Wednesday 18 November 2015

Battle of Jutland commemoration 1916-2016


Update -29th November 2015

Pleased to announce some more Jutland Centenary information.

There is now an impressive collection of on line resources at the newly established website

Jutland2016           with a related blog to promote updates


And in Denmark there is a Jutland Memorial Park

Memorial Park    

And a Sea War Museum about Jutland, with some English and German language pages to be added soon

Sea War Museum


Picture of Jack Travers  Conrnwell courtesy of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth 

At the time of writing the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth have announced a large centenary exhibition to commemorate the battle of Jutland.

Hopefully one exhibit will the restored sketch of Jack Travers Cornwell (posthumous) VC: The original drawing was made by Frank O. Salisbury. 
(And) "is a 271 x 151.5 cm large preparatory charcoal and pastel sketch which is in a very poor and fragile state and in need of serious conservation.
An appeal has been launched at 

Jack Cornwell

Jack Cornwell -You Tube

A great biographical page comes from the Newham Heritage Project. 
Jack Cornwell-Newham Heritage Project

There is only a further fourteen days left to fund the Appeal.


Jutland Demi-gods 

One of the intriguing facets of Great War at Sea Poetry Project is the occasional elevation  of sailors to the status of  demi-gods .

Most noticeably in Kipling's 'The Verdicts', the verse first introduces then negates the idea. Heroes aren't made in the heat of  battle.

Not in the thick of the fight,
Not in the press of the odds,
Do the heroes come to their height,
Or we know the demi-gods.

But as the last two verses proclaim.....

They are too near to be great,
But our children shall understand
When and how our fate
Was changed, and by whose hand.

Our children shall measure their worth.
We are content to be blind
But we know that we walk on a new-born earth
With the saviours of mankind. 

So heroes are made by the praise of future generations, rather than the 'blind' of the present.

Interesting to note that Kipling implied that the earth was 'new-born' after Jutland. It's hard to think of a sea battle that was so anticipated by so many people.

Elements of the British public wanted a new 'Trafalgar' , the naval lobby of imperial Germany wanted to test their  new fleet in real battle, and crush the British blockade. On 31st May/1st June 1916 the greatest sea battle ever known was fought. It wasn't decisive....British casualties were higher : 6094 men dead with 133,000 tons of shipping sunk compared to the Germans 2551 men dead and 62,300 tons lost.

The numbers of casualties was hardly high by World War 1 battle standards but the long term domination of the North Sea surface by Britain remained. This drove the Germans back to increasing U boat activity which had been partially restricted in 1915.

Amongst the Jutland British dead was the aforementioned Boy First Class John (Jack)  Travers Cornwell of HMS Chester who in Admiral Beatty's words:

Mortally wounded early in the action, he nevertheless remained standing alone at a most exposed post quietly awaiting orders with the gun crew dead and wounded all round him.His age was under 16 1/2  years. I regret that he has since died, but I recommend his case for special recommendation to his memory and as an acknowledgement of the high example set by him. 
(source 'The Battle of Jutland' Geoffrey Bennett, 1964).

A posthumous VC was awarded. Interesting to hear the citation of the 'high example' . A massive amount of the Royal Navy's work during the Great War involved patrolling and blockading. Many of the public wanted active heroism. One response in poetry was the elevation of those who fought.

This is in contrast to modern day historians who have cited the higher British casualty rate and loss of shipping : A prime example can be found in Ben Wilson's 'Empire of the Deep-The Rise and Fall of the British Navy' (2013) , with the author concluding that
 "Raw figures are no basis to claim a victory,however.  Both sides managed to lose the Battle of Jutland..."

Souvenir programme

A Souvenir programme for Jutland, as if it was a show, was published a few weeks after the battle. Consisting of some 36 pages, there was analysis of the battle, commemoration of the British War dead,a history of the Kaiser's navy. Also adverts for various products such as 'Swan Pyjamas', 'Liberty Soap' and cigarettes which featured a set of cards commemorating women's war work. There was one poem, 'To Beatty's Boys' written by one 'Arthur Waghorne'.

At the time of writing I have not managed to establish who Arthur Waghorne was.

Great War at Sea Poetry website page on Jutland

Full text of 'Souvenirs of the  Great Naval Battle and the Roll of Honour' . (Thanks to Tim Lewin for his assistance.)



