William Charles Henry Wood.

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that was bound to come; and so helped on toward Jellicoe and Jutland.
That is one reason why foreigners cannot catch the British Navy napping.

Another is because the British "handy man" can "turn his hand to
anything"; though even his worst enemies can never accuse him of being
"jack of all trades and master of none." He is the master of the sea.
But he knows the ropes of many other things as well; and none of the
strange things he is called upon to do ever seem to find him wanting.
When a British joint expedition attacked St. Helena the Dutch never
dreamt of guarding the huge sheer cliffs behind the town. But up went
a handy man with a long cord by which he pulled up a rope, which, in
its turn, was used to haul up a ladder that the soldiers climbed at
night. Next morning the astounded Dutchmen found themselves attacked
by land as well as by sea and had to give in.

One day the admiral (Sir William Kennedy) commanding in the Indian
Ocean a few years ago heard that two Englishwomen had been left on a
desert island by a mail steamer from which they had landed for a
picnic. The steamer was bound to go on. The women were not missed
till too late. So the captain telegraphed to the Admiral from the next
port. The Admiral at once went to the island in his flagship, found
the women with their dresses all torn to ribbons on the rocks, measured
them for sailor suits himself, and had them properly rigged out by the
ship's tailor, just like the bluejackets, except for the skirts - white
jerseys, navy blue serge uniforms, with blue jean collars and white
trimmings, straw hats with H.M.S. _Boadicea_ on the ribbon in gold,
knife and lanyard, all complete.

To beat this admiral in turning his hand to anything at a moment's
notice we must take the bluejacket whom Captain Wonham saw escaping
from a horde of savages on the West Coast of Africa during the Ashanti
War of 1874. This man knew the natives well, as he had been the
Governor's servant there for several years before the niggers swarmed
out of the bush to kill off the whites. Every one seemed to be safe in
the boats, when Captain Wonham suddenly spied Jack running for his life
on top of a long spit of high rocks that jutted out like a wharf. The
natives, brandishing their spears and climbing the rocks, were just
going to cut Jack off when he, knowing their craze for the white man's
clothes, threw his cap at them. Immediately there was a scramble which
held up their advance. As they came on again he threw them his serge,
and so on, taking a spurt after each throw. At last he took off his
trousers, which set all the niggers fighting like mad round two big
chiefs, each of whom was hanging on to one leg. Then he took a neat
header and swam off to the boats, which had meanwhile pulled in to his

When the battleship _Majestic_ was sunk in the Dardanelles a bluejacket
ran along her upper side as she rolled over, then along her keel as she
turned bottom upwards. Finally, seeing that she was sinking by the
stern, and knowing both her own length and the depth of the water, he
climbed right up on the tip-top end of her stem, from which he was
taken off as dry as a bone. Meanwhile a very different kind of rescue
was being made by Captain Talbot, who, having gone down with the ship,
rose to the surface and was rescued by a launch. He had barely
recovered his breath when he saw two of his bluejackets struggling for
their lives. He at once dived in and rescued both at the very great
risk of his own.

From East to West, from the Tropics to the Poles, the Navy has gone
everywhere and done nearly everything that mortal man can do. Think of
the Admiralty "rating" Newfoundland, a country bigger than Scotland and
Wales put together, as one of His Majesty's Ships and putting a captain
in command! Yet that was done in the early days; and it worked very
well. Think of the naval brigades (that is, men landed for service
ashore) which have fought alone or with the Army, or with many foreign
armies and navies, all over the world for hundreds of years. Drake, as
we have seen, always used naval brigades, and they have always been the
same keen "first-class fighting men" wherever they went. The only
trouble was in holding them back. At the siege of Tangier in North
Africa in the seventeenth century Admiral Herbert "checked" Captain
Barclay "for suffering too forward and furious an advance, lest they
might fall into an ambush"; whereupon Barclay said, "Sir, I can lead
them on, but the Furies can't call them back." A naval brigade
man-handled the guns on the Plains of Abraham the day of Wolfe's
victory, and took forty-seven up the cliff and into position before the
army had dug itself in for the night. Nelson lost his right arm when
leading a naval brigade at Teneriffe in 1797. Peel's naval brigade in
the Indian Mutiny (1857-9) man-handled two big guns right up against
the wall that kept Lord Clyde's army from joining hands with the
British besieged in Lucknow, blew a hole in it, though it was swarming
with rebels, and so let the Marines and the Highlanders through.

