May 6th 1919

Commander Geoffrey Freyberg (RN), who reported on the surrender of the German U-boats in November, has returned from a week of celebrations in Paris and Cherbourg at the invitation of a grateful French nation. He and his ship, HMS Valiant, have now returned to Scapa Flow, from where he has written to us.

The French government had wished to honour the work of the Royal Navy in the War and on April 23rd (St George’s Day) held a review of our naval troops in the Court of Honour of the Hotel des Invalides, conducted by the Governor of Paris. It was attended by both Rear-Admiral Reginald Tyrwhitt and Admiral Sir David Beatty, their staffs and various ships’ companies.

On April 26th Geoffrey and his fellow officers were taken to see Reims and something of the war-torn countryside:

“From Château Thierry and Épernay we passed through the devastated area. Every town and every village was in ruins. Famous Châteaux with their roofs battered in, with broken beds gaping out of holes in the walls, and Churches with perhaps only half the Chancel or the Choir still standing, made one realize for perhaps the first time the feelings of intense hatred of the French towards the Boche, and one now understands why it is the Frenchmen are still burning to revenge themselves…

Reims had 100,000 inhabitants before the war, but only 10% now remain. Sixteen houses only are undamaged in the City. Little or no repair has been undertaken in the devastated area owing to lack of building material.”

Reims Cathedral is in a particularly bad condition.

“Outside its western front we were met by Cardinal Luçon (aged 83) and conducted round the ruins of what was once the most glorious Church in France. The building is no longer open to the public as it is in a state of dangerous collapse, the roof lies on the floor, the High Altar has vanished and the Northern Tower looks very shaky.”

Reims Cathedral nave.

“We now motored out in the rain to Fort la Pompelle, the N.E. corner of the Reims defences and the scene of desperate fighting. All the trenches are filled in, but shells, grenades, human bones and an occasional dead horse with miles of wire lie everywhere. Two grenades went off without hurting anyone, and of course most fellows carried back trophies in the shape of broken rifles or fragments of shell.

La Pompelle Fort

A French Colonel of Infantry at one place said, ‘Gentlemen, this is holy ground, as you stand on the bodies of all my officers and most of my men. I ask you to salute them.'”

When they had all returned to Paris that evening, at the end of a very full day, they looked for some lighter entertainment:

“Although feeling rather tired, we again sallied forth to visit the magnificent Allied Officers’ Club next to the British Embassy. Finding this rather dull we moved on to Maxims, which has just been reopened after the recent brawl there, which resulted in four American and French officers being killed or wounded because an American kissed a French lady…”

November 26th 1918

SURRENDER OF THE GERMAN HIGH SEAS FLEET

Thursday, November 21st 1918

HMS Queen Elizabeth overlooking the German surrender.

Three Old Dragons had the good fortune to witness the events of this historic day: Commander Geoffrey Freyberg (RN) on HMS Valiant, Lieut.-Commander Moray Wallace (RN) on HMS Relentless and Assistant Paymaster Percival Chapman (RN) on HMS Royal Sovereign.

The picture above, kindly sent to us by Geoffrey Freyberg, shows Admiral Beatty’s ship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, watching over a German Konig class battleship (in the distance).

Geoffrey Freyberg (HMS Valiant) weighed anchor at 3.15am on November 21st to make their way to the rendez-vous with the German High Seas Fleet:

“We glide past the heavily-fortified island of Inchcolm, the Oxcars, and Black Rock booms… past Burntisland Roads… and then out into the night towards May Island, that bleak and barren outpost of the Forth, some 30 miles from Rosyth.

Clear of the outer gate we get out our Para-vanes, one of the three great inventions of the war at sea (the depth-charge and the hydrophone being the other two). The Para-vane looks like a short torpedo with wings, it is towed from the stern and cuts moored mines adrift as neatly as a slicing machine cuts rashers of bacon. 

We pass May Island at 6.02am… and steer east (true) to meet the advancing ‘enemy,’ with whom we have been in touch by W/T since midnight…

On meeting up with the German fleet, Moray Wallace (HMS Relentless), like many others no doubt, had his suspicions as to what would happen:

“They still flew their flag, and we had a feeling of possible treachery, for the men seemed scarce on deck, and they had their binoculars on us frequently from the bridge…

At last we passed May Island and dropped anchor in the Firth of Forth near the destroyer we were to examine for general sea-worthiness and hidden explosives…

As we climbed up the ladder and under the life-lines, the hands slouched round and peered at us, smoking cigars and cigarettes; all with their hands in their pockets and clustered together for’d as we reached the upper deck…

I saw no signs of mutiny; the hands seemed zealous to bring lamps and show off anything, and volunteered explanations. Nothing was as nice as in our own ships, and paint was everywhere instead of polished brass.”

Percival Chapman (HMS Royal Sovereign) describes the moment that marked the German surrender:

“Orders were given by the C-in-C that the German ensigns were to be hauled down at sunset this evening and were not to be hoisted again – in other words, sunset marked the virtual chucking up of the sponge.

Everyone became a trifle excited as sunset approached, some people having an idea that the Boches might attempt something dramatic when the critical moment arrived, such as a little diversion in the way of explosions etc. Nothing , however, happened except that the Hun battle cruiser ‘Derfflinger’ and one of their battleships were rather late on it. This was probably due to the almost complete lack of discipline which is now supposed to reign in the Hun Navy – anyway, whatever the cause, their slackness evoked derisive cheers  from the crew of the ‘Royal Oak.’

This was the only sign of jubilation anyone gave, cheers being against orders.” 

