Below is Chapter 14 from "Through the Hawse Pipe" which are the unpublished memoirs of Captain Alexander Grant CBE DSC. He was gunner on HMS Lion during the Battle of Jutland and the chapter is of interest both for his comments on what happened on Lion during the battle but also for some interesting comment on the safety procedures for cordite on HMS Lion. The original document is held by the Imperial War Museum in London.
I traveled overnight from London and then got the first train from Edinburgh to Dalmony, which brought back memories of "“CALEDONIA" days. Here I found a railway porter of old acquaintance who soon arranged transport for my luggage to Hawse Pier. As I walked down the narrow footpath leading to the Pier, my thoughts went back to the many tames I trod that path and how often on reaching the crest I found the Port Edgar Flag at the mast head of "CALEDONIA".
This meant a sprint all the way to Port Edgar, otherwise one missed the boat. Then there was that most hospitable place so well known to Naval Officers, the "Hawse Hotel". At South Queensferry I was on familiar ground and on that June morning felt at much home as I had many friends and acquaintances in the town. A boat was waiting for me, and on the arrival of my baggage, we made for my new ship. There was the familiar Forth Bridge and I admired once more this fine feat of engineering. There was something new to me on the other side of the river. The young Rosyth Dockyard with its chimneys belching forth smoke was a hive of industry. Then I looked towards Port Edgar which had been a busy place before the Bridge was built and had then lapsed into disuse. Now it was teeming with destroyer pens and new buildings adjoining. The was without a doubt had put South Queensferry on the map. As we approached the "LION" I was rather awed by her sleek powerful appearance. Painted in her battle grey, with tail masts, huge funnels, formidable armament of eight 13.5 guns, she gave one the impression that here was a ship that would give an overwhelming account of herself in action.
On board the Officer of the Watch. Sub.Lieutenant Lord Burghesh gave me a most warm greeting and took me along to see the Commander, after which I made the acquaintance of my Messmates. Somehow or other it had never occurred to me to wonder why I had been appointed to "LION". Here I soon found out. My predecessor had been court martialled the day previous and dismissed his ship. I was not told the charge against him never inquired, but it would appear to have been in connection with the ammunition of the ship which I found in a chaotic state. The Gunnery Officer to whom I reported was Lieut. Commander Longhurst. After a short conversation he turned on to the subject of cordite (ammunition) and he said that it had all been put right and that there would be no difficulty. I did not say very much on the subject, having been a Gunner and Chief Gunner for nineteen and a half years I had my own views on these things and thought it best to see for myself. These preliminaries over and with no one from whom to take over as my predecessor had been dismissed his ship and therefore no longer belonged to the "LION", I made a start to find out things for myself. I therefore got in touch with the Dagger Gunner, Bob Purdee, to take me round the ship and especially the gunnery department. It might be as well to explain the term "Dagger Gunner". The science of gunnery was advancing so rapidly that it was considered necessary to have an assistant to the Gunnery Officer to assist him in compiling all the data connected with firing, drills etc. etc. To achieve this young Gunners of outstanding educational ability were given an advanced course in gunnery and when qualified were termed Dagger Gunner and appointed to ships as such. The first class in this subject started about 1908 and had fully justified itself in many ways. Purdie was a charming fellow, keen on his job, and a most delightful shipmate. We had a good tour of the ship which was all I required for my first day on board. In the evening I had the pleasure of meeting Captain Chatfield and handed him a bunch of roses from his garden in the "EXCELLENT" which he had created.
The flowers were a gift from Pensioner Hawkins who was the rose garden expert. He was delighted with the roses and the thoughtfulness of Hawkins. So finished my first day in the "LION".
The Gunner of a ship has at his disposal a number of men known as the Gunner’s party. They vary in number according to the class of ship are employed in maintaining in an
efficient condition all equipment except that which requires the skill of an artificer. This is done by the Armourer, now called the Ordnance Artificer. On the second day therefore I took two of my henchmen and made for one of
the turret magazines to investigate the cordite problem. It did not take me long to find the pitiful mess it was in. All cordite on manufacture is given a Lot number. Each Lot is sufficient to make up so many cartridges.Each cartridge is marked, also the, case containing the
cartridge, with the Lot number of the cordite. Periodical tests are made at the Ordnance Laboratories on various lots of cordite. For this purpose sample
charges from ships are landed for testing and if they do not come up to the standard required the whole lot is withdrawn and destroyed. It will therefore be seen that care and attention must be taken in the
stowage of cordite in the Magazine, otherwise confusion and danger may be the result. The cordite for the turret guns was supplied in cylindrical cases, each
case containing two quarter charges. There were three markings on the case, one on the case, and one on each of the two
lids, therefore the two cartridges and the three markings should all coincide. I found however that a large percentage of the cases in all four
magazines possessed five different Lot numbers to each case. I spent the whole day in these magazines and at the end I was rather
perturbed about it. To put matters right would mean clearing the magazines, sorting out and putting the cordite
into the right ones. This could not be done on board a ship. It was too dangerous a proceeding to suggest. Moreover,
although a Gunner is responsible for the magazines and their contents, the Gunnery Officer has the supreme responsibility and he had informed me that all
was well. I therefore decided to sleep on it and see how the situation could be remedied.