Were ye Gods, or mere boys. 
In your chariots of grey. 
On the storm-trodden way. 
With your thunderbolt toys 
And the earth-rending noise 

Of your play ? 

As ye drove in swift might 

Down the battle wrecked line. 
Ye were surely divine 

Tor a day and a night. 

In Olympian fight 

On the brine. 

As Immortals ye strove 

At the gun and the wheel, 
From the tops to the keel. 
With the plaudits of Jove 
When your thunderbolts drove 

Through the steel. 

With our grief ocean-deep. 

And our praise heaven-high 
For your messmates who lie 

In their glorious sleep. 

We can smile as we weep 

Our good-bye. 

How the Jubilant cheers. 

That were quenched on their lips 
As they sank with their ships. 

Ever ring in our ears! 

How their glory appears 

Through eclipse! 


Sunday 20 September 2015

Great War at Sea Poetry Project Update -and World War 2 poetry

                                 World War 2 at Sea  Poetry -Alan Ross

                                         Courtesy of the  Imperial War Museum  IWM A51414
                                                     The (Arctic) convoy on the horizon as seen from HMS 
                                                     Inglefield  1943 

After some deliberation it's been decided to move the goal posts a little . The Great War at Sea Poetry Project website at greatwaratseapoetry will keep to its original remit. This blog will also cover World War 2 sea poetry as there is some magnificent work out there which gets overlooked by emphasis on World War 1 poetry.

The Arctic Convoys 1941-1945

As the USSR was blockaded by Germany and their allies, the North Atlantic Fleet despatched some seventy convoys to send vital supplies to Murmansk and Archangel via the Arctic . Merchant ships were protected by Royal Naval destroyers, and aircraft carriers. The weather conditions were horrendous needs to be added to the dangers of being attacked by air, by mines, by torpedoes, by enemy destroyers.

Some of the most impressive war at sea poetry from World War 2 was written by Alan Ross (1922-2001)
who served aboard destroyers on the Arctic Convoys.

Alan Ross -'Survivors'

With the ship burning in their eyes
The white faces float like refuse
In the darkness - the water screwing
Oily circles where the hot steel lies.

They clutch with fingers frozen into claws
The lifebelts thrown from a destroyer,
And see, between the future's doors,
The gasping entrance of the sea.

Taken on board as many as lived, who
Had a mind left for living and the ocean,
They open eyes running with surf,
Heavy with the grey ghosts of explosion.

The meaning is not yet clear,
Where daybreak died in the smile -
And the mouth remained stiff
And grinning, stupid for a while.

But soon they joke, easy and warm,
As men will who have died once
Yet somehow were able to find their way -
Muttering this was not included in their pay.

Later, sleepless at night, the brain spinning
With cracked images, they won't forget
The confusion and the oily dead,
Nor yet the casual knack of living.

Ross' work depicts war realistically, reporting what simply is. Never sentimental, but  neither does he try to argue against the war taking place. In fact in a booklet titled 'Open Sea' published in 1975, he wrote

"I can think of no one I served with, who resented the reasons for the war against Nazi Germany, however intolerable they have found the reality.
What I recall from those years is often resenting the sea as much as the Germans."

Great War at Sea Poetry is sometimes accused of being quite static. There can be triumphalism, evident in poets such as Hopwood and 'Klaxon', the sense of loss that appears in Kipling's 'My Boy Jack', the solitude evoked by Edward Hilton Young, Paul Bewsher, Miles Jeffrey Game Day, the poetic imagination gradually coming to terms with new war technology such as Editha Jenkinson or Henry Head writing about minesweepers or destroyers. It's hard to find examples of Great War at Sea Poetry evoking the heat of battle at sea.

J.W.51.B- A convoy

Alan Ross wrote one epic poem about his experiences  ' J.W.51.B- A convoy', which is an incredible depiction of sea warfare that took place at the Battle of the Barents Sea on 31st December 1942. The opening line is startling

The sea, phlegm-coloured, bone-white, fuming

The language is direct and economical. To take another verse.

'Hammocks swinging as the sea swings,
Creaking and straining and sly.
   One bright eye.
Perpetually open, a smoky fever
Of dream in the lamp's shadowing rings.
Some dreams are for ever. '

One passage particularly recounts the peak of the fighting.

