Chapter Six – Sub Lieutenant

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

We next catch up with Ralph Clayton in March of 1905 when he arrives at the Royal Naval College Greenwich to train for the last of the exams which will qualify him to become an acting Sub Lieutenant. In the previous two months his father has paid for him to have extra tuition with N.Fletcher, Esq. 91 Blackheath Hill; London S.E.

We read of theatre visits and lunches out with family. He went to Soho square, ‘the people were all foreigners- French and Italians – look very desolate – surprising so close to Oxford St and Piccadilly’. He listened to Mr.Bevan preaching at Holy Trinity; he saw one of the new Thames Steamers on its trials ‘looking more like houseboats than river steamers; there was much bicycling. He says nothing about the work at Greenwich. His main interest is to know whether he will be appointed to Portsmouth or Plymouth:

May 29th
‘last letter from Greenwich…. annoying not to know whether one is going to Portsmouth or Plymouth …15 to Portsmouth, the rest to Plymouth. My exam starts at 12.30 on Wednesday, 1hour and 30 minutes….shall be very glad when it is over.

In the event Ralph was appointed to a torpedo officer. He took an early opportunity of a visit to Dartmouth.

August 14th
Memorable weekend –bicycled with another sub and stayed at Castle Hotel in Dartmouth.After tea, up to the new College…a very commanding site on the hill…grounds not yet laid out. The postcards show it as nearly all white stone. But really there is a great deal of brilliant red brick about it. The clock tower in front doesn’t really seem meat for the rest either., altogether it leaves rather a poor impression. We got inside without any trouble and explored the whole place from end to end. The rooms are all big and airy and I expect it will be very comfortable – but I should prefer the Britannia. The Chapel looks very well too…It is situated at the Eastern end of the College and joined to it, behind, the shape is very singular due partly to the lie of the ground; but besides that the roof is on a great many different levels, which looks rather untidy. There is a swimming bath and a drill shed just above. The Hospital which has about 600, to the west of the college also looks very straggly….only one floor high…..on the shore opposite the Brittania they are building an enormous engineering shed. It is going to be on a tremendous, large scale with all sorts of big machines.

He got a shock in the shape of the hotel bill next day. Undaunted they bicycled to visit Britannia,

When we got on board, the place was in a great mess. Shifting everything from the ship to the College. The Hindustan had all the ports barred up and looked dismal. The bridge between the two ships had been taken away so we could not go into her.The Hindustan is going to be towed away to Portsmouth tomorrow where she is going to be attached to one of the training ships there. He finally reached barracks at Devonport., ‘hungry, thirsty, tired’.

It was also a shock to find that despite his address, Naval Barracks, RN, he didn’t,

It was rather a shock when arrived here on Thursday to find that I had to live on board the boat. She is in full commission you see, whereas only in those with nucleus crews, do the officers live in barracks….in the afternoon got all my gear on board. There wasn’t a great deal of room to move with all of it in the cabin and I am going to send a good deal back to Gieve. I rather reckoned on being in the Barracks so that there is a good deal I don’t need in the T.B. Address will be Torpedo Boat 52…very little work to do on board, practically nothing…we get nice long weekends…the pay is 9/- a day, 2/- being for command and the other 2/- for ‘hard lying money’.

November 14th
Ralph’s first experience with his torpedo boat was when the flotilla went out for a night attack,

unfortunate that first time should be at night, luckily one of the C.Os of a nucleus crew boat was sent to keep me out of mischief…nearly ran down a boat, boats are always having shaves of that sort.. Today we went out at nine to practice sweeping for subs. Only just come into use..method is rather awkward. Tomorrow, correct compasses and coal.

Coaling was always unpleasant especially in bad weather.

November 19th
…nasty foggy day, slight sea running and we got very wet. However, Father’s india rubber coat was quite watertight though I found the buttons were not very securely positioned on me. On Friday, the Commander in Chief Admiral Douglas inspected the Naval Barracks and we, being part of the Victory, had to attend. We had to fall in on the jetty at 7.30 in Frock coats and swords, which meant rising at a ridiculously early hour. To make matters worse, Friday was the coldest day we have had. We got to the barracks at eight and had to wait till eight thirty before we were wanted. At 8.30 the men fell in and then all the officers to the number of about 200 had to be arranged to see the Admiral. …the C in C walked up and down the ranks of several thousand men…..finished by 11 o clock..back to boats.