The following day I reported the state of affairs to the Gunnery Officer who replied "Well you are not going to make a noise about it". "That is the last thing I want to do", was my reply. "Well what do you suggest?" "I haven’t made up my mind yet but you can rest assured I won’t do anything that will involve you". I got a boat at one p.m. and on arriving at Crombie went to the Office and asked to see the Naval Ordnance Officer. The clerk nearly swooned at the suggestion that a Chief Gunner R.N. should see such an august person. "You can't see the N.O.O. Won’t I do?" he said. “No!” was my reply. "I want to see the N.O.O." He brought another official higher up the scale who said, “I understand you want to see the N.O.O., can’t I do all you want?” In reply to that I brought my guns to bear and told him that the Flag Captain of the “LION” had sent me to see the N.O.O. and see him I must.
That did the trick and I was ushered into his office. There my reception was quite different, I was asked to take a chair and he inquired what he could do for me. I laid all my cards on the table. I told him that the cordite was in an unholy mess, explained just how things were and that the only solution was to change the whole bag-of-tricks, but that the reason of the change must be that there were far too many different lots of cordite on board. We had thirty-four instead of fifteen. He considered for a while and then said, “I would have to see your Captain first. What would be the best time to see him?” I replied, “I would suggest your coming on board after eleven tomorrow morning”, and this was agreed. I returned on board feeling very pleased with my visit and had the feeling that my shots went home in the right direction. The gunnery Officer was waiting for me at the top of the gangway very anxious to know how I had on. When I told him that the N.O.O. was coming on board tomorrow morning to see the Captain about changing all our cordite due to the fact we had too many different Lots on board, and no mention would be made of the state it was in, he was very much relieved, so was I, for I liked Longhurst from the first meeting and was sorry that he had been let down so badly.
On the following day the N.O.O arrived on board. I stood by in case I was required. Sure enough a messenger came along to say the Captain wanted me. On reporting, he said (with the quiet smile which meant, “I know”) “The N.O.O. tells me we have too many different cordite Lots on board and wants to give us a new outfit. How long do you think it would take to do this?” “If the N.O.O. can give us eight lighters, four with the new outfit, and four empty to take old the old, we can do the whole shift in four hours, and at no time will the ship be without its full quota of cordite.” The N.O.O. agreed to the lighters and the Captain decided to carry out the programme. Two days later at eight in the morning the eight lighters came alongside. Full ones on one side, empty ones on the other. We first cleared one bay in each of the four magazines after which, as one hoist of the old cordite came up we lowered a hoist of the new and by noon the whole operation was completed. We were then able to distribute each Lot equally between the four magazines thus enabling us to fire the same Lot of cordite from all turret guns at the same time. By this method, so I believed, and still maintain, the accuracy of shooting is improved:- a most important factor in war.
