A Sea Dog

Notes on the text

(edited by Alastair Wilson)


[Page 113, line 1] sloop in this context, a small, one-masted vessel with fore-and-aft rig. Today, the very great majority of yachts that you will see around the world, with a single mast, and a large triangular mainsail, and a slightly smaller triangular foresail, are said to be “Bermudan-rigged”.

[Page 113, line 3] Stephano’s Island Bermuda. See our notes on “A Naval Mutiny”, p. 183, line 2.

[Page 113, line 5] deep-draught pilot a pilot qualified to handle large ships drawing a good deal of water.

[Page 113, line 10] fox-terrier a smooth-haired terrier, originally bred for digging foxes out of their earths, when they have gone to ground. They were very popular as pets at the end of the 19th and the start of the 20th centuries. (Jerome K. Jerome gave an amusing account of the activities of a young lady’s pet fox-terrier in Three Men in a Boat, Chapter XIII). The ORG went on to note that: ca 1930 it had lost favour to the rough-haired, or wire-haired, variety; and now both have largely given way to a smaller “mixed” breed known as the ‘Jack Russell’. This Editor can confirm the former remark – his family had a wire-haired fox-terrier at the time this story was written.

[Page 113, line 11] the Commander of the H.M.S. Bulleana this seems to be a double solecism. In naval usage “the Commander” of a ship normally means the Executive Officer and second-in-command of a big ship, which the Bulleana was not, being only a sloop (see our notes on A Naval Mutiny page 183, line 14, and page 188, lines 12/13); the commanding officer is “The Captain” whatever his rank. And either “the” or “H.M.S.” separately would do nicely but the combination is an atrocious lapse: one would not say “the Her Majesty’s Ship Bulleana.

[Page 114, line 5] great Parrot Problem the tale, as told in ‘A Naval Mutiny’.

[Page 114, line 21] rip a stretch of troubled water, usually caused by tidal flow across shallows or a reef.

[Page 114, line 23] stood in headed towards the land.

[Page 114, line 24] Carib an aboriginal inhabitant of the southern West Indies.

[Page 115, lines 3-4] from Panama, that is, to Pernambuco along the whole north-eastern-facing coast of the South American continent.

[Page 116, line 1] The Commander despite what was said above (Page 113, line 11), this is perfectly correct Naval usage. It is as if one had said “The Admiral told a tale …”, meaning “The person holding the rank of Admiral told a tale …”. Above, it was the association of “the Commander” with the ship’s name which was incorrect in these circumstances. (Naval customs and usage can be very confusing!)

[Page 116, line 2] on the China station Britain maintained a squadron of warships on the China station from the cession of Hong Kong in 1842, until the end of Word War II. From 1945 until 1971, it was known as the Far East station, but the main base shifted from Hong Kong to Singapore. With the withdrawal from Empire, a separate Eastern Fleet was disbanded in 1971, though a squadron of patrol craft were maintained in Hong Kong until its return to China in 1997. Units of the fleet continue to be deployed in far eastern waters – currently (August 2009), HMS Echo, a survey ship, has been deployed in Indonesian and Malaysian waters since April 2008.

[Page 116, line 5] the War the First World War (1914-1918). In actual fact, the only destroyers on the China station in 1914 that conformed with the “ancient destroyer” of this tale had just been placed on the sale list, from which they were removed for local patrol service only. Four “E” (or “River”) class destroyers of 1905-06 were brought back from China, but did not serve on the East Coast. (Britain’s alliance with Japan, which lasted from 1902-1920, meant that once the German East Asiatic Squadron had been disposed of, and when the German colonies had been taken, there was no need for any significant British naval forces to be stationed in the far east – indeed the reverse was the case, a flotilla of Japanese destroyers served under British command in the Mediterranean in 1917.)

[Page 116, line 7] Makee-do a pidgin English nom-de-guerre of Kipling’s own devising. With the exception of the ships’ names at the start of ‘The Captive’, which were merely used to set the scene in Simon’s Bay, Kipling was careful not to use real warships’ names in his stories. In this case, and later (page 128) he invents three more pidgin English names for the remainder of the little flotilla of elderly destroyers sent home from the China station.

[Page 116, line 10] tippet a muffler worn round the neck: an item of lady’s fashion, often of the fur of some small mammal, around the turn of the 19th century, and until the 1930s.

[Page 116, line 12] by the raft relative to their size, small ships were unable to carry sizeable boats for life-saving purposes. Their prime life-saving vehicles were therefore Carley rafts (Carley floats) invented by an American, Horace Carley, in 1902, and issued to all British warships by 1916. Most of the old destroyers each had two by 1915.

[Page 116, line 21] Volunteer sub an officer of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, of Sub-Lieutenant’s rank. Despite the huge size of the Royal Navy in the run-up to, and outbreak of, The Great War (World War I to the present generations) the Navy had to expand still further to man the countless small craft which were needed for convoy escort and patrol work. With this in mind, the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) had been formed in 1903, to back up the professional merchant service officers of the Royal Naval Reserve (which dated from 1859) and the trawlermen and inshore fishermen of the Royal Naval Patrol Service, who mostly came with their ships (see our notes on “The Fringes of the Fleet”).

Originally, the RNVR consisted of enthusiastic yachtsmen and the like, but as the war continued, and as “the wastage of war began to tell” (this page, line 20) young men with little or no connection with the sea were recruited: it may be assumed that “the Commander’s” new First Lieutenant was one such. (Incidentally, one of Winston Churchill’s less-than-properly-thought-through ideas resulted in a gross misuse of many of the pre-war RNVR. In 1914, there was no obvious need for a large number of them in the fleet, so they were turned into soldiers, and formed into the Royal Naval Division, fighting on the Western Front (where one whole battalion was interned in Holland after the 1914 debacle at Antwerp) and at Gallipoli – the poet Rupert Brooke was a Sub-Lieutenant RNVR in the Royal Naval Division when he died of septicaemia on board a hospital ship, two days before he was to have landed at Cape Helles.)

