Pagina principale With The Royal Navy in War and Peace: O'er The Dark Blue Sea

With The Royal Navy in War and Peace: O'er The Dark Blue Sea

The Royal Navy that Brian Bethen Schofield joined at the beginning of the Twentieth Century truly ruled the waves. Safe anchorages spanned the globe and faster, better armored ships with revolutionary weaponry were coming into service. After serving as a midshipman in The Great War, Schofield qualified as a navigator and interpreter in French and Italian. At the outbreak of The Second World War he was Naval Attaché in The Hague and Brussels before becoming Director of Trade Division (Convoys) during the critical years 1941-1943. While commanding the battleship King George V he witnessed the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay in August 1945. O’er The Deep Blue Sea is a superbly written memoir offering a fascinating insight into a bygone era. Anyone with more than a passing interest in British naval history will enjoy the Author’s graphic yet modest account of an exceptional career.
Anno: 2019
Edizione: Retail
Editore: Pen and Sword
Lingua: english
Pagine: 288
ISBN 10: 1526736470
ISBN 13: 978-1526736475
File: EPUB, 7.10 MB
Download (epub, 7.10 MB)
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With the Royal Navy in War and Peace

By the same author:

The Royal Navy Today

The Russian Convoys

British Sea Power

The Rescue Ships (with L.F. Martyn)

Loss of the Bismarck (republished in Stringbags in Action)

The Attack on Taranto (republished in Stringbags in Action)

Operation Neptune

The Arctic Convoys

The Story of HMS Dryad

With the Royal Navy in War and Peace

O’er the Dark Blue Sea


Vice Admiral B.B. Schofield CB CBE

Edited by

Victoria Schofield

First published in Great Britain in 2018 by

Pen & Sword Maritime

An imprint of

Pen & Sword Books Ltd

Yorkshire – Philadelphia

Copyright © The Estate of the Late Vice Admiral B.B. Schofield 2018

ISBN 978 1 52675 115 7

eISBN: 9781526736482

Mobi ISBN: 9781526736499

The right of Vice Admiral B.B. Schofield to be identified as Author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is

available from the British Library.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from the Publisher in writing.

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List of Illustrations

Foreword by Victoria Schofield

Chapter 1 Disciplina, Fide, Labore

Chapter 2 Pare Bellum

Chapter 3 The Harwich Force

Chapter 4 HMS Renown

Chapter 5 ‘A most reliable Navigator’

Chapter 6 Of languages

Chapter 7 East of Suez in the Enterprise

Chapter 8 ‘The good ship Malaya’

Chapter 9 ‘The bands of Orion’

Chapter 10 Staff Officer on board the Nelson

Chapter 11 Diplomacy before War

Chapter 12 ‘The race is not to the swift’

Chapter 13 HMS Galatea

Chapter 14 ‘Sail on O ship of State!’

Chapter 15 ‘The peril of the waters’

Chapter 16 From Duke of York to Dryad

Chapter 17 The KGV and the Pacific

Chapter 18 Glad Waters



Biographical timeline



1. The United Kingdom, the North Sea and Northern Europe

2. The Mediterranean

3. The East Indies Station

4. The Far East: China and Japan

All maps are pre-1945; in general boundaries and country names indicated are those following the First World War.

List of Illustrations

1. Brian Betham Schofield as a naval cadet, Hawke Term, Osborne, 1908.

2. Bill of uniform from Gieve Matthews & Seagrove Ltd (later Gieves Ltd).

3. HMS Indomitable.

4. Extract from ‘Journal for the use of Midshipmen’ (Midshipman’s Journal), August 1914, Imperial War Museum.

5. HMS Indomitable’s Q turret’s crew.

6. Sub Lieutenant Schofield.

7. Certificate of Crossing the Line, HMS Renown, 27 September 1919.

8. HMS Enterprise at Basra 1927, published in HMS Enterprise, The Story of the First Commission, Gale & Polden Ltd.

9. Ship’s Log HMS Ship Enterprise, The National Archives.

10. The Mediterranean Fleet at Gibraltar, 1929.

11. Winning cutter’s crew, HMS Malaya Mediterranean Fleet, 1929.

12. The ship’s badge of HMS Malaya.

13. Home Fleet Regatta 1930: the silver ‘cock’ won by HMS Malaya.

14. Commander Schofield, by Amies Milner, 1933.

15. Captain Schofield in full dress as Naval Attaché, the Hague, 1940.

16. Painting of HMS Galatea.

17. Church Service on board HMS Prince of Wales, Placentia Bay, August 1941.

18. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill talking after the service on board HMS Prince of Wales, Placentia Bay, August 1941.

19. Prime Minister Winston Churchill on board HMS Prince of Wales, Placentia Bay, August 1941.

20. The Trade Division: ‘Convoy Brains Trust has the answer to the U-Boats,’ The Daily Sketch 9 June 1942.

21. HM King George VI being received by Captain B.B. Schofield and piped aboard HMS Duke of York, August 1943.

22. HM King George VI on board HMS Duke of York with Vice Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser.

23. HMS Duke of York in rough seas off Scapa Flow.

24. Fuelling at sea, August 1945.

25. The Japanese surrender, 2 September 1945.

26. Vice Admiral Sir Bernard Rawlings KCB KBE, Flag Captain, Officers and Ship’s Company of HMS King George V, Sydney, October 1945.

27. Officers of HMS King George V, Sydney, October 1945.

28. HMS King George V coming alongside Princes Pier, Melbourne, October 1945.

29. Farewell to Hobart, Tasmania, January 1946.

30. HMS George V illuminated at Torquay, 1946.

31. Letter from Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser, 9 July 1947.

32. Wood carving of the ship’s badge of HMS Duke of York.

33. Wood carving of the ship’s badge of HMS King George V.

Unless otherwise stated, all illustrations are in the Schofield family possession.

End papers: map of HMS Indomitable’s passage 1913-1914 drawn by Schofield in his Midshipman’s Journal, Imperial War Museum.

Jacket cover: Captain Schofield on board HMS King George V leaving Melbourne, November 1945.


There is a history in all men’s lives

Figuring the natures of the times deceased,

The which observed, a man may prophesy

With a near aim of the main chance of things.1

The naval career of Vice Admiral Brian Betham Schofield CB CBE spanned the first half of the twentieth century, encompassing two world wars. When, in retirement, he chose to record his service in the Royal Navy, he did so in 1956, while his memory was fresh, and before embarking on a second career as a naval historian. What is reproduced here is that memoir, in his own words; as he makes clear, in recollecting the past he was greatly assisted by his letters to his parents. Only one has survived (together with some personal correspondence in 1946) and so what would have been first hand accounts are subsumed into recollections. My task, as editor, has been to put the events he describes in context as well as adding some background information, which was common knowledge at the time of writing, but is less so to the twenty-first century reader.

As a late Victorian, the era of Schofield’s birth dictated his life: having joined the Royal Navy in 1908, he was already serving as a midshipman at the outbreak of the First World War. By the time the Second World War began he had achieved the rank of captain which, together with his training as a navigator, provided the opportunity of taking command of what were called ‘first class ships’. The portrait he paints is of a bygone era, when Britain’s naval strength was at its zenith. It was a time when officers and men spent long periods at sea, the ship’s log repeatedly recording ‘hands employed cleaning ship’, ‘hands employed painting’, ‘hands employed sweeping decks’, ‘hands to mend clothes’, ‘hands employed preparing for sea’, not forgetting ‘leave to bathing parties’ and ‘Divine Service’.

Like the service careers of so many thousands, risk and chance played their part. That he was relieved of his command of HMS Galatea in 1941 a few months before the ship was torpedoed off the coast of Egypt meant that instead of Captain Brian Schofield it was Captain Edward Sim who went down with his ship. That, for personal reasons, he relinquished command of HMS Duke of York just before her action against the Scharnhorst in 1943 meant that his successor, Captain (later Admiral Sir) the Hon Guy Russell, had the opportunity of taking part in an historic sea battle. Yet, as all those who join the Armed Forces know, service is a commitment whose outcome can neither be foretold nor preordained.

Despite being a man of action, in common with many of his times, Schofield had an extensive knowledge of literature, which included the works of Plutarch, Hesiod, Lucian and, of course, Shakespeare and Rudyard Kipling. Only someone familiar with Dante’s Divine Comedy would think to compare the dense and hazardous fog in which he was caught in the East China Sea with verses from a canto in Il Purgatorio or to cite Hesiod’s Theogony when battling a storm off the south-east coast of England! What emerges from the narrative, notwithstanding the very challenging times and the loss of many friends, is how he combined duty with genuine enjoyment of his work and of his surroundings as well as gratitude at his good fortune. His personal life receives little mention; his first marriage, to Doris Ambrose, ended after nineteen years in 1941; his second marriage to a widow, Norah Handley (née Beatty), ended with her death in 1946; at the age of fifty, he married a former WRNS officer, Grace Seale.

In body and spirit Brian Betham Schofield was a sailor all his life, never more content, as he once said to me, than when he could feel the deck beneath his feet. His eightieth birthday was spent on board a passenger ship, returning once more to the West Indies from where, as a young lieutenant in 1919, he had first crossed the Equator and become ‘a Son o’ Neptune’.

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,

Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,

Sermons in stones, and good in everything.2

Victoria Schofield

Chapter One

Disciplina, Fide, Labore

There is nothing the Navy cannot do.1


‘You see, Sir’, a member of the well-known naval outfitter, Gieve Matthews & Seagrove Ltd (later Gieves Ltd) said to my father as, in fun, he placed an admiral’s cocked hat on my twelve-and-a-half-year-old head, ‘it fits him very well.’ Although cocked hats were no longer in fashion by the time I reached flag rank, I am glad that my father lived to see the outfitter’s prediction theoretically fulfilled. In those days the total cost of purchasing a naval cadet’s uniform was £41.11s.6d; the most expensive item was the sea chest costing £5.10s.0d, while my winter working jacket, vest and trousers cost £3.3s, or, as we used to say, three guineas.

Before purchasing my uniform I had to pass my interview with the Board of Admiralty in London. Again accompanied by my father, Thomas Dodgshon Schofield, I was dressed in an Eton suit with a large white turndown stiff collar and bow tie and felt very nervous. We were shown into an ante-room where several other boys and their parents or guardians were sitting and who were no doubt all as nervous as I was. Such conversation, as there was, was muted and ceased altogether each time the door at the far end of the room opened and a young man in a black coat and pin-striped trousers called a candidate’s name. After what seemed an eternity, my name was called and I followed the young man into a large room in the centre of which was a long, polished mahogany table at which a number of elderly gentlemen were sitting. I was directed to a chair beside the thick-set swarthy man seated at the head of the table and who was wearing a double-breasted nautical jacket with black horn buttons. He bade me sit down and then the members of the board asked me a number of questions. At one stage the president of the board stood up and asked me to follow him to a map hanging on a wall. He then asked me to indicate the positions of various European capital cities. After a few more questions I was dismissed.