With the introduction of cordite to replace powder for firing guns, regulations regarding the necessary precautions for handling explosives became unconsciously considerably relaxed, even I regret to say, to a dangerous degree throughout the Service. Yet for entry to any of the magazines on shore where naval explosives were stored you would find the regulations just as strict as they were in the days of powder charges. All pipes, cigarettes, matches, or anything else capable of ignition had to be deposited with the police. Magazine shoes had to be worn. If these precautions were necessary on shore they were equally on board ship. The gradual lapse in the regulations on board ship seemed to be due to two factors. First, cordite is a much safer explosive to handle than gun-powder. Second, but more important, the altered construction of the magazines on board led to a feeling of false security. When powder was in use all magazines were lined with wood and secured with copper nails or bolts, the deck was of wood tackle offer transport were fitted with metal hooks. Not a scrap of iron or steel which might cause a spark was used. The deck of the passages or handling room adjoining were covered with lead. The manholes or scuttles on the various decks, through which the cartridges had to pass from magazine to gun were all fitted with metal. Every conceivable precaution was taken where powder was in transit, and no one was allowed in a magazine unless he had on the special shoes provided for this purpose. With the introduction or cordite there came in time a considerable alteration in the construction of magazines. The iron or steel deck, the disappearance of the wood lining, the electric lights fitted inside, the steel doors, open because there was now no chute for passing cartridges out; all this gave officers and men a comparative easiness of mind regarding the precautions necessary with explosive material. Two illustrations confirm this. Magazines when not in use are locked. The keys are kept on a board outside the Captain’s cabin, where a sentry is always posted. There is also a small shutter fitted which indicated magazines closed or open. One day I happened to be passing and noticed that the magazine was shown as open. On asking the sentry how the indicator came to be in the open position, he informed me that a stoker came for the key of one of the turret magazines. “Do you give keys of magazines to anyone who may ask for them?” “Yes, Sir” was his reply. “I have no orders to the contrary”. I then made for the magazine in question and found two stokers lubricating certain valves. They both had hob-nailed boots on, matches in their pockets, and cigarettes stuck behind their ears. They may have been smoking them for all I know. I ordered them out of the magazine and locked the door. Shortly afterwards I received a message to say that the Senior Engineer Officer wished to see me. He wanted to know why I was interfering with his men. I told him the reason and that as long as I was Gunner of the ship no one would enter the magazine without my knowledge. He said that he would see the Commander. Whether he did or not I do not know, but the sentry’s order board was soon amended regarding the issuing of magazine keys.
The other illustration is far more convincing. As is well known, the “LION” with the other battle cruisers, was engaged in the Heligoland Bight and Dogger Bank Actions. It was only natural that I heard many points of view of these actions from officers and men, which prompted me to ask many questions especially regarding the supply of ammunition. In this I was very much concerned, having come to the conclusion that the method of supplying the turret guns with cordite during these two actions was dangerous. Each turret had four magazines with a watertight door to each, containing in all two hundred full charges of cordite stowed in four hundred cases. There was a circular apartment outside these magazines called the handling room fitted with a circular trunk in the centre which received the cartridge for passage up to the loading chamber of the turret. The magazine crew full of enthusiasm, and determined that the guns should not have to wait for cordite, had removed practically every lid from all the cases, piling up the handling room with charges. In addition they filled the narrow passage in the four magazines with more charges. I can picture the crews, having made all these preparations, sitting down contentedly saying to each other, “Now let them all come. We will let them know how to let them have it good and hearty”. Little did they realise the extra danger they were placing the ship in by their preparations. In these two actions, and especially at the Dogger Bank, fire was opened at extreme range on both sides. This meant that the danger area was very small and a shell finding its mark so at an acute angle and with every prospect of it reaching the bowls of the ship before explosion took place; and our ship although heavily armoured on the side, had only comparatively light deck protection.
I brought all this to the notice of the Gunnery Officer and suggested drastic alterations in the supply of cordite. These were (1) One magazine to be in use only during action. (2) Not more than one full charge to be in handling room. (3) during any lull in the demand for charges the magazine door to be closed and watertight clips put on. (6) On no account should the magazines be flooded except on receipt of an order from a responsible officer. The gunnery Officer said he would consider the proposals and consult the officers in charge of turrets. These were all against the alterations; their view was that there would be delay. My reply was “Give me the magazine crews to train and test the time”. The new arrangements proved that supply was faster than the guns could take it. The Captain was informed and came down to witness personally and to approve the whole scheme. Remarks were made about the antiquated idea of making the men remove their boots or shoes. To prove the necessity of this being done, the magazine deck was swept after an exercise. The sweepings were taken on to the upper deck and laid out in a tail. When a lighted match was put to one end of the trail the whole went up in smoke. All cordite charges are filled at one end with a small amount of fine powder. Some of this powder percolates through its covering, hence the powder contained in the sweepings.
