A Flight of Fact

Notes on the text

These notes, edited by John McGivering, are partly new, and partly based on the ORG. The ORG Notes by Rear Admiral P.W. Brock, C.B., D.S.O. (1902-1988) are printed in black below, with additional material (in dark blue) by the present Editor. The page and line numbers below refer to the Macmillan (London) Standard Edition of Land and Sea Tales for Scouts and Guides, as published and frequently reprinted between 1923 and 1950.


[Title] ‘A flight of fancy’ is a well-known phrase implying an exercise in imagination, something not true etc. Kipling is stressing that on the contrary, this story is strictly true – see the headnote.

[Page 105 line 1] the war The Great War of 1914-1918 between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies.

[Page 105 line 6] Gardenia between 1915 and 1918, one hundred and eleven sloops launched for minesweeping, patrol and anti-submarine duties in the Royal navy were given the names of flowers – they were sometimes called the ‘Herbaceous Border’, more by naval correspondents than by naval officers. In fact they were not all herbaceous Of the three names Kipling has given to the destroyers in this story, Gardenia is the only one actually given to one of these sloops. This also applies to the corvettes given flower names in the Second World War (1939-1945). [P.W.B.]

[Page 105 line 16] Lieutenant-in-Command this was not a substantive rank; only an indication that that the officer concerned had been appointed in command of his ship. [P.W.B.]

[Page 105 line 20] boiler-clean after specified periods of steaming, boilers had to be opened up to clean the tubes internally and externally, repair furnace brickwork, etc. [P.W.B.]

[Page 105 line 22] fender in this context, a pad made of various soft materials lowered over the side to prevent damage to vessels when coming alongside.

[Page 106 line 10] fillings a misprint for ‘fittings’ – corrected in the Sussex Edition. [P.W.B.]

[Page 106 line 13] quarter-deck usually reserved for officers and a place to be treated with respect; the custom of saluting when stepping onto it dates from medieval times when a Crucifix was placed there. Now, however, It is more likely to be a helicopter-pad.

rat-catcher clothes somewhat disreputable ‘country’ garments.

[Page 106 line 16] Phlox the Commanding Officer is often addressed by the name of his ship and it is used as a reply by sentries or gangway staff.

Dandy Dinmont a rough-coated terrier.

[Page 107 line 14] D.S.O. the Distinguished Service Order: an important decoration then awarded to officers for special services in action.

[Page 107 line 16] skipper only used by the ship’s company for commanding officers of H.M. Ships except for certain harbour craft and boom-defence vessels with the rank of ‘Skipper’ or ‘Skipper-Lieutenant’.

[Page 107 line 17] Marryat type Frederick Marryat (1792-1848) was a Captain in the Royal Navy who was the author of novels on sea-life including Peter Simple (1834), and Mr. Midshipman Easy (1836). As late as 1920 naval cadets were told that these two books were required reading before they went to sea as Midshipmen. [P.W.B.]

[Page 107 line 21] torpedo-coxwain properly Torpedo-Coxwain, usually the senior non-commissioned officer aboard destroyers and similar vessels.

[Page 107 line 29] Crippen Hawley Harvey Crippen, born 1862, a notorious murderer who was hanged in 1910.

[Page 108 line 5] My Lords of the Admiralty responsible for the administration of the Navy, then The Commissioners for Executing the Office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland etc., consisting of the First Lord (a political appointment) The First Sea Lord, and five other Sea Lords, naval officers who did not need to be noblemen ! The Queen became Lord High Admiral when the Admiralty disappeared into the Ministry of Defence in 1964.

[Page 109 line 7] certain evidence – still damp probably articles of German uniform and buoyant equipment fished out of the sea – it was known, however, for a German U-boat (unterseeboot) to fire a torpedo-tube full of such material in the hope that the anti-submarine craft would call off the attack in the belief that she was sunk.

[Page 109 line 12] Acting Sub an officer who had completed his Midshipman’s time and passed in Seamanship became an acting Sub-Lieutenant. In peacetime he had to undergo certain shore courses and obtain a watch-keeping certificate from his Captain after service afloat. During the War the other courses were deferred but a watch-keeping certificate was required before he was confirmed in the rank of Sub-Lieutenant and given his commission. [P.W.B.]

In 1919 and 1920 some young officers who survived the war were sent to Oxford and Cambridge – see the poems “The Scholars” and “The Clerks and the Bells.” Lord Louis Mountbatten was one of them.