It was not until some time later that I discovered that the president was the formidable First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir John (Jacky) Fisher. He was apparently interested in seeing what sort of boys were joining the Royal Navy under the Selborne scheme, which combined the military and engineering branches of the Royal Navy and which he had done so much to promote. Also known as the Selborne-Fisher scheme, it had been approved in 1903 by the First Lord of the Admiralty, William Palmer, Earl of Selborne.2

Although my father was in no way connected with the Royal Navy nor the sea, from the moment I passed my entrance examination that summer of 1908 he became the most avid reader of naval literature and so we were always able to discuss together the problems in which I was interested. Writing a lifetime later, I believe that any measure of success which I may have achieved is primarily due to the great and enduring interest which he took in my career and to the strong bond of affection which united us all as a family. As each step in rank came along, my greatest happiness was knowing the pleasure it gave to my devoted parents. When my father died on 8 December 1952 at the great age of 93 (followed by my mother aged 92 in 1953), I found that he had carefully treasured every letter I had ever written to him (and we were regular correspondents). He had also kept all the newspaper cuttings, appointments and certificates connected with my career, which had reached him over a period of forty-five years. These have proved invaluable in refreshing my memory of events which occurred many years ago.3


The title of this chapter, Disciplina, Fide, Labore, is the motto which appeared on the cover of the termly magazine while the Royal Naval College was based in the Isle of Wight at Osborne House, the former summer residence of Queen Victoria until her death in 1901. Built between 1845–51 it served as the Royal Navy’s junior officer training college from 1903 until 1921. The motto was chosen, I believe, because those three words express the essence of a naval officer’s training. The object of education should be to discipline the mind in the use of its own powers of assimilation; self-discipline is also essential to anyone who is going to command his fellow men. Whilst religious faith is of primary importance, there is also the faith necessary in the building of character. ‘For they conquer who believe they can,’ observed Virgil.4 Lord Nelson interpreted this truth when he wrote ‘There is nothing the Navy cannot do.’ This motto was written up in big brass letters on a beam in the college assembly hall, which was named after that most famous of Britain’s sailors. Many men have discovered that it is necessary to work hard to capture the prizes to which ones aspires. ‘It is for want of application rather than of means that men fail of success,’ observed the French writer, François de la Rochefoucauld. The Royal Navy teaches the same thing in different words: ‘Difficulties are made to be overcome.’5

Turning over the pages of the Osborne and Dartmouth College magazines in which the happenings of the next four years are chronicled, I am pleasantly surprised to find how green my recollection is of the names and faces recorded therein. After the accounts of cricket, rugger, soccer and hockey matches, of assaults at arms, sports, sailing and pulling regattas, of meets of the Beagles, there follows on the last page the term order giving the numerical position of each cadet in his own term as a result of the end of term examinations. With what concern these lists were scrutinised and with what indignation did one learn that that little blighter ‘Bloggins’ had gone over one’s head. And there was old ‘Tomkins’, bottom again and he had been warned last term that if he did not ‘buck up’ he would be sent down. Yet he survived to reach flag rank and earned great distinction as a destroyer commander.

The cadets were organised into six terms based on the date of entry into the college. These were called Exmouth, Blake, Drake, St Vincent, Hawke and Grenville. We were privileged to include among our contemporaries His Royal Highness Prince Edward (known to his family as David and later His Majesty King Edward VIII), who was a member of the Exmouth term, four terms senior to me. ‘Priority,’ he wrote, describing our curriculum, ‘was not unnaturally given to mathematics, navigation, science, and engineering. Instead of Latin and Greek we learned to tie knots and splice rope, sail a cutter, read and make signals, box the compass, and master all the intricacies of seamanship.’ During his last term he was joined by his younger brother, His Royal Highness Prince Albert (later His Majesty King George VI), who was a member of Grenville, one term my junior.6

In early 1909 their parents, Their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales, took up residence at Barton Manor, a royal residence near Osborne House. During their four-day stay they made daily visits to the college, inspecting the classrooms, watching the sports and, on Sunday, inspecting the cadets and afterwards attending church in the big assembly hall, Nelson. In those days the weather could be as fickle as we believe it to be now, for the official chronicler records: ‘by 8pm [on Saturday] the rain was again coming down in torrents and continued without intermission until 5pm on Sunday’. One of the classrooms they visited was that of Monsieur L. Lassimonne where Prince Albert was at his French lessons. The French master was a kind-hearted but rather awe-inspiring man and a short time previously had reduced the prince to tears, his exasperated comment on that occasion: ‘Albert, Albert, vat are you crying for?’ going the rounds of the college, and had doubtless reached the ears of the royal parents, who wished to see for themselves what manner of man Monsieur Lassimonne was.7 The thoroughness and extent of the royal visit shows not only the natural interest of parents in the education of their children but also the Prince of Wales’s particular concern for the progress of naval education. Dubbed the Sailor King, Prince George – the future George V – was renowned for his abiding interest and pride in the service in whose life and work he had already actively participated for thirty-three years. This knowledge was a source of inspiration to all of us who had the honour of serving in the Royal Navy during his reign. It was a matter of great pride to me in later years when I was nominated to command the battleship which bore his name.

On 6 May 1910 King Edward VII died. The senior terms at Osborne and Dartmouth were among those selected to attend his funeral which took place on Friday 20 May. I was fortunate in being one of the Osborne contingent. It was a very memorable experience, albeit trying for us youngsters. The night before the funeral we were accommodated in a hotel in Norwood outside London, whence we departed at a very early hour the next morning to take up our appointed station on Horse Guards Parade. It was a hot and sunny day and we appeared to be marching for miles and miles so that by the time we reached our destination we were rather weary. Then followed a two-and-a-half hours’ wait, falling in and standing at ease and a number of my companions fainted. When the cortege arrived, since we were right out in front, we had an uninterrupted view of the procession, especially of the crowned heads (of which there were many in those days) who rode behind the coffin. I remember quite well seeing the German Emperor and King of Prussia, Kaiser Wilhelm II, the eldest grandchild of Queen Victoria, ride past on his white charger.

On Sunday 3 July in the same year I and fifty-eight members of my term were confirmed by the Bishop of Southampton. Three weeks later we were again honoured by a royal visit. The new King and Queen, accompanied by their fourth son, Prince George (later the Duke of Kent) and Princess Mary took the salute at a march past of the cadets and afterwards attended church in Nelson. It was our last term at Osborne; in the autumn of 1910 we moved to the RN College at Dartmouth. I was not yet fifteen.


The atmosphere of Devon is redolent of the sea and the centuries old traditions of the sea service. I sensed it the moment I first set foot there and I have been conscious of it, not only when stationed there, but also when serving in any west country manned ship. The spirit of Drake is firmly implanted in the people of Devon and it was a happy circumstance that led to the establishment of the principal naval college on the rich loam of that county. From being the senior term at Osborne we found ourselves once again the junior one, but there was a difference. We knew most of the cadets in the terms above us.

Although the location and the buildings themselves were far superior to those of Osborne, the latter had a distinct advantage in the matter of playing fields. At Dartmouth there was not enough level ground around the college for all the playing fields required and so for many of our games we had to climb to the top of the hill on the side of which the college stands, near Dartmouth’s mother church, St Clement’s, Townstal. The great attraction of Dartmouth is the River Dart and some of my best recollections of the next two years were connected with the ‘blue boats’ and ‘black cutters’, as the pulling and sailing boats attached to the college were named. And I shall never forget the peerless delicacy of ‘jam, bun and cream’ which we devoured in enormous quantities at the canteen, nor the wonderful teas consumed at the surrounding farmhouses on Sunday afternoons. My two years at Dartmouth passed quickly enough; for my sixteenth birthday my parents gave me a Bible which I kept all my life. At the end of the summer term of 1912 we took the first of a series of exams, the results of which were to count towards our seniority as lieutenants.

At Sea

After a period of leave we joined the training cruiser, HMS Cornwall. Launched in 1902, she had recently run aground off Nova Scotia but had been re-floated and repaired. On 25 September we set sail from Devonport for a cruise which was to take us to Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, the West Indies, Bermuda and the Mediterranean. The cruise, however, did not go according to plan for we had only spent four days at St Kitts, the northernmost of the Windward Islands, when, in early November, we received orders to proceed to Bermuda where we spent ten weeks waiting for further instructions from Whitehall. We were all disappointed at seeing so little of those historic waters about which we had learnt so much in our naval history lessons but our chagrin at the change of programme was soon forgotten. The people of Bermuda received us with open arms and entertained us so hospitably that if we had had any say in the matter, we would have cheerfully settled down in these enchanted islands and roamed no further.

The pattern of naval education has changed to meet the changed conditions in which we live, but I shall always maintain that the best training an embryo naval officer can get is on board a ship at sea. There is no better way to learn a job than to have to do it yourself and to make mistakes and to profit by them. In a ship wholly devoted to training, mistakes are allowable whereas in ships of the fleet they are not kindly tolerated, hence a training squadron or flotilla is a paramount necessity. On one occasion during the cruise when we were battened down I unwisely opened up one of the gunroom scuttles with the usual result in a bad sea. I was then obliged to spend the next hour catching bits of waves in a bucket, so I learnt my lesson the hard way!

On 20 January 1913 we left Bermuda for Gibraltar, ceded to Britain ‘in perpetuity’ under the terms of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 and an important naval base for the Royal Navy. During the journey we had our first encounter with an Atlantic gale and with tragedy which is never far away in heavy weather. A young stoker, Sidney Cuthbert, whose duty it was to feel the bearings of the great reciprocating engines with which the ship was fitted, lost his balance when the ship lurched and was thrown into the crankpit where he received fatal injuries before the engines could be stopped. I have since witnessed many burials at sea, but the committal of the stoker’s body made a deep impression on me.

