June 10th 1916

Commander Geoffrey Freyberg (HMS Valiant) continues in his correspondence to fill in further detail of the events of the battle off Jutland, including a story of British pluck in an unlikely quarter:

6/6/16. “The Admiral addressed us on deck this morning and said this ship was worthy of her name throughout the long day of May 31st

One can only liken it all to some of the pictures of Hell by Gustav Doré. No artist could ever reproduce the scene on canvas, and no pen except that of a master of prose could help people to realise what it was like. I was not afraid (nobody was), but at the same time I confess quite candidly I did not enjoy all these little night picnics off the Danish coast…

The Germans claim today that at 7.30 p.m. they made (it was launched to cover their retreat) a successful destroyer attack (in daylight of course). Well, I saw it – eight huge modern boats – and a fiasco it was. We hit and stopped two; some other ship knocked out a third; two more were cut off by our light cruisers and presumably sunk; the remaining three bolted. Successful? I don’t think.

Our living crest, a very fine cock, was walking round our decks throughout the action quite unconcerned, and he went to inspect his nest towards the end of the party only to find it blown to blazes, and to get his tail feathers blown off at the same time by the discharge of our own guns. But he is quite happy now and very much alive.”

 

June 9th 1916

We have a further information from Commander Geoffrey Freyberg, who is being kept busy writing up the events as experienced by HMS Valiant at the Battle of Jutland.

5/6/16. I’ve been at work on a plan of the scrap all day…

I must have seen as much of the fight as any man in the fleet. Beatty got hell to start with, as, to his surprise, the Huns accepted action with the utmost alacrity at 5.30 p.m. on the 31st. At 4.01 we came into action; at 4.02 ‘Indefatigable’ blew up; at 4.15 ‘Queen Mary’ ditto. Not an encouraging start, as I saw both go.

At 4.30 our Battle Cruisers legged it at 28 knots, and we were left to fight a rear-guard action; our four against eleven Huns, with the light in their favour. From 4.30-6.15 p.m. we drew them on towards Sir John Jellicoe…

‘Defence’ and ‘Black Prince’ were sunk at 6.15 as they came up and Sir John Jellicoe arrived. Then the Huns got hell till 7.25, when they broke off the action and fled.”

June 8th 1916

HMS Valiant 1918

HMS Valiant

Further news of the Battle of Jutland comes from Commander Geoffrey Freyberg (HMS Valiant). His ship is part of the 5th Battle Squadron under Admiral Beatty.

Unfortunately I cannot include all of his letter here. Some of it has to be censored to meet the requirements of paragraph 453, King’s Regulations.

 4/6/16. “And now you know why I’ve not been able to write for so long.

By all the laws of the game I ought to be dead at the bottom of the North Sea, but some Divine Providence watched over us throughout the fury of the long battle. I really thought at the time that death was on the threshold.

Well, I was not touched in any way throughout the long day and following night. Many friends are dead, but it was a fine finish as we drove the Huns after the arrival of Sir John Jellicoe, but it was Admiral Beatty and his friends who bore the heat and burden of the day until he came.

One was far too excited to be afraid, as the panorama was simply stupendous; the dead and dying in the water; ships vanishing close by; the lame ducks on both sides being polished off.

It was hell, but an intensely interesting hell.

************** (Censored) ***************

I reckon we killed 1500.

I had to make out a 16 page (foolscap) report with two diagrams from my rough diary of the action, and I am tired out after three nights in succession without sleep.”

Geoffrey is the older brother of Lieut-Commander Lance Freyberg (who was killed in May when HMS Russell was mined).

June 7th 1916

As far as one can tell, there have been no other casualties amongst the naval Old Dragons at Jutland – for which we are all most thankful.

Charles Fisher’s brother Captain William Fisher (HMS St Vincent) was also involved in this action, and was lucky enough just prior to the battle to be able to spend some time with Charles.

WW Fisher

William Fisher

“Charles and I were on shore together having the greatest fun when recalled, as we have been recalled dozens of times before.”

Then, by another extraordinary coincidence, he found himself at the scene of his brother’s death very shortly after the event:

“Exactly twenty-four hours later the ‘St. Vincent’ steamed past the wreck of a ship which we took to be a German. We were, with other ships near us in the line, engaging four German Dreadnaughts at the time, but I looked to see if there was anyone in the water near this ship and saw nothing – not even floating wreckage. All round was still calm water.

The wreck might have been there for weeks – and yet we know now she went down only about a quarter of an hour before our arrival. Her bow was high in the air and so was her stern, the centre having been split in two and apparently resting on the bottom.”

