These notes, edited by Alastair Wilson, are partly new, and partly based on Admiral Brock's notes for the ORG. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Traffics and Discoveries as published and frequently reprinted between 1904 and 1950.
Notes on the text
“ Oh Almighty Lord God, who alone spreadest out the Heavens and rulest the raging of the sea; who hast compassed the waters with bounds until day and night come to an end; Be pleased to receive into thy Almighty and most gracious protection, the persons of us thy servants and the Fleet in which we serve. Preserve us from the dangers of the sea and the violence of the enemy, that we may be a safeguard to our most gracious Sovereign Lord, King Edward, and his Dominions, and a security for such as pass on the seas upon their lawful occasions: that the inhabitants of our island may in peace and quietness serve thee our God; and that we may return in safety to enjoy the blessings of the land with the fruits of our labours, and with a thankful remembrance of Thy mercies, to praise and glorify thy holy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”During the past century, minor changes have been made to reflect the realities of naval life and politics: thus the Navy prays to be preserved from the “dangers of the sea and of the air”: we pray for our “most gracious Sovereign Lady, Queen Elizabeth” – but still for her “Dominions”, while the little Englander outlook of “that the inhabitants of our Island” (N.B. it was singular – Skye, the Orkneys and Ireland could look out for themselves – not to mention the Isle of Wight) has been replaced, first by “the inhabitants of our island and Empire”, and, at sometime in the late 1950s by “the inhabitants of our islands (N.B. the plural) and Commonwealth”. These changes do not, it is understood, appear in the Book of Common Prayer, but are authorised in that form by a Ministry of Defence Book of Reference.
“any attempt to identify the character with the celebrated Admiral Sir John Arbuthnot Fisher, later the first Lord Fisher of Kilverstone, must depend only on the similarity of names. Kipling would almost certainly have altered this if he had thought there was any danger of confusion between them. Fisher was both the prophet and driving force of material progress, he welcomed change and was far from 'eroded by age' (See page 108, line 18) at this time. He never commanded a fleet in home waters,” [and his only major fleet command was as C-in-C Mediterranean, 1899-1902] "Opinions on him varied widely, but he was certainly the most famous and influential flag officer of his time”.The writer of these notes can see not the remotest similarity in the names, and is convinced in his own mind that, as Admiral Brock went on to say, “Frobisher” sounds much more like Sir Harry Stephenson, who had been commanding the Channel Squadron when Kipling made the two cruises described in A Fleet in Being. Kipling did not take to Stephenson: in a letter after his first trip in Pelorus, in July 1997, he writes “All the same, the new Channel Admiral is rather an ass.” (Letters of Rudyard Kipling, Vol II, ed. Pinney, p. 305); nor was his view improved after dining with the admiral next year.
“on one occasion Sir Harry made his embarrassed Flag Lieutenant deliver to his Flag captain, Prince Louis of Battenberg, a message so gratuitously offensive that the latter sent for the Fleet Surgeon and had himself placed on the sick list. He then retired to his cabin and remained there, incommunicado, like Achilles in his tent, until the Admiral recognised that the cure lay in his own hands, and made suitable amends.”However, elsewhere (Royal Sailors, by A. Cecil Hampshire), it is said that Sir Harry suffered seriously from dyspepsia, to the extent that he spent substantial time ashore, being treated. It is therefore unsurprising that the admiral let loose his wrath on Moorshed after dinner. No doubt Kipling had learned of Sir Harry’s affliction while in Pelorus – it would have been common knowledge throughout the fleet.
“Captain Lionel Dawson, RN, whose service in torpedo craft went back to 1907, says in his book, Flotillas: “A chief engine-room artificer (chief petty officer) was the chief engineer.” And during World War II (in particular) chief E.R.A.s were the chief engineers of corvettes – relatively large craft, compared to the torpedo boats of the turn of the century (vide Nicholas Monsarratt’s The Cruel Sea, probably the best sea fiction of World War II – but based entirely on his own experience in the North Atlantic 1941-45).[Page 108, lines 4-7] the new port …. seekin’ for a sacrifice the Admiral, after dining with the captains of his bigger ships, was in the mood to look for a counter-irritant to dispel the effects of the cloudy wine that had touched up his gout or rheumatism.