" Hipper and Onslow, sea-horses
Entwining, as one turned, the other
Also, on parallel courses
Steaming, a zig-zag raking
the forenoon, as two forces,
From each other breaking,
Manouvered for position,
Like squids squirting their ink
In defence, ships smoked sky
Round them, camouflaging. "

The courage of those  who served in the Arctic Convoys was arguably downplayed during the Cold War with neither Britain nor the Soviet Union wanting to acknowledge their alliance and military co-operation .
Fiction more than poetry had supplied more emphasis on the Arctic Convoys providing the setting for  Alistair Maclean's first novel 'HMS Ulysses', first published in 1955, and based on the writer's own naval service. Nicholas Monsarrat's seminal novel, 'The Cruel Sea' (1951), though largely about the World War 2 Atlantic convoys, features one Arctic Convoy voyage, which was left out of the 1953 film. 

A highly recommended anthology is Alan Ross Poems-Selected and Introduced by David Hughes 2005 

Further information on the Arctic Convoys

Arctic Convoy Museum project

Naval History Net entry

Wednesday 22 July 2015

The North Sea -Dawn Patrol -A study of Contrasts

Paul Bewsher -'The Dawn Patrol '

                        World War 1 North Sea photo kindly donated by Geoff Harrison

New to the  Great War at Sea Poetry Website , there is a page dedicated to Jeffrey Miles Game Day, of the Royal Naval  Air Service.

Miles Jeffrey Game Day

His plane fell from the sky during air conflict , most likely shot down, over  the North Sea on 27th February 1918. His body was never recovered. He was aged 22 and a posthumous anthology 'Poems and Rhymes' was published in 1919.

Another Royal Naval Air Service poet born  in 1896, was Paul Bewsher (1896-1966) , and both were to win Distinguished Service Crosses. Paul  Bewsher  held a commission in the RNAS as from 1915, and transferred to the RAF in 1918.

Paul Bewsher's published anthology  'The Dawn Patrol, and other poems of an Aviator' in 1917, which is now available to read on line

The Dawn Patrol and other poems of an Aviator

A second anthology, 'The Bombing of Bruges' appeared in 1918.

The Bombing of Bruges

He also completed a war memoir ' 'Green Balls- the adventure of a Night Bomber', published in 1919.
Green Balls

Both men wrote poems titled 'The Joy of Flying', though Bewsher was also to write another poem titled ' The Terror of Flying', and the poems sit near each other in 'The Dawn Patrol' anthology.

What is particuarly striking about Bewsher's work is his strong religious convictions. He dealt with loss of friends killed in action in work such as ' K.L.H died of wounds in The Dardanelles' , also with the theme of  Winter despondency ' Despair' , but his work is optimistic. Removed from the sea and land Bewsher conveys something quite transcendent as shown in his poem below.
Then do I feel with God quite, quite alone,
High in the virgin morn, so white and still,
 And free from human ill:

Very unusual for a 'war poet' to write such a bold statement of faith.  Religion could be used ironically such as in Wilfred Owen's 'Parable of the Old Man and The Young', the retelling of the the biblical account of  Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac . Of Sassoon's despair depicted
'In the Church of St Ouen' (from 1917-published in 'The War Poems' )
' My spirit longs for prayer/ And,  lost to God, I seek him everywhere'
Other poets were unconventional in their faith.   Isaac Rosenberg seemed to be developing his own version of Jewish mysticism evident in the ( unpublished) dramas that he started before being killed in action. Edward Thomas was an agnostic though arguably a pantheist.

Whilst Miles Jeffrey Game Day portrayed the sea in quite dismal terms

'The North Sea'

"Dawn on the drab North Sea!-
colourless, cold and depressing,
with the sun that we long to see
refraining from his blessing."

From Poems and Rhymes

Whilst Paul Bewsher seemed to relish a dawn surveillance flight above The North Sea. 

The Dawn Patrol

Sometimes I fly at dawn above the sea,
Where, underneath, the restless waters flow—
 Silver, and cold, and slow.
Dim in the east there burns a new-born sun,
Whose rosy gleams along the ripples run,        
 Save where the mist droops low,
Hiding the level loneliness from me.