[Page 116, line 22First Lieutenant In destroyers and other ships of moderate size, the Executive Officer, second in command. Here the “Office” of First Lieutenant was held by an officer with the rank of sub lieutenant (see our notes on “The Fringes of the Fleet”. It may be noted that “the Commander” who is telling the tale would then have been a Lieutenant, probably aged little more than 22.

[Page 116, line 24] a voice like a pneumatic riveter loud and penetrating: a pneumatic riveter was an air-driven, portable, shipyard tool.

[Page 116, line 27] old top a slang vocative. According to Eric Partridge (whose Dictionary of Slang was freely consulted for the ORG, “old top” appeared ca 1920, but it had certainly reached Canada (as a curious Anglicism) by 1918. (The ORG Editor for these notes was a teenager in Canada at that time: and this Editor is sure that he could find the expression in a Punch cartoon of the same period.) Partridge is certainly right in saying that it was “slightly obsolete” by 1930.

[Page 117, line 2] a bit more no doubt this included such points as removing his cap in an officers’ mess, refraining from sitting on the mess table and addressing his commanding officer as “old top”.

[Page 117, line 4] big ships destroyers of the period were not so rated by the regular Navy! But, as will be seen, the Commanders’ new First Lieutenant had come from even smaller craft.

[Page 117, lines 6-7] Coastal Motor Boats . . . off the Cornish coast Coastal Motor Boats (CMBs), the predecessors of the Motor Torpedo Boats of 1939-45 were designed for torpedo attack on enemy surface ships. (CMB 4 of this period can be seen at the Imperial War Museum’s outstation at Duxford, in Cambridgeshire.) CMBs were not likely to be found on the Cornish coast, the south-west tip of England in 1914-18, when the Germans held no port further west than Nieuport in Belgium. Probably Motor Launches, used for general patrol work, were what Kipling meant. The task of “retrieving corpses” was, sadly, an all-too-likely one for such craft. Until the institution of convoys in April 1917, German U-boats had been operating successfully all around the coasts of Great Britain, and the losses in merchant ships threatened to defeat this country..

[Page 117, line 8] vet veterinary surgeon. The RNVR came from all walks of life: in World War II, for instance, the actor Alec Guiness was an RNVR officer, and commanded a landing craft.

[Page 117, lines 10/11] and his papa was a sugar-refiner … undoubtedly, the Commander is being snobbish. Certainly, in the pre-War Navy, who, or what, your family were still mattered: and a connection with “trade” was regarded with suspicion. The advent of RNVR officers who might not have been socially “quite the thing” was initially regarded in the same way (I mean, they might not hold their knife-and-fork in the correct manner), until they had proved themselves, both as officers and in the social context. (We have commented elsewhere on the expression “temporary gent” with reference to Army officers given temporary commissions.) During World War II, in the Navy, the RNR and RNVR officers would quote, later in the evening, and fortified by several gins, the saying that RNR officers were seamen pretending to be gentlemen; RNVR officers were gentlemen pretending to be seamen, and RN officers were neither, pretending to be both! All the above was expressed with tongue in cheek, but there was just an undertone of ‘us and them’.

[Page 117, line 14] New Navy see >notes on “A Naval Mutiny”. Mr Vergil was out of date – Sub Lieutenant Chidden wasn’t New Navy; he was war-time Navy, different altogether. In both World Wars, the RNVR officers and ‘Hostilities only’ ratings formed the great majority of the crews of the very small war-craft: landing craft, Coastal Motor Boats, Motor Torpedo Boats, Motor Gun Boats, etc..

[Page 117, line 20] No marks or lights navigational aids, such as buoys, lighthouses and lightships, which in war were often removed or left unlit to avoid assisting the enemy.

[Page 117, line 22] made an offing reached a reasonable distance from shore.

[Page 117, line 22] take the bridge assume the Officer of the Watch’s responsibilities for the ship.

[Page 117, line 23] his boots greased leather sea-boots were greased to keep them waterproof.

[Page 117, line 24] N.O. Naval Officer.

[Page 117, line 24] stood by in the chart-room the bridge of these destroyers was a small open platform, only very slightly raised, with the steering-wheel, engine-room telegraphs and some voice-pipes, all inside a canvas ‘dodger’, which came to about waist height. (Most modern ocean-going yachtsmen have more shelter.) The chart-room was little more than an open hutch with room for a chart table and one person, some 20 feet abaft the bridge, with the mast and the fore-funnel in between. So the captain could be out of sight but within hearing, avoiding worrying the young officer, but readily available in an emergency.

[Page 117, lines 25/26] Torpedo Coxwain the senior rating on board, and usually the most experienced helmsman. (See our notes to “Their Lawful Occasions”, Part I.) It would be a bold and very self-confident young officer who told off an older and much more experienced seaman (though perfectly justified).

[Page 117, line 26] a quarter-point off his course a compass point being 11¼º, the steering error was slightly under three degrees. It would have been difficult to steer a small craft like one of these three-hundred ton destroyers, in “confused seas” (six lines above), much closer than that – and in any case, she would probably have gone a quarter-point in the opposite direction, and the end result would have averaged out at very close to the desired course. That said, if the error were persistently in one direction, then the cumulative error could build up to dangerous proportions in a surprisingly short time. If they were doing, say, 15 knots, then after four hours, they would have been 2¾ miles from where they intended to be: and when there are no lights or marks to help the mariner to identify his landfall, this could be dangerous.

[Page 118, line 1] steam-riveter even louder than a pneumatic riveter (page 116, line 24): a steam-riveter was a fixed machine, found in factories, much used in the construction of boilers in particular.