It took us ten days to cross the Atlantic, travelling at a slow speed owing to a shortage of coal. Except for short visits to Malaga on the southern coast of Spain and the island of Madeira, we spent the rest of the cruise at Gibraltar. I was fortunate since my uncle, Canon Richard Shiers-Mason, was the chaplain to the Missions to Seamen at Gibraltar which had been established by the Anglican diocese of Gibraltar in the last century.8 He and my aunt, Ethel – my father’s younger sister – lived in a house which they had built near the village of Campamento at the head of the bay across the frontier in Spain. In those days there was no road around the bay to Algeciras and the only way of reaching my uncle’s house was by walking or preferably riding along the sea shore from La Linea. My uncle was something of a character. He rode in and out of Gibraltar on a white horse which contrasted noticeably with his black clerical garb. His was a muscular type of Christianity, as befitted one whose calling required him to carry the gospel to the sailors on board the many ships which called at the port in the Mission’s launch The Flying Angel. He sprinted up the Jacob’s ladders (which was all some masters saw fit to lower during their brief stay) with the agility of a cat.

For many years he had to be content with a pulling boat, which was all the Mission could afford, but at length this was replaced by a motor boat which enabled him to get around to many more ships with less discomfort. Even when he was over seventy he still visited his floating parish in all weathers with no thought for himself and the drenching which was often his lot. He was a very keen cricketer and played regularly for the garrison team. Fishing for bass off the harbour moles was another of his hobbies in which he tried to interest the soldiers of the garrison for whom, as he used to say, drink and the devil were always lying in wait. Although we had never met before, my uncle and I took to each other at once. He was a little disappointed to find that I was no cricketer, but he forgave me when he found that I could ride.

Riding picnics were one of the many delightful entertainments which Gibraltar had to offer. Besides the usual sports such as cricket, football, hockey and tennis there was swimming at Rosia Bay, climbing the Rock, and, over the Spanish border, visits to the bull ring at La Linea and the orange groves at Estepona. Whosoever has not tasted a luscious ‘nina pipina’ straight off the tree and still warm from the rays of the Andalusian sun has missed a lucullan dish. For those able to go further afield there were visits to Algeciras, the mountaintop city of Ronda, with its old Roman and Moorish buildings, Cadiz and the famous sherry town of Jerez de la Frontera. I sampled all of them more than once during the next forty-three years, but I still recall with pleasure those first early rides amongst the cork trees with the pungent smell of charcoal burners scenting the air. On some of these rides I was accompanied by a charming girl called Isseult to whom my aunt had introduced me. When I next visited the Rock I was told that she had married a Greek millionaire!

The cruise ended at Devonport on 31 March 1913, having sailed 11,480 miles.9 Our time as cadets was over and we could now don the coveted white patch of a midshipman. We went on leave and, in due course, received our first appointments. Mine directed me to join HMS Indomitable in Cromarty Firth on the east coast of Scotland. Alas, time and two world wars have taken their toll of those who were my companions during those four years of training at the naval colleges. Out of the seventy-two of us of the Hawke term who joined Osborne in September 1908, only twenty-two were still on the active list when the Second World War began (not counting five who had transferred to the Royal Air Force). Of these, seven had reached the rank of captain and five subsequently attained flag rank. Our doyen was George Creasy, two days my junior, who was promoted to Admiral of the Fleet in 1955.10

As I embarked on a life of service in the Royal Navy, one of my valued possessions was a silver napkin ring on which, as time passed, I had engraved the names of all the ships in which I served and the establishments I attended, beginning with Osborne 1908 and Dartmouth 1910.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, the United Kingdom’s military establishment had been overhauled. Plans had been made for a British Expeditionary Force to be deployed to Europe in support of France in the event of war against Germany. Between 1904 and 1910 while Admiral Fisher was First Sea Lord, the Royal Navy had undergone a number of reforms, which included scrapping obsolete ships to enable new ones to be built. The launching of HMS Dreadnought, the first of the all big-gun ships, propelled by steam turbine, in 1906, marked a turning point. The following year Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz reformed Germany’s Home Fleet into the German High Seas Fleet, which was to be powerful enough to challenge the Royal Navy’s supremacy. Subsequently, in an attempt to maintain maritime parity, other countries developed prototype ‘dreadnoughts’ and later ‘super-dreadnoughts’. Those ships built before 1906 were classed as pre-dreadnoughts.

Chapter Two

Pare Bellum

The greater the danger, the greater the coolness required.1


HMS Indomitable was an Invincible-class battlecruiser of 17,250 tons; armed with eight 12-inch guns, she was one of the new and more powerful ships laid down in 1906. When, ‘by command of the Commissioners for Executing the Office of the Lord High Admiral’, I joined her at Cromarty on 13 May 1913, I was pleased at being appointed to serve in a ship which already had a distinguished record: in 1908, when Quebec celebrated the 300th anniversary of its founding, she had carried the then Prince of Wales – the future King George V – across the Atlantic. On the return voyage she had made the passage from the Strait of Belle Isle in eastern Canada to the Fastnet light south of Ireland at an average speed of just over 25 knots, beating by one and a half knots the record of the eastward passage held by RMS Lusitania.2 During this record-making run, the prince had descended to one of the boiler rooms and helped in firing up some of the boilers. In commemoration, the shovel he had used, suitably polished and inscribed, was kept in a glass case in the wardroom. Together with her sister ship, the Invincible and a newer Indefatigable-class ship, the Indefatigable, she formed part of the 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron, commanded by Rear Admiral David Beatty in his flagship, HMS Lion.3

The Indomitable’s captain was Francis ‘Cuts’ Kennedy, one of the last captains of the old sailing brigs. A strict disciplinarian, he had earned his nickname from the way in which he dispensed that particular form of corporal punishment officially described as ‘cuts with the cane’, but a finer type of naval officer it would be hard to find. Coming from County Kildare, with twinkling blue eyes, he had all the fire and enthusiasm of his native land.4

After the customary twenty-four hours in which to sling our hammocks, the captain sent for us. We trooped into his cabin in fear and trepidation, the senior midshipmen having taken good care to prime us with stories about the ‘old man’s’ ferocity. He was sitting writing at his desk when our ‘nurse’, as the lieutenant in charge of midshipmen was known, reported us present. For what seemed an age he went on writing, then he suddenly spun around in his chair and barked at us: ‘Well young gentlemen, do you know what you have joined this ship for?’ He paused, as if waiting for an answer, but getting none, he gave it himself. ‘War,’ he thundered.

I suppose we all reacted with the expected degree of surprise, for he went on more quietly to explain to us how, by the Naval Laws passed regularly by Germany since 1898 (and, most recently, in 1912), the German Empire had thrown down the gauntlet in a challenge to the British Empire’s supremacy at sea and that a war between the two countries was inevitable. There were not many people who, in May 1913, would have made a similar pronouncement with such certainty. As we soon realized, the prospect of the approaching conflict was always uppermost in his mind, so that when the storm broke sixteen months later we were prepared for it.

Although, as midshipmen, we were not well-versed in naval tactics, Captain Kennedy never missed an opportunity to instruct us. While being proud of the ship under his command, he was not blind to the weaknesses of her design. There was a transverse magazine amidships serving the two 12-inch turrets en echelon, P and Q , above which the diesel dynamo room was sited. This was ventilated by a large air trunk to the upper deck across which was fitted an armoured grating, so there was nothing to stop a plunging shell from penetrating the magazine, the explosion of which would inevitably break the ship in half. This fact may well have accounted for the fate of the Invincible at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Such thoughts, however, were far from our minds when on 15 May we weighed anchor and went to sea.

With the Mediterranean Fleet

As soon as the summer manoeuvres were over, we were under orders to join the Mediterranean Fleet, under the command of Admiral Sir Berkeley Milne.5 An immediate priority was exchanging our British stewards and cooks for Maltese ones from a ship recently returned from the station. The gunroom messman (to whose mess I belonged) was a well-dressed individual with toothbrush moustache, who, while we were in home waters, fed us mainly on promises of the delicacies which would be ours on arrival in Malta, headquarters of the Mediterranean Fleet. Although these never materialised, we forgave him because, towards the end of the month, he was always good for an advance of ten shillings, which was of great importance to an impecunious midshipman drawing one shilling and nine pence a day. During the weeks before our departure, through the agency of the messmen, the canteen manager and other Maltese on board, contracts were awarded to their various relatives in Malta for the privilege of doing our laundry when we arrived on the station; another ‘privilege’ was the right to lie off ship in their gaily painted dghaisas – small boats resembling gondolas – and take officers and men ashore when required. This latter concession included the highly-prized ‘gashing’ rights which entitled the holder to collect all the left-over food from the appropriate mess, a large number of Maltese families living entirely on what the fleet discarded.

At last the great day came and, on 27 August 1913, we slipped our moorings. Making our way down the Channel, we rounded the south-westerly island of Ushant and set course for Gibraltar, entering the harbour at the beginning of September. Since Admiral Milne, in his flagship, the Inflexible, was at Gibraltar, we spent the next two months cruising and exercising in the Western basin as well as taking part in the annual Mediterranean Fleet Regatta. Towards the end of October we proceeded to Malta, stopping at Cartagena and Valencia, with its neoclassical style bullring, built like a Roman amphitheatre. Our last port of call was Cagliari in Sardinia.

Long before Gozo Light came up over the horizon, all the Maltese on board crowded on the fo’c’sle sniffing the air; when we entered Malta’s Grand Harbour their excitement was intense. That the names of all the successful applicants for jobs had long been known in the island did not deter the unsuccessful ones from turning up to welcome us as well. There were always one or two undistributed ‘plums’ to be picked up, like the chief and petty officers’ laundry and the ‘gashing’ rights on their messes. So, on this fine October afternoon as the bugler sounded the ‘G’, at which signal the booms swung out and the gangways were lowered with clockwork precision, an indescribable clamour arose from the floating populace gathered to greet us. Dozens of dghaisas surged forward, impelled by the powerful strokes of the two standing oarsmen. As they converged on the ship and lack of sea-room prevented any further movement, tongues wagged instead of oars, giving the impression of a wordy battle of unparalleled ferocity. Quite unmoved by the commotion around them, a number of ‘would-be’ washerwomen or sellers of lace sat quietly in the sternsheets under their black faldettas, awaiting their chance to come on board. It took the officer of the watch, assisted by the gangway staff, all his time to check the credentials of the invaders as they sought to take possession of the latest addition to the fleet.

For a young midshipman – I was just eighteen – it was an interesting and exciting glimpse of the old Europe. Turkey held sway down the Palestinian coast, Egypt was under British tutelage and the aged Emperor Franz Josef still sat on the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. In November we visited Alexandria and I obtained leave to visit Cairo and the pyramids. During our stay Field Marshal Lord Kitchener – famed for his victory at Omdurman in 1898 and currently serving as British Agent and Consul-General in Egypt – gave a ball at the Citadel to which members of the fleet were invited. The fact that he omitted to remove his sword meant that the officers had to adhere to protocol by following his example and keeping theirs on, much to the discomfort of their dancing partners, until an ADC summoned up enough courage to inform the great man, who was a non-dancer, of the trouble he was causing!

