Anything: we would do anything at all. “Unless you are an officer in the Royal Navy.” Alas, we were not. Again our hearts melted in despair. It was as if the high seas rolled and reeled beneath our hope like this fragile ship riding a storm. The naval life, we had thought, was not for us.
The HMS Our World was a passenger ship. We had boarded her with the intention of enjoying a pleasant voyage. For a while we were fine. Trouble was the last thing expected, though traditionally that is most often the case. Young and old alike, we all rejoiced to be free from restraint; we revelled in luxury, floating on peril as if it were air. We were free, or so we thought. We perceived the services a bore: something to avoid at all costs, and never a career option! How fast the turning of our paradigm was when we found our lives depended upon it. And there was our calamity. We had sown – we now reap.
“How much will passage cost?” we yelled, desperate for some way aboard. The captain held out his hands to pull back the sleeves of his jacket. What we saw changed us forever. He revealed the wounds in his hands: scarred tissue and callused skin, marks of a lifetime of pain and turmoil. He spoke these words into the centre of our being.
“How much did it cost me?” Solemnity washed over us as he asked his question. No answer was required. We knew the price he had paid to be here this day. He had won the right to Captain the HMS Salvation with his life. A price not one of us now able to pay.
“There is a one way,” he said. “Become officers in my navy. Join the great ranks of men and women, like those who have sailed before you, and swear an oath to become one of them.”
We wondered. Could it be that easy? To save our lives all we need do is repeat an oath? How long must we join for? we thought. In our minds we asked ourselves, was the tour of duty five years or ten? What station can we fill? Can we attain a rank of honour and esteem? As is he heard our thoughts he answered.
“You must, as I have done, be willing to give your whole life.”
“Why?” we cried. “How can you ask this much?”