[Page 118, line 2] the card the compass card. Despite various mechanisms to damp its movements, in a rough sea the card itself would oscillate slightly, to give an untrue reading of the ship’s head, let alone errors due to the movements of the ship as it was pushed hither and yon by the effect of the sea. Shide’s job would have been a difficult one.

[Page 118, line 8] muster normally a body of men assembled for inspection, checking, or telling off for work, but here implying men of a certain type.

[Page 118, lines 12-13] no one ever dreamed of trying to steer CMBs The statement that no one ever tried to steer them is of course a hyperbole, but short length, shallow draught and high speed did not make it easy to keep them on a steady course.

[Page 119, line 2] shore-muckings unpromising material for making into disciplined seamen. (The 20th century equivalent of gaol delivery in the late 18th century.)

[Page 119, line 5] Bolshie or Bolshy: used as a noun or adjective. From Bolsheviki, the majority branch of the Social Democratic Party in Russia that overthrew the Provisional Government of the Mensheviks, led by Kerensky, in the October Revolution. (Russia was then still using the Julian calendar, so the October Revolution actually occurred in November 1917 by the Gregorian calendar in use by most of the rest of the Western world.) The word came to be used to mean a revolutionary or generally insubordinate character. The remark tends to confirm that the action took place in early 1917.

[Page 119, line 8] hatch-coaming a raised edge, usually one foot to eighteen inches high (300-450 mm) to keep out water. In this case, the stay-maker’s apprentice has suffered lower-deck justice – rough and ready.

[Page 119, lines 11-12] full of thirsty passengers this phrase indicates that prohibition was still in force in the USA when the tale was told (before 1933). The bars and hotels in Bermuda did a roaring trade with Americans who could afford to go on the original “booze-cruises”. Kipling found the antics of some of them, when drink-taken, distinctly uncongenial.

[Page 119, line15] sea-boat in this context, a good sea-boat is a ship, vessel or craft which behaves well in bad weather.

[Page 119, line 16] square-faced tug one with bluff bows.

[Page 119, line 26] shore support by means of a prop or beam wedged obliquely against the vertical bulkhead.

[Page 119, line 27] broomsticks not to be taken too literally, but an indication that the thin plating of these old destroyers would flex (‘pant’ is the nautical expression) in the slightest of seas.

[Page 120, line 1] our people weren’t broke to the life ‘the people’; ‘our people’; ‘my people’ has been an officer’s expression for the lower deck for three centuries. Most recently (July 2009), when Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope took over as First Sea Lord, in his “Headmark”, setting out his intentions for the Royal Navy, he said “I am daily impressed by the talent and commitment of our people”; and “Those in positions of authority, from leading hand and corporal upwards, must know their people, their qualities and their needs.” And “being broke to the life” is something that takes time. In wartime, that time is a luxury, and although one has to make reasonable allowances for a seasick, homesick, stay-maker’s apprentice, you do indeed have to “tighten things up”.

[Page 120, line 6] on the lower deck literally, in the space where the crew lived. But a small destroyer did not have a lower deck, as such: the metaphorical meaning is “among the crew”.

[Page 120, line 11] de-louse ‘em mowally improve their morale

[Page 120, line 14] Able Dog corresponding to the advancement of an Ordinary Seaman to full manhood as an Able Seaman.

[Page 120, line 16] Fo’c’sle afloat meaning, the crew’s messdecks awash with water.

[Page 120, line 17] galley-fire missing the cooking stove has been flooded, or is otherwise unusable, so no hot food, not even a hot drink.

[Page 120, line 17] but they cheered A nautical equivalent of the Army’s cry of “Are we downhearted? No!”.

[Page 120, line 24] sharks sardines. (Some 50 years later than the setting of this tale, this Editor was in a submarine where the wardroom’s cry was “Whales for tea!” – meaning that tinned pilchards were on the menu again.)

[Page 120 , line 24] Worcester sauce a particularly British condiment – but useful for spicing up cold sardines.

[Page 120, line 25] free-fooder scrounger – and a not particularly relevant reference to the Liberal Party’s objection to any tax on food.

[Page 120, line 27 and page 122, line 1] Admiral’s inspection an annual event (or more frequently if your Admiral thought you needed shaking-up) affecting everything and everyone on board.

[Page 122, line 1] – Uncle presumably to placate Lord Heatleigh, assuring him that his status was not forgotten and no personal disrespect was intended.

[Page 122, line 2] boiler-clean a necessary and welcome break in destroyers’ sea-going to allow their boiler-tubes to be cleaned.

[Page 122, line 4-5] bright work ornamental metal: in those days, nearly always brass (or in the engine room and galley, copper); today, chrome is also used to “tiddly-up” a ship’s appearance. Old habits die very hard. In 1813, the Admiralty thought it advisable to direct Commanders-in-Chief to instruct their captains privately that their men’s time was better employed than in the “useless practice” of polishing metal. None the less, it still occurs, though not to the extent that it did at the turn of the 19th/20th century.

[Page 122, line 12] no catch lacking in advantages and attraction.

[Page 122, lines 15 and 16] hanging in the wind said of a ship when tacking if her head comes up to the wind and does not fall off on the new tack. It is then uncertain whether she can be coaxed round on to her new tack, or will have to fall off on the old tack, to gather speed again before once more being put about. “Sitting on the fence”, or “uncertain which way to jump” have a similar meaning.

[Page 122, lines 17 and 18] standing part of your tackle a tackle (at sea pronounced tay’-cul) is a mechanism for lifting weights or managing a sail or a yard, by means of a rope rove through pulley blocks. One end of the rope is secured to a block, and is called the standing part, the other is the hauling part. The standing part does not move, and so may be said to represent the reliable portion of the crew.

[Page 122, lines 20 and 21] Gunner, Chief Engineer, Cook, Chief Stoker and Torpedo Cox (should be Cox’n): the most experienced and influential officers and ratings.

