Chapter Four – On board HMS Grafton

A Life Cut Short – The Edited Letters of Lieutenant Commander Ralph Lyall Clayton, 1885 – 1916

In April Grafton started her return journey to Esquimalt and Ralph remarked on the sudden fall in temperature. From 88 to 62 in a couple of days, ‘on the forebridge it is terribly cold…we shall be longing for the warmth again. It was even colder when they arrived at Esquimalt, awfully cold and we have not had our stove rigged yet. However, he thought Esquimalt very pretty and not changed in the four and a half months he had been away.

The dock was pumped dry and the Grafton went in for an unknown period of repair. There was shopping in Victoria. And now I will tell you my important bit of news. On May 8 we are going to San Francisco to meet President Roosevelt. …to accompany him up to Seattle in Washington…..everyone thought it was a hoax at first. …we are going to illuminate, we have a very fine eagle to light up about 40 feet high which will be hung between the masts…I believe the Yankee ships illuminate over all as we dress ship with flag; that can’t look nearly as well as the outlining so we ought to be much admired.

When the Grafton arrived in San Francisco, ahead of her were the 6 U.S.A. ships, all small except the New York, their flagship, rather a fine ship..the Steam Pinnace was duty ship the whole time so I didn’t get ashore very much.

However, Ralph managed to get ashore to see Roosevelt lay a foundation stone. The place was full of school children waving the Stars and Stripes. When the President arrived Ralph was rather disappointed that he hadn’t got his black escort with him. He always travels with them which stirs up a good deal of comment among the Southern people.He was preceded by several companies of blue jackets who don’t look so smart as ours. The President made a good speech tho’ not eloquent I don’t think….I expect he was rather tired, as this was his sixth speech. The President went round the harbour in his destroyer, the Paul Jones. The celebrations lasted two days and Ralph particularly enjoyed the illuminations of all the ships and the town – but sadly not ‘the eagle’ because the wind blew too hard! He sent his mother a newspaper account of Roosevelt’s visit.

At San Francisco, one of the Midshipmen, Vernon, deserted and was not found, hardly a usual occurrence, as Ralph said, although there was a case in the Mediterranean of two Mids deserting…a lot about it in the papers.

Then it was back to Esquimalt. In May naval exams were once again looming and there was to be a grand attack by torpedo boats on the harbour, I hope I shall be able to get one of the boats. In the event he was in one of the boats towing the firing torpedoes, starting at six thirty in the morning, but the target which was a Whale Island patent thought fit to turn over the wrong way. We had to pick it up three times so that by twelve we had not fired a shot. At one o clock we lowered a simple canvas target and carried out our firing at that.

Before the exams there was the regatta, the best race with the four Indian war canoes, but the Chinamen shout insults at each other and don’t pull together. Then there was an amusing cricket match with the Captain, the Fleet Paymaster, the Engineer Commander and all the oldest officers. The Admiral was asked but refused. Exams wee about to start but Ralph was more concerned as to when and whether he would be getting a torpedo boat.

At the end of May the Admiralty examinations took place. Ralph did not seem to suffer any anxiety over them, the exams are going on pretty well at present. We have not had any difficult papers…I only know the Marks the N.I. (naval instructor) gives but I think they are approximately the same as the Admiralty ones. All the Admiralty examinations are over now except the French, after that there are the papers by officers on board….examinations in Seamanship, Gunnery, Torpedo and steam come next.…I think I have done fairly well in the examinations so far. Indeed he had, I am top of the ordinary papers this year…. He was at pains to say he thought the papers easier than last year. Before the final exams which would qualify him as a Sub Lieutenant, there was a mining course to go through, and exercises with all the boats out with Captains and Commanders playing at being Battleships.

Three months after his birthday, his present arrived on board, the bicycle he so desired. With the help of all the ship’s carpenters and the blacksmith he got the big wooden box open. The wheels were in a very good state, only a little rusty in one or two places on the spokes and they are really beautiful. He couldn’t put the brakes on himself and rode the bike up to the bicycle shop. The box was packed with other gifts friends and relatives had sent.

(Mary Jones asserts copyright)

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