A Fleet in Being

Notes to Chapter IV

by Alastair Wilson. The page and line numbers refer to the 1898 Macmillan edition of A Fleet in Being.

[Page 42, line 1] Captain’s coxswain discussed in, and under, Kipling’s Note II (page 80 below).

[Page 42, line 6] Milford Haven a bay in Pembrokeshire, South Wales. The naval dockyard at Pembroke Dock near its inner end was confined to building warships; it did not repair them. [It closed in 1925,though the Navy retained other facilities there until the mid-1980s. A.W.]

[Page 42, 10] North Corner a berth in Devonport Dockyard.

[Page 42, line 16] collision-mat this consisted of two thicknesses of canvas, one of them with rope yarns worked through it, not unlike a gymnasium mat in appearance. If a ship was holed under water, the mat was hauled into place over the hole, by means of lines attached to its four corners, to check the inrush of water.

[Page 42, line 17] The Thrasher was a new torpedo-boat destroyer which had run aground on the Cornish coast in 1897. The Pelorus was ordered to assist her and evidently provided a collision mat to keep the sea out after she had been refloated. The Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty later requested the Commander-in-Chief, Plymouth, to convey to Captain Bayly and Staff Commander Osborn – a Navigating expert lent from Plymouth, no doubt to provide local knowledge – their satisfaction “at the effectual measures for securing the safety of the Thrasher“.

[Page 42, line 18] bulkhead in this case, the foremost watertight partition running transversely across the ship.

[Page 43, line 4] “Once aboard the lugger” the survival of the catch phrase “Once aboard the lugger and the girl is mine” is a monument to British faithfulness, but its exact origin and wording are doubtful, though it is generally agreed it came from the stage. In the form “Once aboard the lugger and all is well” Benham’s Dictionary of Quotations attributes it to “an actor’s gag in Black-Eyed Susan or in a pantomime, c. 1830-40.”

The Second Edition of the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations gives: “John Benn Johnstone, 1809-1891. `I want you to assist me in forcing her on board the lugger; once there, I’ll force her into marriage.’ From a popular melodrama, The Gypsy Farmer or Jack and Jack’s Brother.” Since quoted as: “Once aboard the lugger and the maid is mine.” It was first acted at the Surrey Theatre, London in March, 1849.

In 1917 the phrase was given a new lease of life, in the form “Once aboard the lugger and the girl is mine,” by inclusion in the song “On the Good Ship Yacki Hicki Doo La”, written, composed and sung by Billy Merson (1881-1947). The chorus contained these words:

“Then I snap my finger ha, ha-ho, ho
I don’t care should the parent pine
Once aboard the lugger and the girl is mine.”

The play of 1849 may never have been published but probably it was revised and revived again and again by stock companies including our phrase: it certainly appeared in 1899 in the operetta, “Floradora”, by Owen Hall and Leslie Stuart.

[Page 43, line 7] “no one had been changed” this did not apply to some officers not of the executive (“Seaman Specialist” today) branch – perhaps further evidence of Kipling’s lesser interest in them.

[Page 43, line 10] fore and aft bridge a passage way or cat-walk between the forecastle and the poop, obviating the descent to the “crowded decks” of the waist which Kipling noted (page 15) as one of the signalmen’s difficulties.

[Page 43, line 16] coaling record ? nearly fifty tons per hour. As already remarked, probably better figures were reached a few years later.

[Admiral Brock understates the case: as remarked above, at the onset of World War I, a super-dreadnought would expect to coal up to 1,000 tons an hour – and other than the winches in the collier, it was all done by hand. A.W.]

Admiral of the Fleet Lord Cunningham states that cut-throat competition took some time to reach destroyers, but that before it set in they were embarking 30 to 40 tons an hour with a complement less than half that of the Pelorus (but perhaps easier stowage). On one occasion during the war (1914-18) the Scorpion (which he commanded for seven years) took in 120 tons from a collier in one hour.

[Page 43, line 19] Funchal in Madeira.

[Page 43, line 19] Minorca Bay Minorca (Spanish “Menorca”) has a number of indentations, the most notable being Port Mahon, proverbially the best harbour in the Mediterranean.

[Page 43, line 24] Channel Fleet here Kipling has lapsed into the vernacular “Fleet”.

[Page 43, line 28] A liner leaves Plymouth in one style; a cruiser snakes out from Devonport in quite another Ashore, Devonport merges unnoticed into Plymouth as Portsmouth into Southsea, but a liner leaving the spacious waters of Plymouth Sound has a more straightforward departure than a cruiser negotiating the more constricted and crowded Hamoaze on her way out from Devonport Dockyard.