The “LION” was what is called in the Service a “West Country Ship”. That is to say she was manned with men belonging to the Devonport Division. The Warrant Officers also are taken from the same Division as the men. I found myself therefore a stranger in a strange ship never having been in a West Country Ship other than the Training Ship “LION” as a boy. Moreover I was senior member of the Mess and therefore responsible for its discipline and well being of its members. The Mess was constructed to accommodate twelve, yet we had twenty-three including three Telegraphists from the G.P.O. at Edinburgh. It was therefore overcrowded to such an extent that meals had to be served in relays, which was most unsatisfactory. The Squadron was generally “at short notice” and what leave was given was a few hours in the afternoon when conditions enabled this to be done. It did not take long to realise how my messmates had been living during the past ten months. They were cooped up in this small square box with little room to move: having meals in relays, unable to invite any brother officers from other ships. Cabin accommodation was only available for eight, the remainder had to use hammocks. Such a state of affairs soon gets on ones nerves and seriously undermines good comradeship, and even discipline. I therefore decided on a Mess Meeting so that we could have a free and frank discussion on general mess matters. One outcome of this was that we were able to squeeze another table into the Mess whereby we could all have our meals together. It was decided that as we could not have any other officer as a guest owing to lack of room, we would have a sing-song once a month and invite four Warrant Officers from three other ships to come and join us. To do this we cleared the Mess and had a buffet for eats and drinks. I had to approach the commander for permission to have extra wines and spirits. He seemed rather doubtful and said he would speak to the Captain. I assured him there would be no unnecessary consumption. Later he informed me that the Captain approved. The Gun Room kindly lent us their piano. Our first party was a huge success. One of our messmates was an expert pianist, so with songs, stories, and refreshments, we had a real rollicking time and best of all we infused new life into the Mess, by creating a most pleasant and healthy atmosphere to replace the jaded strain. Credit for this was due to our chief Carpenter, Mr Bailey, our Dagger gunner, and the Pianist.
The success of our party was the forerunner of many more that took place. It also caused the Warrant Officers in other ships of the Squadron to go and do likewise whereby we were their guests. In time we invited our Ward Room Officers to come and join us. This was reciprocated. Being a Scot I suggested to the Mess that we should hold a Hogmanay Party and invite the whole of the Ward Room Officers. This was agreed upon. The Ward Room was so delighted with the invitation that they offered us the use of the Ward Room for the occasion, in view of the cramped space available in our Mess. It was a fine gesture on their part and I am doubtful if any such thing has happened before or since. What a party it was, with songs, choruses, stories and jokes, with the inner man not neglected. About 11.30 the signalman came into the Mess with the half-yearly promotions. As I was the principal host the Commander gave me the honour of reading them out. I had not got very far down the list when I could see signs of restlessness, the reason being that there were two schools of thought. One backed the Torpedo Officer, the other the Gunnery Officer, for promotion to Commander. The Torpedo Officer won the Derby and was now a Commander. There were looks of disappointment on the faces of Gun’s supporters. I cheered them up by saying “It’s alright, I have never yet served under a Gunnery Officer who did not get him promotion and I am jolly certain never shall, and we will see our Guns promoted yet”. At midnight we said good-bye to 1915 in real Scottish style and then adjourned to the Gun Room where the midshipmen were having a party with the Flag Captain as their guest. Before leaving the social activities of the “LION” I must say that one could not wish to be with better messmates. They needed a lead to rise to the occasion and thereby derived considerable benefit in those stirring and trying days.
The Battle Cruiser Squadron was a strong striking force. It had the speed and the gun power to give a powerful account of itself in action. With Admiral Beatty in Command everyone knew that when the day came, as come it must, (for the nation commanding the sea also had victory in the hollow of its hand) the Battles Cruisers would be in the front and the thickest of the fight. There is no doubt that Beatty, like Nelson before him, had endowed himself to his Officers and men. The war had now been waging for over eighteen months. There had yet been no action at sea of any magnitude. The enemy had a powerful and efficient Fleet. The days of close blockade had gone. The tip and run raids by the enemy had two purposes, one was to endeavour to annihilate any small force we might have at sea and so reduce our strength piecemeal. The other was to cause panic among our folk ashore. Our Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Jellicoe, and Admirals in charge of Squadrons were too seasoned seamen to run in to such a trap. Nevertheless it was a trying time with so many officers and men cramped up for months in confined quarters. The occasions when leave could be given were few and far between. Long leave to visit home was out of the question except when a ship was in dock, and then it was four days only. It was difficult to overcome the monotony of the daily routine of drill and inspection of equipment. More especially was this so in the Engineering and Gunnery Departments where so much depended on a ceaseless attention to detail. I consider the Gunnery Officer had the most difficult part to play during those months of waiting. The constant drilling of guns’ crews so as to keep them up to the standard required was one needing real patience and understanding. Then there were all the intricate appliances, some of them most delicate, requiring most careful maintenance. It was always a relief when one observed smoke belching forth from the funnels of the Squadron. This meant we were on the move. Presently anchors would be weighed and these lovely ships would be sneaking out to sea, few knowing whither bound. At times no doubt we went in search of the enemy. At others we had a rendezvous with the Grand Fleet at sea for a sweep of the enemy coast. These trips occurred frequently and generally lasted three or four days. On our return to Harbour, colliers came alongside immediately and we would have to get in a thousand tons of coal or more, seldom less. It’s a great game, coaling ship. Keen competition between ships and also between the men in each ship was always evident. Everyone took part, except the Doctors and their staff. Our Chaplain was a rare hand at hauling bags of coal. We would fill bags in the collier, hoist them inboard, and empty them into the various bunkers at the rate of two hundred tons an hour. Provisions would also come alongside and in a few hours the Squadron was again ready to proceed to sea when required.