Christmas Day 1913 was spent on board ship, my journal recording: ‘Fine but cloudy...we had a short stand up service on the quarter deck... the mess decks were elegantly decorated with green and coloured papers.’

By late January 1914 we had returned to Sheerness for a change of crew before returning to Gibraltar. During the spring and summer months we steamed across the Mediterranean, stopping at various ports along the way. The cruise which I enjoyed most was at the beginning of May when we went up the Adriatic to Venice, the water so shallow that we had to anchor some seven-and-a-half miles from the city. The customary salutes were exchanged, an Italian aeroplane flying over the fleet as we anchored. Having obtained leave to go ashore, my first sight of St Mark’s Square, the Rialto and the Bridge of Sighs remains in my memory. I knew little of Titian and his fellow artists, but the seeds of appreciation were sown which, with increased knowledge, ripened into deep affection. I have since returned to Venice many times and it retains all the enchantment of when I first discovered its many treasures.

At Trieste the Austro-Hungarian Navy entertained us most hospitably. In accordance with custom, the SMS Viribus Unitis had been detailed to be our host ship (we called host ships ‘chummy’ ships) for the duration of our visit and we junior officers became very friendly with our opposite numbers. The first of a class of four dreadnought battleships to be built for the Austro-Hungarian Navy, the Viribus Unitis had just been commissioned in 1912. A feature which interested us was her triple 12-inch turrets since, in those days, triple turrets were something of an innovation. Another unusual feature was that they were painted dark green. One memorable excursion was travelling inland to visit the famous stables at Lipizza, where the beautiful grey horses which drew the emperor’s carriage were bred.

We then set course for Pola (Pula) on the Adriatic’s eastern coastline. A large number of Austrian ships were in harbour including the Prinz Eugen, another of Austria-Hungary’s new dreadnoughts and we were again well looked after. At a brilliant ball at the Marinekasino – the Officers’ Club – I encountered my first experience of ‘cutting in’. I can well remember my disappointment at having to surrender a charming partner to a magnificently attired young army officer who approached and, with a short, stiff bow and a click of his highly polished boots, indicated his desire to dance with her. I naturally ignored his first approach but when the lady explained that it was the custom of the country I regretfully had to comply. Returning via Brioni (Brijuni), where we visited the Zoological Gardens, by mid-May we were back in Malta.

Our visit had ended with many auf wiedersehens but barely a week later the Austrians arrived in Malta on a return visit, their squadron consisting of the Viribus Unitis, the Tegetthoff and a pre-dreadnought battleship, the Zrinyi. We were overjoyed to find ourselves in a position to return some of their hospitality. We wined and dined them and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in youthful exuberance and extravagance, little thinking that we were entertaining men who would soon become our enemies.

Our last cruise in early July took us to Marmarice (Marmaris), a delightful landlocked harbour on the southern shore of Asia-Minor and subsequently the setting of Major William Drury’s famous 1933 story The Passing of the Flagship, where the Indomitable’s crews excelled themselves in another regatta.6 From there we visited Larnaca in Cyprus, Tripoli and Beirut on the Mediterranean coastline before returning to Malta.

Despite the political uncertainty in Europe following the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, on 28 June in Sarajevo (our friends on the Viribus Unitis transporting their bodies from Sarajevo to Trieste), on 24 July we went into the dockyard to start a refit which, as the captain noted ‘was especially badly wanted on account of our electric wiring being in such a very rotten state’. Three days later we commenced the refit, but, during the day, news was received that Austria had declared war on Serbia, since the Serbians had failed to comply with Austria’s demands concerning the recent assassinations. Our refit was therefore postponed and we prepared for sea.

‘The situation in Europe is becoming very grave,’ I noted on 29 July, ‘Great Britain and France are expected to support Russia, and Russia’ (who had already indicated her support for Serbia) ‘has mobilised.’ On Sunday 2 August after divine service on the quarterdeck, Captain Kennedy addressed the ship’s company ‘on the subject of being prepared for action both morally and physically’. At 2.30pm news was received that Germany had declared war on Russia. Shortly afterwards we were given orders to recall all men and raise steam for full speed; during the night a signal was received from Admiral Milne that the situation was extremely critical and that a surprise attack might be expected. However nothing was sighted and we sailed towards Malta. At 10pm we received orders to proceed at high speed towards Gibraltar to intercept the German battlecruiser Goeben which had been sighted in the Mediterranean.

In addition to the three battlecruisers, Inflexible, Indomitable and Indefatigable, the First Cruiser Squadron, under Rear Admiral Ernest Troubridge, comprised four armoured cruisers, while there were also four light cruisers, including HMS Gloucester commanded by Captain Howard Kelly, (who was to play an important role in shadowing the Goeben when she eventually headed towards Cape Matapan) and HMS Dublin, commanded by his brother, Captain John Kelly. Having received intelligence that the German ships had reached the harbour at Messina in order to coal, Admiral Milne’s assumption was that they would attempt to break out and reach the Atlantic. After dispatching Indomitable and Indefatigable towards Gibraltar, Milne, in his flagship, the Inflexible, remained near Malta to coordinate operations, while Troubridge watched the Adriatic.7

War Routine

On the morning of 4 August smoke was sighted on our starboard bow and ‘Action’ was sounded off. In a few minutes we realised this was the German cruiser Breslau; shortly afterwards the Goeben appeared about 10,000 yards on the starboard beam, both ships having been engaged in bombarding the fortified ports of Bône and Philippeville in North Africa following France’s declaration of war on 3 August. Since Great Britain had not yet declared war we could not engage the Goeben and could only follow orders to shadow her. It was an exciting moment and an entry in my journal records the fact that we loaded all guns, keeping them trained fore and aft, ‘being fully prepared to fire on her if she fired on us’. Captain Kennedy also had to determine whether the flag of the German Admiral – Rear Admiral Wilhelm Souchon – was flying, since, according to the Regulations and Customs of the Sea, we should have saluted it, even though there was a risk of the Germans replying by shot and shell. But, he observed, ‘there was no such luck for there was not a flag up’.8 We continued to shadow her until about 4pm when, although both the Indomitable and the Indefatigable were going full speed, she drew away from us. The cruiser, HMS Dublin was then dispatched to shadow her but at 6.30pm she returned reporting that the Goeben had outdistanced her and appeared to be steering to the south-west. We took a north-easterly course hoping to meet her. At 10pm we received orders to join Admiral Milne in his flagship, the Inflexible, off Cape [Cap] Bon. At 11pm we received news that an ‘ultimatum’ had been issued to Germany on account of her trying to force Belgium to give her free access for movement of her troops in Belgian territory.

Having outrun the British battlecruisers, the German ships returned to Messina to re-coal. Unknown to Admiral Milne, following an alliance with Ottoman Turkey on 2 August, Souchon had been instructed to head for the Dardanelles.

My journal on 5 August began: ‘1.20am, a signal was received from the Admiralty “War is declared. Commence hostilities against Germany.”’ But, I continued, ‘Italy intends to maintain her neutrality and we are not at war with Austria.’ By 10am we were off Cape Bon: ‘nothing having been seen during the night. Flagship & Chatham & Dublin also joined & several destroyers’. Since no news had been received of the Goeben or Breslau, we made for Bizerta on the northern coast of Tunisia, where we were detailed to coal. With news spreading of our declaration of war against Germany, we entered the harbour amidst prolonged cheers from all the French ships and inhabitants.

By the afternoon of 6 August we had finished coaling and again prepared for sea. The following day (7 August), with both the Inflexible and Indefatigable ahead of us, we set course for Malta. Having again taken on coal and oil fuel, the next day we were once more at sea, travelling eastward, the Goeben and Breslau now having been reported to have passed Cape Matapan ‘late yesterday’. But on the same day a rather questionable order was received from the Admiralty to ‘commence hostilities against Austria’ which meant that we altered course up the Adriatic. As I recorded in my journal it was not until 3pm on 9 August that a signal was received: ‘Not at war with Austria, Battle cruisers continue chase of Goeben & Breslau.’ So we turned and set course for Cape Matapan ordering the two cruisers, Weymouth and Chatham, to join us. The following day we parted company with the Inflexible and spread out to patrol. Finally, at noon on 11 August we heard from the Admiralty: ‘Urgent. Goeben and Breslau arrived Dardanelles’ whereupon the three battle cruisers proceeded to the Dardanelles and began patrolling 17 miles from the mouth, while the Weymouth and Chatham were stationed at the mouth. The next day came the information that the German ships had been sold to Turkey and that the crew was going to return to Germany!

As we now know, had the right dispositions been made, they would never have escaped from the trap into which they had ventured. Captain Kennedy felt very strongly about this and committed his views to paper, a copy of which he sent to his bank in case he should not survive the war. ‘Had the C-in-C started from where he was, to the West of Sicily, when he first heard that the Goeben had left Messina, even he might have caught her up before she got to the Dardanelles and knocked her about a good bit.’ Instead, he complained, we three big ships had ‘dawdled to Malta’ and waited there for the Indefatigable to complete with coal. He was firmly of the opinion that the ships should never have got away and certainly if the size of the hunting force, which comprised three battle cruisers, heavy and light cruisers and a number of destroyers, is taken into consideration, it would seem that when the two German ships stopped at Messina for fuel we ought to have been able to bring them to action when they left. ‘Had these German ships been prevented from getting to the Dardanelles’, he concluded ‘there would hardly have been any chance of the Turks joining in the war.’9

Our lack of success was in part due to poor intelligence. It seems to have occurred to no one that they might make for a Turkish port; yet at the end of June the Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Milne, had visited Constantinople (Istanbul), by which time German influence in Turkey was well-established. The Goeben was also faster than any ship in the British fleet so a stern chase could avail us nothing. Not since Nelson’s famous search for the French fleet before the Battle of Trafalgar had there been such a remarkable game of hide and seek.