Invincible sunk

The wreck of HMS Invincible

It was not long before someone spotted on the starboard side at the stern, the name: HMS Invincible, and William realised that he had lost his brother.

William writes of Charles:

“I am comforted by the knowledge that he who had seen so much carnage will have steadied everyone near him.

How proud I have been to walk about as Charles’s brother, and prouder, if possible, than ever now…”

These are sentiments we can all share.

* * * * * * * *

TyrwhittIt is good to read some good news at this time. In today’s Court Circular column it is recorded that Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt was yesterday invested by the King at Buckingham Palace with the insignia of a Companion of the Distinguished Service Order.

June 6th 1916

HMS Invincible

HMS Invincible

It transpires that there were only six survivors from HMS Invincible and it is by extraordinary luck that one of them, Commander Dannreuther, was at the side of Charles Fisher when the explosion occurred.

HMS Invincible was involved in a gun battle with the German battleship ‘Derfflinger’:

“We hit the Derfflinger with our first salvo and continued to hit her entirely owing to the perfect rate Charles gave us.

It was all over in a few minutes and death came suddenly and painlessly. Everything was going splendidly at the time, and it was entirely due to Charles’ cool head and excellent judgement that our firing was so effective.

I saw him only a few minutes before the end – a smile on his face and his eyes sparkling. He was by my side and in the highest spirits when there was a great explosion and shock, and when I recovered consciousness I found myself in the water.

Ship and crew had disappeared.”

Commander Dannreuther estimates that this great ship went to the bottom in a matter of only 15 seconds.

June 5th 1916

CDF at sea cropped

Lieut. Charles Fisher (RN)

The death of Charles Fisher is confirmed in the papers this morning. He is described as “a well known Oxford tutor… a great cricketer in his day and a man of very remarkable qualities… His death will be deeply felt not only by his comrades, but by many generations of Oxford men.”

Never have truer words been said of our dear friend.

His was a glittering career. He was first in the Westminster Challenge (winning therefore the top scholarship) when he left the OPS in 1889; he won the Slade Exhibition and got a First Westminster Studentship to Christ Church, where he obtained a First Class in Honour Moderations and Second in ‘Greats.’

He was a don at Christ Church from 1901-14. In 1910 he was Junior Censor and then became a member of the Board of Faculty and of Literae Humaniores and finally Senior Censor.

“His authority was based much more on an extraordinary personality than on the powers of his office, though these were great.”

Academically, his special study was Tacitus, on whom he did much work as editor for the Oxford University Press. He was widely read in Modern & Medieval literature, English, French and Italian.

A writer to the Morning Post said, “Charles Fisher towered a very prince among his fellows.  He was of huge stature and splendid in bearing. The formidable shoulders, the active hands, the swinging gait, the characteristic toss of the foot, above all the noble face and head… He loved games and the men who played them, and cricket and cricketers above the rest.”

He achieved his ‘Blue’ at Oxford and played a number of first-class games for Sussex (his highest score being 80 against Worcestershire).

He was present at all our OD dinners from 1908-13 and frequently used to stroll up to the school to encourage and criticise our games. He once told me that he and I had been classed together as the worst dressed men in Oxford – a great honour to me! And he would laugh his glorious laugh and pull out a dirty pipe and tell us some undergraduate story or some anecdote of his many travels; and always a shadow seemed to fall as he strolled away.

That shadow is today a very long one.

June 4th 1916

Following the news of the sinking of HMS Invincible, our deep concern for the well-being of Lieut. Charles Fisher continues. As always, whilst we fear the worst, we must hope for the best.

We are also aware of others who may well have been involved in this battle off Jutland. Charles’s brother, Captain William Fisher (HMS St. Vincent) is known to be part of Jellicoe’s 1st Battle Squadron.

HMS St Vincent

HMS St Vincent

Mr & Mrs CRL Fletcher have already lost two sons to the war: Regie Fletcher was killed at Ypres on October 31st 1914 (a day that claimed three OPS victims), followed in March 1915 by his brother George Fletcher. Their oldest (and only remaining son) Lieut. Leslie Fletcher is known to be serving on HMS Colossus (also part of the 1st Battle Squadron). Surely fate cannot be so cruel as to take from the Fletcher family their only remaining child.

Attached to the 5th Battle Squadron are HMS Valiant and HMS Malaya. Both have Old Dragons aboard: Commander Geoffrey Freyberg in the former and Midshipman Percy Trevelyan in the latter.

Midshipman Francis Studdy is believed to be on HMS Temeraire in the 4th Battle Squadron, Lieut-Commander John Bywater-Ward is on HMS Ajax and, lastly, we think Lieut. Desmond Stride is on HMS Conqueror.

We await news of all of them.