The “LION” had to go into dock to have the ship’s bottom scrapped and painted. It is astonishing how quickly seaweed clings to a ship’s bottom and thereby retards its speed. The dock selected was the floating dock at Jarrow-on-Tyne. Alterations were also to be carried out in the vicinity of the turret magazines which necessitated the landing of our cordite before sailing. I mention this docking because it was the occasion of a fine piece of carefully planned organisation. Everyone in the ship was to have four days leave, except three officers, the Torpedo Officer, Senior Engineer, and myself, together with a small number of ratings, about twenty all told. It was mid-winter, and the ship entered the dock about seven in the morning. Lifting the ship commenced immediately, at nine the ship was docked, and Liberty men were piped to clean. At tem a.m. when all the Pubs were closed tugs came alongside and everyone landed. Special trains were waiting to take men to the principal destinations. The special trains were due back on the fourth day at 10.30, again after closing time. Tugs conveyed everyone to the ship and the following morning at seven-thirty we were heading down the river bound for our base in the Forth. It was to me at any rate a fine piece of work, well executed with everyone playing the game. There was not one absentee out of the twelve hundred on boar, and many of there could not have had more than forty-eight hours with their loved ones at home.
During our four days stay at Jarrow a tragedy happened to one of our men. The Captain had given orders that none of the ship-keeping party was to have any leave at Jarrow. It appeared, however, that when the ship was at Jarrow for repairs after the Dogger Bank action, three of the men, Chief Petty Officers, had made friends on shore. On the second night in dock they requested leave to go on shore until tem p.m. The Torpedo Officer who was responsible, thought that as the request was from three Chief Petty Officers it was rather hard if they could not see their friends, and he granted their request. At ten o’clock I reported that they had not returned. About eleven Water Police came on board with one of our men and reported that the other two had fallen overboard and were in a serious condition. I was immediately sent on shore with the sick berth steward armed with blankets and hot water bottles for it was a cold icy night with a strong easterly wind. On arrival at the Police Station I found the men lying on two forms placed V shape in front of a roaring fire, with the cold icy wind blowing into the room. They still had their wet clothes on and were being roasted on one side and frozen on the other, and in agonies of pain. I immediately sent for a Doctor, stripped them of their clothes to make them comfortable, sent for an ambulance and called up the Hospital to arrange for their reception. When the Doctor arrived his first words were “Get an ambulance as quickly as possible”. I informed him that one was ordered and he was most grateful. I shall ever remember the drive through the streets of Jarrow on that cold black wintry night. One of them died, and the other was ill for a long time as a result of immersion. It appeared that ice had formed on the stone steps leading to the boat, which caused them to slip and fall into the water, and waters of the Tyne in that neighbourhood is not what could be called or pure.
On certain occasions leave was given in the afternoon for officers to go as far as Edinburgh. We landed at one o’clock and all leave expired at six. Whilst in Edinburgh we had to contact certain places every two hours in case of a general recall. One afternoon I decided to return to Queensferry about four o’clock to pay a call on friends of mine. At the station I went to the usual platform and asked a porter if the train stopped at Dalmeny. Being assured that it did, I got in. As we approached Dalmeny there was no sign of speed being reduced and we steamed past the station at forty miles per hour, over the Forth Bridge, past North Queensferry, and through the tunnel. My fellow passengers told me the first stop was Kirkoaldy. At that I felt all sixed and sevens and never dreamed of pulling the communications cord. Fortunately for me the signals were against the train at Inverkeithing and it came to a standstill. Out I jumped and made for the bridge, I dare not go through the tunnel so climbed up the rocky ground over the tunnel on to the bridge. There the sentry stopped me. When he heard my predicament he allowed me to pass. Hard pressed for time, I had to perform an “EXCELLENT double” most of the way, arriving at Hawse Pier with a bare minute to spare. I have never trusted a railway porter at any main station since that day.
