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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
by
A.P. Herbert

It was eighteen bells in the larboard watch with a neap tide running free
And a gale blew out of the Ludgate Hills when the President put to sea
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 something grand.

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 from Whitehall
They came like sand on a wind-swept strand, like shots from a maxim gun
And the old mule stood with the tow-rope on and said, “It can’t be done.”

With a glitter of wiggly braid they came, with a clatter of forms and files
The little A.P.’s they swarmed like bees, the Commodores stretched for miles
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 could tell.

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 that could)
Far out of view still streamed the queue when the moke said, “Well I’m blowed
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 is ‘er?
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 Plumstead Flats
But the rest of the horde that wasn’t aboard they trotted along the bank
Or jumped like frogs from the Isle of Dogs, or fell in the stream and sank.

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 to sea.

And somewhere out on the deep, no doubt, they probe the problems through
Of who’s in charge of the poor old barge and what they ought to do
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 her
But the vessel, they found, was barraged around with a mile of paper matter
The whole sea swarms with Office Forms and the U-boats stick like glue
So nothing can touch the President much, for nothing at all gets through.

But never, alack, will the ship come back, for the President she’s stuck too!

 
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