Both Admiral Milne and Rear Admiral Troubridge came under severe criticism for having allowed the German ships to escape. In November Troubridge was court-martialled for failure to engage the enemy. Later he was honourably acquitted on the grounds that instructions from the Admiralty were unclear regarding engaging a ‘superior force’.10

On 13 August, at about 3.30am, a signal was received: ‘Commence hostilities against Austria.’ This was fully anticipated. While the Inflexible and a number of the cruisers returned to Malta, we stayed in the Dardanelles together with the Indefatigable and the Gloucester, taking up a position off Tenedos Island. Admiral Milne then returned to England, since it had been agreed that the supreme command of the Allied Forces in the Mediterranean would be vested in the Commander-in-Chief of the French Navy in the Mediterranean, 62-year-old Vice Admiral Augustin Boué de Lapeyère.11

We remained patrolling off Tenedos Island throughout September and October. On the 29th the Turks carried out a surprise attack on Russia’s Black Sea coast leading to Russia’s declaration of war against the Ottoman Empire. Two days later, at 9.30pm, we received a signal: ‘Commence hostilities against Turkey at once.’ On 3 November, in our first action against the Turks, we proceeded towards the Gallipoli Peninsula in order to bombard the forts on Cape Helles at the entrance to the Dardanelles. While British ships opened fire on Sedd el Bahr on the left and northern side of the entrance, the French ships fired at Kum Kale on the southern side. ‘After the first two salvos the forts replied to our fire but all their shots were miles short. One ricocheted about 30 yds ahead of us,’ I recorded, noting that ‘one of our shots raised a huge column of smoke ashore & presumably exploded a magazine & silenced a battery’. After just over two hours we steamed away back towards Tenedos.12

Our action was the prologue to the great drama which was to be played out on the Gallipoli Peninsula a few months later, but in which we were not destined to take part, when, following a failed attack by sea in March 1915, Allied troops, including the ‘Anzac’ forces of Australia and New Zealand, landed on the peninsula on 25 April in order to secure the route to Russia from the Crimea. After eight months and thousands of casualties they had to withdraw, having made no headway against the strongly entrenched Turks.

By the end of November we were back in Malta for our refit. Soon afterwards we were ordered home to join the Grand Fleet under Admiral Sir John Jellicoe’s command.13

The Grand Fleet and Dogger Bank

We arrived home on a dull and windy Christmas Day, passing through the Firth of Forth at about 4.30pm. ‘It was very cold & blowing hard & the ship, especially the messdecks were swimming with water which made a rather unpleasant day for the sailors’, I recorded. Our orders were to join the Grand Fleet the next day at 8am at a rendezvous 150 miles due east of the Firth of Forth. Everyone in the ship, from the captain downwards, was glad to get back to the main theatre of operations and to rejoin our old squadron under the command of Vice Admiral Beatty, whose battlecruisers, including the Invincible, had already given proof of their prowess in late August at the Battle of Heligoland Bight in the North Sea when they attacked German patrols off the north-west coast of Germany. They were now impatiently waiting for another chance to come to grips with the enemy.14

On 23 January 1915 we sailed from the Firth of Forth. The following morning we intercepted a German squadron under Rear Admiral Franz Hipper’s command. It comprised the battlecruisers, Derfflinger, Seydlitz and Moltke and the heavy cruiser Blücher, with attendant destroyers, on their way to bombard one or other of our coastal towns of Hartlepool, Scarborough and Whitby. Captain Kennedy, who had carefully studied the reports of the 1904–05 Russo-Japanese war, relating to the benefits of improved hygiene and sanitation to prevent the spread of disease, insisted that everyone should have a sterilised, clean battle suit into which he was to shift before action. Mine consisted of a pair of white duck trousers and a white sweater which was hardly adequate to withstand the rigours of a cold January day in the North Sea. Fortunately, my action station was in one of the 12-inch turrets and, once inside, I was fairly well protected. I can still remember the excitement of seeing my guns loaded and fired in action for the first time. (I did not count the bombardment of the Turkish forts in November which was a very tame affair.) Vice Admiral Beatty’s flagship, HMS Lion, bore the brunt of the action and had to haul out of line. We, being the oldest ship present, had some difficulty in keeping up with our consorts; when the Blücher’s speed was reduced and her consorts abandoned her to her fate, we concentrated our fire on her.

‘Dearest Father & Mother,’ I wrote to my parents, ‘I have no doubt you are anxiously expecting to hear from me, and you can be sure I am taking the first opportunity...The morning watch, which was gradually drawing to a close on Sunday 24th found me at Night Defence on the fore lower bridge. Something was expected but no one knew what, and as the grey dawn slowly broke in the East the horizon was eagerly scanned in the hope the approaching day would reveal something. The sea was like a mill pond and it was a cold clear crisp day.’ I continued:

Action sounded (0845) grab everything, including notebook and pencil and up on deck and into my turret (Q turret). Test loading gear and everything correct and then up on top of turret to look round and this is what I saw: on our starboard bow the Lion, Tiger, Princess Royal and New Zealand cleaving the water at full speed like greyhounds straining at a leash. On our port bow the distant smoke of light cruisers, ahead the black and heavy smoke of the enemy in full retreat followed by three light cruisers leading a host of destroyers. At 9 o’clock the Lion opened fire but we could not see how her shots fell and at 0912 the enemy replied. We slowly gained on them and then our other ships began to fire and the shots began to fall faster and thicker. At 0945 three of the enemy ships appeared to be on fire and the last ship in their line, the Blücher, was seen to be dropping behind. Flash, flash, flash – bang, bang, bang the battle raged and then, through the navy phone, came ‘A turret open fire!’ It was now our turn and so down I went into the turret.

At 1031 the enemy altered to port and so did we and this brought my turret into action against the Blücher. In and out recoiled the guns as we pounded the German ship. ‘Left gun ready’ shouted someone and another 850lbs of explosive went hurtling towards the Blücher. About 1045 a Zeppelin joined the action and dropped a bomb about twenty yards on our starboard bow with a bang like a gun going off. It paid for its temerity however as it fell a prey to the guns of a light cruiser. At 1115 the other ships had chased the enemy as near to his coast as was deemed safe and so joined us against the Blücher which, by 1145, was totally disabled and burning fiercely. Just as we finished a high sheet of flame leapt up forward in the Blücher and stayed for about thirty seconds and I should think must have roasted all of them in their fore turret....At 1207 when we were still watching her astern she suddenly listed over to port, a cloud of steam and she was no more. Light cruisers and destroyers surrounded the spot and picked up about 150, I believe, out of a crew of 800 odd. It was a pathetic sight to see that huge ship a mere wreck lying helpless as we steamed by with our guns hot from the fury of battle and just waiting for her to go down.

Imbued with a firm belief – like so many others – that God was on our side, I concluded my letter: ‘In the joy of victory we must not forget the Lord who is able to lift up or cast down and so I shall go to early service next Sunday if possible “to give thanks unto the Lord for his many and great mercies.”’15 Although the rest of the German squadron escaped we subsequently learnt that they had suffered considerable damage, a fact which was headlined in a London daily paper as ‘Beatty’s Battle-cruisers Batter the Baby-killers!’ I must admit that I thought the caption rather inapt at the time, but such is or even was, journalese.

When the action was over Vice Admiral Beatty ordered us to take his damaged flagship, the Lion, in tow. The weather was beautiful and calm and Captain Kennedy’s seamanship superb; we proceeded safely, keeping a sharp look out for submarines, the gun crews having orders to open fire on a periscope at once if they spotted one. About 11am the following day, 26th, we passed under the Forth Bridge amidst the cheers of the forts and ships in harbour and towed the Lion up to her berth, where we slipped her and she anchored and we then anchored ourselves. In token of their appreciation Captain Ernle Chatfield and the officers of HMS Lion presented the captain and officers of HMS Indomitable an extremely handsome silver statuette of a guardian angel, with a silver lion on either side, inscribed ‘To commemorate a very excellent 6-and-a-half-inch hawser’.16 When the ship was broken up after the war it was given to Captain Kennedy and apparently kept on his dining table for many years. We also received congratulations from Admiral Beatty on our fine steaming during the action.

Our engine room men had strained every fibre and every nerve in their bodies to keep the ship so well stoked with the result that we had steamed along at just under 27 knots! Anyone brought up on the oil fuel age can have no idea of the physical effort required of the stokers of a coal-fired ship when steaming at high speed. With the fans in the boiler room revolving at full speed, the boilers devoured coal almost as fast as a man could feed it into the furnace. Black, begrimed and sweating men working in the bunkers on the ship’s side dug the coal out and loaded it into skids which were then dragged along the steel floor plates and emptied in front of each boiler in turn. No hygienic sterilised suits for these men. If the ship was rolling or pitching, there was always the danger that a loaded skid might take charge with resultant damage to life and limb.

Looking down from above, the scene had all the appearance of one from Dante’s Inferno. ‘For flames I saw and wailing smote mine ear.’17 Watching the pressure gauges for any indication of a fall in pressure, the chief stoker walked to and fro encouraging his men. Every now and then the telegraph from the engine room would clang and the finger on the dial move round to the section marked ‘More Steam!’ The chief would press the reply gong with an oath. ‘What do the bastards think we’re doing?’ To the men he would say: ‘Come on boys! Shake it up. Get going!’ Then the ship would shudder and above the roar of the fans could be heard the deep boom of the guns as another salvo sped on its way. No wonder that occasionally a man went beserk. To loosen the clinker from the bars of the furnace an iron bar known as a ‘slice’, 12 feet long and flattened at one end, was used. One day a young stoker, with an imagined grudge against one of the officers, picked up a slice and, raising it above his head, was about to bring it down on the crouching form of the officer who was examining one of the furnaces. A burley chief stoker shot out his arm and deflected the blow, thereby saving the overstressed young man from what might well have been a murder charge.

Coaling ship was an occupation from which no one was excused unless he were sick. The number of tons embarked by each ship per hour, i.e. the rate of coaling, was made known by general signal. Much to the surprise of our sister ships, the Indomitable always had the highest rate. Admiral Beatty even visited us to find out the reason why. In fact, it was simple: the squadron always returned to harbour when it was dark and coaling was scheduled to commence at first light. As soon as we anchored one of the picket boats, plus the pinnace, was lowered and part of the watch (a quarter of the seamen complement) was sent to where the colliers lay. The master of the collier from which we were to coal allowed our men to climb on board and begin uncovering the hatches and filling as many bags as possible. When, at daylight, coaling officially began, we already had a head start of more than 100 tons almost every time; spread out over the coaling period, this gave us a higher average than any other ship. The idea had come from Commander J.A. Moreton – known in the gunroom as JAM – who seemed to know all the tricks, especially at general drill in pre-war days. We midshipmen were greatly in awe of him; once he stopped my shore leave because, having thrown his telescope at me for some misdemeanour, I had dodged it with the result that, much to his annoyance, it went over the side!18

Apart from the fact that coaling was a particularly dirty job and therefore the sooner done the better, in wartime it was essential to replenish bunkers as quickly as possible on return to harbour in case the enemy should sally forth and catch us on the wrong foot. A recent lesson was the experience gained in the South Atlantic. In November 1914 the German squadron commanded by Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee had attacked a British squadron off the coast of South America at the Battle of Coronel, whereupon a more powerful force of ships, under the command of Vice Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee, had been sent to search him out. The squadron, which included both the Invincible and Inflexible, had just finished coaling at the Falkland Islands, when the German squadron appeared and so they were able to sail and encompass its destruction.