It was a bit of light relief to get himself measured for his new uniform and enjoy some Christmas leave.. Went to see Capt. measured for uniform..ordered a full dress coat and belt in Father’s name.

The flotilla was not continually at sea, only two thirds of the Flotilla are wanted to be out at Sandown. So we had last night in harbour. We shall be out tomorrow night though. There were interesting exercises to prepare for the next manoeuvres: Four divisions for four attacks – up arm of channel – didn’t get through as lots of searchlights… However, to his disappointment,

Coming manoeuvres seem to be fizzling down into nothing more than ordinary daily running outside the port under Admiral Winsloe. All the Sub Lieuts who were appointed to the Torpedo boats previously in charge of Gunners are being sent back. There is a good deal of annoyance over that as the Stores had all been turned over to them and will now have to go back. Evidently the Admiralty must have changed their minds completely as they certainly intended to have real manoeuvres.

The Government elections of 1905 took his interest. Ralph and his family were friendly with the Gorsts and Ralph was impressed that Mrs Gorst was electioneering for Sir John. Later, he complained, The Gorsts do nag at one another dreadfully. I wish they wouldn’t, at any rate while I am there.

The election results are really awful and must have caused a good deal of surprise and alarm all over the country. We have our polling on Wednesday, 6 candidates for 2 places: 2 Lib, 2 Cons, 1 Lab, 1 Naval and independent member. The latter (Jane) will probably be supported by all the lower deck and warrant officers and may have a good chance. He holds his meetings in the open air, talking from a motor car and I expect the election cost him very little as he has no advertisements….He wants to get in on the Navy solely, and belongs to no party so he will be rather a thorn in the Admiralty’s side.

TB 52 continued to go in and out of harbour providing for weekends in London but Ralph waited impatiently for more official manoeuvres, Meanwhile he was struggling with Jane Austen, Jan 26th Reading all Jane Austen novels…just begun on Emma, ‘don’t think I like it yet…He ordered Sense and Sensibility because he had heard that it was one of the poorest and thought it would be easier to get through. He took part in some amateur theatricals.

No more news about manoeuvres – but rumour men have had month’s pay instead of week’s….I should rather like to see the Dreadnought launched don’t know if we will get tickets… such a crowd wanting to go…full dress affair… The papers say we mobilised yesterday so I suppose we did. But we have done nothing as yet. They haven’t given us the Gunner we should have nor any extra men and our routine for next week is just the same as usual except that there will be more boats. It will be a very tame affair.

February 5th 1906
There was a scramble to get ready ready for Admiral’s inspection of boats. Ralph was pleased with his TB 52 despite the rain washing out the fresh paint,

we are one of those boats which only have one funnel and a much clearer deck than the rest, so even under ordinary circumstances we look cleaner. On this occasion even the other C.Os admitted she was particularly smart. The credit is due to the crew entirely. I am lucky in having a very good one. The Admiral was intensely pleased with everything and made a comparison between us and the destroyers, very much in our favour. He was quite social and must have had a good breakfast, or perhaps he too had been on a weekend…didn’t see all the internal beauty so didn’t have opportunity for remarking my especial brilliance. …Got Chaucer ‘it will be a long job as I can’t yet understand the first line.

February 9th
Ralph was sorry not to be able to go to the launch of Dreadnought, ‘considering what emphasis the King lays on ships not being dressed or salutes fired, one might think he could dispense with full dress for officers; but that has been ordered, overcoats or boat cloaks being worn on top. He was also sorry that he was unable to go to Vernon for Torpedo course until March next year. I hear that they don’t like people going into torpedo work straight from TBs. so I shall have to go to a large ship.……like Emma now but harder to read than P and P. If Father will send me a French book, I will undertake to read it – very slowly though.