[Page 122, line 22] uncomfy uncomfortable. Partridge says “comfy” goes back to 1830, when it was “Society” slang. (The OED’s earliest citation is 1829; the next is one of Kiplng’s from Plain Tales from the Hills, 1887.)

[Page 122, line 22] those old thirty-knotters a batch of 75 destroyers, later known as the ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ classes, mostly in the programmes of 1895 to 1898 inclusive, built to general Admiralty specifications but with individual variations by their eleven different builders. They represented a modest advance on the original 27-knotters. From later details in this tale, it is clear that Kipling almost certainly had one particular destroyer in mind, probably encountered during his visits to Dover, Harwich and Immingham while he was researching for ‘The Fringes of the Fleet’.

[Page 122, line 23] no bows not to be taken too literally. The Commander means that they had no raised bow, such as later destroyers, from 1901 onwards had. Apart from a ‘turtle-back’, right forward, the older destroyers’ upper deck was flush.

At the risk of turning this into a treatise on naval ship design, readers may be interested in the following (taken from Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860-1906) which shows just how au fait Kipling was on the subject:

Experience with earlier types of destroyers [the “27-knotters” and 30-knotters] had shown quite clearly that concentrating on high trial (= smooth water) speed was a snare and a delusion. The combination of seaworthiness with the ability to maintain a less spectacular speed when it became rough was of far more real value. The early destroyers were far too lightly built, too small and too delicate to be fully effective in all conditions as fighting ships. The lesson was learned by the success of the German S90 class which had a raised forecastle and proved very seaworthy. The Admiralty decided to ask for more heavily built destroyers with raised forecastles and a contract speed of only 25½ knots. The larger size and sturdiness of the new destroyers was correctly held to allow the new destroyers to maintain this speed when the earlier destroyers would have dropped well below it.

[Page 122, line 23] freeboard the ship’s side, or its height, between the waterline and the upper deck.

[Page 122, lines 23-25] no officer’s quarters … your Gunner’s socks in your mouth this is exaggerated, so far as the Captain was concerned. In the earliest 27-knotters, he had to sleep with the other officers on settees round the wardroom, so might meet his Gunner’s socks, but in the later ones he had a small cabin right ft, and this was standard in the 30-knotters. The ‘E’, or ‘River’, class which followed in the 1901-04 programmes were the first to provide cabins for all officers.

(As an aside, in the 1950s, this Editor served in an ‘S’ class submarine where the officers’ accommodation was as described, with all officers, the Captain included, sleeping on settees round the wardroom (a space about 8ft 6ins square). The captain was allowed the luxury of not having another bunk over his head.)

[Page 122, line 27 and page 123, line 1] pirate hunting behind muddy islands probably in the vicinity of Bias Bay, near Hong Kong. This went on sporadically well into the 20th century.

[Page 123, line 3] Falklands the South American islands of that name, about 51º40’S 60ºW, whose ownership Britain disputed with Spain in the 1770s. Today, Argentina lays claim to them as the Islas Malvinas: they were invaded by the Argentines in April 1982, and were retaken by Britain after a short campaign in June 1982.

[Page 123, line 4] German sailing-ship Merchantmen under sail were still making profitable voyages up to the start of World War I – and the Finns operated some big four-masted barques until 1939 in the Australian wheat trade. Two vessels operated by the Erickson company even made voyages in 1947 and 1949. During the battle of the Falkland Islands in December 1914 (when the British avenged the earlier defeat off Coronel (Chile)), a Norwegian sailing ship sailed unconcernedly through the gunnery duel.

[Page 123, line 5] Patagonia in general terms, the extreme south of South America, in both Argentina and Chile. It extends from about 39ºS to 52ºS, or some 890 statute miles. It takes its name from that given by Ferdinand Magellan to the inhabitants when he discovered the passage which bears his name during his circumnavigation 1519-1522.

[Page 123, line 7] get the canvas off a barque shorten sail to make her manageable, and to avoid ramming the cliffs mentioned in the next line.

[Page 123, line 11] slant course relative to the wind.

[Page 123, line 20] tiger-lily a cultivated lily, Lilium tigrinum from China, with orange flowers, spotted purple and black.

[Page 123, lines 23 and 24] there’s a heap differ ’twixt mongrel and mixed an interesting remark. It indicates that Mr. Gallop is sensitive on the issue of race, since at some time, it may be implied, the original Gallops had interbred with native Caribs: and of the OED’s definitions of the word ‘mongel’, two are definitely derogatory, although the first OED definition is merely “The offspring or result of cross-breeding, miscegenation, mixed marriage, etc.”, as a plain expression of fact.

In Mr. Gallop’s mind, it would seem, “mongrel” implies at least something irregular in one’s descent, whereas “mixed” describes an accepted fact of life.

[Page 123, line 26] beryl a precious stone, pale-green passing into light blue, yellow and white: the colour of the shallower waters of those parts.

[Page 124, lines 16/17] comforter a scarf or muffler. It is interesting to note that this meaning (the sixth given by the OED), is now superseded generally by the seventh, “A dummy teat put into a baby’s mouth to quieten it.”

[Page 125, line 7] the circumstantial evidence his excreta, allegedly left on the quarterdeck instead of “his own special area”.

[Page 125, line 11] Court of Inquiry since the 1950s this has very properly been renamed a Board of Inquiry. It is a preliminary investigation to determine whether anyone has a case to answer. When employed in more serious situations, such as after a collision, or an accident resulting in death or injury, its powers are limited – witnesses cannot be sub-poena’ed, nor is evidence given on oath.

[Page 125, line 26] Crystal Palace a structure, mostly of glass and iron, originally erected in Hyde Park, London, in 1851, for the first Great International Exhibition. In 1854, it was moved to Penge Place, Sydenham Hill, in South London, and was the scene of various shows. In addition to the structure, there were extensive parks and grounds, and it was an early site for the Football Association Cup Final.