In Egypt (1882) Lord Fisher, of whom we shall soon hear more, rigged up
a train like an ironclad and kept Arabi Pasha at arm's length from
Alexandria, which Lord Alcester's fleet had bombarded and taken.
Lieutenant Rawson literally "steered" Lord Wolseley's army across the
desert by the stars during the night march that ended in the perfect
victory of Tel-el-Kebir. Mortally wounded he simply asked: "Did I lead
them straight, Sir?"

The Egyptian campaigns continued off and on for sixteen years
(1882-1898) till Lord Kitchener beat the Mahdi far south in the wild
Soudan. British sea-power, as it always does, worked the sea lines of
communication over which the army's supplies had to go to the front
from England and elsewhere, and, again as usual, put the army in the
best possible place from which to strike inland. Needless to say, the
naval part of British sea-power not only helped and protected the
mercantile part, which carried the supplies, but helped both in the
fighting and the inland water transport too.

At one time (1885) the little Naval Brigade on the Nile had to be led
by a boatswain, every officer having been killed or wounded. In the
attempt to rescue the saintly and heroic General Gordon from Khartoum,
Lord Beresford rigged up the little Egyptian steamer _Safieh_ with
armour plates and took her past an enemy fort that could easily have
sunk her as she went by, only eighty yards away, if his machine-gunners
had not kept such a stream of bullets whizzing through every hole from
which an Egyptian gun stuck out that not a single Egyptian gunner could
stand to his piece and live.

Lord Beresford was well to the fore wherever hard work had to be done
during that desperate venture; and it was he who performed the
wonderful feat of getting the Nile steamers hauled through the Second
Cataract by fifteen hundred British soldiers, who hove them up against
that awful stream of death while the blue-jackets looked after the
tackle. Beresford's Naval Brigade used to tramp fifteen miles a day
along the river, sometimes work as many hours with no spell off for
dinner, haul the whaleboats up-stream to where the rapids made a big
loop, and then, avoiding the loop, portage them across the neck of land
into the river again. Handling these boats in the killing heat would
have been hard enough in any case; but it was made still worse by the
scorpions that swarmed in them under the mats and darted out to bite
the nearest hand. Beresford himself had to keep his weather eye on
thirty miles of roaring river, on hundreds of soldiers and sailors, and
on thousands of natives. Yet he managed it all quite handily by riding
about on his three famous camels: Bimbashi, Ballyhooly, and Beelzebub.

But let no one imagine that dozens of joint expeditions ever make the
Navy forget its first duty of keeping the seaways clear of every
possible enemy during every minute of every day the whole year round.
When the Russian fleet was going out to the Sea of Japan during the
Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) it ran into the "Gamecock Fleet" of British
fishing vessels in the North Sea, got excited, and fired some shots
that killed and wounded several fishermen. Within a very few hours it
was completely surrounded by a British fleet that did not interfere
with its movements, but simply "shadowed" it along, waiting for orders.
There was no fight; and the Russians were left to be finished by the
Japanese. But the point is, that, although the British Empire was then
at peace with the whole world, the British Navy was far readier for
instant action than the Russian Navy, which had been many months at war.


Wordsworth's glorious poem is not in praise of war but of the
self-sacrificing warriors who try to save their country from the
horrors of war. No wise people, least of all the men who know it best,
ever sing the praise of war itself. They might as well sing the
praises of disease. But, while those who, like the Germans, force a
wicked war upon the world are no better than poisoners of wells and
spreaders of the plague, those, on the other hand, who, like the
Allies, fight the poisoners of wells and spreaders of the plague are
doing the same kind of service that doctors do when fighting germs.
Therefore, as doctors to disease, so is the Happy Warrior to war. He
no more likes war than doctors like the germs of deadly sickness; and
he would rid the world of this great danger if he could. But while war
lasts, and wars are waged against the very soul of all we hold most
dear, we need the Happy Warrior who can foresee the coming war and lead
a host of heroes when it comes. And leaders and followers alike, when
faithful unto death, are they not among the noblest martyrs ever known?
_For greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for
his friends_.

