Prose & Poetry - The Muse in Arms - News of Jutland

"News of Jutland" by Roma White First published in London in November 1917 and reprinted in February 1918 The Muse in Arms comprised, in the words of editor E. B. Osborne:

"A collection of war poems, for the most part written in the field of action, by seamen, soldiers, and flying men who are serving, or have served, in the Great War".

Below is one of eight poems featured within the Sea Affair section of the collection.  You can access other poems within the section via the sidebar to the right.

News of Jutland
by Roma White

June 3rd, 1916

(On June 3, 1916, when the news of our sad losses in our first great naval battle off the Jutland Bank had just come to hand, I went fishing with a sailor on the Naval Reserve. The following lines are, almost word for word, a transcript of his talk.)

The news had flashed throughout the land,
The night had dropped in dread -
What would the morrow's sunrise tell
Of England's mighty dead?
What homes were wrecked? What hearts were doomed
To bleed in sorrow's school!

At early morn I sought my friend,
The fisherman of Poole.

He waited there beside the steps:
The boat rocked just below:
"You're ready, m'm? The morning's fine!
I thought as how you'd go!
I dug the bait an hour agone -
We calls 'em 'lug-worms' here.
The news is grave? Aye, so I've heard!
Step in! Your skirt is clear.

"My brothers? Any news, you ask?
No, m'm! Nor like to be
A fortnight yet! Maybe they're both
Asleep beneath the sea!
I saw' em start two years agone
Next August - and I says
We'll see 'em back by Christmas time -
But we don't know God's ways!

"I'll pull her round the fishing-boats!
The Polly's lying there!
D'you see her, m'm? The prettiest smack
For weather foul or fair!
It's just the ways they've builded her
As seems to make her feel
Alive! She's fifty sovereigns' worth
O' lead along her keel.

"Fine men my brothers war - I'll tie
Her up against this boom!
Don't fear to move free! This here boat
Is built with lots o' room!
You're safe with Jacob Matthews, m'm!
He's ne'er been called a fool
By any of the fisher-folk
As lives in little Poole!

"How many left? Well, maybe half;
They've gone off one by one.
It's likely I'll be gone myself
Afore the war is done.
Attested just a month agone,
And passed for fit and sound -
It's shallow here for flat-fish, m'm,
The boat's well-nigh aground.

"I'll throw your line out - that'll do!
Aye, fights on sea are grave!
There ain't no Red Cross people there
To lift you off the wave!
There ain't no 'cover' you can take,
No places to lie down!
You got to go - wi' red-hot shells
Just helping you to drown!

"It minds me of a night we men
Had got the life-boat out.
They'd 'phoned us up! And off we pulled
With many a cheer and shout!
We rowed her hard up to the wind,
And clear the moonlight shone -
But when we reached - you see, just there -
Both ship and crew were gone!

"We cruised around for half an hour!
Ah, m'm, our hearts was sore!
We'd looked to throw the line to them,
And bring' em safe to shore!
Aye! these blue waves ha' swallowed up
More finer men than me!
But we've been always fisher-folk,
And we can't fear the sea!

"Why, there's a catch! Aye, pull it in!
'Tis on your second hook!
Well, that's as odd a little fish
As e'er a line ha' took!
I've ne'er seen nothing like it, m'm -
Don't touch it wi' your hand -
These strange 'uns prick like poison, m'm,
Sometimes - you understand?

"I'll take it off! It won't hurt me!
You wonder what it's called?
I couldn't say! The rummest thing
That ever yet was hauled!
A farthing's worth o' queerness, m'm,
I'd name it if 'twas priced!
A young John Dory? No - they bears
The marks o' Jesus Christ.

"You'll see His fingers and His thumb!
Where are they? Well, a bit
Beyond the gills - look! Here's the place,
Just where I'm holding it!
So this ain't no John Dory, m'm!
I'll put it safe away!
You'll tell your friends you pulled it from
The bottom o' Poole Bay!

"'Twas better than a submarine?
There ain't such devils here!
We've got the North Sea trawlers down,
They keeps the harbour clear!
You saw a heap o' tangled wire
A-lyin' on the quay?
And thought as they'd just hauled it up?
Aye, m'm! That's how 'twould be.

"We're what they calls a' Naval Base,
Since this here war abroke!
You seen it up? Aye, yonder there!
'Tis hard for fisher-folk!
We gets our catches in the night!
But we mayn't leave the Bay
Save when the sun is on the sea -
You don't catch much by day!

"But we've our bit to bear, as much
As richer men nor we.
We got to get a 'permit' now
To take our nets to sea.
We starts at dawn - if tides is right -
And, when the sun be gone,
Unless we lie inside the booms
We'd like be fired upon!

"You want to see the mack'rel shoals?
They come in black as - see -
Yon house that's tarred from roof to floor
Just there, beside the quay!
My smack's up now by Christchurch steps,
I've got my 'permit' signed!
I'll take you out o' Thursday next
If so be you've a mind?

I shan't be gone? Not yet! I waits
Until I gets the call! -
If you'll come out, m'm, with the nets,
I'll promise you a haul!
You're safe with Jacob Matthews, m'm!
He's ne'er been called a fool
By any of the fisher-folk
The war has left in Poole!"

A respirator was a gas mask in which air was inhaled through a metal box of chemicals.

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