Despite getting a ticket for the Dreadnought’s sought after launch, he was unable to go, I’m afraid you won’t have the opportunity of seeing me in a frock coat and top hat unless you come up to town. I can’t have such things in a torpedo boat. When the Dreadnought went into the harbour basin, the entrance was not wide enough and she took part of the wharf in with her….. I see the papers say today that all the reserve ships had a surprise mobilisation. The orders came round to all C Os about 10 days ago..but still it is nice to make people think it was done at half an hour’s notice.

At last Ralph got the gunner he had been promised,

My gunner arrived yesterday.. It is rather funny to think that he was made a gunner when I was two years old. And I can’t understand why they send a gunner of nineteen years seniority to a Torpedo Boat. He is a nice gentlemanly looking man: married and therefore living on shore. So that he won’t interfere with me very much. He will take over the management of the stores and there will be nothing for me to do in harbour….Out firing he lost 500 rounds overboard. In docks an admiring crowd stared us with a surprised look for an hour and a half though they must have seen torpedo boats nearly all their lives.

Life continued quietly, not to say boringly, as Ralph continued to walk between barracks and boats with little to do – more concerned about the cockroaches than the weekly night attacks he took no part in, My cockroaches have learnt wisdom, what are left of them and don’t show themselves much now …the hot water has been turned off and they are keeping at home for warmth. ….they are brought home from foreign stations in officer’s clothes and once they get hold of a place they are very hard to get rid of…. Our Commander is going to leave to take up Submarines. We shall be sorry to leave him as he is very easy to get in with.

Boredom was broken by an incident in Osborn Bay on April 5th.. All boats were asked to go and search for a torpedo which one of the boats had lost:

We steamed up and down merrily for an hour and a half.Then I wanted to try looking along the shore as close as I could get. We went a long way into 9ft of water (our propeller draws 6 feet, the rest of the boat only 4) we were going very slow, lead going the whole while. Then we came down to 4 feet forward and just as I stopped, the propeller touched the mud. …two of the blades struck it.. We thought we were fast ashore but there was no danger with a soft bottom, wind off shore, and a rising tide. Then we found that the tide was sweeping us over the ground, so we evidently were not aground. So I went ahead with no result. After which it gradually dawned on us that the propeller blade had parted company with us. – not even one out of the three blades left – indeed I think the whole thing came off entire, and that we should find it in the mud, high and dry at low tide. However, there we were with only a shaft to turn and that hadn’t much effect. So we had to wait until the tide took us into deeper water and then anchor; signalling on the Syren for someone to come and help us. One boat soon came to help us and started towing back to Portsmouth. We were being towed alongside, which Father will no doubt tell you was quite wrong- it certainly was in this case. We carried away 5 hook ropes and a wire, not to mention the after bollards of the towing boat: and at last had to give up in despair and tow astern. Then we went beautifully smoothly and were awfully pleased with ourselves. On our way we passed two tugs going out help a broken down destroyer. This turned out to be us,. Our Syren signals had been heard by the Coastguards at Cowes 3 miles away and they had wired to the Dockyard.

Well, we reached Fountain Lake : then I wanted to come up alongside again before being taken alongside the jetty. The towing boat stopped and went astern. It is a peculiarity about single screwed boats that there(sic) sterns fly off to port or starboard on going astern according as your screw is right or left handed. On this occasion the towing boat did it more that usual and we had to put our helm hard over to avoid her. We had lots of way on and the other boat going astern brought such a jerk on the towrope that it carried away at once, and on we went gaily straight for the Latona which was lying at the jetty. No means of stopping, we could only try and steer her out, we could clear the Latona but not a lighter alongside, so we did what we could and shoved our bow in between. Unluckily it caught a ringbolt in the ship’s side, otherwise we should not have been much damaged. Now however, we have our stern bent in worse than before – its so ugly. Here is the diagram…I don’t think they can hold me in any rate responsible for the latter affair; but they may be annoyed at me leaving my propeller behind. I have just been writing an account of both accidents to the Commander in Chief’s amusement. I hope he will be in a good temper tomorrow. I naturally want to put the blame on somebody else, so I hope we may find the screw wasn’t properly secured, though really I am responsible for that’s being right too.. It is not the first time such a thing has happened. It occurred to number 35 when she was going alongside a French Man of War while the fleet was here last year. Then the propeller casually dropped off when it was wanted ‘to go astern’ and messed up the rudder as well. That was because it hadn’t been properly secured……

By the way, on making fast, my E.R.A. asked if I had finished with the engines. I replied more or less gravely ‘Yes’ I am not going to write any more tonight. Tomorrow there may be further developments.

