d day by LF
Sir: I Missed You
by Stephen Howarth

in wistful tribute to Lawrence Ferlinghetti

I am still waiting for
travel restrictions to be eased
to let me visit the Bolinas cemetery
and pay respects to
a young officer, US Navy, who
by delivering three sub-chasers
across the steep Atlantick stream
to the islands of Shetland,
halfway between Scotland and Norway,
played a small but vital part in
my father’s wartime spy-ring.

Despite having had a lifetime
to learn of his involvement,
I never knew of it, so
I am still waiting to try
my best to overcome
the missed opportunity of
astonishing coincidence

missed through ignorance
that could have led me to City Lights
armed with a unique connection to
its admired founder
that could scarcely have failed to
engage his attention
activate his memories and maybe even lead
who knows
to some kind of lasting link

I am still waiting in hope
though can scarcely say for what
and I am still waiting in wonder
at the greats that have gone before me

I wouldn’t have dared aspire to friendship but
who knows
and now I never will unless
something wonderful occurs
after my own death
and so
I am still waiting

PHOTO: D-Day, June 6, 1944, off the coast of Normandy, France. Photo by Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

lf navy

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: During the Second World War, my father David Howarth and his best friend Richard Dimbleby, a rising megastar of the BBC, became the world’s first radio war correspondents. Bored with the “Phoney War” period, my Dad moved on to join the Royal Navy, initially on the lower deck, and was soon granted a commission as an officer. In 1941, neutral Norway was invaded by the Nazis. Knowing and loving Norway, and as a speaker of Norwegian, he gained a posting to Shetland: Britain’s most northerly part, the island archipelago halfway between Scotland and Norway. Until the war’s end, he worked there as second-in-command (and in daily operational charge) of a spy ring that became nicknamed “The Shetland Bus.” In a book of the same name, first published in 1951 and never out of print since then, he told this truly heroic story in his typically self-effacing style. ¶ Happily and proudly half-Shetland, I grew up with this as an essential part of my life. The Bus functioned independently of the British Admiralty, and in its history there were two almost distinct periods. In the first, Norwegian fishing boats were used to take war supplies (weaponry and ammunition, explosives, maps, radios, and so on) to the Norwegian resistance, as well as commandos, agents and saboteurs. Their voyages had to be done under cover of darkness, which in those Northerly latitudes meant entirely in winter, often under gale conditions. The entire nature of the operation was transformed when the US Navy provided three sub-chasers to take over the role of the fishing boats. ¶ Despite growing up with this, I am still learning about it—and something I never knew until too late was that the young American naval officer who showed the Norwegians how to work those sub-chasers was Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

PHOTO: U.S. Navy Lieutenant Lawrence Ferlinghetti aboard the submarine chaser he commanded during WWII.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Stephen Howarth has been an independent professional author of history all his working life. He served in the Royal Naval Reserves, both on the lower deck and as an officer, and wrote the official centenary history of the RNR – for which he was appointed an honorary Commander by HM the Queen. He is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and of the Royal Geographical Society, and a Life Member of the US Naval Institute and The 1805 Club. He earned a Master’s degree (with Distinction) in creative writing at Nottingham Trent University.