAKES THE SHAFTS GO ROUND.

A PLACE OF FIRE AND NOISE AND HEAT,

 THAT BEATS YOUR SPIRITS DOWN.

 

WHERE BOILERS ARE THE HELLISH HEART,

 WITH BLOOD OF ANGRY STEAM;

THESE MOLDED GODS WITHOUT REMORSE,

 LIKE NIGHTMARES IN A DREAM.

 

THE ROARING FIRES POSE A THREAT

 LIKE LIVING LIFE IN DOUBT,

FOR AT ANY MINUTE WITHOUT SCORN,

 COULD ESCAPE AND CRUSH YOU OUT.

WHERE TURBINES SCREAM LIKE TORTURED SOULS,

 ALONE AND LOST IN HELL,

WITH ORDERS FROM SOMEWHERE ABOVE,

 THEY ANSWER EVERY BELL.

 

THE MEN WHO KEEP THE FIRES LIT,

 AND MAKE THE ENGINES RUN,

ARE STRANGERS TO THE WORLD OF LIGHT,

 AND RARELY SEE THE SUN.

THEY HAVE NO TIME FOR MAN OR GOD,

 NO TOLERANCE FOR FEAR,

THEIR ASPECT PAYS NO LIVING THING

 THE TRIBUTE OF A TEAR.

 

THERE’S LITTLE THAT MEN CAN DO,

 THAT THESE MEN HAVE NOT DONE,

BENEATH THE DECKS, DEEP IN THE HOLE,

 TO MAKE THE ENGINES RUN.

 

AND EVERY HOUR OF EVERY DAY,

 THEY KEEP THEIR WATCH IN HELL,

FOR IF THE FIRES EVER FAIL,

 THEIR SHIPS A USELESS SHELL.

 

WHEN SHIPS CONVERGE TO HAVE A WAR

 UPON AN ANGRY SEA,

THE MEN BELOW JUST GRIMLY SMILE

 AT WHAT THEIR FATE MIGHT BE.

THEY’RE LOCKED BELOW, LIKE MEN ‘FORE DOOMED,

 WHO HEAR NO BATTLE CRY,

IT’S WELL ASSUMED THAT IF THEY’RE HIT

 THE MEN BELOW WILL DIE.

 

FOR EVERY DAY’S A WAR DOWN THERE,

 WHEN GAUGES ALL READ RED.

SEVEN HUNDRED POUNDS OF HEATED STEAM,

 CAN KILL YOU MIGHTY DEAD.

SO IF YOU EVER WRITE THEIR SONS,

 OR TRY TO TELL THEIR TALE,

THE VERY WORDS SHOULD MAKE YOU HEAR

 A FIRED FURNACE WAIL.

 

THESE “MEN OF STEEL”

 THE PUBLIC NEVER GETS TO KNOW.

SO LITTLE’S HEARD ABOUT THE PLACE,

 THAT SAILORS CALL “THE HOLE”.

BUT I CAN SING ABOUT THIS PLACE,

 AND TRY TO MAKE YOU SEE,

THE HARDENED LIFE OF MEN DOWN THERE,

 ‘CAUSE ONE OF THEM IS ME.

 

I’VE SEEN THESE SWEAT SOAKED HEROS FIGHT,

 IN SUPERHEATED AIR.

TO KEEP THEIR SHIP ALIVE AND RIGHT,

 THOUGH NO ONE KNOWS THEY’RE THERE.

AND THUS THEY’LL FIGHT FOR AGES ON,

 ‘TIL STEAMSHIPS SAIL NO MORE,

AMID THE BOILER’S MIGHTY HEAT

 AND TURBINE’S HELLISH ROAR.

 

SO WHEN YOU SEE A SHIP PULL OUT

 TO MEET A WARSHIP FOE.

REMEMBER FAINTLY, IF YOU CAN,

 “THE MEN WHO SAIL BELOW”.

A “Snipe” in the Navy is an enlisted person in an engineering rating, specifically those rates that work below the waterline

in Engineering Main Propulsion spaces. They include Machinist’s MatesBoiler Techs, Electrician’s Mate.

In Medieval days up till the early 1800’s there were no engines and no Snipes. Along about 1812 the Navy obtained their first paddle wheel steamer named the USS Fulton. To run the boiler and engine, men of steam were also acquired. They were not sailors but engineers from early land based steam engines.

From the beginning the sailors did not like or appreciate these landsmen and their foul smoky plants. They were treated with contempt and pretty much given the short end of the stick. In spite of all this the steam engine prevailed. There were still two crews however – The Engineers and the Deck Crew.

Soon an Engineer Officer was appointed to each ship. He was the Engineer master and all the Engineers reported to him. The Deck sailors reported to the ships master. Curiously, the two masters were on equal footing and neither was over the other.

The Deck Master though was in the best position. He controlled the quarters and rations. The Engineers were still at the mercy of the deck gang. By the height of the civil war, as steam was taking over and sails were disappearing the old Admirals that controlled the Navy were in a quandary what to do about the situation.

They accomplished a couple of things. First, they managed to make the senior Master a Captain. As Captain he was in overall command of the ship and the Engineering officer reported to him. Beings as how there were occasions that the Engineer master outranked the ships master something had to be done to keep the Engineer from becoming “Captain”. To solve this problem they developed two separate Officer branches – Staff and Line.

Only Line Officers could succeed to command. Staff Officers would always be subservient to Line Officers at sea. Staff Officers consisted of Surgeons, Supply and yes, Engineering officers. To this day that is still true. The second change was to make all engineers Navy men, however they were also made junior to all deck sailors. A petty officer machinist was junior to a deck seaman third. All this went to make the life of the engineers even more miserable. They could now be flogged and harassed at will by the Deck crew.

Along about this time came an Engineer Officer by the name of John Snipes. No one can find the name of the ship he first appeared on, but he was a different cut from the others. He demanded sleeping accommodations, and food equal to the Deck gang. He also declared that there would be no more harassment for his gang. When the ship’s Captain laughed at him Snipes simply had his men put out the fires in the boiler. To make a long story short, Snipes brought about the changes in the system.

In time these changes extended to the entire Naval fleet. The Engineers became strictly “hands off” for the Deck gang. They became known as Snipe’s men and over the years as just Snipes.

cv11texfcm@gmail.com

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