All posts by The High Window Review

Alice Allen: The Wreck of the Schokland

Alice Allen  grew up in Jersey in the Channel Islands and lives in the UK.   Published in several literary magazines and anthologies, Alice won the 2014 Flambard Poetry Prize and was shortlisted in the 2017 PROLE Poetry Pamphlet Prize.

She has recently received a grant from ArtHouse Jersey to complete a collection of poems set in Jersey during the five-year German occupation of the Channel Islands in the second world war.  Her poems draw on archival sources, present-day interviews, local wartime folklore and fragments of her own family’s history, and use elements of the Jèrriais language, an insular form of Norman French with Breton and Norse influences.

The Wreck of the Schokland sequence draws on the many sources (local diarists, writers of memoirs, divers in their contemporary blogs) that have contributed to the available information concerning the women on board the Schokland the night it sank in January 1943.

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Alice Allen: The Wreck of The Schokland

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‘The Hotel Victor Hugo was requisitioned and fitted up as a brothel, to take a considerable staff of French girls imported from Normandy… They looked what they were, a dismal line of pathetic retreads, raddled and dyed…One foggy day, they were put, all together, on a small coaster commanded by a Dutch skipper. Somewhere near Corbière it hit a rock and went down in minutes, with the loss of almost all on board. Thereafter, those of us who travelled the Island within sight of the coast, would see the girls’ bodies floating offshore, sometimes several together. What caught the eye was often their long peroxide hair floating behind them, and in a peculiar way it should have been funny, but actually it was infinitely pathetic and saddening.’  A Doctor’s Occupation Dr John Lewis

DIVER

Hear the suck-hiss of my oxygen-mask
as I explore her crumbling bow.
She is upright, beautiful in green water.
Her sides battered, she weighed
eleven hundred tons and sat
low – the weight of her guns.
Look! The sides of the hull
are rotten through. Light between her ribs.
There’s the anchor-winch, cargo-winch,
stump of the mast. She was
packed with German soldiers
going home on leave,
a toilet, a bath, bags of cement
and more than thirty women
not listed on the ledger.
When the light picks through her,
chases up the stern, you can tell
she was a real steam beauty
and I sing to her
with the suck-hiss of my mask

xxxxxxxxher-she, her-she, her-she

see – the deck planking

xxxthe jewel anemones –

xxxxxxxxher-she, her-she

xxxxxxxa shoal of pouting

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LOUISE

Down, down
he has lost his packet of cards
sweet soldier boy, on his way
home to mother.

Down, down
all of us falling.
The water unwraps him
hangs up his coat
unhooks his tunic.
How bright his blonde skin
now his shirt is undone.

Down, down
packed too tight in the hold
only the water can
ease us up out of the hatch.
It fills our holes
billows us into the grey.

There go his heavy boots –
my bottle of scent –

I had a brother his age

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DUTCH RELIEF SKIPPER

Fog everywhere. I couldn’t see where I was going.
It was all last minute, see, flown in to cover the Captain.
Meant to be going to St Malo on a delivery and only then
returning for the soldiers, but no, prancing
on the quayside with their kitbags and bright faces
in a hurry to get home, they all crammed in on board.
And me? Never been here before. I didn’t know
what I was doing. I couldn’t see where I was going
and this blasted island, all reefs and rough edges
and rocks you shouldn’t put there. I turned too soon,
I know it. One hundred souls dead and all of the women.
Lucky for me I’m good at swimming.

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SYLVIE

Once on a visit to the caves
we saw steeple jacks
on the canning factory roof

lanes unravelling
towards the town

daisies and stony little paths

warm cider
in a bowl

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DIARY WRITER
5th, 6th and 7th January, 1943

Many small craft
on the sea
searching for bodies.

One hundred passengers saved
two hundred to be buried.

All the island’s
undertakers
making coffins.

Forty passengers saved,
three hundred to be buried.

Grave diggers
lifting soil
in the rectory garden.

Half the passengers saved
and half are buried.

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IRÈNE

And when the tide changed
it was water turning
in a salty womb.

We rolled under and over
every body raised and scattered
shelved onto the beach
or bobbed into the harbour’s arm
or thrown up on a slip.

The men were collected,
lined up like timber on the pier,
coffin-boxed and buried.

And me? Did the sea
make mermaid with my hair,
strip me of my whore’s lace,
cast me anew?

No. Enough of your silly stories.

I was a woman drowned,
washed up on the shore.

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SMALL BOAT FISHERMAN

Sometimes it’s like the wrecks
are sucking at your boat
as you pass over.

We’ll be crossing Danger Passage
past Les Grunes Vaudin
and there’s a wobble on the radio
fibrillations, always in the same spot.

Not that I believe in ghosts
just the engine and my pots
– spiders, chancres, lobsters –
my right to make a living.

Since Viking times they’ve been
wrecking themselves on this coast.
The sea bed’s mostly rock and reef –
the whole island doubles in size
on a low tide
xxxxxxxxxxxxxthink of all the lives
shucked out on theses rocques and cricqs
stakks and etacs
this lone equervière.

I could go on –
each rock is named on the chart
the wrecks too.

Sometimes we’ll drift into a patch –
the boat feels altered
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxeverything is still
breeze    water    mackerel in buckets

and I’m holding my breath

till she creaks and groans
and we’re round the headland
out into the bay.

chancre: brown crab  rocque: rock  cricq: crevice in a rock
stakk:  high pyramid shaped rock  etac: high rock
equervière: rock frequented by cormorants

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