Christmas in Iceland

We lay in Iceland winterbound,
And heard the blizzard blow,
And naught we saw on sea or shore
Except the driving snow.

Then said our Captain to the Cook,
At anchor as we lay,
‘Make us a duff with all your might;
Tomorrow’s Christmas Day!’

Then said the Cook, ‘A Scotsman I,
My season’s Hogmanay,
Yet will I make a mighty duff
To eat on Christmas Day.’

On Christmas Day it still snowed on,
No news from home had we,
But we’d the Cook’s great Christmas duff,
And our good company.

The wind blew wild, the snow it piled
On decks your boot would freeze on,
But in the mess-deck down below
We kept the Christmas season.

With paper streamers all was rigged,
The officers were messmen,
Of seamen, stokers, bunts and all,
None greater were nor less men.

And there was light and warmth and cheer,
No plate nor glass stood empty,
A genial glow lit every heart
Of all our eight and twenty.

We sang the songs we’d sung at home
In Christmases gone by:
Till some for bawdy choruses
Began to call and cry.

Then spoke our youthful gunner, and
With furious blush cried, ‘Nay!
Ye’ve all the year for that my lads;
But this is Christmas Day.’

Another growled, ‘Why rot we here?
A dog’s a better life –
Never to see my bairns, nor sleep
Beside my wedded wife.’

But Coxswain answered, clenching pipe,
‘I’ve wife and kids as well,
But I’d fight the sea and the enemy
From Iceland on to Hell,

So be I knew they’d not lose heart,
Though home I never come,
Till they and all true-hearted folk
Have Christmas safe at home.’

So it was done and said and sung,
And our thoughts went homeward winging
Over the long black ocean leagues,
And a quietness followed the singing,

And aloft the snow picked out each spar,
Each stay and bolt and splicing,
And our good ship rode in the Arctic night
Like a ship of sugar-icing.

Poems of War

  • Alone

    Alone to walk the dripping woods of spring
       While daisies spy you?

  • Epitaph on a New Army

    No drums they wished, whose thoughts were tied
    To girls and jobs and mother,

  • The Tunnel

    This is where the water hurries under the archway,
    This is where we enter the long tunnel,

  • Australia 1914

    Gone away, away,
    Suddenly at a word departed,

  • Come Death Suddenly

    Come death suddenly from the sea or cloud,
    With the blast of thunder and the blinding shroud,

  • If I should die

    If I should die, grieve not for youth
    Blighted, and towers of hope that fell

  • The Prophetic Hour

    In this dread hour for thee and all mankind
    Britain, be Freedom’s fortress or her grave.

  • The Jervis Bay

    ..The fifth day of November, Fifty North and Forty West,
    Was edging to its departure, like an undecided guest,

  • Christmas in Iceland

    We lay in Iceland winterbound,
    And heard the blizzard blow,

  • Stella Polaris: Homebound

    Above the great ship’s lifting bow
    I watch the Pole Star nightly stand,

  • Thermopylae

    The story, as now we see, was over-written
    By Herodotus, bless his warm Hellenic heart!

  • The Last Enemy

    Could we locate the enemy of mankind
    (I mean the GHQ, the Centre itself,

  • The Anzac Graves on Gallipoli

    You may not pass this place. Here you must stop,
    Though all the world’s great tides run heedless by

  • Last Post

    Heard how often, still the notes compel
    Unused to awe, we stand listening.