At The Gate – Edward Hilton Young and The Zeebrugge Raid 1918


Above poem from The Supreme Conference and Other Poems in Time of War’ by John S Arkwright. (1919) – Kindly donated by Geoff Harrison

In the early hours of 23rd April 1918  Lieutenant  Edward Hilton Young (1879- 1960) . was serving  on board the HMS Vindictive as a gunnery officer : This 1897 built cruiser was to  launch a diversionary attack on the harbour wall known as the Mole, whilst three old  ships were to be deliberatly sunk at the mouth of the canal linking the port with Bruges, where a major German U boat base was situated, thereby  stopping access to  the North Sea and  the threat to Allied shipping.

Historians tend to agree that the Zeebrugge Raid was an act of great courage, and a great morale booster for the British public whilst up against  Operation Michael, the powerful German Spring  counter attack on the Western Front.  Whether the raid  achieved anything more than a temporary hindrance to  the German U Boat operation, is open to question.

Current thinking is probably best summed up by Peter Hart ‘The Great War’ 2013 page 323.

“In the event, the Germans were merely inconvenienced in their navigation by the block ships before a new channel was dredged just three weeks later. All that the British achieved as a short-lived propaganda coup which had no effect on the submarine war in contrast to the less glamorous hard graft of convoys escort details where the submarine war was being fought and won “

Or in looking at ‘Castles of Steel -Britain, Germany and the Winning of the Great War at Sea’ by Robert K. Massie. (2003), where the Raid is barely mentioned in a book of some 800 pages.

A small anthology titled ‘A Muse At Sea ‘ by Baron Edward Hilton Young Kennet  was published  in 1919. Some of the verses were published in the Ducal Weekly , a weekly publication of HMS Iron Duke ; Edward Hilton Young enlisted in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in  22nd August 1914 and  won the DSC at the siege of Nieuport Les Baines .He was elected to be MP of Norwich in 1915, and  his active service continued into 1919, being involved  in the Archangel campaign ,

One of the poems ‘At The Gate’ was written on board HMS Vindictive on the way to Zeebrugge.

AT THE GATE

” IT is all over ; all my travelling
in changing, curious time ; and I
of every vital thing that life can bring
have only left, to die.

I have no hope, no fear for my distress.
There is no man on earth so free.
Hope cannot vex one that is futureless ;
fear ends in certainty.

No hope, no fear, no triumph, no regret,
but darkness of the gathering shades.
What have I left to hold for comfort yet,
now that the daylight fades ?

I will think of all good things that I have known,
of everything that I loved best.
I will take all their beauty for my own
to be my strength and rest.

Stand by me now, all tranquil memories !
the firelit ceiling’s shadow-press
a waking child has watched in ecstasies
of drowsy happiness.

The long, wet orchard grass, the swift mill-race,
the shining blossom on the bough,
the lads that came there for a bathing-place,
dear lads ! stand by me now !

And one high verge of upland ; when the night
was falling on the fields beneath,
thence could the poised spirit take its flight
far beyond time and death.

The time is come : and last, to be my guide
through this dim ending of the way,
I take the hero-soul of one who,died,
and, living, lit the day.

O friend I loved, I raise in thoughts of thee
the heart that beat at one with thine.
There is a sound of guns upon the sea ;
now, Miles, thy hand in mine ”

Noticeable how nihilistic this poem first seems. Edward Hilton Young had volunteered to take part in the Raid. But there is no mention of ‘King and Country’ or a claim to be fighting a just war, just a strange emptiness ;
‘ Hope can not vex on who is futureless’.

But then the writer finds solace in childhood memories of rural Wiltshire. But most of all in evoking the memory of his friend ‘Miles’, who was in fact the poet Miles Jeffrey Game Day whose work has already been featured on this site
http://greatwaratseapoetry.weebly.com/the-north-sea.html.

Miles is depicted as a ‘hero soul’ . His plane descended into the North Sea on 27th February 1918, his body was never found.

Edward Hilton Young was wounded at Zeebrugge, famously smoking a cigar in command of a gun turret. His right arm had to be amputated..

It is intriguing to compare ‘At The Gate’ with the triumphalist poem by John S. Arkwright at the start of the page.

‘At The Gate ‘ seems to have little connection to the Zeebrugge Raid, yet such a powerful record of a man’s thoughts whilst embarking on a dangerous mission.. It could equally have been written by someone who took part in ( say ) the 1943 Arctic Convoy.  One reason I appreciate the poem is that whilst giving a a snapshot of the writer’s impressions of sailing into a bombardment, there is no claim that it is offering some truth about the nature of World War 1.
In the foreword to ‘A Muse At Sea’, Edward Hilton Young claimed that he would never have more poetry published. In 1920 his war memoir ‘Some Doings by Land and Sea’ was published.  In 1935 the anthology was republished as  ‘Verses: A Muse at Sea and Others.’

Seven more poems were added to this revised edition,  but of a more mystical nature. Edward Hilton Young was now married to the famous sculptor Kathleen Scott, widow to the late explorer Captain Scott. He was also stepfather to naturalist Peter Scott  and father to Wayland Young, a future Labour MP. . After having a successful business and political career, including four years as Minister for Health, he retired and was given the titled of Baron Kennet of the Dene.  His new poetry seemed a world away from the bleakness of ‘At The Gate’.

“A Child by the Sea

The boundless sea
How small you seem in that comparison,
But ye are one
Who share one substance in eternity……….”

Sources

Work by Edward Hilton Young.

‘By Sea and Land some naval doings’  (1920)   http://archive.org/stream/bysealandsomenav00kennrich/bysealandsomenav00kennrich_djvu.txt

‘A Muse at Sea’  (1919) https://archive.org/stream/museatseaverses00kennuoft/museatseaverses00kennuoft_djvu.txt

Background reading  on his life 

There is no published biography of  Edward Hilton Young

‘A Great Task of Happiness -The Life of Kathleen Scott’ by Louisa Young (1995)

‘Peter Scott’ by Elspeth Huxley (1991)

Have useful information on him.

The Zeebrugge Raid 

There are many books about the ‘Raid. A personal  favourite is ‘The Zeebrugge Raid- The Finest Feat of Arms’ by Paul Kendall (2008), a crucial reference work.

John S. Arkwright 

Arkwright is so obscure that he is not even made it on to the index of ‘Forgotten Poets ‘ in Lucy London’s excellent ‘Forgotten Poets of the First World War ‘ Blog.

His 1919 anthology ‘The Supreme Sacrifice and other poems in time of war’  can be found at  https://ia601406.us.archive.org/33/items/cu31924013579846/cu31924013579846.pdf

Painting : Charles John De Lacy ‘ HMS Vindictive at Zeebrugge 23rd April 1918

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *