HMHS Rohilla
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The Wreck of the Rohilla

(The Undefeated)

Onward came the hospital ship “Rohilla”, sent to pick up allied survivors who had suffered foreign bayonet stab;

This night Whitby’s treacherous shores would become her mortuary slab.

Off her bearings, off her course,

Driven by a devil’s force.

For no light to be seen, no light from headland shore,

For once again foolish man was at his foolish war.

Down upon the shale she bore,

Like an eagle’s talons into her metal flesh, the rocks and coral did’st rent and tore;

For so majestically through the waves “Rohilla did once plough,

But now she lay with broken back, guillotined from stern to prow.

Her signal gun broke the silence of the night,

As she cried out for deliverance from her so pitiful plight;

From their humble cottage dwellings, into the cobbled streets they poured,

Once more to face the raging sea, came the Whitby hoard.

For had not the destruction of the “Rohilla”, the sea so cunningly plotted,

Ah but was not Whitby, guardian of all seafarers appointed by God, allotted.

Through the cold night air they came,

And gazed upon that senseless sea’s night of shame.

As the waves that did surround her,

On, how the sea did beat and pound her,

As seemingly helpless faces looked out from “Rohilla contorted with their anguish,

Prayed to the heavens above that soon this storm would languish;

But in Whitby’s hearts they knew, futile for them to wait,

For fifty tortuous hours, this storm would not abate.

For distressed mariners aboard “Rohilla’s” sea washed decks there seemed little chance,

But like the noblest of England’s knights, Whitby drew her lifeboat lance;

Twice into the sea’s pulsating skin that lifeboat lance she did bury,

Whitby, the protector, the sea her adversary.

Twice the fury of the sea that little Yorkshire town did spurn,

And laden with survivors to Whitby, that little gallant sanctuary did return.

Now as the rain pelted down, the tempest had reached its height,

Whitby was unmercifully beaten back, though she never once gave up the fight;

For each attempt to secure lifeline, by the wind was thwarted;

Still Whitby stood firm-a-foot, still she was undaunted.

By a myriad giant white soldiers of the deep, out manoeuvred and outflanked,

Still not one waver upon these heroic Yorkshire ranks.

Now comes the saddest part of all

Thirty clustered round “Rohilla’s” poop deck, into that swirling maelstrom did fall;

As Whitby eyes burned helpless, with the flame of beacon fire,

As they watched a score and ten slip beneath the waves there to expire.

Some sailors in desperation leapt into that turbulence to make that agonising swim;

A few made it to the shore, some did not, lifeless of the limb.

All through the night Whitby struggled, into the proceeding day,

Not until the early hours of the morning was help dispatched upon its way.

Into that spouting spray, Whitby’s people ran post haste,

Aggravated water up to the neck and down to waist.

As the wind wailed her sirens of death,

Whitby gave her all into her last breath;

Pulling exhausted wretches from the encircling foam;

Half drowned, half frozen to the bone.

The “Henry Vernon” came at last, lifeboat that was motorised;

Did’st not this bring relief to those tired, fatigued Whitby eyes,

As she came into port, burning orange flares;

Had Whitby not received an answer to her seemingly endless prayers?

From the leeward side the “Henry Vernon” towards the “Rohilla” did approach,

Into the devil’s domain once more they did encroach;

Through the rocks and reefs the second coxswain of Whitby lifeboat there safely enrooted;

And finally gave salvation to fifty sailors and one black cat that had for so long been the persecuted.

Will forever the warring factions of the world always there resent,

While they destroy the flesh of humanity, Whitby fought the elements;

The Sea, the Wind, the Cold, the Rain-

Let no man ever decry Whitby’s name, lest his own character he would stain.

During the time that had elapsed had not the Whitby banner proudly flew;

Emblazed with three white ammonites, background of royal blue.

For now as the wind ceased her mournful drone,

Will the world ever forget when Whitby stood alone;

For nay, not once upon that night had Whitby ‘ere retreated;

For the sea threw down the gauntlet challenge, and Whitby fought the UNDEFEATED

Copyright © Neil White 1988