Thursday: We have been out today in another Torpedo Boat to look for our lost propeller. We believe we have located and buoyed the place. We couldn’t get it up then but we have to go out tomorrow and try again at low water; I don’t really think we shall do it then as they won’t give us any conveniences for doing the job. Later in the day I have to take one boat of the flotilla which is going to escort the King of Spain down Southampton Water. The Giralda is obligingly not going faster than 12 knots so that we may be able to keep up. So you see that the last annoyance caused by the King of Spain is the worst, as I shall not probably be able to go to Oxford tomorrow. The King of Spain later cancelled.

May 7th
We had another unsuccessful search on Friday for our propeller blades….I tried diving for the screw in the morning, but found the water too cold (51degrees) besides being very dirty.

The matter had not ended yet:

May 8th
When I arrived on Sunday night there was a signal from the C in C to say I should be towed round to the ships at 9.30 am next day. Consequently it was no surprise to be woke up at 7.45 to say 3 tugs were waiting to take me round. Only one was really for us…the boat came up in a great hurry(everyone seems to be in a hurry now), so we hauled off and were taken out to Osborne Bay….anchored in 14ft.water and started diving…the tide fell…we could see the shoals very clearly in the sunlight, c…noticed the Torpedo Boat did not seem to be in very deep water (I was not in charge of her) and we very soon found she was aground both ends. Still the tide fell – at a tremendous rate it seemed…the diving which now had to carried out in about 3ft of water. A diver is not much good then, as he has to bend down to see under water, and the weight of his helmet becomes rather too much. At four, the tide was very low and all the horrors, in the way of rocks appeared and finally the propeller blades appeared also.(diagram) They are (or were) apparently only held in the socks of the boss of the screw by wedges so that when they touch anything at all which tends to stop the boat going ahead, they draw straight out., which is what mine did and there they were laid out neatly in the sand. We brought them on board, but the TB was still aground; so my experience did not encourage him to work his screw. We had to kedge her off with the anchor. It all took time, didn’t arrive till nearly 7; having been nearly run down by another boat on the way…

Got leave in the morning to go aboard the Dreadnought. I went over for an hour and a half and got very hot and dirty and nearly deafened by the noise[?] Everyone building a ship has to hit something so the row is rather much….Admirals, Captains, and lesser people from all over the Dockyard, in cocked hats….

Ralph’s parents were very worried about the effect of the propeller incident on Ralph’s career, Next time I do anything foolish, I shan’t tell you till the matter is settled. We never hear how the incident was settled, but Ralph’s mind was taken off it by the preparations for the official manoeuvres which were now imminent. He looked forward to them with some excitement; they too were not without incident:

June 13th 1906
I believe we have the credit of being the first ship under fire in this manoeuvres. It was the forts of our own side which did it but that doesn’t matter. Apparently no orders were given that some friendly ships could use the Channel after Sunset, and the R.G..A. took advantage of this to fire on everything that passed, although they must have known they were firing on their own side. So much for co-operation between Navy and Army. …We tried to signal but they wouldn’t take any notice. A little further on the [?] Fort opened fire and at the entrance Fort Blockhouse and the Batteries on the other side took it up; dozens of guns. Hundreds of people flocked to Southsea Beach and pier, expecting, I suppose to see the whole Blue Fleet. When we reached the harbour, the Forecastle of every ship was crowded with a gaping crowd. We were not the only ones fired on, as two submarines and a Gunboat who followed us, came in for it.