In 1914-1918, it was used as the enrolment centre, and training establishment for the RNVR, which explains the reference here.

From 1920 to1924, it housed the embryo Imperial War Museum. In 1936, it was destroyed by fire, but the grounds remain as a sports venue, primarily for athletics.

[Page 126, line 6] sculled literally, to row a boat, using a pair of sculls, smaller than a full-sized oar, and usually with a shaped blade. In Naval slang, wandered aimlessly: to “be left sculling about” is to be left lying about.

[Page 126, line 12] bandstand a raised platform surrounding a gun and on which it was mounted.

[Page 126, lines 15/16] thortships Kipling’s own phonetic spelling of (a)thwartships, meaning across the ship at right angles to the fore-and-aft line.

[Page 126, line 18] Fritz’s coast Fritz, as a typical German name, was used to mean the enemy in general. The term died out after the First World War: in the Second, the general British term was ‘Jerry’.

[Page 126, lines 16-24] all the time we were covering the minesweepers … laid down areas of their own. A translation into layman’s language of this passage is as follows:

Makee-Do and her consorts were providing close escort to a group of minesweepers, who were clearing an enemy minefield close to the German (or, more likely, north Belgian) coast. Because of their shallow draft, Makee-do and her sisters were unlikely to hit any mines themselves, because, in general, moored mines couldn’t be set so shallow without giving away their presence. (But the minesweepers themselves had to sit deeper in the water to get the power to tow their cumbersome sweeps.)

The supporting, more heavily armed, cruisers were further to seaward, beyond the known or suspected confines of the minefield. (The fact that the Netherlands was neutral in World War I inhibited naval operations in that area – neither belligerent could lay minefields within Dutch territorial waters (nor – officially – use those waters at all). And minefields which might affect shipping using Dutch ports had to be declared.) The Germans had laid a minefield a short time ago, but a substantial number of their mines had broken loose. We had swept the rest, and then gone in to lay our own minefields. In this area of the southern North Sea, the prime purpose of German minefields was to inhibit British operations (big-gun monitors off-shore could, at extreme range, reach as far as the western end of the Ypres salient). The British aim was to hinder the operations of German light forces and submarines based at Ostende, Zeebrugge and Bruges.

[Page 126, line 22] warts originally Naval slang for midshipmen (excrescences on the face of humanity) but at this time, used for mines, which were spherical, and when floating awash might be likened to a wart erupting from skin. (There is also a Naval Spoonerism concerning the use of this word: a Naval chaplain, conducting a service after return from a mine-laying operation, when it came to the Naval prayer, instead of saying “Oh Almighty Lord God, who alone spreadest out the heavens and rulest the raging of the seas, who hast compassed the waters with bounds …” very aptly, but unintentionally, said “who hast compassed the bounders with warts”.

[Page 126, line 26] loose mines nearly all the mines laid in 1914-18 were buoyant moored mines, attached to a sinker by a length of chain and wire that kept them below the surface. For the safety of neutrals, international law required belligerents to give warning of any mined areas, and to provide a safety arrangement that would render the mine safe if the mooring parted, allowing it to float to the surface and drift. This could not be relied upon, since it might be deliberately omitted or fail mechanically.

[Page 126, line 26] horns these were the most usual method of exploding the mine when a ship came into contact with it, completing the electrical firing circuit either mechanically (British and American mines) or chemically, by breaking a tube of acid (German mines).

[Page 127, lines 6 and 7] locus in quo the place in whuch; the scene of some incident. Legal Latin.

[Page 127, line 10] wept like Peter see Matthew 26,75.

[Page 127, line 11] hoicked hoisted or raised, especially with a jerk: slang of the late 19th century taken over by airmen in the 20th.

[Page 128, line 13] How-come, Fan-kwai, Hop-hell pidgin English or mock Chinese invented names.

[Page 129, line 2] Joss “which is luck, fortune, destiny, the irony of Fate or Nemesis . . . the greatest of all the Battle-gods that move on the waters” (Sea Warfare, page 191): here implies good fortune. A thing might be ‘good Joss’, or ‘bad Joss’.

[Page 129, line 8] re-charging for the first 50-60 years of their existence, ‘submarines’ were really no more than submersible boats, and not true submarines – the latter can sail from harbour, dive, and not re-appear until they’ve consumed all their food. Throughout World War I and for most of World War II, submarines relied on electric motors powered by batteries for underwater propulsion. These would last up to 48 hours if the submarine was going very slowly; say 2 knots. At full speed, their endurance was measured in a very few hours. At intervals on a patrol, therefore, a submarine had to surface to re-charge its batteries, a process which could take hours – all the while keeping a sharp look-out for an approaching enemy in the air or on the surface. The advent of the Dutch-invented schnorkel in 1942-3 obviated the need to surface, although a submarine’s manoeuvrability was very limited while “snorting”.

[Page 129, line 13] zincy the pale, metallic appearance of the sun, seen through certain types of fog or cloud.

[Page 129, line 15] hatches open and a man on deck emphatically not a procedure likely to have been followed in reality. When you were on the surface, you were ready to dive at a moment’s notice – only the single conning tower hatch would have been open, and only two men – the officer of the watch and a look-out – on the (exiguous) bridge.

[Page 129, line 18] mouldie or ‘mouldy’. Some say the Whitehead torpedo was so called by borrowing the expression from farmers who called the mole, who also operates under the surface, and destroys things on the surface, ‘old mouldy’ or ‘mouldy-warp’.