[Page 44, line 18] No. 2 Welsh No. 1 Welsh coal was regarded as the world’s best for marine boilers, with the rest nowhere.

[Page 44, line 20] the Welsh Coal Strike 1898 was a year of widespread industrial trouble.

[Page 45, line 3] the little, triangular, canvas target canvas was draped round three posts on a wooden float which was carried in the ship, hoisted out for practice when wanted and later recovered. Towed targets for full calibre firings did not come into regular use for several years.

[These were the last years before (Sir) Percy Scott took hold of the Navy’s gunnery and gave it a good shaking-up. As described, the target was not moving, so there was no requirement to determine its course and speed, and then to calculate the necessary deflection. Ranges were short – even with big guns, capable of ranges of 10,000 yards or more, the usual range for practice was rarely more than 3,000 yards. This was not wholly unrealistic – the battle of Tsushima (1905) between the Russians and Japanese was fought at ranges of no more than 6,400 yards. It is of interest that they still had some black powder ammunition. Cordite, as a propellant, had come into general use in the early-to-mid-1880s, and the use of black powder (shorthand for gunpowder) was discontinued. Possibly, or more likely probably, the ammunition depots were using up old stocks which would otherwise have been destroyed. But, as Kipling particularly remarked, the smoke was considerable: indeed, when one looks at pictures of old battles, afloat or ashore, and sees the amount of smoke the artist has put into the composition, one might be forgiven for thinking that there was a certain amount of artist’s licence. But it really was like that. A.W.]

[Page 45, line 16] R.Y.S. Royal Yacht Squadron. One of the most exclusive clubs in the world.

[It is interesting to read of how gunnery firings were conducted in those days. Today, one is hedged around with rules and regulations, and range boats seeing that no-one like “the big yacht of the R.Y.S.” comes anywhere near, with the details of the exercises being promulgated in ‘Notices to Mariners’ a week in advance, etc., etc.. Which was one of the reasons why the Royal Navy left Portland – see the note at Chapter III, page 33. A.W.]

[Page 45, line 24] the `irritating stammer’ that the nine point two gun found so objectionable [Admiral Brock couldn’t interpret this reference: no more can I. “Irritating stammer” is clear enough – a reference to the manner of firing a Maxim in bursts of varying length. But what that has to do with a 9.2″ gun (the largest carried by a heavy cruiser, and the smallest big gun carried by a battleship) is unknown to me. A.W.] [It may be that the crew of a 9.2″ had expressed irritation at the noise of a Maxim, a traditional attitude of whales towards minnows or tubas towards piccolos. J.R. (On Line Editor) ]

[Page 46, line 12] its steps and derricks for the logistic support (as we have been taught to say nowadays) of the lighthouse keepers.

[Page 46, line 27] The Two Chiefs of Dunboy “The Two Chiefs of Dunboy: or An Irish Romance of the Last Century” by J. A. Fronde. Longmans (1889).

[Page 46, line 28] open bring into view, by a change in the ship’s position.

[Page 47, line 1] And a half-nine! the leadsman’s report that the depth of water found by heaving the lead was 9 1/2 fathoms (57 feet).

[Page 47, line 2] The stock of an anchor is the cross bar fitted in older pattern anchors to assist them to assume the right position for taking hold on the bottom. This prevented the anchor from being stowed in the hawsepipe, until stockless anchors were introduced a few years later, and required it to be lifted by means of an anchor davit to a stowage position or bed. In the Pelorus this was so sited as to handicap the leadsman. The hyphen between “port” and “anchor” is of Kipling’s own provision and not an Admiralty issue.

[Page 47, line 12] the Arrogant a cruiser, remarked on below.

[Page 47, line 17] eight battleships these were the 8 Channel Squadron battleships listed in the note on page 1, line 1, except that the Victorious had been replaced by the Hannibal.

[Page 47, line 18] four big cruisers Kipling mentions the Arrogant, Furious and Blake. The fourth was the Diadem, the name ship of a new class of protected cruisers of 11,000 tons, a speed of just over 20 knots, and a main armament of 16 6-inch guns. They had four tall funnels like the Powerful and Terrible, the only larger cruisers of that period, and were the last first-class protected cruisers.