The action was known as the Battle of the Falkland Islands. Spee, and his two sons, went down with their ships along with over 2,000 German sailors.19

In the weeks following the ‘Dogger Bank action’ (called the Battle of the Ems River) we made innumerable sorties but I saw nothing more of the German High Seas Fleet during the rest of my time in the Indomitable. Meanwhile, troubling news from the Dardanelles filtered through. In May the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, announced that one of our pre-dreadnought battleships, HMS Goliath, which was supporting the troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula, had been sunk by a night destroyer attack. About 120 officers and men were saved and about 500 drowned. This was the first record of a night attack made by destroyers during the war. The belligerents in the war were also increasing. At midnight on 23 May Italy declared war against Austria and Germany declared war against Italy.20

In September I got my first gold stripe as an acting sub lieutenant. My next appointment was to HMS Seagull, a small minesweeper based on Harwich. I took my leave of Captain Kennedy with regret. He had taught me a great deal which was to stand me in good stead throughout my career. One of his sayings, which I have often had occasion to call to mind, was ‘the greater the danger, the greater the coolness required’.


On 19 October 1915 I joined HMS Seagull, which was temporarily at Avonmouth, before returning to Harwich. An ancient old tub built in 1889 and originally classed as a torpedo gunboat, in 1909 she had been converted into a minesweeper. As I soon discovered, it was only the coal in the bunkers which kept the water out, since her sides were rusted through and perforated like a colander. Lieutenant Commander Harold de Gallye Lamotte was in command, while the navigating officer, Lieutenant A.J. Lever-Naylor, was a Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) officer from New Zealand. There was also a commissioned gunner, a tough old Irishman, who was forever talking about the white heather of Glengariff in County Cork and Johns, the commissioned engineer.21 For all my juniority, aged just 20, I was dubbed the first lieutenant.

Minesweeping during the Great War was a comparatively simple affair of towing a wire hawser between two ships, the wire being kept at the required depth by a heavy wooden contraption known as a kite. Our sister ship was another converted gunboat, HMS Spanker, and our task was to sweep the channels in the approaches to Harwich through which the force of cruisers and destroyers based there passed on their sorties against the Germans. In February 1916, the light cruiser, HMS Arethusa, flotilla leader of the Harwich Force, struck a mine on returning from operations off the German coast and became a total loss and so we were kept very busy. The German submarines were constantly laying small groups of mines in these channels and in the strong tidal steams which pertain to that part of the world, careful calculations were necessary to avoid the danger of being caught at low slack water when the mines were only a foot or two below the surface. On one occasion we were stopped because a sweep wire became foul of one of our propellers. I was aft on the quarterdeck superintending the clearing when I looked up and saw the horns of two mines just awash about 50 yards away on the port beam and we were slowly drifting down on top of them! I shouted to the bridge and the RNR lieutenant rushed to the telegraphs and put them both to full speed. We parted the sweep and damaged the propeller but we missed those mines by a few feet.

On another occasion, in similar circumstances, HMS Spanker decided to let go an anchor, whereupon there was a loud explosion and a huge column of water obscured her from view. When she reappeared, and we had ascertained that she was not in any immediate danger, Lieutenant Commander Lamotte reported to the senior officer at the base: ‘Spanker dropped anchor on a mine. No damage to Spanker save the loss of her anchor.’ A closer inspection, however, revealed that about 2,000 rivets had fallen out of her hull and she had to go in for a refit. Since we had quite a long defect list, we were also sent up the Thames for a refit at Messrs Green and Silley Weirs at the Royal Albert dock.

After six months of this necessary but monotonous minesweeping, I was longing for something more exciting. I envied the fellows in the sleek, black, oil-fired destroyers who dashed out of harbour on mysterious errands and frequently had skirmishes with the enemy, so, taking my courage in both hands, I decided to visit the Admiralty. I had been told that if an officer presented himself at the office of the Second Sea Lord (who was also Chief of Naval Personnel) in person he would be given an interview. I arrived at the entrance leading off the Mall and filled in a form, giving my name and ship. I paused before filling in the space marked ‘nature of business’. Noting my perplexity, the kindly porter suggested: ‘To discuss appointment’, which seemed quite non-committal so I wrote that down. He took the form into one of the offices opening off the corridor in which I was waiting with my heart in my mouth. Returning a minute or two later, he said: ‘The Commander will see you, Sir’. I was ushered into a small uncarpeted room with a desk across one corner at which sat a genial-looking man in uniform.

‘Well, what do you want?’ he asked cheerfully.

‘I wondered if there was any chance of a destroyer at Harwich, Sir,’ I ventured. He smiled and, picking up a pen on his desk, he asked: ‘How soon can you be ready to go?’

‘At once, Sir – that is provided my captain will let me go,’ I added, feeling rather guilty that I had not consulted him before he went on leave.

‘I’ll send a telegram directing you to join HMS Manly at Harwich forthwith,’ he replied. ‘The Sub there has gone sick and they’ve asked for an immediate relief.’ I could hardly believe my ears. It was all as simple as that. The Manly was one of the destroyers of the 10th Flotilla of the Harwich Force. I could not have wished for anything better. Thanking the commander profusely, I returned to my ship and packed. As soon as the Admiralty telegram arrived, I left. HMS Seagull did not survive the war, being sunk in a collision in 1918.22

Chapter Three

The Harwich Force

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.1


The Harwich Force was a unique command, charged with securing the approaches to the English Channel and preventing any German ships from breaking out into the Atlantic and interfering with our shipping. Composed of the 9th and 10th Flotillas, it included some of our latest destroyers of the L and M classes (of which HMS Manly was one) supported by the 5th Light Cruiser Squadron. Most of the officers and men had been together since the beginning of the war and the force possessed a sense of comradeship and a fighting spirit more typical of Nelson’s band of brothers than any command in which I have had the honour to serve. The outstanding personality of the Harwich Force was its commander, 45-year-old Commodore Sir Reginald Tyrwhitt, who had already distinguished himself at the Battle of Heligoland Bight; affectionately known to us as ‘Com (T)’, he welded the whole into a highly efficient fighting unit, every officer and man of which would gladly have followed him into the very jaws of hell itself.2

HMS Manly

The commanding officer of the Manly, Lieutenant Commander Ernest Kirkby, was one of the junior destroyer captains: a big, jolly man, he was a former navy rugby player and typical destroyer officer and I was to spend three very happy years under his command.3 Soon after I joined the ship on 21 March 1916, the Germans made another of their tip and run raids on the east coast and bombarded Lowestoft. On 25 April the Harwich Force put to sea and, although very much inferior to the German force, Com (T) led us straight towards them, forcing them to cease firing on the town and turn their attention to us. For a difficult half an hour the Germans gave us everything they had got but Com (T) withdrew in a leisurely manner until, suspecting they were being drawn into a trap, the German ships turned and ran for home. As the great plumes of water thrown up by the bursts of the German shell rose up on all sides, Lieutenant Commander Kirkby walked about the bridge unconcernedly, smoking a cigarette as if he did not have a care in the world. The torpedo coxswain, who always took the wheel in action, was a white-haired chief petty officer from Ireland and once or twice, when a salvo roared overhead he instinctively ducked. ‘Now, Coxswain,’ said Kirkby with mock solemnity, ‘I believe I saw you ducking.’ ‘Sure you did not, Sir,’ replied the coxswain, deeply offended. ‘It must have been the pitching of the ship that you were observing’!

On 31 May 1916 the Grand Fleet, under Admiral Jellicoe’s command, engaged the German High Seas Fleet off the coast of Jutland in the largest and last full frontal naval battle of the Great War. It was a great disappointment to the Harwich Force that we were not allowed to take part. The Admiralty suspected that one of the objects of the sortie of the German High Seas Fleet might be the reinforcement of the German destroyer flotilla based on the Belgian ports. We were therefore ordered to ‘raise steam for full speed’ in order to patrol in a position to intercept such an attempt. Among those involved at Jutland was the Lion, the damage received during the Dogger Bank action now repaired and the ship once more flying Vice Admiral Beatty’s flag in the Battle Cruiser Fleet under his command.

My former ship, the Indomitable, together with the Invincible, flagship of the squadron’s commander, Rear Admiral Horace Hood, and the Inflexible, were all present as part of the 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron, attached to the Grand Fleet. Having come late into the action, it was towards the end of the day that Captain Kennedy saw his next ahead, the Invincible, disappear in an angry cloud of smoke and spray, a dreadful explosion having broken the ship in two halves. ‘Someone called out “Look at the Invincible” but by that time there was no Invincible to be seen, only a huge mass of heavy smoke,’ he later recorded. ‘Trying to see into it, one made out a couple of odd-looking shapes, one like the sharp end of a cigar sticking out of the water and, about fifty yards from it, was what appeared the other end of the cigar... and up above them was the cloud of grey and black smoke. At about fifty yards distance was a circle of wreckage and amongst it could be seen a few very men’.4

HMS Invincible sank with the loss of all but six of the crew of over 1,000 including Rear Admiral Hood who was posthumously knighted. The outcome of the Battle of Jutland was not as decisive as the senior British naval commanders had anticipated. Lasting throughout the night of 31 May–1 June, 151 British and 99 German ships were engaged; fourteen British and eleven German ships were sunk. Over 6,000 British sailors died, twice as many as those lost by Germany, both sides claiming victory.

With the Invincible’s sinking Captain Kennedy found himself in command of Admiral Hood’s Battle Cruiser Squadron. Promoted rear admiral, he subsequently flew his flag ashore in command of the base at Peterhead, retiring from the Royal Navy in 1920 with the rank of admiral. He lived to enjoy many happy years of retirement and it was often my privilege and pleasure to visit him and talk over old times in the Indomitable.

The Harwich Force was not destined to engage in any further action against Germany, but we had plenty of hard work escorting convoys to and from Holland, patrolling in the Strait of Dover and off the Belgian coast, as well as taking part in periodic sweeps of the Grand Fleet designed to lure the German fleet out of its lair once more. On one occasion a Zeppelin airship appeared and dropped a few bombs in the vicinity of the force and drew upon itself the concentrated fire of the cruiser’s 6-inch guns. A lucky hit by a fighter plane set it on fire, whereupon Com (T) made a general signal to the force: ‘See Hymn number 224. Last verse.’ A hymn book was produced and we read: ‘Oh happy band of pilgrims/ Look upwards to the skies/ Where such a light affliction/ Shall win so great a prize.’ Although never so devastating as what we were to experience twenty-five years later, the dropping of incendiary bombs by Zeppelins, Harwich being a frequent target, caused numerous fatalities.