[Page 129, line 19] my Gunner naturally followed suit in a destroyer, ‘the Gunner’, a warrant officer, who kept watch-and-watch with the sub-lieutenant on the bridge, was a Torpedo Gunner. While initiative is to be commended, it would not be normal routine for the Gunner, who, one assumes, was at his action station by the torpedo tubes, to fire a torpedo without the authority of the command. And, in any case, you did not aim a torpedo like you aimed a gun: the torpedo tube was trained outboard at 90º to the ship’s centre-line, and the whole ship swung until, with the appropriate amount of deflection to allow for the target’s movement during the torpedo’s run, the sights came on. Kipling got the drill wrong here.

[Page 129, line 22] brolly umbrella.

[Page 129, line 27] private code secret identification signal.

[Page 129, line 27, and page 130, line 1] that’s why we didn’t fire on sight, sir an explanatory aside to the Admiral. Normally, unless you had very positive information that one of your own submarines was going to be in your area, you would open fire on a submarine as soon as it was seen without waiting to positively identify it – it was always ‘open season’ on submarines. In this case, although the Torpedo Gunner has, apparently, acted in accordance with that principle, the waving umbrella was sufficient to halt the executive order from the bridge to open fire with the guns.

[There is a well-known story from World War II of the signal from a submarine, returning to base from a patrol, “Expect to arrive 1800, if friendly aircraft will stop bombing me”.]

[Page 130, line 4] doggo to “lie low and say nuffin’”. The first citation in the OED is for 1893, in Kipling’s own Many Inventions (‘Love-o’-Women’, page 274, line 27)

As a matter of related interest, there is also a separate, peculiarly Naval, meaning which will not be found in the OED – nor is it meant in this case. Normally, when minesweeping with a wire sweep towed in an arc behind two minesweepers, they steer parallel courses. There is always a danger that some unforeseen cause may knock one or other or both off their course, so that they finish up, facing in opposite directions, with their sterns still linked by the sweep wire. They are then said to “lie doggo”.

[Page 130, line 13] silhouettes block drawings, issued to assist in the recognition of enemy ships.

[Page 130, line 17] only one mouldie apiece left these small destroyers only carried two single torpedo tubes, and no re-loads. Indeed, virtually no destroyers ever carried reloads: once the torpedo grew to the size and weight of the 18″ (diameter) weapon, there was no room on board for its maintenance and storage, and much less so, for the 21″ weapon which became standard in all the world’s navies from about 1917 onwards.

[Page 130, line 22] three or four hock bottles during World War II, one was very careful about “ditching gash” – throwing waste overboard. If one was not, then an enemy submarine could trail a convoy by following its rubbish. ‘Joss’ Withers is about to do the same here.

[Page 130, lines 22-23 We don’t drink hock much at sea an implied criticism of the Germans for allowing drinking at sea. Considering that the Royal Navy gave its sailors a tot – one-eighth of a pint of rum – per day, this smacks of the pot calling the kettle black. But the Commander would have replied that the hock bottles indicated ‘social’ drinking, which was eschewed in the Royal Navy at sea.

[Page 131, line 2] told me to come alongside as the Commander explains, this was a slightly risky manoeuvre, but in the days before VHF radio, this allowed captains to exchange tactical thoughts, and for a senior officer to explain his intentions clearly. If the manoeuvre was misjudged, or if the two ships rubbed heavily alongside each other in anything but a flat calm, with resulting damage, there might be a certain amount of explaining to be done later: but it was quite commonplace during World War II among the MTB fraternity in the English Channel.

This Editor experienced a similar occasion, in an emergency, in much larger ships, in 1958, when his destroyer (at over 3,000 tons some ten times bigger than Makee-do) suffered a fire in a boiler room which left her without any power, including electricity, while on passage from Malta to Cyprus: our senior officer came alongside – it was a flat calm, fortunately – and electric cables were passed across from one ship to the other to enable us to operate the pumps to fight the fire. [The full story is more complex, but would be inappropriate here.]

[Page 131, line 10] sampans small but stout Chinese craft, propelled by sail and oars, ofr use in harbour or coastal waters.

[Page 131, line 15] biggest thief when the official allowance of stores was inadequate it was useful to have such an individual, but like other secret agents he had to expect to be disclaimed if detected. (Cf, ‘The Bonds of Discipline, page 58, lines 22-25)

It was comparatively unusual for an officer to be a “ship’s thief” – he might make an observation to his Chief Boatswain’s Mate along the lines of “I saw half a dozen fenders sculling about outside No. 19 Store this morning – they looked rather forgotten. If you happened to be passing that way in the dogs [dog-watches = out of working hours, when the storemen might be expected to have gone home] with a small working party, we could take care of them, and make sure they didn’t fall into unauthorised hands.” And the Buffer (Chief Boatswain’s Mate) might reply, “Is that a fact, Sir: pity if they went missing.” And next day, the ship would have some new fenders, and nothing more would have been said.

[Page 131, line 17] chinning to talk, especially loquaciously or argumentatively (cf. ‘chin-wag’). Partridge gives it as American slang of the 1880s, imported into England a decade later.

[Page 131, line 20] shoaling getting shallower.

[Page 131, lines 20-21] we more or less made out the set of the tide in shoal water, the flow of the tide might well manifest itself in tide rips, which would give an indication of the direction of the tide and its strength. These in turn, would be a clue, or a partial one, to ones whereabouts in thick weather. This is another example of Kipling’s artistry: the remark doesn’t add anything to the story, but it is absolutely ‘right’ as the sort of amplifying remark that one sailor would make to another when ‘spinning a dit’ (telling a story).

[Page 133, lines 1 and 2] gibber on the wireless … sounded like a Fritz tip-and-run raid somewhere Although the use of radio was a scant ten years old at the outbreak of war, the use of interception techniques was developed substantially in 1914-18: indeed, the battle of Jutland came about because the British Admiralty detected that the German High Seas Fleet had gone to sea by analysing the pattern of radio traffic – they didn’t get it 100% right, but sufficiently to ensure that Jellicoe took the Grand Fleet to sea in good time to make the interception.

