Their Lawful Occasions

First published in book form in Traffics and Discoveries (1904),
this story is prefaced by a piece of verse 'The Wet Litany'.
'Their Lawful Occasions' first appeared in the 'Strand' Magazine before being collected in 'Traffics and Discoveries (1904). Although in two parts (presumably for the 'Strand's' purposes), it is best read as one, in the same way as 'William the Conqueror' ('The Day's Work').
Kipling himself gives the source of the title, as Navy Prayer. It is, in fact, regarded by the Royal Navy as The Naval Prayer, and is to be found in the Book of Common Prayer, in the section 'Forms of Prayer to be used at Sea', where it is the first prayer of all, with the note "The two following prayers are also to be used in His Majesty's Navy every day" (my prayer book is dated 1922). Prayers (that is, in the sense of public worship) are no longer said on board HM ships every day, but no service on board would be completed without the magnificent language of this prayer. There will be few British members of our Society aged over 50 who have not at some time seen Noel Coward's terribly stiff-upper-lip film "In Which We Serve" (based loosely on Lord Louis (as he then was) Mountbatten's exploits at the start of World War II in HMS Kelly, the leader of the flotilla to which HMS Kipling belonged). The words in the title of that film also come from the same prayer: "Be pleased to receive into thy Almighty and most gracious protection, the persons of us thy servants and the Fleet in which we serve."
'The Wet Litany' echoes the source of the main story's title. This can best be described as the thoughts of an observer on the bridge of a late Victorian battleship, keeping station astern of another, as the squadron gropes its way up the Channel in a thick fog, such as can still be encountered - London particulars may have disappeared with the Clean Air Act, but no such considerations apply at sea, where meteorological rules haven't changed. The verse, and the story, must have resulted from RK's experience with Captain Bayly during the summer manoeuvres of 1897, when he went to sea in HMS Pelorus. This trip resulted in the articles collected in "A Fleet in Being", published in 1898. However, there are other clues which indicate that it was written after Queen Victoria's death. In the story, he describes the onset of a Channel fog, and that is expressed more poetically in the first verse of the poem. The last line of the first and last verse is a Latin rendition of one of the responses in the Litany, as set out in the Book of Common Prayer: "Good Lord, deliver us." (My apologies to those who are familiar with the Book of Common Prayer, but I am conscious that there are members of our Society who will be less so, or of a different Faith.)






Naval references in 'The Wet Litany'