[Page 109 line 16] makee-do officers Pidgin-English for a substitute – ‘Makee-learn’ would have been more natural here. [P.W.B.]

See the Note to “An Unqualified Pilot” the previous story at page 64, line 19 of this volume.

[Page 109 line 26] burgoo naval slang for porridge, or an unpleasant mixture resembling it, which he likens to the hazards of naval warfare.

[Page 110 line 12] Polycarp Polycarp was a first century Christian Martyr and Saint. No ship of the Royal Navy ever bore this name; perhaps chosen to suggest one of a class of small cruisers whose names all began with ‘P.’

[Page 110 lines 13 –15] nine cuts of the best etc ‘Different ships, different long splices’ but in general caning was usually confined to junior midshipmen; nine cuts for a triviality like this by an acting sub-lieutenant seems improbable. [P.W.B.]

[Page 110 line 17] gig in this context a light and elegant boat, rowing four or six oars.

[Page 110 line 19] Headman of All the Pelungas the Maldives, suggested in the Headnote to be the scene of this story, comprise some 1,200 coral islands in the Indian Ocean 500 miles from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). At one time the territory was a British colony, but it became independent under a Sultan in 1965; his rule was replaced by a Republic in 1968.

[Page 110 line 20] barratry comprises several crimes including the selling of offices of state and acceptance of bribes by a judge. The speaker is somewhat facetious.

[Page 111 line 8] old Martini rifles these could be any number of versions developed and issued over the years, comprising the breech action invented by Frederic Martini (1832-1897) and Henry’s barrel.
See the notes on “In the Matter of a Private”.

[Page 111 line 9] ancestral seven-pounders old muzzle-loading guns.

[Page 111 line 17] poured oil the reference is to the use of oil dripping from a perforated bag in rough weather to prevent waves breaking so a lifeboat can go alongside a vessel – thus, as implied in the text, ‘efforts to resolve an argument’.

[Page 111 line 20] white ducks in this context uniform trousers and tunic made of a linen or cotton fabric.

[Page 111 line 26] hammocks the ship’s company then slept in hammocks made of canvas which were slung from the deck beams when in use and stowed in racks on the messdeck during the day. They had to be washed at intervals, which caused quite an upheaval.

[Page 111 line 29] a state call the pleasant custom for the Captain of a visiting warship to exchange visits with the local dignitary – Sultan, Governor, Lord Mayor etc.

[Page 112 line 26] flying The Royal Naval Air Service was formed in 1914 and amalgamated with the Royal Flying Corps to form the Royal Air Force on April 1st 1918. See the note by Alastair Wilson in the headnote.

[Page 113 line 19] Pusser slang for ‘Purser’, the old name for an officer employed as a Paymaster in the Navy and still used in the Merchant Service.

[Page 113 line 29] Maskee explained by R.K. as ‘Never mind’. See Hobson-Jobson, p. 561 for the suggestion that it might be Pidgin English from the Portuguese mas que ‘in spite of’.

[Page 114 line 1] plain or coloured an echo from Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes (1879) by Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894). The reference is to sheets of ready-made scenery and characters for toy theatres which were sold at one penny plain and twopence coloured.

[Page 114 line 4] Lootenant a pronunciation of Lieutenant often employed by the ship’s company – officers would usually say ‘Leftenant’.

[Page 114 line 10] he flew, an he flew, an’ he flew This rings a very faint bell, but we have been unable to trace the reference – information would be appreciated. [Ed.]

[Page 114 line 9] Cormorang presumably Cormorant. The only vessel of this name that we have traced is one of a fleet of fish-carriers named after sea-birds that ferried the catch from the North Sea trawlers on the fishing-grounds to Billingsgate fish-market in London.

[Page 114 line 11] observer in this context, the navigator, gunner and general assistant to the pilot.

[Page 114 line 29] S O S then the distress-call – in Morse code, three short, three long, three short, but now superseded by voice radio with the word MAYDAY popularly supposed to be derived from the French m’aidez (‘help me’)

[Page 115 line 8] signal lights fireworks which burst in the air when fired from a pistol or some such, exhibiting a powerful white light or a variety of coloured stars etc., assuming that with any luck the fireworks burst and not the pistol.

[Page 116 line 20] snugged her down securing a vessel against bad weather, here applied to a plane.