“this might mean either a tidal basin, or the curved deck forward, adopted in early torpedo craft to encourage water to drain off the forecastle. Here the probability is that Moorshed and his two principal assistants had their dismal scratch meal on deck, just abaft the forecastle. Officers messing with ratings was something not envisaged in the regulations but conditions in small craft called for commonsense solutions.”However, the more usual word for the curved fo’c’s’le was “turtle-back”, and the encounter with the admiral had occurred inside Portland harbour, in which there is a camber, known as such, the usual berth for small ships, like torpedo boats. So, although 267 is now in Weymouth, three miles or so away, either is a perfectly possible solution.
“These relics of a past, and pioneers of a future destroyer Navy, had been built in shoals in the `eighties and early `nineties, when the powers of the torpedo arm were beginning to be realised. The first were merely glorified steamboats, such as were carried in big ships, and indeed the first ‘litter’ were actually constructed to be hoisted into and carried by the old Vulcan (see note on p.106, above), specially designed for the purpose. The type of vessel which I now joined (O 45, late No. 45) had been the first venture in sea-going torpedo craft. His Majesty King George V had commanded one during manoeuvres.”By the mid-nineties, however, it had become evident that a larger, faster, and more sea-worthy type was needed. Destroyers were laid down in large numbers and T.B. building was suspended. A baker’s dozen of T.B.s launched between 1901 and 1903 would probably have been the last if Fisher had not introduced what he called a ‘coastal destroyer’ in 1905. The 36 vessels of this type were so much smaller than contemporary destroyers that they had to be downgraded to T.B.
“always regarded as having a certain special standing and authority amongst London daily newspapers, though it is not, as many foreigners imagine, an official mouthpiece of the Government, nor has it been.” Those were the days of ‘The Thunderer’, when the editor of The Times was undoubtedly a power in the land, and it was in The Times that Kipling published such poems as ‘Recessional’. It is probably fair to say that today’s Times still enjoys a reputation as a reliable reporter of news, but it no longer holds the vastly pre-eminent position it held a century ago.[Page 110, line 25-26] Pye, you are without exception the biggest liar in the Service Admiral Brock and Commander Merriman seem to have disagreed over this remark. Admiral Brock wrote:
“with the utmost respect for the late Commander Merriman, we must regard his view that these words would never be addressed by a naval officer to a rating, however long and closely they had served together, as proving mainly that he himself must have been what the United States Navy calls “a book man”, meaning one who abides by the printed regulations, in all circumstances and come what may. In such matters, an officer must do what his conscience tells him, but most will agree that there is a world of difference between the indiscriminate familiarity of “Popularity Jack”, the professional good fellow, and an occasional unbending in private with a well-tried subordinate and friend.”This writer agrees with Admiral Brock. Kipling did get it right, though there are ways of saying the phrase, and there are other ways. In the context here, as between two young men (Moorshed is 19, Pyecroft is about 28–30), who have tested each other in out-of-the-ordinary circumstances (mangrove-swampin’ in the Archimandrite’s second cutter), such a phrase, said deliberately, without heat, and in a light tone of voice, in circumstances where the strict application of King’s Regulations was relaxed, seems quite appropriate.
“She was just the sort of crayture, boys, that nature did intend[The above is Admiral Brock’s comment, but almost certainly Plunkett Greene’s song referred to the 1880s – the chignon went with the bustle, and the Grecian bend stance. Greene himself started his professional career in 1888, though the song is probably later.] Who but Kipling would have noted the likeness between the Grecian bend and the current Thornycroft stern? Yet it is clear enough, once pointed out.
To walk right t’rough de world, my boys, wit’out the Grecian bend,
Nor did she wear a cheeny-on (chignon), I’d have yez all to know,
And I met her in the garden where the praties grow.”
“… the key rating of the ship’s company of any torpedo craft. He was the chief of police, general dealer in food and clothing, publican as custodian of the rum, steersman in moments of stress, and, if he was a good one, mentor and guide of his youthful commanding officer.”[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.
‘It was our warship Clampherdown[Page 122, lines 9 & 10] holdin’-down bolt for our twelve-pounder in keeping with their pretending to be a destroyer with a 12-pounder gun. (Page 115, line 16).
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.’
“At night or in cold weather, a ‘duffle’ (sic) suit is worn. The latter garment is made of flannel as thick as a board, and comprises a pair of roomy trousers and a double-breasted jacket, with a hood attached for pulling over the head. A more cosy rig was never invented, and when it is worn underneath a thick suit of oilskins and seaboots, the wearer can laugh at cold and rain alike: the only thing he has to be careful about is not to fall overboard, otherwise he will sink like a bag of shot.” (Torpedoes and Torpedo Vessels. Lieutenant G.E. Armstrong, 1896).[Page 124, line 22] chock you off wedge you in.