Who is the Happy Warrior? Who is he
That every man in arms should wish to be?
- It is the generous Spirit, who, when brought
Among the tasks of real life, hath wrought
Upon the plan that pleased his boyish thought:
Whose high endeavours are an inward light
That makes the path before him always bright:
Who, with a natural instinct to discern
What knowledge can perform, is diligent to learn;
Abides by this resolve, and stops not there,
But makes his moral being his prime care;
Who, doomed to go in company with Pain,
And Fear, and Bloodshed, miserable train!
Turns his necessity to glorious gain;
In face of these doth exercise a power
Which is our human nature's highest dower;
Controls them and subdues, transmutes, bereaves
Of their bad influence, and their good receives:
By objects, which might force the soul to abate
Her feeling, rendered more compassionate;
Is placable - because occasions rise
So often that demand such sacrifice;
More skilful in self-knowledge, even more pure,
As tempted more; more able to endure,
As more exposed to suffering and distress;

* * * * * *

Thence, also, more alive to tenderness.
But who, if he be called upon to face
Some awful moment to which Heaven has joined
Great issues, good or bad for human kind,
Is happy as a Lover; and attired
With sudden brightness, like a Man inspired;
And, through the heat of conflict, keeps the law
In calmness made, and sees what he foresaw;

* * * * * *

Who, whether praise of him must walk the earth
For ever, and to noble deeds give birth,
Or he must fall, to sleep without his fame,
And leave a dead unprofitable name -
Finds comfort in himself and in his cause;
And, while the mortal mist is gathering, draws
His breath in confidence of Heaven's applause:
This is the Happy Warrior; this is He
That every Man in arms should wish to be.
- _William Wordsworth_.




In 1864 the Fathers of Confederation met at Quebec, while the Germans
took from the Danes the neck of land through which they cut the Kiel
Canal to give the German Navy a safe back way between the North Sea and
the Baltic. At first sight you cannot understand why Canadian
Confederation and the German attack on Denmark should ever be mentioned
together. But, just as the waters of two streams in the same river
system are bound to meet in the end, so Canada and Germany were bound
to meet on the same battlefield when once Canada had begun to grow into
a nation within the British Empire and Germany had begun to grow into
an empire for whose ambitions there was no room without a series of
victorious wars. After beating Austria in 1866, to win the leadership
of Central Europe, Germany beat France in 1870, took Alsace and
Lorraine, and made herself the strongest land-power in the world. Even
then two such very different Englishmen as Cardinal Newman and John
Stuart Mill foresaw the clash that was bound to come between the new
empire of the Germans and the old one of the British. But most people
never see far ahead, while many will not look at all if the prospect
seems to be unpleasant.

Thirty years before the war (1884) Germany began to get an empire
overseas. Taking every possible chance she went on till she had a
million square miles and fifteen million natives. But she neither had
nor could get without victorious war any land outside of Germany where
she could bring up German children under the German flag. Even
including the German parts of Austria there was barely one
quarter-million of square miles on which German-speaking people could
go on growing under their own flags; while the English-speaking people
of the British Empire and the United States had twenty times as much
land, fit for whites, on which to grow bigger and bigger populations of
their own blood under their own flags. This meant that the new,
strong, and most ambitious German Empire was doomed to an
ever-dwindling future as a world-power in comparison with the British
Empire. The Germans could not see why they should not have as good a
"place in the sun" of the white man's countries as the British, whom
they now looked on very much as our ancestors looked upon the oversea
Spaniards about the time of the Armada. "Why," they asked, "should the
British have so much white man's country while we have so little?"