On 11 October 1916 we were at Dover. For my 21st birthday I received several copies of the popular red leather-bound Macmillan’s Pocket Kipling, including Kim and Stalky & Co. From my sisters, Phyllis and Peggy, I received The Day’s Work and from Captain Kirkby, Captains Courageous. Subsequently my family and friends added to my collection and the books became as well travelled as I, their red covers stained with sea spray.

HMS Torrid

As the war progressed and new destroyers were being built in increasing numbers, the ships of the Harwich flotillas were replaced by more modern and up-to-date vessels. In early 1917 we steamed the Manly up to Newcastle-on-Tyne and, with the exception of the engineer officer and a few key ratings, we turned over to a new destroyer, HMS Torrid. She had been built by Messrs Swan, Hunter and Wigham Richardson and the engine constructed by the Walsend Slipsay and Engineering Company.5 I saw her still going strong seventeen years later in the anti-submarine flotilla at Portland. It was customary in those days for the builders to choose the badges for the ships they built. The Torrid ’s was a flaming sun similar to that of the Sun Life Insurance Company and underneath was the motto: ‘For him dark days do not exist/ The brazen faced old optimist’. Kirkby was delighted with the motto and it was certainly most appropriate for he was always cheerful and optimistic even in the darkest days. The hand carved original now hangs in the Imperial War Museum and I hope still serves to lighten the darker moments of this nuclear age.6

When we rejoined the flotilla we found that the frequency of the Dutch convoys had been stepped up and for the next few months we were constantly at sea. The Germans tried in various ways to interfere with these ‘beef trips’ as we called them, since, in the early stages of the war, the convoyed vessels were mainly carrying meat from Holland to England. German destroyers from Zeebrugge and Ostend would occasionally sneak up under cover of fog or darkness hoping to find a weak spot in our defences, but they were not prepared to risk serious action. They placed great hopes in the use of that most sinister weapon, the mine. On one eventful morning on 25 July while we were at sea, all hands were at action stations at 5am after sighting four German destroyers bearing south; German aircraft were also observed. Having opened fire, the Germans replied with their fire, their leading destroyer appearing to have been hit twice. They then withdrew. But danger was ever present.

On another occasion, on a bitter cold night on 22 December 1917, we were one of eight destroyers escorting a convoy to Holland. As we neared the Dutch coast, the senior officer split the force into two and we, with our division, were ordered to sweep back to the westward whilst he and his division took up a position off the Maas lightship to wait the arrival of the westbound convoy coming out from the Hook of Holland. We were about 20 miles apart when we received news that HMS Valkyrie, the senior officer’s ship, had struck a mine. Although towed clear, within a matter of minutes we heard to our consternation that the Torrent, Tornado and Surprise, had suffered a similar fate. The surviving ship, the Radiant, managed to save only about a quarter of the three ship’s companies. It was a grim night and we all felt the loss of so many of our flotilla mates very keenly. Twelve officers and sailors were saved, 252 were never found. Nineteen from the Valkyrie also died.

The periodic refits of the destroyers usually took place at Hull or Immingham. The former was by far the more popular. The members of the Hull and East Riding Club made us welcome and we much enjoyed the excellence of their menu until an incendiary bomb from a Zeppelin alighted in their larder. I shall never forget the strange sight of hams, chickens, pheasants and other delicacies still hanging on their hooks but transformed into brittle lumps of charcoal.7 Grimsby was the nearest centre of amusement to Immingham, but it was at the end of a long ride in a tram or light railway. This difficulty did not prevent the sub lieutenant who had relieved me on my promotion to lieutenant (I having remained on as first lieutenant) from becoming engaged to a young lady whom we first sighted on the stage of the local variety theatre.8 The sub lieutenant was the son of a Canadian parson and by coincidence, after the war, I had the opportunity to visit Canada before he was able to return there with his bride. It thus fell to my lot to tell his good parents about their new daughter-in-law and to set at rest any fears they may have had. I am glad to say the marriage was happy and successful.

For the rest of the war the Harwich Force continued its operations in the North Sea. Meanwhile the great land battles along the Western Front had taken a devastating toll on life, with offensives fought in 1915 at Neuve Chapelle and Loos – at which a cousin, Lieutenant Cuthbert Schofield, was killed while serving with the Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) – and, in 1916, at Aubers Ridge and the Somme. In 1917 Germany instituted unrestricted submarine warfare, sinking the RMS Lusitania, this action contributing to the United States’ entry into the war. So damaging were Germany’s submarine attacks on Allied shipping that an attack was planned against the German submarine shelters on the Belgian coast. First, an advance in the Ypres Salient had to be made on land. But the attempt, in what was known as the Third Battle of Ypres, failed to break through the Western Front, culminating in the disastrous Battle of Passchendaele.

On the Eastern front, Russian resistance had collapsed in the wake of the 1917 Revolution which brought to power the Bolshevik leaders who signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany in March 1918. Following Germany’s last push across the Western Front, the Allied forces fought back, bolstered by the arrival of over one million American troops. The war against the Ottoman Turks had also run its course. On 30 October Ottoman Turkey signed an Armistice, followed by Austria-Hungary on 3 November. Finally, on 11 November an armistice was agreed with Germany concluding what became known as the Great War (and subsequently as the First World War).

After the Armistice in November 1918 the Harwich Force gradually dispersed. ‘We happy few, we band of brothers’ went our several ways to the four corners of the earth, but for many years afterwards, until the death of our famous and beloved leader in 1951, an annual dinner was held in London over which Admiral Tyrwhitt presided and which those of us – who were able – attended. If by the ‘Nelson touch’ one means the capacity to inspire in his subordinates a passionate loyalty and devotion, then Com (T) possessed it in full measure.

We paid the Torrid off in Saltash Creek, Plymouth in February 1919. We were glad to get back to our home port but it was a sad day for all that. Most of us had been together for over three years and the comradeship founded on our common experiences during the war was something which meant a good deal to officers and men alike. Leave, however, is good in any circumstances and we all had a long spell to which we could look forward.

Between 1914 and 1918 – including the losses at Jutland – the Royal Navy lost two dreadnoughts, three battlecruisers, eleven battleships, twenty-five cruisers, fifty-four submarines, sixty-four destroyers and ten torpedo boats. Total naval casualties were 34,642 dead and 4,510 wounded. Worldwide casualties for the First World War are estimated at approximately forty million, those of the United Kingdom under one million.

We yield Thee praise and Thanksgiving for our deliverance.9

Chapter Four

HMS Renown

‘Ich dien’1


In February 1919 I was appointed watchkeeper to the battleship HMS Marlborough, then about to sail to the Mediterranean, but the influenza germ which ravaged Europe at the end of the Great War set at naught the Admiralty’s plans for my future employment and I was still in bed when she sailed. After I had recovered, I received a new appointment directing me to proceed to Scapa Flow to join HMS Renown on 6 April. In the event it was a fortunate turn of fate. Although I served in her for less than a year, little did I know that those few months would be so interesting and exciting. HMS Renown and her sister ship, HMS Repulse, both launched in 1916, were a new design of fast, very lightly armoured battlecruiser designed for overtaking and overwhelming the German light cruisers. Their main armament was six 15-inch guns. The absence of side armour meant that every cabin had a scuttle, hence she was a very comfortable ship in which to live. The Renown’s captain at this time was Ernest Taylor and he commanded a very happy and efficient ship.2

In early May we moved to Rosyth before sailing south to Portsmouth. On 6 June we welcomed on board His Excellency the President-Elect of Brazil, Epitácio Pessoa, in order to take him on the first leg of his homeward voyage as far as Lisbon. He had been on a state visit to Britain and several other European countries, having led the Brazilian delegation during the negotiations of the Treaty of Versailles. The president was accompanied by his wife, Maria da Conceição, and daughter, Laurita, and when they dined with us in the wardroom during the passage they entertained us with some delightful Brazilian folk songs. The president played the piano and his daughter the guitar. I still have the score of one of these songs which the president gave me, entitled Luar do sertão (Hinterlands Moonlight). When he bade us farewell on our arrival at Lisbon we did not know that, before the year was out, we would have the pleasure of visiting him in his own country.3

At the beginning of July we were at sea on patrol in the Atlantic during the epoch-making flight of airship R34 to New York and back. Having left Britain on 2 July, the airship arrived in Long Island four days later with hardly any fuel left. The airship returned to Britain on 10 July. It was the first transatlantic flight undertaken by an airship (following the first aeroplane flight on 14/15 June).

A Royal Tour

On our return to Portsmouth we were greeted with the exciting news that HMS Renown had been selected to convey HRH The Prince of Wales to Canada on the first of his memorable tours to countries of the Commonwealth. The date fixed for our departure was 5 August before which there was a lot to be done. The ship was docked, painted and polished. Cabins were prepared and specially furnished for the royal suite. Everyone had some leave and then at last the day came when we were berthed at South Railway jetty in the dockyard which had been the scene of so many royal occasions. HM King George V and Queen Mary accompanied by Princess Mary travelled from London in the royal train to see their eldest son depart on his travels. With his customary thoroughness the king inspected all the arrangements made and shook hands with all the officers. Queen Mary too expressed a wish to have the officers presented to her. After lunching on board, the royal party went ashore and stood on the jetty while tugs towed us out into the stream. The band played, the crowds, assembled along the Hard, cheered and the royal tour had begun.

In addition to my duties as officer of the Quarterdeck Division, I was detailed to assist the navigating officer, Commander James Campbell, so I spent a great deal of my time on the bridge. Campbell was an expert in his particular profession and his skill and experience were soon put to the test. In terms of entertainment, instead of the usual ship’s band, the Band of the Plymouth Division of the Royal Marines had been embarked for the cruise. They were over forty strong, under the baton of Captain Patrick (Paddy) O’Donnell, a member of a family of renowned military bandmasters and who had brought a large library of music suitable for all occasions. The first night at sea the prince sent for Paddy and enquired if he had the music of ‘Buzz-Buzz’, a show then running in London. Paddy had to admit that it was not amongst his band’s repertoire. ‘Well report to me tomorrow morning and I’ll whistle it to you,’ said the prince. The following morning Paddy reported to the prince, as directed, and faithfully recorded the royal interpretation. That night at dinner the string orchestra rendered the music Paddy had transcribed.

