Sunday, 29 May 2016

A poem to commemorate the Battle of Jutland - 31st May 1916 written by Roma White (1866 - 1950)

Roma White - pen name of Blanche Winder nee Oram (1866 – 1950) - British poet and writer

Blanche Oram was born in Bury, Lancashire in 1866.  Blanche’s father, Henry was a woollen manufacturer and her mother was Esther Oram, nee Allanson.   The family seems to have been wealthy for in 1881 they lived in Lark Hill, Bury and had six servants.   In 1891, Blanche Oram was lodging in Derbyshire, aged 25 single and her employment was listed as ‘Journalist/author’.

Blanche married Charles James Winder in 1897 – they had no children.  In 1901 Blanche was visiting her married sister Florence Barron in Lancaster and described as ‘Living on own means’.

The 1911 Census shows Blanche and Charles Winder living in Garstang in Lancashire. There is a death record of a Blanche Winder born about 1866 who died June 1950 in Bournemouth, Hampshire, which is very near to Poole, Dorset where she was inspired to write her poem about the Battle of Jutland.

After the Battle, Blanche apparently went fishing in Poole Harbour, Dorset on 3rd June 1916 with a local fisherman.  What he said inspired her to write a poem called "News of Jutland" which was first published in London in November 1917. 

Using the pen-name ‘Roma White’, Blanche published numerous books during the period 1890 -1910.  Many were reviewed in newspapers of the time.   During the 1930s, Blanche published numerous children’s books under the name Blanche Winder (King Arthur, Aesop’s illustrated fables and so on).  Blanche’s poem about Jutland was published under the name ‘B. Winder’ in “The Muse in Arms: 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 who have served in the Great War” which was edited by Edward Bolland and published in 1917 by Murray, London.


With thanks to Phil Dawes, Ian Inglis and Poole Library for their help in finding information about Roma White/Blanche Oram (Winder).

“News of Jutland” written by Roma White on 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!"