On the twenty-ninth of May 1916 the Officers of the “QUEEN MARY” were giving a farewell at home to their Commander, now Admiral Sir William James, on his leaving the ship. Having known Commander James in “EXCELLENT” days I took the opportunity of attending so as to be able to say good-bye. Little did I or anyone else realise that evening that is less than forty-eight hours the “QUEEN MARY” with practically the whole of her officers and men would be at the bottom of the sea. On the following afternoon I went to Edinburgh, and when I reached the Hawes Pier at six, smoke was pouring from the funnels of the Squadron. This was a sure sign of going to sea. Two hours later the Squadron with its attending Light Cruisers and Destroyers was steaming out of the Firth making for the North Sea. As we were passing under the Bridge I happened to be in conversation with the Major of Marines, and in the course of it he remarked that we had left our cat behind, and he didn’t like it. thought nothing of it at the time, but often since thought that he must have had a premonition that something was going to happen to him. On the following forenoon the usual routine was carried out of exercising action stations, and testing all equipment. When at sea no drill or work was carried out in the afternoon. The Captain’s orders were that except for those required for duty everyone should rest so that in case of an evening or night action men would be more fit to endure fatigue.
About three-thirty in the afternoon, as the men were thinking about their seven beller (the navy term for afternoon tea) the bugler sounded “ACTION”. This meant that the enemy for which we had searched so many times had been sighted. The constant drill and exercises so assiduously carried out since the declaration of war was now going to be put to the test. It is only a matter of a few minutes from the time “ACTION” is sounded on the bugle before everyone is at his appointed place. Guns are cleared away, magazine and shell rooms opened, ammunition passed up to the guns. Fire, stretcher, repair, alternative lighting, and other parties are all at their appointed places. On this occasion as always, everyone knew exactly what he had to do and did it without any fuss or bother. With everything ready to open fire, it appeared that it would be some time before we were within range. Orders were received to allow so many men to have tea in turn. Before this could be completed “ACTION” was sounded again, and in less than a minute the “LION” fired her first broadside and the Battle of Jutland had begun.
As I am writing only of my memories the reader will not expect an account of all that happened in this, to my mind, decisive action. Granted the enemy were not annihilated as at Trafalgar. They however received a far worse battering than was credited at the time, and because of it, surrendered ignominiously at a subsequent date. The Battle of Jutland had been described many times by far abler men that I, and controversy has ranged around these writings. I can however give an account of some of the happenings on board the “LION”. The civilian sometimes has an idea that because a man takes part in a battle, he must have seen everything that was taking place. Shells hurtling through the air, ships blown to pieces, destroyers attacking with torpedoes, squadrons of ships steaming at full speed to cut off the retreat of the enemy. It is perfectly true that many officers and men in Light Cruisers and Destroyers do see what is taking place due to their guns being hand-worked with little or no protection. Whereas in large ships, where guns are worked by power, everyone is below decks except those on the bridge and control tops at the mast head. Even the men who man and load the guns cannot see the ships they are firing at.
I had no particular special duty in action. To use a naval phrase I had a roving commission, to be here, there and everywhere. My first concern however was the supply of ammunition to the turret guns, as the new supply method was being used and therefore I wanted to see it applied in its entirety. There were four turrets named A, B, Q and X. Each one had four separate magazines. As soon as fire had opened I made for A and B magazines. They were in the fore part of the ship and in close proximity to each other. I found everything quite satisfactory, no delay, only one door opened, and not more than one full charge in the handing room. The supply was meeting the demand. I left orders that if there was a lull in the firing the party must not forget to close the door of the magazine in use. “Aye, aye, sir”, was the reply. The men were in real good fettle. I then made for Q which was in the centre of the ship. To reach it entailed a climb up a Jacob’s Ladder on to the mess deck and a walk aft. En route I had to pass several parties at their allotted stations. “How is it going Sir” they asked, “alright” I would reply. “The Admiral is on the Bridge” “That’s good” they would say. To get to Q one had to descend into a small flat where a first aid and electric light party was stationed, and then down into the handing room. Here everyone was standing about in silence. When I asked what was the matter, the Sergeant in charge said that something had gone wrong in the turret and that the Major in charge of the turret had ordered the magazines to be flooded. I inquired how long the valves for flooding had been opened, and when I learned that they had been opened some time I was convinced that the magazine was now completely flooded. It was also reported that the supply cages were full. It would therefore appear that there was outside the magazine at least two full charges in the supply cages and there may have been two more in the loading cages in the working chamber which was immediately under the guns. While I was making these inquiries, men from the working chamber were coming down the trunk into the handing room. I asked them what had happened and they informed me that a shell had pierced the turret, exploding inside, killing the gun’s crew, and that the turret was completely out of action. Q turret was manned by the Royal Marines, with Major Harvey in charge. Major Harvey, although lying mortally wounded, to his everlasting glory thought of the safety of the ship and ordered the magazines to be flooded. For this gallant deed in safeguarding the ship he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
