First World War Poetry Digital Archive

‘It was a navy boy . . .’

It was a navy boy, so prim, so trim,   That boarded my compartment of the train.   I shared my cigarettes and books to him.   He shared his heart to me. (Who knows my gain!)   (His head was golden like the oranges   That catch their brightness from Las Palmas sun.)   'O whence and whither bound, lad?' 'Home,' he says,   'Home, from Hong Kong, sir, and a ten months' run.'   (His blouse was all as blue as morning sea,   His face was fresh like dawn above that blue.)   'I got one letter, sir, just one,' says he,   'And no shore-leave out there, sir, for the crew.'   (His look was noble as a good ship's prow   And all of him was clean as pure east wind.)   'I am no ""sir"", I said, 'but tell me now   What carried you? Not tea, nor tamarind?'   Strong were his silken muscles hiddenly   As under currents where the waters smile.   'Nitre we carried. By next week maybe   That should be winning France another mile.'   His words were shapely, even as his lips,   And courtesy he used like any lord.   'Was it through books that you first thought of ships?'   'Reading a book, sir, made me go aboard.'   'Another hour and I'll be home,' he said.   (His eyes were happy even as his heart.)   'Twenty-five pounds I'm taking home,' he said,   'It's five miles there; and I shall run, best part.'   And as we talked, some things he said to me   Not knowing, cleansed me of a cowardice,   As I had braced me in the dangerous sea.   Yet I should scarce have told it but for this.   'Those pounds,' I said. 'You'll put some twenty by?'   'All for my mother, sir.' And turned his head.   'Why all?' I asked, in pain that he should sigh:   'Because I must. She needs it most,' he said.


“‘It was a navy boy . . .’,” by Owen, Wilfred (1893-1918). The Estate of Wilfred Owen. The Complete Poems and Fragments of Wilfred Owen edited by Jon Stallworthy first published by Chatto & Windus, 1983. Preliminaries, introductory, editorial matter, manuscripts and fragments omitted. via First World War Poetry Digital Archive, accessed February 20, 2024,

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