And now appears beneath the milk-white haze
A little fleet of anchored ships, which lie
 In clustered company,        
And seem as they are yet fast bound by sleep,
Although the day has long begun to peep,
 With red-inflam├Ęd eye,
Along the still, deserted ocean ways.

The fresh, cold wind of dawn blows on my face        
As in the sun’s raw heart I swiftly fly,
 And watch the seas glide by.
Scarce human seem I, moving through the skies,
And far removed from warlike enterprise—
 Like some great gull on high        
Whose white and gleaming wings beat on through space.

Then do I feel with God quite, quite alone,
High in the virgin morn, so white and still,
 And free from human ill:
My prayers transcend my feeble earth-bound plaints—        
As though I sang among the happy Saints
 With many a holy thrill—
As though the glowing sun were God’s bright Throne.

My flight is done. I cross the line of foam
That breaks around a town of grey and red,        
 Whose streets and squares lie dead
Beneath the silent dawn—then am I proud
That England’s peace to guard I am allowed;
 Then bow my humble head,
In thanks to Him Who brings me safely home. " 

Sunday 31 May 2015

Return to Kipling- 'The Trade '

                                               Submarine Great War Poetry  

                                         "Smfirstholland". Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia -          

Tin Ships -Kipling 

The ships destroy us above 
And ensnare us beneath. 
We arise, we lie down, and we move 
In the belly of Death. 
The ships have a thousand eyes 
To mark where we come . . . 
But the mirth of a seaport dies 
When our blow gets home.......

On the 1st May 2015 I visited the Royal Naval Submarine Museum at Gosport with my pal Chris Percival. The Museum's publicity mentioned the submarine poem 'The Trade by Rudyard Kipling from 'Sea Warfare' (1916) : A combination of prose commentary and poetry. Worth being reminded of Kipling's role in 'Great
War at Sea Poetry, whose work of this genre included 'The Verdicts', 'My Boy Jack', 'Minesweepers' and
also 'The Lowestoft Boat' which reads more like the lyrics of a folk ballad.

At the outset of the Great War, see poetry had been initially quite triumphalist. The poetry of Ronald Hopwood and 'Klaxon' can be cited immediately. The Sea was portrayed as being part of the Royal

Navy's dominion. In the words of Edward Hilton Young , writing on board HMS Iron Duke in 1914.

The Iron Duke to the Victory
As once with you, so now with me
The Prayers and hopes of England are,
That bear her fortunes on the sea
To some furious Trafalgar.....

At odds with this is the Romantic view evident in such poets as Byron and Swinburne's work in which the Sea is more likely to be portrayed as a chaotic unmanageable element. Taking Byron.

Childe Harold's Pilgrimage ( Canto IV stanza 179)
Roll on, thou deep and dark blue ocean-roll!
Then thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin-his control
Stops with the shore;-upon the watery plain

 The more triumphalist view was obviously needed to contribute to the war effort. The public seemed hungry for a definitive 'Trafalgar' type victory. The Royal Navy were enforcing a slow impact and less glamorous blockade of Germany.

But ruling the waves was not the same as being able to control what was happening beneath the surface : U Boats lurking beneath the waves were a particular menace to older battle cruisers and to merchant shipping .
 ' Tin Ships' shows poetry coming to terms with the brutality of modern sea warfare.

'Tin Fish', reminds one of Imagist poetry which was starting to appear just before the Great War;  direct, with no word wasted. The phrase 'In the belly of Death' seems to parody the 23rd Psalm 'In the Valley of Death'. A commentator from the Kipling Society suggests that this could be an allusion to Jonah in the Whale.

'The Trade' depicts the new class of submariners needed for the war under sea. Taking verse 2 : The reference to 'prize-courts' refers to the rules re prize money, where at times of war sailors could claim enemy ships and their cargo as bounty. In other words there was no chance of reward for their work.

Few prize-courts sit upon their claims.
They seldom tow their targets in.
They follow certain secret aims
Down under, Far from strife or din........

Or from the last verse....the public don't know what to expect from the submariners. They can't enrol them in dreams of a new 'Trafalgar' . But neither do they fear resentful if  their expectations aren't realised. It's not the submariners who are expected to deliver the new 'Trafalgar'

Their feats, their fortunes and their fames
Are hidden from their nearest kin;
No eager public backs or blames,
No journal prints the yarn they spin

The Submariner wouldn't even have a uniform as such . Men wore old sweaters. They were outside tradition and the public imagination.

