June 2, 1915 - Scapa Flow
Letterstime Stories - 7 Days in June - Scapa Flow
---- Late afternoon, Scapa Flow
The aides were grabbing a hasty meal, of sorts. There was tea, and there
were biscuits and a bit on the sideboard, but only nominally might their
present location be considered a dining room. It was a room with a table
and some chairs, and they were dining, but that was it. The room's chief
virtue lay in its line of sight to a window at which another of their
number sat, himself watching the door behind which was Admiral Fisher.
They also could see the Sea Lord's vehicle and such a fall-back had before
been valuable. That is, the car could not get away from them, nor could
Fisher mysteriously appear there and drive off without alerting them.
There were precedents for those and other even more bizarre eventualities,
and all of Fisher's aides had long ago learned to take such precautions.
Aides were supposed to be invisible, but to be there promptly when wanted
and to anticipate those wants.
"At least twenty, maybe a full two dozen," one of the ones
back from Cromarty was saying, between bites and glances out the window.
"Erin took almost that many," added another. "How
she got back, well, it's a flaming miracle, that's all. She had some two
thousand tons in 'er. The starboard engine was a bloody shambles. I saw
the hole in er side. No one left when it hit. It'll be months ..."
"The King's bulkheads are bowed, bent like boiled leather.
And they had em shored up like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I'd guess
three thousand tons, maybe more. Her bridge was ...."
" He' was on the Duke's bridge."
The others paused. The "he" was Fisher, when spoken that way.
Anything the Sea Lord had done or had said always stopped all conversation.
"It took us forever to catch up to him," began one aide.
"They'd gone to the bridge to talk cause the bleedin' Huns
had smashed up everywhere else," the other aide inserted, the first
one nodded in agreement.
"Burney got there ...."
The others listened carefully to the description and account.
"Right in the bloody wheel? Two o'em?!"
More than one of the young officers exhaled in awe. Images passed through
their minds of the flagship, dead man at the helm, suddenly steaming in
circles with those astern laboring to follow, right in the middle of the
"Did you hear about White? In a flaming funk, half the time, I hear."
"No, what's that all bout?"
"Lost Monarch, he did, right enough, but no mention of any
"I saw him today," objected still another. "George saw
him twice. D'you see anything?"
George shook his head. " Nary a word whilst I was near, though.
Not cheerful, though, I'll say that. Looked ready to bite me ead
off, e did. Did hear he'd been asking about word from the Germans
"Well, stands to reason. After all, e got away with a baker's
dozen, easy as pie, e did, but the rest got left in the water."
"Half under the waves, Monarch was, when Hawksley came upon er. He laid smoke twixt em and the Huns, and went back
to see em off. A couple damaged torpedo boats stopped for the crew,
and the Huns nearly bagged the lot of them. Suddenly, shells all over,
they started taking hits, and had to make a run for it."
"Hawksley," said one in a half sigh.
"Yeah, friggin' Huns." Murmured agreement from the others.
"One of my man's mates was on that boat. Figures they left 300 in
"But what's this funk' rot? I mean if I'd left 300 of my men
behind, I'd be ...." Words failed the young officer. What WOULD he
feel if he had to leave .... He realized he really had no idea. He gulped
silently to himself. Command. He wanted it. Still wanted it. Wanted it
with a white hot passion. But this was one of those sobering insights
that the braid, the deck, and the cabin could exact a very high price.
"T'other night. Took his sword to his furniture, 'e did. Broke it
on the posts. Used em like pels."
"Well," defended another, " e had cause, right enough.
No denying it. No more of that funk' dung. I'll hear no more of
it, I tell you!"
A quiet, intense man, thought the aide. He cleared his throat, drawing
some glances. He spoke up.
"If I'd been forced to leave my crew in the water for the Huns,
I rather think I'd go looking for some bloody pels myself."
They crowded at the windows for a brief moment, then went into action.
The Sea Lord was already out near the car by the time they got there.
He paused to exchange a few more words with Admiral J[ellic]oe.
"... can't last. None of them can. Labour ...."
A steam whistle cut across the conversation. The aides knew that Fisher
had demanded the launch be on time ("prompt") and the officer-in-charge
obviously wanted all to know they were there, as specified. If the Sea
Lord wanted to be late, sobeit, but he didn't want it on his head. The
aides sympathized with those sentiments.
"The sea is ours! It is we who rule it. This has changed nothing.
Nothing! But, Admiral," said Fisher after a moment, "there was
no keeping it secret. Never was. The Ministers saw to that. Observers!
Use your judgement, but it'd be no bad thing for them to see we're far
from beaten. Far!"
With a last, decisive parting gesture, the Sea Lord went to the car to
begin his return journey. Once the car was on the road to the pier, Fisher
closed his eyes briefly. He'd open them only when they neared the docks,
knew the young aide who had drawn the close duty. So he dared to give
the Sea Lord a quick survey, as the admiral's features lay in repose.
He looked away hurriedly, shocked by the gauntness of the countenance.
The flesh had virtually melted off the other's face these last few days,
but it was only revealed when the admiral's eyes were closed. The energy
of the indomitable warrior cloaked all signs of age or infirmity when
he was awake. Maybe he would sleep a bit at sea on the way back, hoped
the young officer.