Ralph struck a lighter note with the tinned meat scandal:

The tinned meat scandal has had some influence here. A large proportion of the naval tinned beef is Armour’s. It has never been very popular, so that the Admiralty has ordered everyone to take up 2lbs of it a week, and doesn’t allow savings on that amount. The men in the TB usually take it ashore to their families. Since last week however, none has been taken and no one will eat it at all. Would you like some of it?…..talking of the thinness of my coat (I wasn’t talking of it, but no matter) the thin cat shall receive the tinned beef the crew wont eat. If it gets through 30 lbs of it a week it will soon be enormous…

There was opportunity to go to the Whale Island Garden Party while they were in harbour,

The grounds were beautifully illuminated and there were crowds of people. There were comparatively few Japanese though but lots of ladies. They had a cinematograph showing the R-J war [Russo Japanese] and other things and then the Fireworks…finest I have ever seen by Brock who does the Crystal Palace display.

Ruled out of action for the rest of the manoeuvres, TB 52 was reduced to fetching and carrying, We were only informed of this when we went out on Wednesday to take part in the patrolling of the Channel and then we had to return at once. …chiefly employed getting mails and drawing provisions etc. for the other boats ready for them on their arrival. There was a test exercise at Haslar Hospital; 200 men were collected from various ships to act as wounded to test the readiness of Haslar Hospital in the event of battle, we had to send two which were bound up in splints and bandages. By 8pm that evening the manoeuvres were over, all the boats except one have come in now…the Flotilla as part of the Defences is finished.

Then it was back to the usual job of weekly running of the Torpedo Boats designed to keep them active, In July he reports on a number of new exercises:

July 9th
There were four attacks arranged just after sunset then at 11.30, 12.0 and 12.30…we finally entered harbour steamed in and out again, without anyone taking any notice of us. All the Channel Fleet was there ; lots of ships to be torpedoed…the true story of the affair is believed to be, that gentleman calling himself D.I.G.( you can translate I as you like) had been sent down to command the defences. He unfortunately wanted to get back to town that night and didn’t want to wait for us. When the first attack was made the soldiers weren’t ready and had no ammunition up. After that the DIG sent two boatloads of men out to do the attacking and at 10.30 packed up and departed. All the soldiers did the same. So that when we arrived they were all in bed and snoring. Considering they had asked for the attack, it wasn’t particularly polite of them..

July 16th
The only object of interest yesterday was a German Torpedo Boat which calmly steamed in through the Solent and out again the other way.

Ralph found his life as a torpedo officer was beginning to lack excitement, ‘doing nothing….tired of this place.’ He had some leave coming up, the ship was in dry dock and he wanted to visit Rome. He wondered whether it was worth asking Admiralty,

August 16th
‘Then I shall have to get leave from the Admiralty through four or five people. That will take about 5 days. After which I shall have to consider possibility of being recalled at any time and it is rather a long way to come in a hurry… He consults his mother, I don’t know if you will approve of what I suggest doing with the time. If they will let me go so far, I should like to go to Italy. The aunties will I believe, be at Rome. Do you think it would interfere with their plans if I went to them. Naturally I don’t mean as a visitor but paying of course for everything,….let me know what you and Father think. He describes all the problems and his great desire to do the right thing by the aunts, but after all the discussion, he decides later, On the whole I am rather glad you didn’t encourage the idea of Italy……I won’t ask the Admiralty what they think about it though I expect they would let me go.

August became a good time for cricket matches while visiting the Channel Islands, also a good place for navigation,

although you can’t navigate very accurately in the small torpedo boats as the only reliable compass is right after and the boats compasses that we have to steer by are too sluggish for good steering. Two French Torpedo Boats came in sight heading for Sark. We gave chase and headed them off, steamed round them and returned. Not a particularly diplomatic thing to do, was it? French Torpedo Boats are always knocking around here as it is such an excellent place to get experience in navigation.