[Page 116 lines 23-24] cut the spanker-boom out … etc a facetious reference to part of the rigging of a sailing-vessel, a meaningless phrase.

[Page 117 page 28] Salaam a courteous salutation from the Arabic salam (‘peace’). (Hobson-Jobson, p. 783)

[Page 119 line 22] betel-nut the leaf of the shrub Piper betel chewed with slices of the prepared areca-nut, improperly called ‘betel-nut’. See Hobson-Jobson, p. 89. The lips of the user are stained pink.and the teeth black. It is also called ‘Pan’.

[Page 119 line 24] Grateful an’ comforting believed to be an advertising slogan for Epp’s Cocoa, a popular drink of the period. It is also quoted in “Wireless” (Traffics and Discoveries).

[Page 120 line 15] His Majesty’s property King George V (ruled 1910-1936) As head of the Royal Navy, ships and everything else were deemed to belong to him.

[Page 121 line 4] Anti-somethings antiphony (pronounced an-tif-ony) the singing of psalms etc. by alternating choirs

[Page 121 line 9] Flyin’ Corps he is referring to the Royal Naval Air Service. See the Note to Page 112, line 26 above.

[Page 121 line 17] Rider Haggard Sir Henry Rider Haggard (1856-1925) soldier, administrator and writer; a great friend of Kipling, author of King Solomon’s Mines (1886) and other very popular stories. See Chapter 7, ‘Solomon’s Road’ for the incident where one of the characters, a naval officer, takes out his dentures to the amazement of hostile natives who immediately regard him and his companions as gods. Haggard is probably remembered more for his novels than the important works on agriculture for which he was knighted.

Elsewhere, Kipling mentions other novels by Haggard; Cleopatra (1889) in “Her Little Responsibility” and Alan Quartermain (1887) in “The last of the Stories”, both in Abaft the Funnel, and She (1887) in “Among the Railway Folk” (From Sea to Sea, Vol. 2)

[Page 122 line 12] All things bright and beautiful the first line and title of the well-known hymn by Mrs. Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895) It is hymn no. 573 in Hymns Ancient and Modern (1924 Edition). [P.W.B.]

[Page 122 line 28] macaw Ara ararauna a large and brightly-coloured parrot from Central and South America.

mandrill a large, ferocious baboon (Mandrillus sphinx) from West Africa with brightly coloured patches on face and hindquarters. It is also the nickname of a character in “The Satisfaction of a Gentleman” (The Complete Stalky & Co.)

[Page 123 line 3] Hello, Hello, Who’s your lady friend ? A popular music-hall song of the time.

[Page 123 line 9] torpedo-beards they were trimmed to a point like the original Whitehead torpedo before it was found that a hemispherical nose was more efficient. [P.W.B.]

[Page 123 line 12] half-way down to their cabins it is unlikely they would be allowed aboard without identifying themselves dressed as they were.

[Page 124 line 1] leaf leave. Occasionally so pronounced by ship’s companies at the time.

[Page 124 line 8] basin in this context a dock with gates enclosing a stretch of water where vessels can moor.

[Page 124 line 9] Stephanotis and Phlox this is the convention that commanding officers are occasionally called by the names of their ships.

[Page 124 line 14] Mr. Wilkins ‘Mr’ was used to Warrant Officers, but as a Torpedo-Coxwain, he is a Chief Petty Officer and would be addressed as ‘Cox’n’.

[Page 124 line 17] starboard the right-hand side of the vessel looking forward.

[Page 124 line 20] port in this context, the left-hand side.

[Page 124 line 21] water-boat a tanker which steams round the harbour or anchorage to deliver drinking-water to the ships.

[Page 124 line 24] Keep the home fires burning the first line of a popular song of two world wars – words by Lena Gilbert Ford music by Ivor Novello (Davies) (1893-1951)

[Page 125 line 11] When the enterprisin’ burglar ain’t a’burgling… misquoted from the Police-Sergeant’s song in Act 2 of The Pirates of Penzance. words by Sir W S Gilbert (1836-1910) and music by Sir Arthur Sullivan (1842-1900). It runs:

When the enterprising burglar’s not a-burgling –
(Not a-burgling)
When the cut-throat isn’t occupied with crime –
(–pied with crime–)
He loves to hear the little brook a-gurgling…


[J H McG/ P W B]

©John McGivering and P W Brock 2007 All rights reserved