War had been declared between Great Britain and the Boer Republic on 11 October 1899 and the British were now building up an expeditionary force. “Mr, Wyatt” of the Navy League was Harold Frazer Wyatt (d, 1925), active in the Navy League since 1895 and its secretary from 1905. Rottingdean is the Sussex village where Kipling lived from 1897 to 1902.
IT IS MY very great honour tonight to introduce to you Mr. Wyatt, who has been good enough to come down to us on behalf of the Navy League to tell us a few facts that we do not know about her Majesty’s Navy. In this maritime village there are a few things about her Majesty’s Navy we do not know. We sit on the beach and see occasionally a cloud of smoke in the distance, and the coastguard says, “It is a man-of-war”; and we say “Yes, it is a man-of-war”; but it never occurs to us what it means unless we are on the beach and think very hard—that under cover of these few distant puffs of smoke we are sending away a small police detachment of 66,000 men and other things—mules and horses, and hundreds of tons of stores—to get at some people who have interfered with onr ideas of right and wrong at a distance of 6,000 miles away, and that it is only possible to do these things by and through the very insignificant naval force which at present we possess. Now, Mr. Wyatt this evening is going to tell us how the birth of that force came about, how, little by little, it grew from the few ships King Alfred had, through Elizabethan times, through the neglect of later times and the wars of the last century, to the present day, when it is the moderately efficient weapon we find it. The object of the Navy League is simply to create a certain public opinion which shall announce its willingness and readiness to pay taxes in order that the Navy may he efficient, may be strong, and, above all things, may not fail us in the hour of need.
—The Times, 25 November 1899, p. 11.