David Childs

January 1915 was a month when the U-Boat threat became very apparent with HMS Formidable being sunk on 1 January and one U-Boat sinking three merchant ships on 30 January. A new threat appeared when Zeppelins bombed Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn on 19 January.

In the North Sea the two fleets at last met up off the Dogger Bank but, despite the large number of ships involved the only casualty was the German battleship Blücher which was sunk; ironically a ship named after the general who came to Wellington's aid at Waterloo exactly one hundred years earlier.

On the Western Front other generals were playing leapfrog, with Sir William Robertson being appointed the Chief of the General Staff of the British Expeditionary Force. Back in London the decision was made to endorse Churchill's pet plan for an attack on the Dardanelles in Turkey.


Much is recounted about young lads who joined up under-age, not so much about men who enlisted when over age. Just such a one was the poet Robert Ernest Vernède who joined the Rifle Brigade in 1914 four years over the age limit. He was wounded at the Somme in 1916 but returned to the front only to be killed while leading an attack on Havrincourt Wood on the 9 April 1917. This poem was written in early 1915.

A Listening Post
by Robert Ernest Vernède

The sun's a red ball in the oak
And all the grass is grey with dew,
A while ago a blackbird spoke -
He didn't know the world's askew

And yonder rifleman and I
Wait here behind the misty trees
To shoot the first man that goes by,
Our rifles ready on our knees.

How could he know that if we fail
The world may lie in chains for years
And England be a bygone tale
And right be wrong, and laughter tears?

Strange that this bird sits there and sings
While we must only sit and plan -
Who are so much the higher things -
The murder of our fellow man...

But maybe God will cause to be -
Who brought forth sweetness from the strong
Out of our discords harmony
Sweeter than that bird's song.

©  Tisbury History Society
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