Verse 2
last two lines
"When the intolerable blast / marks each blindfold minute passed" This is a reference to the 'One Long Blast' sounded on the siren or foghorn every minute in fog, to give warning of one vessel's presence to another, under the provisions of the 'International Rules for Avoiding Collision at Sea'. When you're on the bridge, usually directly in front of, and fairly close to, the siren, it certainly can be intolerable.
Verse 3
line 1
"When the fog-buoy's squattering flight / guides us through the haggard night" A fog-buoy was a marker float, towed on the end of a fine wire or rope, from the stern of each ship (except the last) of a line in close company, in fog. In line ahead (each ship following in the wake of another) the standard distance apart was 2 1/2 cables, or 500 yards. If the visibility was less than that distance, then the ship ahead streamed (= let out) a fog-buoy to a distance of 500 yards, and the ship astern kept the buoy abreast its bridge. Thus you knew that you were the right distance astern of your next ahead. The buoy consisted of a cross of wood, about 4 feet long, and 3 feet wide, in the form of a crucifix, towed, as it were, from the short, head, end. The cross arms were to prevent it from turning over, while at the foot end was a scoop, made of galvanized sheet iron/steel, which threw up a plume of water, readily visible. But the fog-buoy would not "guide you through the haggard night" in fog - you really would be unlikely to see it even if it was alongside you, no more than 25 yards away: darkness plus fog means adopting some other formation. But "squattering" exactly describes the buoy's motion, jerking, jinking, tunnelling through the waves.
Verse 3
line 3
"When the warning bugle blows" From about 1860 to 1960, in ships carrying a Royal Marine detachment, orders of a general nature (as opposed to seamanship orders) were passed by means of a bugle-call, rather than using the Boatswain's call, or pipe. In this case, the order being passed is to close all water-tight doors within the ship (see my comment later on "Man and arm watertight doors", in the text of the story). Normally, at sea, watertight doors below the waterline would be shut, though the odd one, in frequent use, might be left open, but watertight doors at or above the waterline would mostly be left open, to facilitate movement about the ship. At the onset of fog, (or when manoeuvring in close company, or on making an uncertain landfall) a higher state of preparedness would be assumed, initiated by bugle-call, and all watertight doors throughout the ship would be shut.
Verse 3
line 4.
"When the lettered doorways close" This refers to the watertight doors. Each bulkhead was lettered from forward, A though to Z as required, so that a door could be identified as, e.g. 'Lower deck D port'. (In HMS Warrior at Portsmouth, which dates from 1860, you can see the original letters painted on some of the bulkheads.) A similar system remains in use today.
Verse 4
first 4 lines
"When the unseen leadsmen lean, etc." See my comments on the use of the lead in my first 'glossary', covering "The Bonds of Discipline"
Verse 5
lines 3 & 4
"When her siren's frightened whine / Shows her sheering out of line" One short blast on the siren means "I am directing my course to starboard": two blasts, to port. So, one short blast, out of the regular sequence of long blasts, means, in effect, "Follow me round to starboard".
Verse 5
lines 5 & 6.
"When her passage undiscerned / We must turn where she has turned" It's all very well knowing that the ship in front is turning, but if you are to keep the line, and not turn inside or outside her turn, you want to know the exact moment she put her rudder over. If you are following in a ship's wake, you can see a 'kick' in it, where the rudder is put over, and so, as you pass through it, you put your rudder over at that moment, and then, in theory, you will finish up in formation astern of her, neither to one side, nor the other, with the fog-buoy squattering along where it was before.





Their Lawful Occasions - Part I


The story itself. The page references are in sequence, and are taken from the first English edition of 'Traffics and Discoveries' (red cloth, published by Macmillan in 1904: subsequent Macmillan red cloth 'Uniform' editions had the same pagination, as did the Macmillan red and blue pocket editions) Even if your edition is not quite the same, the sequence will be correct.


Page 105
line 3
"HMS Caryatid went to Portland to join Blue Fleet for manoeuvres" From the 1890s until the outbreak of World War I, the Home Fleet/Channel Squadron/Atlantic Fleet, or whatever its current title was, carried out tactical manoeuvres around the coasts of Great Britain at the end of the summer. There was usually some particular aspect of naval warfare to be examined - the efficacy of torpedo boats, or the effect of various rates of coal consumption on tactical thought - and the fleet was divided into two: the Red Fleet - the 'goodies', and the Blue Fleet - the 'baddies'.

In those far-off and degenerate times, the Blue Fleet was usually given the characteristics of the French Fleet. (My apologies to any of our French members who may stumble across this, but so it was.) In those days, when the British Empire was unashamedly red in all British school atlases, red was seen as an appropriate colour for the home side. After WWII, red became the opposition's colour, and Britain/NATO became the blues. In the `70s, someone in authority got an early attack of the PCs, and the opposing side became Orange, just in case the Soviets became paranoid.
Page 105
various
HM Ships Caryatid, Pedantic, Wraith, etc. These names (which did not represent real ships) are Kipling with tongue in cheek. The Victorian Admiralty's ships' names committee loved classical names, hence Mars, Hannibal, Dryad, Endymion, Euryalus, and so on through the alphabet - gods, goddesses, figures of myth and real names from antiquity. And they loved sonorous names indicative of strength and power for battleships: Majestic, Magnificent, Victorious, Illustrious. In 1897, HMS Majestic was the Flagship of the Channel Squadron, and Magnificent was the "leader of the second line". Pedantic is a gentle dig at such names.
Page 105
para. 2, line 10.
".., Lieutenant-Commander A.L. Hignett .." This is an interesting usage, since the rank of Lieutenant-Commander did not exist at that time. A.L. Hignett would have appeared in the Navy List as a Lieutenant, almost certainly with over eight years' seniority. And he would have signed official letters from his destroyer as A.L. Hignett, Lieutenant-in-Command, or possibly Lieutenant and Commander. However, there is little doubt that, entirely unofficially, the use of 'Lieutenant-Commander' was not out of the ordinary.
Page 106
last line but one.
".."Man and arm watertight doors! ..". This was the order passed when assuming a higher state of watertight integrity (see the comment above, on verse 3, line 3 of The Wet Litany. An armed sentry was posted at certain doors to open and shut them for the passage of authorized personnel.
Page 107
line 15.
"No. 267 torpedo-boat" When the self-propelled torpedo was introduced in the 1870s, it was carried in a few large ships of cruiser size, or above. (Incidentally, when the American Admiral Farragut said "Damn the torpedoes, Full steam ahead" in Mobile Bay, during the civil war between the States, he was referring to what are now called mines.)

