Monday, 16 December 2019

Kindly Light

This is based on a story my father often told about his first night on a troopship leaving Canada for the Second World War (December 16, 1940).  The ship traveled with its lights off at night to avoid detection by the enemy.






 

Aboard the Louis Pasteur as she left Pier 21
The waving hankies vanished into grey December sea
We were drilled and shined and ready, we were willing, we were young
The Blitz of '40 calling, and a motherland in need.
But night had fallen hard upon me, lonely, blind, and cold
I wandered to the railing with a hymn to brace my soul:

     Lead, kindly light, amid th'encircling gloom,
     Lead Thou me on.
     The night is dark and I am far from home,
     Lead Thou me on.
    Keep Thou my feet, I do not ask to see
    The distant scene; one step enough for me.

And through the wind and darkness, I heard voices backing mine
I guess at least a dozen, though I never did see who
"D'you know Old Rugged Cross?" came a whisper down the line
And so we kept on singing for another verse or two.
And whether we were thinking of that hill so far away
Or little towns behind us, or the price that we might pay:

     Lead, kindly light, amid th'encircling gloom,
     Lead Thou me on.
     The night is dark and I am far from home,
     Lead Thou me on.
    Keep Thou my feet, I do not ask to see
    The distant scene; one step enough for me.

And each man had his favourite and we sang them all by heart
The notes of home and heaven 'gainst the drone of engine noise
Oh Little Town of Bethlehem, and then How Great Thou Art
The words I'd sung so many times with Isa and the boys.
Until at last we stumbled to our hammocks down below
A little more like brothers and a little less alone:

     Lead, kindly light, amid th'encircling gloom,
     Lead Thou me on.
     The night is dark and I am far from home,
     Lead Thou me on.
    Keep Thou my feet, I do not ask to see
    The distant scene; one step enough for me.


Notes:
  • The story is based on an excerpt from the unfinished manuscript Take Post by H. Jack and Harold J. Parsons, which reads as follows:
'We left Halifax on a cold, cloudy day and after a few hours we were out of sight of land and tossing on a gray sea.  it was the first experience of the ocean for most of us.  That evening I wandered to the stern of the ship and it was very cold and very dark.  I felt very alone and began to sing "Lead kindly light amid encircling gloom." To my surprise, other voices joined in.  Then a voice from the darkness asked did I know "The Old Rugged Cross."  So it came next and I would guess that at least a dozen voices were involved.  We must have had at least a half-hour of old favourites sung by memory.  Who the hidden singers were I had no idea.'
  • "Isa and the boys" refers to my father's first wife, Isa Orser, and their oldest sons, Doug and Wally Parsons. 
  • The verses (music and lyrics) are (c) 2019 by Marion Parsons.  The chorus is a public domain hymn "Lead Kindly Light", lyrics composed 1833 by John Henry Newman, set to the melody Sandon.

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