There are only three answers, two that the Germans understand as well
as we do, and one that, being what they are, they could hardly be
expected to admit, though it is the only one that justifies our case.
The two answers which the Germans understand are of course these: that
we had the sea-power while they had not; and that, because we had it,
we had reaped the full benefit of "first come, first served." But the
third answer, which is much the most important, because it turns upon
the question of right and wrong, is that while the Germans, like the
Spaniards, have grossly abused their imperial powers, we, on the whole,
with all our faults, have not.

There are so many crimes for which the Germans have to answer that this
whole book could not contain the hundredth part of them. But one crime
in one of their oversea possessions will be enough to mention here,
because it was all of a piece with the rest. In German South-West
Africa the Herreros, a brave native people, were robbed if they worked
hard for the German slave-drivers, flogged till their backs were flayed
if they did not, and killed if they stood up for their rights. There
are plenty of German photographs to prove that the modern Germans are
very like the Spaniards of Philip II and utterly unlike the kindly
modern French, Italians, Americans, and British. The world itself is
witness now, and its conscience is the judge. So there we shall leave
our case and turn to follow the ever thickening plot of coming war.

In 1889 Britain spent an extra hundred million dollars on building new
men-of-war. Next year Germany got Heligoland from Britain in exchange
for Zanzibar. Heligoland is only a tiny inland off the North Sea coast
of Germany. But it was very useful to the Germans as one of the main
defences of the great naval base there.

In 1897 the Kaiser said, "I shall not rest till I have made my fleet as
strong as my army." A year later he said, "Our future is on the
water." And in 1900 the German Navy Bill passed by the German
Parliament began by saying, "The German Navy must be strong enough to
endanger the supremacy of even the mightiest foreign navy." What
"foreign navy" could that be if not the British? In 1908 the Kaiser
tried to steal a march on the too pacific British Government by writing
privately to Lord Tweedmouth, the feeble civilian First Lord of the
Admiralty. The First Lord represents the Navy in Parliament; and
Parliament represents the People, who elect its members. So when a
First Lord is a real statesman who knows what advice to take from the
First Sea Lord (who is always an admiral) everything goes well; for
then Parliament and the Navy work together as the trusted servants of
the whole People. But Tweedmouth, feeble and easily flattered, was
completely taken in by the sly Kaiser, who said Germany was only
building new ships in place of old ones, while she was really trying to
double her strength. It was therefore a very lucky thing that the
Kaiser also tried to fool that wonderful statesman, wise King Edward,
who at once saw through the whole German trick.

Meanwhile (1898) the Americans had driven the Spaniards out of their
last oversea possessions, much to the rage of the Germans, who had
hoped to get these themselves. The German admiral at Manilla in the
Philippines blustered against the American fleet under Admiral Dewey;
but was soon brought to book by Sir Edward Chichester, who told him he
would have to fight the British squadron as well if he gave any more
trouble about things that were none of his business.

The same year the Germans tried to set the French and British by the
ears over Fashoda. A French expedition came out of French Africa into
the Sudan, where Kitchener's army was in possession after having freed
Egypt from the power of the Madhi's wild Sudanese. French and British
both claimed the same place; and for some years Fashoda was like a red
rag to a bull when mentioned to Frenchmen; for Kitchener had got there
first. Luckily he had fought for France in 1870, spoke French like a
Frenchman, and soon made friends with the French on the spot. More
luckily still, King Edward the Wise went to Paris in 1903, despite the
fears of his Ministers, who did all they could to make him change his
mind, and then, when this failed, to go there as a private person.
They were afraid that memories of Fashoda and of all the anti-British
feeling stirred up by Germans in Europe and America over the Boer War
(1899-1902) would make the French unfriendly. But he went to pay his
respects to France on his accession to the British Throne, showed how
perfectly he understood the French people, said and did exactly the
right thing in the right way; and, before either friends or foes knew
what was happening, had so won the heart of France that French and
British, seeing what friends they might be, began that _Entente
Cordiale_ (good understanding of each other) which our glorious
Alliance in the Great War ought to make us keep forever. Paris named
one of her squares in his honour, _Place Edouard Sept_; and there the
wise king's statue stands to remind the world of what he did to save it
from the German fury.