The battle cruiser ‘Derfflinger’

As I recall, the ‘Derfflinger’ fought at the Battle of Jutland and was responsible for the demise of HMS Invincible and Charles Fisher.

No sooner had the German fleet been captured  than they became something of a tourist attraction, although Geoffrey Freyberg was still slightly wary:

“Two days later I took a party of ladies, including my own family… round the German ships at anchor. One looked at these great ships at a range of only 5 or 10 yards with a queer feeling, almost expecting that a mad German would sweep the crowded stern sheets of our steam barge with a machine-gun. The sailors looked sullen and defiant, the officers, for the most part, looked dejected and ignored our close visit of inspection…”

December 15th 1916

In the course of the last four months a number of our gallant Old Boys have been honoured and, as the end of another term approaches, they should be recorded on these pages:

Victoria Cross (VC)

Capt. William Leefe Robinson (RFC), “for conspicuous bravery. He attacked an enemy airship under circumstances of great difficulty and danger, and sent it crashing to the ground as a flaming wreck. He had been in the air for more than two hours and had previously attacked another airship during his flight.”

Distinguished Service Order (DSO)

Capt. Harry Maule (North Lancs) has been awarded the DSO “for conspicuous gallantry when leading his company during operations. During several days’ fighting he set a fine example of cheerfulness and cool courage to those around him. He was three times knocked down by the blast of shells.” (Edinburgh Gazette, Sept. 28th 1916)

Major Ernest Knox (Sikhs) in Mesopotamia.

Major James Romanes (Royal Scots). “For conspicuous gallantry in action. He led his battalion with the greatest courage and initiative. He set a splendid example throughout the operations.” (London Gazette, Nov. 25th 1916)

Military Cross (MC)

2nd Lieut. Stopford Jacks (RFA). “He, assisted by a sergeant, organised a party to extinguish a fire in a bomb store. Although burnt in several places, he continued at the work until the fire was extinguished.” (Edinburgh Gazette, Dec. 13th 1916)

2nd Lieut. Budge Pellatt (Royal Irish). “When a Platoon was required from his company to replace casualties in the front line, he at once volunteered and led his men forward with the greatest determination, though suffering heavy casualties.”

2nd Lieut. Northcote Spicer (RFA). “For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in registering all batteries of the artillery brigade from the advanced lines prior to attack. He was severely wounded, chiefly from having to signal by flag, which was observed by the enemy.” (London Gazette, Oct. 20th 1916)

French Honours

‘The Times’ (Sept 16th) noted that Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt had been made Grand Officier of the Legion of Honour.

2nd Lieut. Trevor Hoey (OBLI) has been awarded the Croix de Guerre decoration by the French Commander on the Salonika front for distinguished conduct, referred to in the Army Orders as follows:

“When all the other officers were placed hors de combat, he took command and led the final charge against the Bulgarian position, which was brilliantly carried at the point of the bayonet.”

Mentioned in Despatches

2nd Lieut. FRG Duckworth (RFA) in Salonika, Capt. WW Fisher (RN) & Cdr GH Freyberg (RN) at Jutland, Maj. EF Knox (36th Sikhs) – for the second time, Capt. RJK Mott (Staff) in Salonika, Lieut. JC Slessor (RFC) in Egypt, and Maj. RD Whigham (King’s Own Scottish Borderers) – for the second time.

It is difficult to express just how proud we are when our Old Boys distinguish themselves so.

June 13th 1916

We have certainly had a very high opinion of our naval supremacy over recent years and some may be wondering why it was that the German High Seas Fleet was not obliterated at Jutland in the true Nelsonic style of the past. Commander Geoffrey Freyberg (HMS Valiant) suggests that maybe we have under-estimated the abilities of our enemy:

9/6/16. “Their shooting was marvellously accurate at the long ranges and their rapid fire astounding both by day and night. People at home talk of the High Canal Fleet covered with barnacles. My aunt! I should have liked to have had a few armchair critics by the side of the Captain and myself in the conning-tower that afternoon in May. They are foes worthy of our steel, but Von Sheer made one grave error.

Instead of breaking off the action when he had sunk the ‘Indefatigable,’  ‘Queen Mary’ and two new destroyers, he evidently thought he was going to smash the whole of Beatty’s Squadron and became intoxicated with success. He even finished off the ‘Defence’, ‘Black Prince’,  ‘Warrior’ and ‘Invincible’… only to find himself a few minutes later fairly landed in the arms of the great Sir John and the Grand Fleet, who gave him simple hell till 7.30, when the Huns turned and fled.”

It has been most interesting hearing Geoffrey’s account of the battle and no doubt it was of great service to the official account as submitted by the Captain of the ship.

History will decide the importance of the events of these past days. For us, whilst we mourn the loss of Charles Fisher, we are relieved that amongst the long list of those killed and wounded, there are no other Dragon names.

June 11th 1916

Commander Geoffrey Freyberg (HMS Valiant) continues his account of the battle, revealing how he has been able to recall the events so well:

7/6/16. “It is just a week today since our little picnic at the Little Fisher Bank took place, and there has been a tremendous amount of work since. We, so the Captain tells me, were almost the only ship to keep any real record of the show at the time, as I dictated notes throughout to a Midshipman with a note-book squatting down at my feet…

There were some weird happenings: we picked up a W.T. signal from one of our destroyers from the Sub-Lieut., worded as follows:- ‘My Captain is dying, the 1st Lieut., Surgeon and gunners are all dead, my bridge has been shot away so I do not know my position as I am isolated. Request instructions.’

That boy got his ship back safely as I saw her here two days later, and if any boy deserves a D.S.C., he does.”

I think this must be HMS Onslaught, about which we read in the Daily Telegraph on June 7th.

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.”