The North Sea -Dawn Patrol -A study of Contrasts

Paul Bewsher -‘The Dawn Patrol ‘

World War 1 North Sea photo kindly donated by Geoff Harrison

New to the  Great War at Sea Poetry Website , there is a page dedicated to Jeffrey Miles Game Day, of the Royal Naval  Air Service.

Miles Jeffrey Game Day

His plane fell from the sky during air conflict , most likely shot down, over  the North Sea on 27th February 1918. His body was never recovered. He was aged 22 and a posthumous anthology ‘Poems and Rhymes’ was published in 1919.

Another Royal Naval Air Service poet born  in 1896, was Paul Bewsher (1896-1966) , and both were to win Distinguished Service Crosses. Paul  Bewsher  held a commission in the RNAS as from 1915, and transferred to the RAF in 1918.

Paul Bewsher’s published anthology  ‘The Dawn Patrol, and other poems of an Aviator’ in 1917, which is now available to read on line

The Dawn Patrol and other poems of an Aviator

A second anthology, ‘The Bombing of Bruges’ appeared in 1918.

The Bombing of Bruges

He also completed a war memoir ‘ ‘Green Balls- the adventure of a Night Bomber’, published in 1919.
Green Balls

Both men wrote poems titled ‘The Joy of Flying’, though Bewsher was also to write another poem titled ‘ The Terror of Flying’, and the poems sit near each other in ‘The Dawn Patrol’ anthology.

What is particuarly striking about Bewsher’s work is his strong religious convictions. He dealt with loss of friends killed in action in work such as ‘ K.L.H died of wounds in The Dardanelles’ , also with the theme of  Winter despondency ‘ Despair’ , but his work is optimistic. Removed from the sea and land Bewsher conveys something quite transcendent as shown in his poem below.

Then do I feel with God quite, quite alone,
High in the virgin morn, so white and still,
 And free from human ill:
Very unusual for a ‘war poet’ to write such a bold statement of faith.  Religion could be used ironically such as in Wilfred Owen’s ‘Parable of the Old Man and The Young’, the retelling of the the biblical account of  Abraham about to sacrifice Isaac . Of Sassoon’s despair depicted
‘In the Church of St Ouen’ (from 1917-published in ‘The War Poems’ )
‘ My spirit longs for prayer/ And,  lost to God, I seek him everywhere’
Other poets were unconventional in their faith.   Isaac Rosenberg seemed to be developing his own version of Jewish mysticism evident in the ( unpublished) dramas that he started before being killed in action. Edward Thomas was an agnostic though arguably a pantheist.Whilst Miles Jeffrey Game Day portrayed the sea in quite dismal terms’The North Sea'”Dawn on the drab North Sea!-
colourless, cold and depressing,
with the sun that we long to see
refraining from his blessing.”

From Poems and Rhymes

Whilst Paul Bewsher seemed to relish a dawn surveillance flight above The North Sea.

The Dawn Patrol

Sometimes I fly at dawn above the sea,
Where, underneath, the restless waters flow—
Silver, and cold, and slow.
Dim in the east there burns a new-born sun,
Whose rosy gleams along the ripples run,
Save where the mist droops low,
Hiding the level loneliness from me.And now appears beneath the milk-white haze
A little fleet of anchored ships, which lie
In clustered company,
And seem as they are yet fast bound by sleep,
Although the day has long begun to peep,
With red-inflamèd eye,
Along the still, deserted ocean ways.The fresh, cold wind of dawn blows on my face
As in the sun’s raw heart I swiftly fly,
And watch the seas glide by.
Scarce human seem I, moving through the skies,
And far removed from warlike enterprise—
Like some great gull on high
Whose white and gleaming wings beat on through space.Then do I feel with God quite, quite alone,
High in the virgin morn, so white and still,
And free from human ill:
My prayers transcend my feeble earth-bound plaints—
As though I sang among the happy Saints
With many a holy thrill—
As though the glowing sun were God’s bright Throne.

My flight is done. I cross the line of foam
That breaks around a town of grey and red,
Whose streets and squares lie dead
Beneath the silent dawn—then am I proud
That England’s peace to guard I am allowed;
Then bow my humble head,
In thanks to Him Who brings me safely home. ”

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