|The H.M.S. President, which used to be moored off Bouverie Street
in London in 1918, was the vessel on whose books all the Naval
personnel in London offices (like the Admiralty) were registered.
This poem is a dream of what might have happened if only a
few of the thousands in the Admiralty and elsewhere tried
to go aboard the ship and put to sea.
THE VOYAGE OF THE H.M.S. PRESIDENT
eighteen bells in the larboard watch with a neap tide running
And a gale blew out of the Ludgate Hills when the President put
An old mule came down Bouverie Street to give her a helping hand
And I didn’t think much of the ship as such, but the crew was
The bo’sun stood on the Hoxton bus and blew the Luncheon Call
And the ship’s crew came from the four wide winds, but chiefly
They came like sand on a wind-swept strand, like shots from a
And the old mule stood with the tow-rope on and said, “It can’t
With a glitter of wiggly braid they came, with a clatter of forms
The little A.P.’s they swarmed like bees, the Commodores stretched
Post-Captains came with hats aflame, and Admirals by the ell
And which of the lot was the biggest pot there was never a man
They choked the staggering quarter-deck and did the thing no good
They hung like tars on the mizzen-spars (Or those of the crowd
Far out of view still streamed the queue when the moke said, “Well
If I’ll compete with the whole damn Fleet,” and he pushed off
down the road.
And the great ship she sailed after him, though the Lord knows
how she did
With her gunwales getting a terrible wetting and a brace of her
stern sheets hid
When up and spoke a sailor-bloke and he said, “It strikes me queer
And I’ve sailed the sea in the R.N.V. this five and forty year.
“But a ship as can’t ‘old ‘arf ‘er crew, why, what sort of a ship
And oo’s in charge of the pore old barge if dangers do occur?
And I says to you, I says, ‘Eave to, until this point’s agreed.”
And some said, “Why?” and the rest, “Ay, ay,” but the mule he
paid no heed.
So the old beast hauled and the Admirals bawled and the crew they
fought like cats
And the ship went dropping along past Wapping and down by the
But the rest of the horde that wasn’t aboard they trotted along
Or jumped like frogs from the Isle of Dogs, or fell in the stream
But while they went by the coast of Kent up spoke an aged tar
“A joke’s a joke, but this ‘ere moke is going a bit too far
I can tell by the motion we’re nearing the ocean - and that’s
too far for me.”
But just as he spoke the tow-rope broke and the ship sailed out
And somewhere out on the deep, no doubt, they probe the problems
Of who’s in charge of the poor old barge and what they ought to
And the great files flash and the dockets crash and the ink-wells
smoke like sin
But many a U-boat tells the tale how the President did her in.
For many have tried to pierce her hide and flung torpedoes at
But the vessel, they found, was barraged around with a mile of
The whole sea swarms with Office Forms and the U-boats stick like
So nothing can touch the President much, for nothing at all gets
But never, alack, will the ship come back, for the President she’s