The first engagement in which a self-propelled torpedo was fired in anger was in 1878, in an engagement between the British cruiser Shah and the Peruvian ship Huascar. It was not a success, since the Huascar could go faster than the torpedo!. But it was at that time that the first torpedo boats were being built, the Victorian steam-driven equivalent of later Motor Torpedo Boats and PT Boats. The French in particular built a large number of these craft, seeing them as a means whereby they could attack the British fleet, with a fair measure of success (they hoped), without having to build big, expensive battleships. And we built such craft, in quite some numbers, similarly to attack the French fleet.

They were not large craft, being about the same size as a really large ocean racing yacht today - and rather less comfortable, and certainly less well able to keep the seas. But they were perceived as a serious threat: the idea was that French torpedo boats would sneak across the Channel under cover of darkness, and deliver an unexpected attack on our fleet in Portsmouth or Plymouth (Pearl Harbour before its time). To counter them, bigger Torpedo Boat Destroyers were built, whose name was shortly condensed to 'Destroyer', and which had, by 1897 to all intents and purposes, taken over the functions of the torpedo boat. Hence, most torpedo boats were obsolescent, and had been reduced to reserve, only being brought out for the annual manoeuvres, as has No. 267 on this occasion.
Page 107
line 25
".. the new kind o' tiffy, which cleans dynamos with brick-dust and oil .." A "tiffy" was an engine-room artificer. Pyecroft is maligning the breed in general when he suggests that an ERA would clean his dynamo with brickdust - which was generally used as a cleaning abrasive for brass brightwork at that time.
Page 108
line 15
". Was about not evolutin' in his company" To carry out a drill 'as an evolution' meant - and still means - to do it as quickly as possible. So, to 'evolute' is a jocular expression, meaning to carry out any manoeuvre or operation.
Page 108
lines 17-18
"Knowin' Frankie's groovin' to be badly eroded by age and lack of attention " As the grooves of a gun's rifling get old and worn, or if they are not kept free from fouling, the gun becomes increasingly erratic. So it is with Admirals ..
Page 109
line 27
"He was the second cutter's snotty .." Probably most of you know that a 'snotty' was a Midshipman, an officer under training, and, allegedly, 'the lowest form of animal life'. Much of one's training was practical, and running a ship's boats was very much a part of that training. A Midshipman was nominally in charge of the boat, but he relied very much on his coxwain's experience; and a good coxwain could get 'his' Midshipman out of all sorts of trouble with a behind-the-hand whisper at the right time - to be rewarded (quite unofficially) by beer from the Gunroom pantry. And the word 'snotty' derives from the fact that 'the young gentlemen' were supposed to wipe their runny noses on the cuffs of their uniforms!
Page 110
lines 10-11
".. an' smoke in the casement?" I'm not entirely sure in my own mind if RK got this wrong, or if he is making Pyecroft use a malapropism. I'm about 80% sure it's the latter, but, as everyone knows, Homer does sometimes nod. The correct word is 'casemate', which RK must have known, since it was a word used in fortifications ashore, and as such known to the Sappers and Gunners, with whose language he was more familiar. But the casemates, in battleships of the period (from 1885 up to 1915), were positions on the main deck where the secondary armament was mounted, and were the spaces where smoking was allowed.
Page 113
line 15
"No - offal - tripes - swipes - ullage It's not especially naval, but 'swipes' are beer dregs, while 'ullage' is the dregs of a cask, in naval usage, especially of rum. So, by extension, to refer to someone as 'an ullage' is highly derogatory.
Page 113
line 28
"He's what is called a first-class engine-room artificer. If you hand 'im a drum of oil an' leave 'im alone, he can coax a stolen bicycle to do typewritin'." This sentence doesn't need interpreting to you, but it is the finest and truest description of a naval artificer I know. He can turn his hand to absolutely anything.
