Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Women and Children First

The protocol for evacuation was established during the sinking of HMS Birkenhead, and is also known as The Birkenhead Drill.

The Birkenhead's example is perhaps the most extreme example of the practice. Even after the women and children had been put on the lifeboats, the men were ordered to stand fast while the ship sank for fear that they would overwhelm the boats. They did so almost to a man.

Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem about it. I pretty much despise poetry, but this is quite moving:

To take your chance in the thick of a rush, with firing all about,
Is nothing so bad when you've cover to 'and, an' leave an' likin' to shout;
But to stand an' be still to the Birken'ead drill is a damn tough bullet to chew,
An' they done it, the Jollies -- 'Er Majesty's Jollies -- soldier an' sailor too!
Their work was done when it 'adn't begun; they was younger nor me an' you;
Their choice it was plain between drownin' in 'eaps an' bein' mopped by the screw,
So they stood an' was still to the Birken'ead drill, soldier an' sailor too


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