Next year Lord Fisher went to London as First Sea Lord (1904-10) to get
the Navy ready for the coming war. He struck off the list of fighting
ships every single one that would not be fit for battle in the near
future. He put "nucleus crews" on board all ships fit for service that
were not in sea-going squadrons for the time being; so that when the
Reserves were called out for the war they would find these nucleus
crews ready to show them all the latest things aboard. He started a
new class of battleships by launching (1906) the world-famous
_Dreadnought_. This kind of ship was so much better than all others
that all foreign navies, both friends and foes, have copied it ever
since, trying to keep up with each new British improvement as it

But the greatest thing of all was Fisher's new plan for bringing the
mighty British fleets closer together and so "handier" for battles with
the Germans. The old plan of posting British squadrons all over the
world takes us back to the Conquest of Canada; for it was the work of
St. Vincent, to whom Wolfe handed his will the night before the Battle
of the Plains (1759). St. Vincent's plan of 1803 was so good that it
worked well, with a few changes, down to Fisher's anti-German plan of
1904, about which time the French and British Navies began talking over
the best ways of acting together when the Germans made their spring.
In 1905 - the centenary of Trafalgar - a British fleet visited France and
a French fleet visited England. It was a thrilling sight to see that
noble Frenchman, Admiral Caillard, whose example was followed by all
his officers, stand up in his carriage to salute the Nelson statue in
Trafalgar Square.

In 1908, when Canada was celebrating the Tercentenary of a life that
could never have begun without Drake or been saved without Nelson, the
French and British Prime Ministers (Clemenceau and Campbell-Bannerman)
were talking things over in Paris. The result was that the British
left the Mediterranean mainly in charge of the French Navy, while the
French left the Channel mostly and the North Sea entirely in charge of
the British. There was no treaty then or at any other time. Each
Government left its own Parliament, and therefore its own People, whose
servant it was, to decide freely when the time came. But the men at
the head of the French and British fleets and armies arranged, year by
year, what they would do when they got the word _GO_! At the same time
(six years before the war) that the Prime Ministers were in conference
in Paris Lord Haldane, then Secretary of State for War, was warning
Lord French in London that he would be expected to command the British
army against the Germans in France, and that he had better begin to
study the problem at once.

A great deal of sickening nonsense has been talked about our having
been so "righteous" because so "unprepared." We were not prepared to
_attack_ anybody; and quite rightly too; though we need not get
self-righteous over it. But our great Mother Country's Navy was most
certainly and most rightly prepared to _defend_ the Empire and its
allies against the attack that was bound to come. If France and Great
Britain had not been well enough prepared for self-defence, then the
Germans must have won; and wrong would have triumphed over right all
over the world. There is only one answer to all this "Pacifistic"
stuff-and-nonsense - if you will not fight on the side of right, then
you help those who fight on the side of wrong; and if you see your
enemy preparing to attack you wrongfully, and you do not prepare to
defend yourself, then you are a fool as well as a knave.

All the great experts in statesmanship and war saw the clash coming;
and saw that it was sure to come, because the German war party could
force it on the moment they were ready. Moreover, it was known that
the men of this war party would have forced it on at once if a peace
party had ever seemed likely to oust them. The real experts even
foresaw the chief ways in which the war would be fought. Lord Fisher
foresaw the danger of sea-going submarines long before submarines were
used for anything but the defence of harbours. More than this, ten
years before the war he named all the four senior men who led the first
British army into Flanders. In Lord Esher's diary for the 17th of
January, 1904, ten years before the war, is the following note about
Fisher's opinion on the best British generals: "French, because he
never failed in South Africa, and because he has the splendid gift of
choosing the right man (he means Douglas Haig). Then Smith-Dorrien and
Plumer." In the same way Joffre and Foch were known to be the great
commanders of the French. Again in the same way (that is, by the
foreknowledge of the real experts) Lord Jellicoe, though a junior
rear-admiral at the time, was pointed out at the Quebec Tercentenary
(1908) as the man who would command the Grand Fleet; while Sir David
Beatty and Sir Charles Madden were also known as "rising stars."

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Online LibraryWilliam Charles Henry WoodFlag and Fleet → online text (page 13 of 19)