I thought at first of going up the trunk to see at first hand what had happened. The turret was out of action however, and as I had not yet been to X magazine I decided to go there, first ordering the men who came from the working chamber to go up into the flat above as the handing room was overcrowded. I have ever regretted not going up into the disabled turret as a subsequent disaster might, or might not have been averted. In X magazine everything appeared to have been in order. There was a lull in the firing at the time so the door was closed with no charges in the handing room. I did not stay very long, feeling rather uneasy about the flooded magazine of Q, and made to the place again. I had reached the hatchway leading to the flat above the magazine and by the Providence of God had only one foot on the step of the Jacob’s Ladder, when suddenly there was a terrific roar, followed by flame and dense smoke. Had I been a few seconds earlier and thus farther down the Ladder, I would have met the same fate as all those fine men below who were burned to death. I instantly ran into the next compartment thinking the end had come. I regained my breath and self-possession and immediately went back to the hatchway and down to the bottom of the ladder. I could not get any further for smoke and fumes of cordite and scorched paint. Gas masks of those days were rather primitive and it was found that they were no use in this atmosphere. Numbers of my shipmates were either in their last agonies or already dead. I could see there was no fire and as soon as we got below endeavoured with the help of other men to rescue any who might be alive. We hauled up a few through the small hatchway but by this time all hope of saving life was gone.
I consider that the cause of this tragedy was that early in the action, an enemy shell, by a thousand chances to one, struck the armoured turret where the two guns protrude, exploding and so lifted one of the armoured plates clean off the turret. At the same time the force of explosion apparently killed of mortally wounded all those in the gun position and played havoc with the hydraulic machinery, thus putting the turret out of action. It was when this happened that Major Harvey gave the order to flood magazines. Sometime had therefore elapsed between the time the turret was placed out of action and the explosion. There are two theories as to the cause of this explosion. The first is that a second enemy shell entered and exploded in the turret, thus causing a fire. With part of the roof open, the draught caused be the speed of the ship would be forced down through the turret, resulting in the flame igniting the cordite which would be in the gun-loading cages. This is turn must have ignited the cordite in the supply trunk which contained two full charges, and being in a confined space, the gases concentrated there exploded. According to the second theory, a fire may have been caused by the first shell that put the turret out of action. If so, than the strong draught of air being forced down ignited the cordite in the gun-loading cages and supply trunk. It is this second theory that has always made me regret not going into the turret to see that no fire was about. It was by the providence of God that the hatchway leading from the flat to the magazine handing room was open. This opening formed a vent though which the gasses set up by the ignition of the cordite could escape. At it was, the bulkheads of the magazines were found to be saucer-shaped on examination from the force of explosion. It is difficult to say what might have happened had the hatchway been closed, or charges of cordite been left in the handing room at the time of flooding. As it was the grim fact remains that over sixty of my shipmates lost their lives in tragic circumstance without an opportunity of escape.
When I was satisfied there was no danger of fire in the vicinity of Q Magazine, I reported to the Bridge through the transmission station, for the information of the Captain. During the action the ship received several hits. Some of these passed through the ship in a most erratic way, others exploded causing casualties and fire which were promptly dealt with. One large shell landed on the upper deck, close to our foremost funnel, failed to explode, and was subsequently rolled overboard as it was considered dangerous should the ship again be engaged. As I performed this operation I thought wistfully, what a trophy it would have made for “EXCELLENT”.
I do consider that for men in big ships a sea engagement is a particularly trying experience. There they are cramped and confined down below in so many small compartments, with no certain knowledge of events. If they have work to occupy their minds they are fortunate, but in such a well organised community many have not much to do during the actual battle. They listen to the thud of any enemy shell and the explosion of another. This unavoidable lack of occupation, together with the rumours that get about, (and they certainly do get about) to effect that some ship has been blown to pieces, is more than enough to arouse uneasiness in their minds. It is the bounded duty of all those in authority to dispel these rumours, even if they know them to be true, and so keep up the men’s spirit to the job in hand, the annihilation of the enemy.