Kipling's poetry related to the Great War at Sea is fascinating because he moves beyond triumphalism or viewing the sea as a chaotic element and takes a different approach. There is a quite a brutal new realism emerging. Kipling's view of the war at sea involves submarines,mines, mine sweepers, small boats pressed to join the war effort -'The Fringes of the Fleet'.

'Sea-Warfare' text

Kipling Society paper on 'Tin Fish'

Royal Naval Submarine Museum

                                                      The writer of this blog- Photo -Chris Percival 

The Trade 

THEY bear, in place of classic names,
Letters and numbers on their skin.
They play their grisly blindfold games
 In little boxes made of tin.
Sometimes they stalk the Zeppelin,
Sometimes they learn where mines are laid,
Or where the Baltic ice is thin.
That is the custom of "The Trade."

Few prize-courts sit upon their claims.
They seldom tow their targets in.
They follow certain secret aims
Down under, Far from strife or din.
When they are ready to begin
No flag is flown, no fuss is made
More than the shearing of a pin.
That is the custom of "The Trade."

The Scout's quadruple funnel flames
A mark from Sweden to the Swin,
The Cruiser's thund'rous screw proclaims
Her comings out and goings in:
But only whiffs of paraffin
Or creamy rings that fizz and fade
Show where the one-eyed Death has been
That is the custom of "The Trade."

Their feats, their fortunes and their fames
Are hidden from their nearest kin;
No eager public backs or blames,
No journal prints the yarn they spin
(The Censor would not let it in! )
 When they return from run or raid.
Unheard they work, unseen they win.
That is the custom of "The Trade." 

Friday 24 April 2015

Gallipoli Centenary, and Sea Poetry from the Coastline

                                            25th April 2015

                                         Imperial War Museum Q61110                                      

The main Great War at Sea Poetry Project website now features a  Gallipoli Webpage

Decided to post two poems here which are about amphibious landing, from two poets who fought at Gallipoli.

               John Still ( 1880- 1941) served at Gallipoli with the 6th East Yorks (Pioneers) . He was captured at Suvla Bay on 9th August 1915,  and was a prisoner of war until 1st November 1918. He wrote poems and hid them in a hollow walking stick. On his release they were published as 'Poems in Captivity' (1919). An account of his time in a Turkish prison was published in 1920 as 'A Prisoner In Turkey'. 
( Biographical information taken from David Childs & Vivien Whelpton 'British & Irish Poets of the Gallipoli Campaign, 1915, Heirs Of Achilles, Cecil Woolf Press, 2011).
 John Still's work  ranged from long Romantic epic poems, some quite tender pieces about realising that his baby daughter-born in his absence- had reached her first birthday, about having one's own birthday and Christmas in prison. 
John Still's poem describes landing at Suvla Bay (extract).  



A BELL rang in the engine-room, 
And with the ceasing of the sound 
Small noises sprang to life all round. 
Across the water, in the gloom, 
We saw the coast like a long low mound. 

The water babbled along the hull, 
The scent of thyme was in the air, 
Borne from the shore just over there, 
And in that momentary lull 
To me the world seemed very fair. 

The sweetly-scented starlit hills 
Breathed of bees and summer flowers 
Dreaming through the midnight hours, 
While fate's slow-grinding mills 
Rolled their resistless powers. 

Suddenly shots rang out, and flashes 
Shattered the dark with stabbing stings, 
And bullets borne on whistling wings 
Rang on the hull, or made small splashes 
Like living, eager, evil things................

John Still's work can be read on line

Poems in Captivity

A Prisoner in Turkey

                   Geoffrey Dearmer (1893- 1996), one of the last Gallipoli veterans, dying at the age of 103. Born three days after Wilfred Owen, Dearmer's work fell from popular taste despite successful anthologies i-'Poems' (1918)  and 'A Day's Delight' (1923). Virginia Woolf favourably reviewed Dearmer's 'Poems' alongside Siegfried Sassoon's 'Counter Attack' in the Times Literary Supplement of 11th July 1918. Both men had brothers who died in the Gallipoli campaign; Dearmer's brother Christopher, lieutenant in the Royal Naval Air Service, died of wounds on 6th October 1915.