Page 115
line 16
"...forward three-pounder .." and "as if it was a twelve-pounder". The reference is to guns which fired a projectile weighing three or twelve pounds. A three-pounder can still be seen mounted in the bows of the Royal Naval Museum's steam picket-boat at Portsmouth, and such gun were, until recently at least, still in use in various ports as saluting guns.
Page 116
lines 1-2
".. L.T.O., T.I., M.D., etc., .." Pyecroft is being jocular again. The comparison must be with W.S. Gilbert's "Oh, I am the cook, and the captain bold, and the mate of the Nancy brig, and the bos'n tight, and the midshipmite, and the crew of the captain's gig". L.T.O. means Leading Torpedo Operator. T.I. means Torpedo Instructor, while M.D. means Doctor of Medicine. This last should not be taken literally, but is a reference to the fact that the coxwain was, one might say in today's terms, the ship's first-aider.
Page 118
line 10
"Who's your sub?" sub = Sub-Lieutenant. The complement of a small destroyer was one Lieutenant in command and a Sub-Lieutenant and a Torpedo-Gunner (this last, a warrant officer who could stand a watch on the bridge.) So the response two lines later "A gunner at present, Sir" is meant to indicate that the Gnome is operating with a reduced complement (as was regularly the case during the annual manoeuvres).
Page 119
line 22
"I was with him in the Britannia." The Britannia was the training ship for naval officers, moored in the River Dart since 1869. In fact it was two ships, joined by a walkway, and the new college which now overlooks the town was in the course of construction when this story was written.
Page 121
line 9
"Me in a copper punt, single-'anded .." A copper punt was a small raft, often, if not usually, made of balsa wood, in the form of a catamaran, little more than six feet long and about four feet in beam. Originally it had been used by the shipwright, in the days of wooden ships with copper sheathing, which covered the underwater parts of the ship to just above the waterline. After a storm, it was quite usual to find much of the copper peeled off at the waterline, and the shipwright would launch the copper punt, and would go round the waterline, his mouth full of copper tacks, hammering the copper sheets back into place. In the steel navy, the copper punt remained, and was used by the painter to go round the waterline 'cutting-in' the boot-topping, i.e., painting the nice straight line that marks the change from the ship's side grey to the underwater anti-fouling paint. An example of a copper punt can be seen on board HMS Warrior in Portsmouth.

The implication of this whole phrase is that Pyecroft is capable of spinning a good tale - again to mis-use Gilbert - to add corroboration to "what would otherwise be a bald and unconvincing narrative". Thanks to our Chairman, I can say that De Rougemont was the pen name of a writer who published in 1896 a book of weird and wonderful (and largely untrue) travellers' tales.
Page 121
lines 28-29
"That gouged 'is unprotected ends open- clear back to the citadel" From 1881 to 1897, no battleship designed for the Royal Navy carried side armour from bow to stern. They had a heavily armoured 'citadel' which encompassed the main armament and machinery, but the ends were unprotected, except for an armoured deck (horizontal) at waterline level, to provide resistance to 'plunging' fire, i.e., shots fired at long range which had to go up at an angle, and hence descend at a similar angle, to achieve that range, In reality, the ability to control guns accurately at long ranges was non-existent at this period, so the unprotected ends were likely to be pierced by shells fired from close to, no more than 3,000 yards, on a flat trajectory. More probably, this is a reference to the loss of HMS Victoria in 1893, which sank when rammed by the Camperdown, which did, indeed, gouge the Victoria's unprotected end open. Cf. 'The Ballad of the Clampherdown', verse 11:

