At the end of May, not long after the adventure of the spies, I again woke in the night and crept to the window to see ships slipping silently down to the North Sea. I knew from the sheer number, that I must be watching the whole of the Battle-Cruiser Fleet and the fast super-dreadnoughts of the 5th Battle Squadron setting out together. It was both an exhilarating and a terrifying sight. I took pride in knowing that the spies who might once have communicated the sailing to the Germans were successfully thwarted.
I did not know that hundreds of miles to the north, the Grand Fleet was also leaving Scapa Flow at the same time, nor that the German High Seas Fleet was also at sea. Later the following day the indecisive action known to the British as the Battle of Jutland and to the Germans as the Battle of the Skagerrak took place. Neither side won or lost convincingly, but thereafter the German fleet never again threatened the North Sea.
My Father's ship, HMS Lion, suffered catastrophic damage at the battle and the ship was almost sunk. Father returned with smoke damage to his lungs and one leg missing and thereafter served his country as an intelligence officer rather than as a seaman.
One day in June, a telegram arrived at my Grandfather's house in North Berwick. Excitement followed and a few days later a gleaming black Rolls Royce arrived at the gate. Grandfather, Mother, Queenie and I were driven in the finest possible style the few miles to the country house of Whittingehame. We were ushered into an august and, to an eleven year old girl, somewhat intimidating circle of people. We were greeted by Lord Balfour, owner of Whittingehame and at that time Foreign Secretary. It seemed that he was hosting a meeting of the War Cabinet. He introduced us to Mr Asquith, the Prime Minister; Mr Lloyd-George, the Secretary for War; Mr Churchill, who became Minister of Munitions shortly afterwards and Admirals Jellicoe and Beatty. Last but not least, my father was also there, now promoted to Captain and convalescing in a wheelchair.
The event passed in something of a daze for me but I remember being congratulated as a fine example of the potential of British youth and presented with a beautiful jewelled White Ensign brooch. I was acutely embarrassed at all the attention but it made me proud to have served my country and perhaps gave me the first inkling that my career might be focussed on such service.
Copyright © 2000 Gillian B
Flora MacKenzie's Casebook
KP Presents Contents