In due course, owing to the manoeuvring of the enemy, our Squadron’s firing ceased. It again opened up round about nine o’clock for a short period. Visibility then became very poor and firing ceased altogether. Orders were given that everyone had to remain at his station during the night, as it was expected that a night action might take place, and that at any rate we must be prepared to meet the enemy at dawn. Meals had to be taken in relays. During the night we pumped the water out of Q Magazine and attended to many things in readiness to meet the enemy again, and as I fervently hoped, add another glorious First of June to the annals of our Service. This action as everyone knows did not materialise. The enemy escaped to his Base, and we had no choice but to make reluctantly for the Forth. During the forenoon I had to supervise the removal of the dead from Q turret handing room and the flat above. They were all carried reverently to the Quarter Deck, and in the afternoon, our Admiral, officers and men assembled to pay homage to their shipmates who had made the supreme sacrifice. The Captain read the service, (our Chaplain being amongst the dead), after which their bodies were committed to the deep. On the following forenoon we anchored in the Forth. The wounded were landed. Colliers and ammunition lighters came alongside and in less than twenty-four hours the Squadron was ready to put to sea.
The foregoing is a personal account of what I saw and did at the Battle of Jutland. In making out my report at the Captain’s request, I wrote of what I had seen others doing, and left out myself and doings, as I considered I had only done my duty in the light of my twenty years experience as a Gunner. At the same time I had the feeling that, had the same method of ammunition supply in the turrets in operation at Jutland, as in the two previous actions in which the ship was engaged, then much more serious damage, if not complete destruction would have been sustained. I am still quite certain of that. My considered opinion is that the Magazine crew would have heard the shell exploding in the turret, immediately followed by the cessation of supply, and the order to flood the magazine. The suddenness of all this so early in the actions must have caused a certain amount of consternation with the men below. The hurry of closing and making watertight the four magazine doors, would in all probability, have caused the men to overlook the cartridges lying in the handing room, and if so these would also have exploded in the tremendous explosion that took place about twenty or thirty minutes later.
On the day following our return to Harbour, Admiral Beatty gave a most stirring address to all officers and men. He first told us that he had just returned from visiting the wounded and they were all very comfortable and cheerful. He then went on to say that despite our serious losses, the enemy had received far more at our hands than had been credited to us, a fact which was abundantly proved at a later date. His address was a wonderful tonic to us all. Not that anyone on board was down in the mouth. Not a bit of it. Everyone was ready and eager for the next encounter with the enemy.
It happened that everything was quiet in the North Sea, and the opportunity was taken to remove our damaged turret for repairs. This was done at Walker Yard on the Tyne. The entire turret was lifted out and the vacant place covered over with a steel plate, after which we returned to base. We had occasional sweeps on the enemy coast, and also visited Scapa Flow where we had a great reception from the Grand Fleet as we steamed between the lines of ships. Early in September we again proceeded to the Tyne to have our turret replaced and to have our magazine strengthened immediately overhead, as experience in action had proved this further protection necessary. This took some time and the opportunity was taken of giving much needed leave. This took some time and the opportunity was taken of giving much needed leave. On the fifteenth of September I went on leave to Portsmouth. On this day too the Despatches and Awards for the Jutland Action were published. I got a paper at the station and in the train learned to my surprise that I had been promoted to Lieutenant under a certain clause in the King’s Regulations. This meant that I was placed on the same list as lieutenants-ex-cadets, for pay, promotion, and retired pay. I had also been awarded the French Medaille Militaire. As a result of this honour I was recipient of a large number of telegrams and letters from many friends in and out of the Service. What pleased me most of all was that my gunnery Officer was promoted to commander which brought my words true of the 31st December when reading out the half-yearly promotion list.
I spent a quiet and restful four days leave at home and returned to proceed to our base where we re-embarked our ammunition which had been discharged before proceeding to the Tyne. After our return the Paymaster-commander sent for me and said, “Are you aware that under the clause of the regulations by which you have been promoted, you are financially at a loss?” I told him that I was. He then said that he was positive that the Captain was not aware of and that he would bring it to his notice. I replied that I wished it to remain as it was. To this he could altogether agree, and he informed the Captain accordingly, who sent for me and said that he had the list of Lieutenants-ex-Warrant Officers, a method of promotion which would benefit my pay considerably. My reply was that I honoured and prized my promotion too much to think of such a thing, and that there were other things in the world besides money. I went on to say that being no loner a Gunner I anticipated being relieved. “If so I should be grateful if you could get me Command of a Destroyer”. To this request he entirely agreed and in a few days I was appointed to the command of the Destroyer “GRIFFIN”, attached to the Orkney and Shetland Patrol.