'It was our warship Clampherdown
That carried an armour-belt;
But fifty feet at stern and bow
Lay bare as the paunch of the purser's sow,
To the hail of the Nordenfeldt.'
Page 126
line 28
"Number One chasin' the mobilized gobbies ." Gobbies were Coastguardmen. In those days, the Coastguard consisted of naval ratings who had completed so many years in the fleet, and then went on to the reserve, with a liability for recall in time of war, and for annual exercises.
Page 126
line 32
"Whereas we shall caulk ..". Literally, to caulk is to make a seam watertight, whether in a wood or an iron/steel ship. Sailors held that caulkers were an idle bunch, since much of their work when in dock was in a dock bottom, out of sight of authority; and that most caulkers spent their day snoozing. Hence to caulk = to snooze.
Page 126
last line
".. same as the Spanish destroyers did for three weeks after war was declared". This has to refer to the Spanish-American war of 1898, and to some extent can be said to date the piece, if dating were needed.
Page 127
line 15
".. covered all with an inch thick layer of stokers, .." Fine ash, carried off the firebed and up the funnel, and then deposited on the upper deck and anyone on it - depending on the wind.


Their Lawful Occasions - Part II

Page 129
line 16
"The floor was ankle-deep in a creamy batter of oil and water" This is an absolutely exact description of the appearance of emulsified oil and water, thrown out of the crank-pit by the rapidly-rotating crank-shaft. One used to chuck the oil in by the bucketful.
Page 130
last line
"Wonder why they're always barks - always steel - always four-masted - an' never less than two thousand tons." A bark, or barque, was a vessel fore-and-aft rigged on her after-mast, and square-rigged on the two or three masts in front. Even at this time, many bulk cargoes were transported by sail (as late as 1885, 75% of ocean freight was still carried in sailing vessels). Such cargoes (iron-ore, coal, nitrate, wool, grain) which were not in a great hurry could be carried more economically by a sailing vessel, and steel-hulled sailing ships of up to 3,000 tons, big by the standards of the day, were being built up to the turn of the century, and operated profitably up to the outbreak of World War I.
Page 131
line 9.
"A cracked bell rang. Clean and sharp .. a bowsprit surged over our starboar bow, the bobstay confidentially hooking itself into our forward rail". The bell (too late) was being rung by the trawler. With her trawl down, she was effectively anchored, although she was, in fact making way through the water. Therefore she sounded the fog-signal of a vessel at anchor (a bell, rung every two minutes) rather than the one blast every minute of a vessel under way. The bowsprit is the 'mast' projecting more or less horizontally out in front of most sailing vessels, while the bobstay is a rope which goes from the waterline of the vessel up to the end of the bowsprit, to, as it were, hold it down.
Page 133
line 7
".. currents evolutin' like sailormen at the Agricultural Hall?" There's a similar reference in 'The Bonds of Discipline'. There was a tournament at the Agricultural Hall, the precursor of the now recently-defunct Royal Tournament. The meaning of the sentence is that the currents are setting fast in all sorts of directions.
Page 133
line 20
".. the jar of her trawl-beam." In those days, trawlers used a trawl-net of which the mouth was held open by a heavy beam of wood, which also helped to keep the net on the sea-bed, which is where a trawler gathers her fish, while they're feeding on the bottom. The 'jar' in this case is the thump made as the beam comes up to the top of the gallows (a frame above the level of the deck), when the net is being hauled in.
Page 134
line 13
".. an economical tramp laved our port-rail with her condenser water" A very close shave indeed. The tramp (tramp-steamer, understood) was so close that the discharge from her condenser (sea-water which had passed through the tubes of the condenser, where they had turned the spent steam back into water to be fed back to the boilers again - somewhat analogous to the radiator of a car), spouted out over 267's port rail round her upper deck - probably from a range of about three feet.
Page 136
lines 2-3
".. sea-boots, and a comforter" Not naval, but an interesting change of use of a word. In Warrior in Portsmouth, we show a sailor's kit of the 1860s - which included a 'comforter' (a scarf). But to most of our visitors under the age of 50, a comforter is a baby's dummy!
Page 136
lines 12-13
"Didn't I say 'e wouldn' understand compass deviations?" A magnetic compass doesn't point to true north, but is affected by two factors: one is variation, the difference in bearing between the true north and the magnetic north pole, which varies with time (because the magnetic north pole wanders around the true north pole in (if I remember aright, and am quite prepared to be told I've got it wrong) an irregular figure-of-eight: and also with position - the closer you are to the pole, the greater will the variation be, broadly.

