Home  »  A Treasury of War Poetry  »  British Merchant Service

George Herbert Clarke, ed. (1873–1953). A Treasury of War Poetry. 1917.

C. Fox Smith

British Merchant Service

OH, down by Millwall Basin as I went the other day,

I met a skipper that I knew, and to him I did say:

“Now what’s the cargo, Captain, that brings you up this way?”

Oh, I’ve been up and down (said he) and round about also …

From Sydney to the Skagerack, and Kiel to Callao …

With a leaking steam-pipe all the way to Cali-forn-i-o …

“With pots and pans and ivory fans and every kind of thing,

Rails and nails and cotton bales, and sewer pipes and string …

But now I’m through with cargoes, and I’m here to serve the King!

“And if it’s sweeping mines (to which my fancy somewhat leans)

Or hanging out with booby-traps for the skulking submarines,

I’m here to do my blooming best and give the beggars beans!

“A rough job and a tough job is the best job for me,

And what or where I don’t much care, I’ll take what it may be,

For a tight place is the right place when it’s foul weather at sea!”

. . . . . .

There’s not a port he does n’t know from Melbourne to New York;

He’s as hard as a lump of harness beef, and as salt as pickled pork …

And he’ll stand by a wreck in a murdering gale and count it part of his work!

He’s the terror of the fo’c’s’le when he heals its various ills

With turpentine and mustard leaves, and poultices and pills …

But he knows the sea like the palm of his hand, as a shepherd knows the hills.

He’ll spin you yarns from dawn to dark—and half of ’em are true!

He swears in a score of languages, and maybe talks in two!

And … he’ll lower a boat in a hurricane to save a drowning crew.

A rough job or a tough job—he’s handled two or three—

And what or where he won’t much care, nor ask what the risk may be …

For a tight place is the right place when it’s wild weather at sea!