After a seventy year hiatus a further anthology 'A Pilgrim's Song' was published in 1993.  In between times, Dearmer had written prose, worked in the theatre, then for the BBC presenting children's programmes.

A recent 'Daily Telegraph' article states that Dearmer was an officer serving with the 2/2nd battalion  London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) and arriving at Gallipoli on 13th October 1915. He was later to serve on the Western Front, leaving the army in 1920.

Both poems record the impressions of landing on a foreign coastline. The sea is not portrayed as some chaotic element that one finds in romantic poetry, but rather as 'babbling' or 'slowly waking'. Still arrives by sea into the middle of the August Days, the last real chance that the Allies had of a Gallipoli breakthrough. By the time Dreamer reached Gallipoli, the campaign was waning.

From ‘W’ Beach

The Isle of Imbros, set in turquoise blue,
Lies to the westward; on the eastern side
The purple hills of Asia fade from view,
And rolling battleships at anchor ride.

White flocks of cloud float by, the sunset glows,
And dipping gulls fleck a slow-waking sea,
Where dim steel-shadowed forms with foaming bows
Wind up in the Narrows towards Gallipoli.

No colour breaks this tongue of barren land
Save where a group of huddled tents gleams white;
Before me ugly shapes like spectres stand,
And wooden crosses cleave the waning light.

Now the sky gardeners speed the hurrying day
And sow the plains of night with silver grain;
So shall this transient havoc fade away
And the proud cape be beautiful again.

Laden with figs and olives, or a freight
Of purple grapes, tanned singing men shall row,
Chanting wild songs of how Eternal Fate
Withstood that fierce invasion long ago.

 Taken from All Poetry website 

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Sea Garden

'Sea Garden'  HD ( Hilda Doolittle-1886-1961)

At times wonder if devotees of War Poetry over-estimate its literary importance. Recently found an anthology titled 'Vintage Verse-An Anthology of Poetry in English' edited by Clifford Bax from 1944. The range of poetry included starts with work from 1290 leading through the centuries to T.S.Elliott.

The only  poet who served during the Great War that is included herein was Rupert Brooke, with one poem 'The Hill' ( written in 1910). The only poem which has any reference to the Great War is Thomas Hardy's 'In Time of the Breaking Of Nations' from 1915.

On a similar note, delighted to find that HD ( Hilda Dolittle) anthology 'Sea Garden' from 1916, now available to read on line. Also interested to note the lack of interest in war as the subject of  poetry contained therein. HD was American  who had lived in Britain since 1911. Her husband, fellow Imagist poet Richard Aldington volunteered for military service in June 1916 ; he had little choice, the Military Service Act of 1916 had been extended to permit the conscription of married men on 25th May 1916.  HD then became assistant editor of 'The Egoist' magazine in absence of her husband. Richard Aldington was a notable 'war poet' and author of the novel 'Death of a Hero'  (1929).

Richard Aldington biographer Vivien Whelpton kindly advises:

"But there is a long poem which is specifically about the war – ‘The Tribute’, which appeared in The Egoist in 1916 and a private publication in 1917, but was not ‘properly’ published until 1924 in the collection entitled Heliodora.  The ‘tribute’ is to Aldington and all those who are fighting. (‘O youth the cities have sent/To strike at each other’s strength,/It is you who have kept her [Beauty] alight.’"

 'Sea Garden' was published in September 1916 . Now available here.
Project Gutenberg- Sea Garden

The anthology seemed to have incorporated poetry that HD had written over three years. 'The Wind Sleepers'  is one of the most impressive contributions-copied below.. True to the Imagist style of refusing to use any word that does not contribute to the presentation of the work, it is stark to the point of bleakness. There is a sense  helplessness; perhaps connected to the Great War, also the turbulence of the writer's own inner life.

The Wind Sleepers





Continuing the theme of whether Great War sea poetry which seems removed from the sense of conflict. There is also D H Lawrence's 'The Mystic Blue' from 1916. To D H Lawrence the sea contained the mystery of death. Perhaps a cryptic reference to the new weapons such as mines and U boats but overall this poem doesn't immediately connect to the poetry that is most associated to 1916.