We called first at Conception Bay on the south-east coast of Newfoundland; from there we went to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Passing through the Gut of Canso, which divides the Nova Scotia Peninsula from Cape Breton Island, we entered the wide estuary of the St Lawrence River; almost immediately we ran into a dense fog. It was important to arrive at Quebec on time if the prince’s schedule was not to be seriously upset. A few miles east of the city, the Isle of Orleans divides the river in two and the main channel on the south side, known as the Traverses, had only sufficient depth of water for us to pass through it at high tide. There was no radar in those days with which to see through the fog. All night long we groped our way up the narrowing estuary, our siren bellowing mournfully. We could only estimate our position by dead reckoning and by judging what allowance to make for the strong and uncertain tidal streams. When daylight came, pale and wan, the fog was as thick as ever and it was out of the question to attempt the passage of the Traverses until it lifted. Fortunately, we had an hour or two in hand and so Captain Taylor decided to anchor. Campbell estimated that we were opposite Murray Bay and so, sounding carefully, we edged towards the shore and let go. As we left the bridge he said to me: ‘If it doesn’t clear by noon the prince will be twenty-four hours late as it’s sure to shut down again tonight.’ At five minutes to twelve the fog rolled away, giving place to a gloriously sunny day!

When we fixed our position by the land we were within 300 yards of our estimated position. We quickly got under way and, with the aid of an extra knot or two, we arrived at our anchorage off Quebec at the exact minute given in our schedule on 21 August. The prince and his controller, Admiral Sir Lionel Halsey, were both delighted and Campbell was congratulated on a very fine piece of navigation. The responsibility lay, of course, with the captain who alone could decide whether to continue through the fog or not. ‘The Renown must have looked fine steaming up the St Lawrence,’ the prince wrote to his father, ‘and’, he continued, referring to the visit his father had made in 1908 to celebrate the tercentenary of Quebec’s founding, ‘it thrilled me to think that she was moored in the same billet opposite the citadel as that occupied by the Indomitable during your visit.’ Describing the crowds in Quebec (and throughout Canada) as ‘so volatile and vigorous as to constitute at times an almost terrifying phenomenon’, the Prince then set out in a special train to tour the great Dominion. Everywhere he went it was the same story of tremendous personal success. He virtually took Canada by storm.4

Travelling through Canada by train to Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver, among the Prince of Wales’s activities, he laid the foundation stone of the Peace Tower on Parliament Hill, opened the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto and met members of the League of Canadian Indians at Sault Ste Marie. He also took a three-day canoe trip down the Nipigon River to fish and hunt with two Ojibwa guides. In Saskatchewan he renamed a branch library in Regina as the Prince of Wales Library. During his tour of Vancouver, he opened the New Westminster Exhibition. In Victoria he laid the foundation stone of a statue of Queen Victoria on the grounds of the province’s parliament building.

We spent ten days in Quebec and during our stay, as previously mentioned, I was able to set at rest any fears which the parents of the sub lieutenant in the Torrid may have had about their son’s bride. I also enjoyed some excellent trout fishing in the stream in the neighbourhood of Valcartier. It had been arranged that, during the prince’s absence touring Canada, we should carry out a cruise to the West Indies and Rio de Janeiro. After a call at Halifax we steered south and were soon basking in hot tropical sunshine.

Our first stop was St Kitts which we reached on 9 September; we then proceeded to Barbados, the most southerly of the Windward chain of islands. A big programme of sporting events had been arranged which included a polo match. This was a rather formidable proposition as there were only two of us who had ever attempted the game, of which I was one. The challengers agreed that a match was out of the question and suggested that we should have a friendly game with two of them and two of us on each side, the balance being made up from midshipmen who could ride but had never played polo. At the appointed time we reached the ground, situated in the middle of the race course. One of our hosts approached me and said he would be glad to mount me on a chestnut pony which he had recently acquired. He admitted that he did not know much about him nor the pony about the game. ‘So we’re two of a kind,’ I said as I mounted. A large crowd had turned out to see the fun, including the governor and his lady. As I manoeuvred my steed onto the ground, I soon realised that he had steam up in all boilers and was raring to go.

When the game started I had some difficulty in steering him in the right direction; however, the ball chanced past us in the way in which we were heading and we set off in pursuit. One of my messmates, who was playing on the opposite side, decided to try and head me off. We were on converging courses and both going full speed. Neither of us drew rein and the inevitable happened. We met with a resounding thud that nearly unseated us both. This was too much for my pony. Seizing the bit between his teeth he bolted, and, much to the amusement of the crowd, we left the ground and made two complete circuits of the race course before I could persuade him to reduce speed. By this time the chukka was over and I was thankful to be allowed to manoeuvre him back to the place where the grooms were waiting. As I dismounted a cheerful face looked up at me, grinning from ear to ear and said: ‘Massa, you sho did make a race horse outta dat pony!!’

On another occasion I was invited to a decoy pigeon shooting party. The rendezvous was for 6.30am. Although it was a rather tame sport, our hosts were such charming company that the first two hours passed pleasantly enough. By 9am I was beginning to feel hungry but politeness forbade any enquiry regarding the possibility of breakfast. The time dragged on with leaden feet and conversation became more desultory until at last at 10.30 our host said genially: ‘Well, I don’t think we’ll get any more [pigeons] and I daresay you could do with some breakfast.’ I exchanged glances with my brother officers and, with difficulty supressing our real feelings, we replied that it sounded quite a good idea. Only when we reached the club did we understand the West Indian interpretation of ‘breakfast’ and any pangs of hunger were a small price to pay for such a sumptuous meal. Never have I eaten such a breakfast, not even in Australia where chops and steaks are normal fare, gin and fresh limes figuring prominently besides the customary eggs, bacon and pancakes.

After a brief visit to the delightful island of Granada, famous for its nutmegs and spice, we arrived off Port of Spain in Trinidad where we stopped for fuel. The voyage from Trinidad to Rio de Janeiro meant Crossing the Line, which provided the opportunity for a good day’s sport on 27 September. There were many on board who had never crossed the line, myself included, so we were all subjected to the attentions of King Neptune’s surgeon and barber before being tipped over backwards into the big canvas bath which had been rigged for the purpose. Esteemed as a ‘Son o’ Neptune’, we were given a certificate signed by Neptune, Rex for ‘having been duly presented to His Majesty King Neptune with the ceremony proper to the occasion’. Having researched the origin of this custom, there seems no doubt that it is an adaptation of the ancient rites connected with the propitiation of those gods who were believed to control the elements. To the ancients, the sea was a terrifying place peopled with monsters, dragons and giants lying in wait for the mariner. Islands and rocks were inhabited by beautiful sirens seeking to entice sailors to their doom. The only way to ensure a safe passage was to placate these deities with some sacrifice or other. There is nothing mystic or sinister about the present-day ceremony which affords an occasion for fun and a certain amount of horse-play and is generally enjoyed by everyone on board.5

The harbour of Rio de Janeiro, as seen in the early morning light when approaching from seaward, is surely one of the most beautiful sights in the world. The white buildings of the city stand out against a background of dark mountains and, as the windows of the houses and offices catch the first rays of the rising sun, the city appears to be on fire. The dark cone of Sugar Loaf mountain stands like a sentry guarding the left side of the entrance, while, on the right, and hardly less impressive, stands a large rock known as Pico. As we passed between these two sentinels the pear-shaped bay opened out before us and the lush vegetation of the numerous islands added to the beauty of the scene. High up on the port hand I watched the sun gilding the summit of the Corcovado (meaning ‘hunchback’) mountain on which a large white stone statue of Christ now stands with arms extended over the harbour. Far below, on the left, the warm waters of the South Atlantic surged and tumbled over the white coral sand of the famous Copacabana beach. Standing on the bridge and not being directly concerned with the navigation of the ship, I was able to enjoy this magnificent scene to the full.

While we were in Brazil, HE President Pessoa did everything to make our stay as enjoyable as possible. On 13 October he came on board and we fired a 21-gun salute in his honour. We also attended a reception at his palace. There was cricket and football, swimming and rowing and night life as exotic as anything Paris can offer. Another event of interest was going up country to see the big hydro-electric power station which supplied Rio with electricity. On another occasion I took a party of midshipmen shooting in the jungle about 100 miles up the Sao Paolo railway line. Although our bag was nil we saw a good deal of wildlife and particularly some of those beautiful large butterflies indigenous to South America. On the way back, while we were having dinner in the train’s dining car, we roared over a bridge at high speed. As soon as we were on the other side, a stranger sitting opposite me heaved a sigh of relief. Noticing the enquiring look on my face he leaned over and said: ‘I’m always thankful when we are safely across that bridge. Last year this same train left the rails and plunged into the gorge.’

During our stay there was much talk in the city about the impressive United States’ squadron which had visited the port a short time previously and we were naturally anxious to wipe the eye of our rivals. It had been arranged that, on the evening of our big reception on board, we should give a firework display and illuminate the ship. Since the event had been advertised in the press, at the appointed time the harbour was thronged with thousands of spectators. The ship was darkened with not a light showing, a bugle sounded and suddenly she appeared outlined in green flares held by men stationed all along the side. Green is the national colour of Brazil and an audible ‘Ah-h’ rose from the crowd followed by ecstatic cheers as burst after burst of 250 rockets electrically fired from the fo’c’sle roared into the air. As the green flares died out the illuminating circuits were switched on and the ship became a blaze of light. From that time onwards we heard no more about the American squadron.

We left Rio de Janeiro on 14 October and headed north again for Port of Spain, Trinidad where we spent an enjoyable leave, swimming, playing cricket and partaking in some of the finest duck shooting which has ever come my way. With the onset of cold weather in North America the mallard and widgeon migrate in their thousands to the mangrove swamps to the south of Port of Spain. Although we had no dogs to retrieve the birds we shot we got some pretty good bags. During our stay I took a party consisting of the subaltern of the marines and some midshipmen in a whaler in search of alligators, which we had heard were to be found in these swamps. Unfortunately, I had neglected to consult the tide tables before we set out. There was a good breeze and we covered the six miles to the edge of the swamp in good time. We had not penetrated very far before one of our party sitting in the bows spotted an alligator and bagged it. With such encouragement, the excitement amongst the midshipmen was intense and, using the oars as poles, we punted further into the swamp. At 4pm I decided it was time to return. We had seen no more alligators, only flocks of parrots and egrets which screeched high overhead and the heat was oppressive. We were making slow progress when suddenly the boat struck an obstruction. Since we were returning by the same channel by which we had entered, I was momentarily puzzled until I realised that the level of the water had fallen about a foot which was just enough to prevent us clearing the fallen tree trunk on which we had grounded.

In an attempt to lighten the boat, we got out into the soft