Ralph had a weekend break visiting Dartmouth, enjoying sight seeing and competitive dinghy races….they pull nearly as well sideways as bows first. We had nine boats…three men in each which was too much for them… nearly all fouled one another When they reached the end they naturally all claimed to have been first so much argument followed.…Then it was cricket with a local village near Totnes before returning to more exercises in harbour, At midnight we wasted some time in exercising man overboard with life buoys…not easy to sleep in a T B in a cabin when she is underweigh. The constant change in vibration due to alternating speed for keeping station, keeps me awake…

The building of Dreadnought continued to keep Ralph interested. The Dreadnought was commissioned with a nucleus crew yesterday and will I suppose fill up on the 25th. Work…a large part of it should now be done by her own men, so perhaps it will free a lot of dockyard men and I may be able to get all I want done in dock,…by no means finished yet inside….crew living at the barracks.

Then it was time to start, taking things to pieces preparatory to annual survey of hull and testing of boiler…will take 3 weeks – more like a month. It provided Ralph with the opportunity for another holiday; no visit to Rome but a holiday which involved sending to mother some very boring letters detailing all his the travelling around the country to friends and relatives; an obsession with the details of his rail and bus travel was one of the features of his letters to mother. He also enjoyed visiting churches. Holy Trinity was one of his favourites, ’was disappointed in not having Mr.Gamble, who, is I suppose, away…the church was still very empty…Admiral and Lady Tracy were in church, though they didn’t see me… On Oct 4th he was back on board.

T.B.52 was still ‘not an object of much beauty at present, painted red and black in patches with coal bags, intestines of the boiler and other paraphernalia on deck…We brought away one rat from the slip. He was discovered this morning in a life- belt rack where he had chewed our best ropes to make a nest for himself. However, he undid his life this afternoon, or rather, an Irish terrier ended it for him. It is a good thing he is finished with or we should have had to sleep with closed hatches.

Time was moving on, and by October Ralph was beginning to look forward to his appointment as a Lieutenant. He heard that his successor in command of GB52 was appointed – Sub Lt.Royle.. He was worried because Admiral Winsloe’s flag lieutenant had said, Winsloe is going to get subs appointed to all TBs instead of Lieutenants. He didn’t know where he wanted to go, There is no ship I have any decided liking for; though I should prefer a small station. However, it would be better for me to go to a battleship in a large fleet: so I am rather inclined towards the Atlantic fleet …If I can’t get into the torpedo course starting next, I should only have a year in the Atlantic.

He heard that a new Lieutenant was to be appointed to the Vernon for TB 52,… but a new Lt. wouldn’t belong to the Vernon and be in TB 52…..glad to say my attention was only called to the paragraph next morning so I didn’t have to sleep on it; and I was soon after wards told that the appointment was for 42, one of the boats which have come to us from the Vernon…

October 18th
I expect my appointment will be out shortly; probably to the Africa : the last battleship of the King Edward class ; which commissions at Chatham on Tuesday, Nov 6th. There were one or two appointments to her last night – no one I knew. There was another lieutenant relieved the same day. He is the one who is engaged and is rather disturbed about it, especially as he was on leave at the time and didn’t know of it till the afternoon. He has gone off on leave again to seek comfort. The Atlantic is not a bad station, though one gets a great deal of time at sea. Its headquarters are at Gibraltar and it seldom goes further than the Mediterranean. …I am sorry I shan’t take the boat to sea again. It is annoying to leave her when everything has just been put in order….We have been attending lectures at the War Course College all this week. Among them was a course of lectures on the Law of Evidence. We only listened to the first and found it quite satisfying.

Always interested in what was happening in Vernon, Ralph reported to his mother,

‘You will probably have seen in the papers the Hydrographer’s warning about the 8 mines floating about ‘somewhere’. The ‘Vernon’ is wild about them and it does seem ridiculous that they can’t find mines which are by no means small, and should be connected together by a stoutish rope and an electric wire. Out of 18 they laid down, only 1 fired and 7 were picked up afterwards. Afterwards, Admiralty and Ads of Fleet have refused invitation to Trafalgar dinner party.

The last part of 1906 was devoted to Ralph’s anxious attempts find a good appointment as Lieutenant for the next year, and his early courtship of Frances, a young woman staying with his uncle Bertie.. He asked his father to speak to Admiral Drury and lobby for an early torpedo vacancy,

October 22nd
Admiral Drury promises first vacancy after Nov 10th.