The Mystic Blue clr gif
Out of the darkness, fretted sometimes in its sleeping,
Jets of sparks in fountains of blue come leaping
To sight, revealing a secret, numberless secrets keeping.

Sometimes the darkness trapped within a wheel
Runs into speed like a dream, the blue of the steel
Showing the rocking darkness now a-reel.

And out of the invisible, streams of bright blue drops
Rain from the showery heavens, and bright blue crops
Surge from the under-dark to their ladder-tops.

And all the manifold blue and joyous eyes,
The rainbow arching over in the skies,
New sparks of wonder opening in surprise.

All these pure things come foam and spray of the sea
Of Darkness abundant, which shaken mysteriously,
Breaks into dazzle of living, as dolphins that leap from the sea
Of midnight shake it to fire, so the secret of death we see.


Vivien Whelpton's website Vivien Whelpton

Hilda Doolittle websites      Hilda Doolittle

Monday 23 February 2015

HMS Hampshire and more- February 2015

Kitchener and HMS Hampshire- centenary of the HMS Hampshire sinking

Picture of the Kitchener Memorial, Marwick Head, courtesy of the Kitchener Memorial Facebook page

The Orkney Heritage Society have posted the following

In June 1916 HMS Hampshire hit a mine and sank in a gale near Orkney. Earl Kitchener and more that 730 other men died: 12 survived. Orkney Heritage Society is restoring Orkney's Kitchener Memorial and creating a commemorative wall inscribed with the names of the other men who died. Cost £200,000.

As mentioned on the Great War at Sea Poetry Website, the death of Lord Kitchener on 5th June 1916 was the event of contemporary Great War at Sea Poetry. A whole published anthology was dedicated to him and appeared at the end of 1916.
'A selection of the best poems in memory of the late Field Marshall Lord Kitchener K.G' edited by Chas Forshaw, the founder of the British Institute of Poetry. None of the poems are titled.

Taking the first verses from this anthology written by Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland, whose contribution appears on pages 225-227.

"As some watch shooting stars, serrated clouds
Sun's half-half eclipse, so on the sky of State
They watched his name, blazoned in liquid fire,
And humbly gazed, and gazing knew it great.

No words demanded; by a subtle spell
Of dogged silence clinging to his past.
The East gave tribute, and the startled South
Linked to the West-they gave him all their heart.

Mysterious Helmsman on uncertain tides,
Few knew his course , few wish to ask him more
They scanned his steadfast face, then fell asleep
He was their pilot through the tempest's roar.

And all the while the ancient call he heard
'Come overseas'-the cry of Vera- Tyr
You of immortal breed, through fire and blood
Through snow and ice, we guard your golden spear ...."

Such poetry disturbs anyone who belongs to the more 'Disenchantment' view where Britain's participation in the Great War is considered as a meaningless tragedy . War here is portrayed in heroic, in fact Pagan terms. Reminds one of Julian Grenfell's 'Into Battle' where war seems to be part of a vision of greater nature. Millicent 's reference to Tyr -the one armed Norse god of war is interesting. Kitchener is eulogised as belonging to some pantheon of mythical figures.

The fact that Kitchener's body was never found added to the mysteries and conspiracy theories.

It is easy to see how the other casualties of HMS Hampshire, were overlooked when the 1926 original Kitchener memorial was unveiled, so it is welcome to hear that there will be a memorial wall listing all of the HMS Hampshire men's names constructed there. Donations can be made via the 'Just Giving ' link below.

Orkney Heritage Society Just Giving

Kitchener/HMS Hampshire memorial blog

Great War at Sea Poetry Kitchener page

In Brief 

Following recent post about Wilfrid Gibson, pleased to announce that the Friends of the Dymick Poets, whose remit includes Gibson, are now linked to the Great War at Sea Poetry website.
Friends of the Dymock Poets

Also pleased to notice that the Forgotten Wrecks of First World War project have their own page on
'Great War Maritime Poetry'. The 'Forgotten Wrecks' project is an excellent initiative and their page on war at sea poetry is welcome.

Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War

Great War Maritime Poetry

 It has also been a pleasure to make on-line contact with 'World War 1 East Sussex'-a fantastic website indeed.
World War 1 East Sussex

Main website should be updated soon with a page about 'Gallipoli & Great War at Sea Poetry' in time for the centenary.
Great War at Sea Poetry

Finally, glad that the Isaac Rosenberg tribute night is now list for Sunday 26th April 2015 7.30pm at the Liberal Jewish Synagogue, St. Johns Wood,  London.
Isaac Rosenberg event

The story of Isaac Rosenberg, the East End Jewish boy who became a great poet and painter and died in the trenches of the Great War, told through words and music.
Presentations of Rosenberg's poems and letters, read by Michael Rosen, Elaine Feinsteinand Lee Montague
Music by John Ireland, RV Williams, Ivor Gurney - performed by Phillip Bell (tenor), accompanied by Simon Haynes (piano)
Yiddish songs - Vivi Lachs
Premiere of song settings of Rosenberg's poems by Simon Biazeck
Biographical presentation - Jean Moorcroft Wilson

Saturday 10 January 2015

Wilfrid Wilson Gibson

 Wilfrid Wilson Gibson -'Troopship Mid-Atlantic '

     (S.S. Baltic : Mid-Atlantic : July 1917) 

Dark waters into crystalline brilliance break
About the keel, as through the moonless night
The dark ship moves in its own moving lake
Of phosphorescent cold moon-coloured light;
And to the clear horizon, all around
Drift pools of fiery beryl flashing bright
As though, still flashing, quenchless, cold and white,
A million moons in the dark green waters drowned.

And staring at the magic with eyes adream,
That never till now have looked upon the sea,
Boys from the Middle-West lounge listlessly
In the unlanterned darkness, boys who go
Beckoned by some unchallengeable gleam
To unknown lands to fight an unknown foe

My pal Sea Jane from the Great War Forum kindly directed me to this poem here. Wilfrid Wilson Gibson was born in Hexham in 1878, and had several poetry collections published in his life, dying in 1962.  This poem is from an anthology  A miscellany of poetry - 1919 edited by W. Kean Seymour with decorations by Doris Palmer (London: Cecil Palmer and Hayward, 1919).
Wilfrid Wilson Gibson is an intriguing figure. Connected to the Georgian poets, being friends with Rupert Brooke and renowned literary patron Eddie Marsh, he managed to have work included in all the Georgian Poetry anthologies from 1913-1922, and was a prolific writer of poetry.
Gibson's war poetry is so effective that it has been assumed that he fought on the Western Front. Perhaps his poem  'Breakfast' is the most known about a soldiers' life on the Front. 

"We ate our breakfast lying on our backs, 
Because the shells were screeching overhead. 
I bet a rasher to a loaf of bread
 That Hull United would beat Halifax... "

 In fact Gibson was rejected for war service due to poor eyesight until 1917 ,then able to join the Army Service Corps Motor Transport . He never saw active service overseas . Largely forgotten from the mid-1930's onwards, attempts have been made to revalue his work. Martin Stephens in his 1996 work 'The Price of Pity ' paid his tribute to his use of the colloquial language of the ordinary soldier. Professor Tim Kendall included a section on Gibson in his 2013 anthology 'Poetry of the First World War ' , stressing that "Gibson's Battle (1915) was among the first volumes of poetry to convey the actualities of War as experienced by common soldiers'.  Tim Kendall maintains that Gurney, Sassoon, Owen, Graves and Rosenberg all praised his work. 

Returning to poem 'Troopship' , it certainly was a poem in two halves. The first verse depicts the troop ship as a lake of light crossing a dark ocean. The second verse focusing on the mid-West boys who were being sent of to war in another continent :Why  was Gibson using  the  SS Baltic and the passage of US troops to the Western Front as a theme? Drawing on Tim Kendall above, seems that Gibson embarked on a lecture tour of the USA in the first half of 1917, so would have been there when the USA declared war on Germany .  The first half of 1917 saw a huge number of Allied ships being destroyed by U boats so an Atlantic crossing had its dangers. 

Perhaps  Gibson's work helped stimulate war poetry by encouraging those fighting to write about how they perceived their experience of conflict. Alternately the fact that Gibson didn't directly see the fighting may make his war poems of only secondary value.  But 'Troopship Mid-Atlantic' needs to be added to the website page on 'Troopships'

UPDATE   New blog launched by Michael Bully February 2023  related to Charles Dickens/ 'dark' Victoriana 
                   Bleak Chesney Wold