The Germans made a number of brief forays into the North Sea to bombard east coast towns, relying on low visibility and darkness to avoid detection. The targets chosen (Lowestoft, Yarmouth, Scarborough, Whitby, the Hartlepools and even Southwold were scarcely military targets, and marked a resurgence of waging war on the civilian population which had not been seen for a century or so, but which became all too common in the remainder of the 20th century. The raids were all short (that on Hartlepool in December 1914 lasting 25 minutes), the enemy then making for home. They were called ‘tip-and-run’ raids from a form of children’s cricket, in which you had to run if you so much as touched the ball with the bat, whether or not it was a full-blown run-scoring stroke.

Although, as stated above, interception techniques were developed during the war, it is unlikely that the equipment and operators in a small destroyer would have had the ability to detect and analyse enemy traffic as ‘Joss’ implies here. Apart from any other factor, his single operator would have been too involved in listening for his own signal traffic to go hunting up and down the frequencies to find enemy traffic.

[Page 133, line 6] he was going to slip ’em himself rather than let his Gunner (T) act on his own initiative, as he had done a few pages earlier when Connolly’s submarine was sighted.

[Page 133, line 9] passed the thing over the bulk and weight of an 18-inch torpedo would have made this less easy than it sounds, with the limited equipment of an old destroyer, under way, but it was certainly not impossible.

[Page 133, line 10] bare steerage-way the minimum speed which would enable the rudder to steer the ship effectively.

[Page 133, lines 22 and 23] wish we were Connolly wish we had the ability to submerge out of sight.

[Pages 134 and 135, lines 1-4] The two British destroyers have been lying alongside one another, the senior officer’s ship on the left (port) side of the narrator’s: they are lying virtually stopped, and the enemy cruiser (the “hock-bottler”), has come up from astern of them, and is going to pass very close down the right (starboard) side of Makee-do. Visibility is, as near as makes no matter, nil.

‘Joss’s’ intention is to slip away to port, until he is some 200 yards away (as near as he can judge), and then torpedo the enemy ship, relying on sound alone to give him the bearing of the enemy. He has to get that distance away because a torpedo always dives deep on firing from a surface ship, and has to run about 200 yards before it takes up its set depth. And Joss wants Makee-do to get close round the other side of the German, so that she is not in the way of his torpedoes, and if discovered, will, he hopes, distract the enemy from the side whence the real threat will come.

So Makee-do is allowed to drop astern, narrowly missing writing off her own starboard screw as she does so, and then creeps up the enemy’s starboard side (“I heard my port fenders squeak”). She is lying so close to the enemy that the enemy’s guns will not be able to depress sufficiently if he does detect her.

Kipling has been very sparing of his description here: one has to be able to visualise the situation as we have described it above, but if one does so, it will be understood that it had to be so, although Kipling does not say words to the effect that “we slowed down until the enemy’s stern was level with our bow, then we swung slightly to starboard, taking care not to lose touch with him, and increased speed gently to come up his starboard side, until our port fenders squeaked along his.”

[Page 134, line 20] hear me yap probably a short toot on her siren.

[Page 135, line 7] flaring bulging outwards and upwards: overhanging.

[Page 135, line 8 preventive boat a customs or coastguard boat, probably enforcing prohibition (of the sale of alcohol).

[Page 135, line 15] relieving tackles were used to assist or replace steering by hand wheel and ropes in the old wooden walls. They are an anachronism in a destroyer, where the alternative to steering from forward, by power, was steering from a mechanically-linked hand wheel aft.

[Page 135, lines 16-17] twelve-pounder on the bridge the ship’s biggest gun, a twelve-pounder (3″ in calibre) was on a ‘bandstand’ level with, and immediately in front of, the bridge. (What it did to the magnetic compass some 6′ 6″ behind it doesn’t bear thinking of; see our note on “Judson and the Empire”.)

[Page 135, line 18] forward six-pounders the remainder of Makee-do’s armament consisted of two six-pounders abreast the exiguous bridge, one each side: one further six-pounder on each side en echelon abreast the second funnel: and a single six-pounder aft on another ‘bandstand’. The Gunner was in charge of the two forward guns on the port side.

[Page 135, line 20] the devil of a clang men who have been torpedoed have sometimes described that the clang (or whatever) of the torpedo warhead striking the ship’s side, metal on metal, and the resulting detonation, have been distinctly separate sounds.

[Page 135, lines 21-22] three rounds of the twelve, and the sixes cut into her naked skin Makee-do opened fire at the enemy with all the guns that would bear, the six-pounder shells going in to her hull’s unarmoured section at the after end. (There had been some debate in naval circles about the armament of destroyers, some being for more heavier, hard-hitting, guns: the opposite school of thought said that since a destroyer was so unstable a gun-platform, it was better to have a larger volume of smaller projectiles, some of which would probably hit, than a smaller number of heavier projectiles, with a smaller probability of achieving a hit.) Both guns were aimed and fired rather like a rifle – the Gunlayer had a large padded shoulder-piece, and a pistol-grip trigger, and swung the whole gun round with his body: Number two opened and closed the breech, while Number three loaded the gun from the ready-use ammunition locker alongside the gun.

[Page 135, lines 23-24] Then we all dived aft Makee-do’s captain was expecting the enemy to reply wildly, and knew that, even if they weren’t going to be hit by the enemy’s guns, the blast from them would be extremely damaging (as is described in the next few lines).

[Page 137, lines 10/11] his private area gone west see page 116, lines 12-14.

[Page 138, line 6] Don Miguel

[Page 138, line 17] Crystal Palace naval exhibits under training at the Crystal Palace (see note above on page 125, line 26).