[Page 47, lines 21-23] with bugles and all proper observances, we paid our compliments when one of H.M. ships under way passed another at anchor, the junior ship, as determined by the seniority of their respective captains, would sound the “Alert” on the bugle and men on deck would be called to attention. The senior ship would follow suit, dwell a pause and then sound the “Carry on”, which would be repeated by the junior ship. When passing a flagship, the Royal Marine guard would present arms and the “Salute” would be sounded on the bugle, or the appropriate tune played if a band was carried. [The Navy chose, ironically, as one of the musical salutes for an admiral not being a Commander-in-Chief, the first eight bars of Sullivan’s tune from “Iolanthe”, for which Gilbert’s words are “When Britain really ruled the Waves, in good Queen Bess’s time …”. Who says the Admiralty doesn’t have a sense of humour. A.W.]

[Page 47, line 29] a four-foot patch a shoal with four feet of water over it at low water.

[Page 48, line 1] our anchors with their low cramped davits are no treat this does not seem strictly relevant here. While the low cramped davits would obviously be a nuisance when stowing anchors after weighing, the davits would not normally be needed when anchoring, except perhaps in deep water.

[Page 48, line 13] our `chummy’ ship the Arrogant. A `chummy’ ship is one on particularly good terms with another. As with people, the reasons for such a relationship are often more inscrutable than those for a feud.

[Page 48, line 14] she and the Furious. Fleet rams they call ’em these second-class cruisers of 1896-97 had a specially strengthened ram, double rudders and were designed to be specially handy. The theory was that after carrying out the normal reconnaissance duties of a cruiser in the early stages of an action, they would deliver the coup de grace to any crippled ships forced to leave the enemy’s line.

The other two ships of the class were the Gladiator, lost in collision with the American S.S. St. Paul in 1908, and the Vindictive, which won fame at Zeebrugge and Ostend in 1918, in roles very different from her original one.

[When the Germans overran the Belgian coast in 1914 they were able to base submarines at Bruges, some ten miles inland, with canal outlets to the ports of Zeebrugge and Ostend. They were a thorn in the side of the Allies: despite every sort of minefield and net barrage, searchlights and patrols, all supposedly impenetrable, the U-boats continued to get out to harass shipping in the Channel and South West Approaches. The Admiral commanding the Dover Patrol was effectively sacked, and the fire-eating Rear-Admiral Roger Keyes was appointed to Do Something. A plan was hatched for a commando assault (we would call it today) on the harbours at Zeebrugge and Ostend: the Vindictive was to be the assault craft to land storming parties from the seaward side of the long, curved, mole which protects the entrance to the canal, and three other old cruisers were to sink themselves in the mouth of the canal to block it. A similar plan was envisaged for Ostend. Neither operation achieved the aim. Despite great gallantry (eight VCs were awarded), the Zeebrugge canal was only partly blocked, and the Germans were using it again within a week, while at Ostend surprise was lost and the blockships sunk before they reached their scuttling positions. Nonetheless, the operation, coming at the time of the German army’s successes on the Western Front, put heart into the British populace. A repeat raid on Ostend was carried out three weeks later, using the very battered Vindictive as a blockship: it was similarly of very limited success. Vindictive’s bows are preserved as a memorial at Ostend to this day. A.W.]

Admiral of the Fleet the Earl of Cork and Orrery, who as Lieutenant “Ginger” Boyle served in the Furious for her first commission, says:

“The development of the gun and torpedo and the advance in marine engineering had made these ships obsolete before they were built and they were never repeated.”

(It will be seen that Sir Wm. White had a thankless time, even for a Director of Naval Construction, but it should not be forgotten – though it often was, then and later – that the ultimate responsibility for his designs lay with the Board of Admiralty.)

[Page 48, line 25] Castletown a fishing centre on Bantry Bay.

[Page 48, line 26] a jaunting-car the genuine Irish jaunting-car was two-wheeled, carrying four passengers besides the driver. They sat in pairs, facing outboard.

[Page 48, line 28] me and the Navigator possibly recalls an Admiral’s coxswain widely known as “Me” because most of his remarks began “Me and the Admiral …”.

[Page 49, line 5] Glenbeg a lough in County Cork, one mile long: four miles N.E. of Castletown. Dom Murphy’s route must have been circuitous.

[Page 49, line 16] liberty-men ratings on leave from the Squadron.

[Page 50, line 8] Lackawee Admiral Brock seems not to have been able to identify this feature – but from the context it would seem to have been the flank of a mountain.[A.W.]

[Page 50, line 15] fingerling young salmon – the parr, between it being an alevin and a smolt.

[Page 50, line 16] Mr. Cornelius Crowley perhaps a persuasive Irishman they encountered ?