The Innocents
(Vocal Score)


  • Duration: 12 minutes
  • Chorus: Double SATB choir
  • Instrumentation: Organ

Commissioned by Proms at St Jude’s, this work conveys the innocent and tragic suffering in war of children caught up in armed conflict.


Commissioned by Proms at St Jude’s to mark the 80th anniversary of the sinking of the SS City of Benares during WW2.  The premiere took place Mar 2022 (delayed due to the pandemic) performed by the renowned Voces8 and Finchley Children’s Music Group.and conducted by Patrick.  

The SS Benares was carrying 90 children away from wartime London to safety in Canada, but nearly all the children perished after the ship was torpedoed, along with many of their escorts.

Innocent and tragic suffering in war and the fate of children caught up in armed conflict are universal themes.  In the sinking of the Benares, at night, far from land, on a voyage that should have taken the children to safety, this suffering unfolded in unimaginable terror.  The text for this piece does deliberately sacrifice particular and detailed reference to the sinking in order to draw out the timeless tragedy of children in war.  Nevertheless, it is hoped that those who hear this work will have no doubt that it honours both the children and adults who lost their lives in the sinking of the Benares.

The work is scored for two SATB choirs and organ and follows a largely through-composed musical structure.  The opening chorale, however, does recur at strategic points: as well as ending the work, it appears in the second choir as an important backdrop to the climax of the drama whilst the first choir describes the terrifying moments of the torpedoes’ impact.

At one extreme, the deep sonorities of the organ suggest the depths of the ocean and the ‘double darkness’.  At the other, quiet registrations on the choir and swell manuals are intended to evoke an air of innocent beauty.  As the work draws to a close, the appearance of a solo soprano brings home the very personal grief of the family members and friends of those who drowned in the darkness of that September night.

When the original premiere in Summer 2020 was delayed due to the Covid pandemic the Proms at St Jude’s team created ‘Proms At Home’, a series of special events to keep the festival spirit alive!

As part of that, they produced a great documentary revealing the inspiration behind The Innocents including interviews with Patrick, librettist Andrew Hawes, Paul Smith from Voces8 and Benares expert Alan Walker.  It also includes music from Voces8 and soprano Grace Davidson.

The Innocents

City of Benares, Ark of Salvation
from nightmare nights of flame;
For all the terrors that sent them away
The Innocents bear no blame.

Innocents together innocence enfolds,
a common dream, a communion of soul.
This refuge – a perfect home for Innocents to thrive;
Cherished, apart, from all that lurks outside.

The innocents have different eyes:
They see a world experience denies.
The Innocents have a different heart,
Clean, fresh, clear from all the world imparts.

In that night as Innocents sleep,
death comes skimming from the deep.
Noise shatters silence, slumber becomes screams
Innocence drowns in all that war has schemed.

City of Benares, Ark of Salvation
from nightmare nights of flame;
For all the terrors that sent them away
The Innocents bear no blame.

Torrential chaos, confusion, frozen fear:
The listing liner has twisted, jamming gear.
Falling, thrashing in the freezing sea,
double-darkness is all that can be seen.

Dawn breaks with pity on a wretched sight;
Flotsam, bodies, yet some cling to life.
Too late for seventy-one the Hurricane arrives
desperate sailors seek, yet only seven survive.

The trust of Innocents finds itself betrayed
For in hell order is swept away.
No light of day can scatter this dread dark
The shroud of death lies heavy and will not part.

In lifeboat twelve six Innocents drift away;
A miracle reveals them after eight long days.
Thirteen survived and seventy-seven died:
Innocents pay the price for greed and pride.

City of Benares, Ark of Salvation
from nightmare nights of flame;
For all the terrors that sent them away
The Innocents bear no blame.

Words: Andrew Hawes (1954 –   )

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