Messdeck News: Collected Verse of Messdeck Annie, Halifax, 1939-1945
Bob Lincoln is Director of Acquisitions at the University of Manitoba
The Collected Verse of Messdeck Annie is not a collection of poems written by a woman; Annie — or to use her real name, Jessie Coade — selected these poems from letters and interviews of Navy men stationed in Halifax during World War II. Sailors traditionally spin tales, but in wartime their writings have a sad or tragic feeling to them. The stresses of living for weeks at a time in a steel coffin as it bangs across the ocean show up in the language. And, to Jessie’s credit, she has also captured the humour and spirit of the men.
Four decades have passed since these poems appeared in the Halifax Mail. Annie was a nickname given to Jessie by the men as they talked to her in the shops and yards around Halifax. Until Jessie began her column, the Navy men had little information of interest to them in the local papers, unless it was of sinkings or accidents. When Jessie overheard two Navy men complaining of this lack of news, she decided to help out. Her column, “Messdeck News,” was the result.
Some of the poems are ballads, others sound like military verse of Kipling’s time. Quite a few are anonymous. Some show a different mind and hand at work; they are cautious, or caring. Cooks, stokers, officers, and ordinary seamen make their appearances and give the reader a glimpse of life at the time.
Jessie’s column gave the men hope and a sense that others cared about them. It would be neglectful and unkind if we were to forget this. The Corvette Trust Fund, which is restoring the last active service Corvette, the H.M.C.S. Sackville, will benefit from the sales of this book.