[Page 138, line 18] shanghaied hands the original meaning (the OED citation is dated 1871) was “to drug or otherwise render insensible, and ship on board a vessel wanting hands”. The practice is thought to have originated in San Francisco, when sailors would desert their ships to go to the Yukon goldfields. Consequently, ships with cargoes loaded, ready to sail, found themselves short of hands for trans-Pacific voyages to China. The crimps, who operated around the waterfront bars, weren’t particular about how they acquired the men to complete the crews of the ships ready to sail. But once at sea, most men buckled to (there was no alternative) and became part of a cohesive crew.

[Page 138, line 24] more or less by soundings with the compasses “crazy”, and in fog, the only way to go was to take soundings, and go where the water got deeper.

[Page 138, line 24] till I picked up a star not easy: unless you can see a substantial portion of the heavens, it is not easy to identify a single star. And unless you have all the appropriate tables and an accurate timepiece, it is not easy to determine what the bearing of that star should be, other than the Pole Star.

[Page 139, lines 20-21] packed with cork for a tip-and-run raid It is not clear if Kipling based this idea on any known measure taken by the Germans during World War I. The ‘tip-and-run’ raids were all carried out by ordinary units of the German fleet, but the idea of filling empty watertight compartments with cork– the ships would be capable of surviving hitting a mine or being torpedoed – was not particularly unusual, just not very practical under normal circumstances.

During World War II when it was found, towards the end of the war in Europe, that mines which were activated by the pressure wave projected ahead of a ship were un-sweepable by any normal means, an old coaster was filled with ping-pong balls and used as a sacrificial lamb to be sent ahead to activate any such mines before the passage of an important unit or convoy.

[Page 139, lines 25-26] ’Nothin’ due ’fore to-morrow the wind has strengthened, but Mr. Gallop is sure that there will be no serious gale before to-morrow.

[Page 140, line13] no command of sight normally, the bridge was the highest point of the superstructure of the ship, and so commanded the greatest visibility range: but, in practice, in these early destroyers, the bridge was only a matter of two feet higher than the fo’c’s’le turtleback, and so the extra visibility range would have been negligible.

[Page 140, line 14] torpedo-bearded wearing a small, pointed Van Dyke beard; a style favoured by naval men, for some reason particularly in the Torpedo branch, in the period.1895-1918.

[Page 141, lines 2 and 3] there was a bit of a mix-up round the funnel, but of course I was busy swapping yarns with Joss more lower deck justice being applied. There are times other than Lord Nelson’s famous example when a blind eye is appropriate.

[Page 142, line 2] He had a punch, too, Cywil taken in conjunction with the remark about “knocking men about to make ’em attend” (page 118 lines 15-17), Sub Lieutenant Chidden seems to have disregarded King’s Regulations pretty thoroughly, and even in war-time would have been liable to be court-martialled if anyone had complained. But the destroyer navy tended to work differently from the rest of the Navy, and again, it is worth reminding ourselves that Kipling was describing the effect of relaxation after extreme danger on men in whom naval discipline was not ingrained. This Editor has little doubt that Kipling based this tale on something he’d heard from one of his various naval correspondents.

The following are some extracts from The First Destroyers by the late David Lyon of the National Maritime Museum, quoting from the Admiralty’s general instructions for building the earliest destroyers:

The officers sleep on horsehair cushions placed on the lockers. . . . All lockers, both for officers and men are provided with lee boards and used for sleeping purposes, the men sleeping on lockers being provided with cork mattresses which are stowed overhead on hammock beams. . . . Sanitary arrangements consist of a WC for Officers aft, fitted to pump direct from the sea, a sea-cock being fitted. . . . For seamen a WC and urinal are fitted abreast the conning tower. These are flushed by means of buckets. No watertight doors are to be fitted for passage between compartments, but doors placed well up on the bulkhead have been fitted for passing food from the Galley to the crew space. . . . All provisions are stowed in tins, so that the provision spaces need only be battened and cork cemented.

The Commanding Officer of HMS Havock, the first destroyer of all, wrote:

The behaviour of the ship and the accommodation is such that no-one gets undisturbed rest at sea even in fine weather and in bad weather of course there would be very little rest for anyone so that I should (except in very exceptional circumstances) recommend a limit of five nights at sea…

David Lyons continued:

The crews of small craft generally had an extra allowance of pay – known by the splendidly graphic title of ‘hard lying money’ – and some crews really earned it. One thing that does seem true is that most early destroyers were ‘happy ships’ with a more relaxed attitude to discipline and standards of turnout than ‘big ships’. Small ships, then as now, tended to breed a cheerful spirit of camaraderie and shared hardships.

[Page 142, line 23] couldn’t crime the swine couldn’t put the man on a charge.

[Page 143, line 11] full of beans and blackmail a (deliberate) mis-quotation from Handley Cross by R.S. Surtees (much quoted in Stalky and Co.)

[Page 143, line 15] but what’s a Chief Stoker doin’ on the upper deck In Mr. Vergil’s young days a Chief Stoker would never have had cause to come on the upper deck, unless it were for a smoke, or to go ashore. But in a destroyer – as we have seen above, with no bulkhead doors between compartments – he had to come on the upper deck every time he went from one boiler-room to another. And, as the Commander replies, one of his jobs as a senior rating is to preserve discipline among ratings of any branch, not just among his own stokers.

[Page 145, line 2] the old Minotaur – see notes on “A Naval Mutiny”.

[Page 145, lines 18-19] run in and come out tearing the wrapping off the whisky bottles they had bought one may assume that Kipling had seen such happenings with his own eyes. Although his published correspondence makes no specific mention of such events, he makes several references to drunken Americans, and in particular to their womenfolk, whose behaviour he found distasteful.

[Page 145, line 23 to page 146, line 4] The Commander is concerned that his listeners do not think that his crew were an ill-conditioned rabble: quite apart from anything else, that would have reflected badly on him.


©Alastair Wilson 2009 All rights reserved