He called at 38 Lower Sloane Street to see Frances but unluckily she was out. He wanted to take her to the theatre. He killed time by going alone to see Madame Butterfly,

first time at Covent Garden. ‘I don’t think there is much satisfaction in going to Italian Opera when you don’t know a word of Italian and are no musician. It is rather hard to get the right ‘atmosphere’ when the theatre is in England, the scenery if Japan; half the people are American and they all talk Italian.….story fearfully tragic…prefer something more cheerful.

There was much talk of the re-arrangement of fleets: The Naval and Military Record says that the Atlantic and Channel fleets are going to be changed around, putting all the big modern battleships in the Channel. So that if I go to one of those, I shall find myself in the Channel, the last place I want to be.

He tried to catch Frances outside Buckingham Palace where she was going to see the King and Queen of Norway arrive, incidentally I wanted to see them too. I was disappointed of both sights. He wanted to take her to theatre. He knew she wanted to see Yeomen of the Guard.

The problem of his future loomed large. He availed himself of the network he had established with his father, now a retired Admiral, and his father’s friends. In December, he called on Admiral Tracey, who despite suffering from gout, offered to help him,

December 15th
Called on Admiral Tracey…old friend of Commodore Briggs so quite willing to write to him re my appointment for the torpedo course…also knows Admiral Custance whose flagship the Hibernia is going to be…He was one of his Midshipmen. When I told him I thought I should probably go to her, he offered to write to him too. Do you think it would be a good thing to try and make certain of the Hibernia. I might call on Admiral Drury, if you think he would like it.. Or else you might ask him for her – only it is a pity to trouble him again. Will you let me know what you think best: if I hear on Monday I could go to Admiralty then.

He had a letter from his successor, Sub Lieutenant Royle. The first time out he took her on to Ryde Sand and stopped there three hours. However, apparently nothing was said, so I suppose he kept the propeller intact. There have been a long string of people asking after you.

The relationship with Frances provided a diversion,

December 16th
Frances came in but didn’t stay…. He bought tickets for the Yeomen of the Guard, Frances came to lunch and we went to the theatre by underground. …. Frances came back to tea, and I saw her home as far as the door, but didn’t go in. I see that several of the Lieutenants were appointed to the Hibernian last night’s paper. It looks as if Admiral Drury had forgotten me. I hope not!

Despite the waiting and the uncertainty, Ralph’s year finally ended in triumph. To his delight, he was appointed a Lieutenant on the prestigious battleship King Edward Vll, in the Atlantic Fleet. The ship was in Portsmouth harbour awaiting its commission;

HMS King Edward.
December 22cnd
I have arrived !!!!!!!!!!!!
..only a few officers on board; and I was wanted to take the place of Maxwell, who is going away today. I have days on today and tomorrow but the next two will be free. Everything of course is very easy and slack while half the men are on leave. The Admiral, Captain and all his staff are on leave. He leaves for Portland for three weeks then south to Lagos for manoeuvres – then pay off.

December 23rd
I am going to take the opportunity of having my cabin painted out. It is a nice cabin and a good deal larger than those in the Grafton. It is on the lower deck next to the bathroom. My predecessor had a passion for altering: so that a lot of fittings will have to be put back….I shall want one or two new curtains which I will let you know about later. One earns 10/s a day on the two days on. By tomorrow morning I shall have kept 24 hours watch out of the 48.
Saturday 8.30 – 12.30
4.0 – 6.0
8.30 – 12
Sunday 4.0 – 7.30
12.30 – 4.0
6.0 – 8.0
Monday midnight – 4am
But on the next two days, I shall have nothing to do and still get my 10/-
The weather has decided to be cold….This ship and all the class I believe is remarkable warm. There are steam pipes laid down everywhere; heaters in all the cabins of course, a fire as well in the ward room. On the whole though they make the cabins very stuffy. They only have steam on during the stay at Portsmouth at Christmas time. At sea they never do as they use too much steam.

December 24th, Happy Christmas!

(Mary Jones asserts copyright)

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