If you look at a compass rose on a chart, it will show you the true north and the magnetic north, with a superscription, e.g. "variation 10 degrees west (1999) decreasing 10 minutes annually". And a compass rose 50 miles away (on the same chart) may say "variation 9 degrees, 30 minutes, west (1999), decreasing 10 minutes annually."

The other factor is deviation, which is due to the iron in the ship carrying the compass, and this varies with each individual ship, and depends on your latitude, and the heading you are on. You reduce this as much as you can by putting other magnets of an opposite polarity to that of your ship adjacent to the compass (a matter largely of trial-and-error), and then, every three months or so, you 'swing for compasses' to determine the amount of deviation on each compass heading. In a wooden ship, such as the Agatha in the story, deviation would be more-or-less non-existent. Hence the skipper of the Agatha "wouldn' understand deviations".
Page 136
line 15
"Let me zmell un!" In the same way that some seamen could tell where they were by the nature of the sea-bed, some swore they could tell by the smell of the sea bottom, as brought up sticking to the tallow in the bottom of the lead. I'm a bit sceptical, but only a bit, because during the 'first cod war' in 1958 (a dispute with Iceland over fishing rights off their coast), the destroyer of which I was the navigator took a Hull trawler skipper with us to our patrol area. Fred had first 'gone down' to the Iceland fishing grounds in a sailing trawler in 1910, and he could tell where we were just by looking at the colour of the water.
Page 137
lines 17-18
".. be yeou gwine straight on to Livermead Beach." A bit of local colour, which RK would have known from his recent sojourn in Torquay. Livermead beach was a popular beach between Torquay and Paignton.
Page 139
line 4
"Suppose their torpedo-nets are down?" Battleships and cruisers of the period carried torpedo nets, a loose form of chain mail, suspended like a curtain around the ship from a series of booms all along the ship's side, just above the waterline. In photographs of the period (they were discarded just before WWI), you will see the booms sloping backwards, as many as twenty along the length of a dreadnought. The purpose of the nets was to make a torpedo explode on hitting the net, some distance from the ship's side, thus making a lot of noise, but no hole in the ship. As Moorshed says, getting the nets out was a job for the whole ship's company, and was one of the least popular 'evolutions'.
Page 140
line 11
"Remember your fat fist is our only Marconi installation". A very interesting comment, indeed. These were the earliest days, and I do mean earliest days, of practical wireless (see the story 'Wireless' later on in Traffics and Discoveries) but RK makes Pyecroft aware of the fact that one can determine the bearing from which a radio transmission comes, and, based on the strength of the signal, can get a rough estimate of the range of the sender. The range is most unreliable, but the determination of bearing could be pretty good. So Alf's fist is their rudimentary radar. If Pyecroft was, indeed, a torpedo rating (see above, L.T.O., T.I.), then he could well have had some knowledge of wireless. Torpedomen were the Navy's electricians, and the torpedo branch was given charge of wireless when it was first introduced. (Members may remember the British film comedy The Maggie, based on the Para Handy stories, in which the Wee Boy is sitting in the bows of this Clyde 'Puffer' throwing lumps of coal ahead "That's oor radar: if it splashes, we're OK, if not .". RK had a similar idea 50 years earlier!)
Page 142
line 8
(and see page 144
line 17)
"I've got the lymph" To simulate a hit from a torpedo, a stencilled mark, not unlike an old-fashioned vaccination scar, was painted on to your enemy's side.
Page 146
line 2
". They held that patent boat open by hand for the most part." A Berthon boat was a collapsible boat made of wood and canvas which folded as conveniently as does a folding umbrella today. When open, it was supposed to be held open by two struts, but 267's crew clearly were using their arms or legs as those struts.