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 lightning, 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 spirit 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.

For 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 ship’s 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 foredoomed 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 the gauges all read red
Twelve 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 heroes 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, till steamships sail no more,
Amid the boiler’s mighty heat and the turbines 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.”

— Anonymous

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