The North Sea Patrol

(notes by Alastair Wilson and Daniel Hadas)


In late 1915, Kipling wrote a series of articles for the Ministry of Information about the Royal Navy. These were for publication in both Britain and America, with this verse first published in an American copyright pamphlet on 3rd December 1915, and later in the Daily Telegraph in December 1915. The articles were later published as The Fringes of the Fleet. Each piece was headed by a poem.

The poem

The final article begins with a four-verse poem, later entitled ‘The North Sea Patrol’. It describes the job of the smaller destroyers which constituted the backbone of the North Sea patrol.

Verse 3

Who takes in high Dudgeon our life-saving role,
For every one’s grousing at Docking and Dowsing…

These two lines are a clever play on words with the names of shoals and lights on the east coast’, as Kiipling himself notes in Inclusive Verse and Definitive Verse. There is a Dudgeon shoal off the Humber and the Docking and Dowsing Shoals are off Lincolnshire. Today, their names are well-known in connection with the North Sea gas fields, and they may become better known if, as is proposed, wind farms are built on them.[A.J.W.]

Twelve verses omitted:  There’s no evidence these twelve verses ever existed. As one can see from Pinney, Kipling didn’t signal their omission in every edition, but he often did. He does not seem to have play this trick elsewhere, although it’s germane to his habit of attributing verses in short story epigraphs to longer poems that didn’t exist outside his mind or unpublished work. Certainly, the poem is written so that verse 4 does not follow naturally from verse 3: by the end of verse 3, nothing has indicated that the fleet is “swept but surviving, half drowned but still driving”.

Perhaps Kipling’s aim here is to convey that the missing verses described a military operation, but wartime secrecy wouldn’t allow that description to be published. I don’t mean that lines describing such an operation ever existed, but that this is the story Kipling is telling. [D.H.].

The poem’s dactylic sing-song, delight in word-splitting – surely a rare technique in Kipling –  creates a flavour of light verse that it would have been unlike Kipling to sustain in a 16-verse poem on a fleet at war.[D.H.]




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