Posted by Admin on 25 July 2011, 12:40 pm

The last time I saw HMS Iron Duke was in September 1929 on the day when Great Britain and Italy competed for the Schneider Trophy, and the Jutland veteran was stationed beyond Old Castle Point. From my boyhood during the First World War I had known she was Admiral Jellicoe’s flagship; what I did not know until I read of it in Richard J. Hutching’s Isle of Wight Literary Haunts was the admiral’s connection with the Isle of Wight. Since obtaining that information a friend and fellow writer has told me that in the ‘Thirties she often at Osborne played tennis with the family, and that although Lady Jellicoe served underhand she was a formidable opponent. Another thing of which I was unaware was the controversy concerning Admiral John Jellicoe’s tactics at the Battle of Jutland, a dispute which continued long after the war ended – an argument of which, no doubt, my parents knew, for my father took the Daily Mail and Lord Northcliffe, its proprietor, was one of the admiral’s chief detractors.

A number of books have been written to tell of what happened during that momentous engagement in May 1916, ranging from Admiral Sir R. H. Bacon’s partisan biography, John Rushworth Jellicoe, to the clear-sighted and unbiased account in The Sword Bearers by Correlli Barnett. All I have read show the Commander of the Grand Fleet to have been on that occasion a man worthy of the hero-worship we, as schoolboys, accorded him.

Born in Southampton on December 5th, 1859, John Rushworth Jellicoe was the second son of a captain in the Royal Mail Line, John Henry Jellicoe and Lucy Henrietta (née Keele) whose ancestry included many notable sailors. His great-great grandfather, Philip Patton, had taken part in the Battle of La Hogue, and his great grandfather (also named Philip Patton) had fought under Hawke, Hyde-Parker, and Rodney, and had been the Second Sea Lord at the time of Trafalgar. From Admiral Bacon’s excellent biography we learn that the spear-side of the family can be traced to the early 14th century and to a Gascon family named De Brocas, a family favoured by King Edward the Second. Arnold De Brocas, a warrior slain at Bannockburn, was the grandfather of Sir Bernard De Brocas, Hereditary Master of the Royal Buckhounds, and a supporter of the Black Prince at Crecy and Poitiers. A blot on the family escutcheon was made by Sir Bernard’s son (also Sir Bernard) who was involved in an unsuccessful plot to restore the Throne to Richard the Second. Act Five, Scene Six of Shakespeare’s play mentions him. He was executed at Tyburn. The Jellicoes first appeared in the late 17th century. Also born to John Henry and Lucy Henrietta were Frederick Gilbert Gardiner (1858-1927), Herbert Whalley (1861-1885), Edmund Henry (1875-1904, Emily Grace Lizon (1864), and Edith Lucy (1866).

Always short (about 66½ inches when fully grown) John Jellicoe must have been a diminutive figure when, at the age of six-and-a-half, he entered a Southampton dame school run by the Misses Shapecott. At ten he was transferred to a larger establishment, and then to Field House in Rottingdean. At the last, under the aegis of two brothers, Billy and Jimmy Hewitt, classics, mathematics, and biblical subjects were taught thoroughly; personal hygiene was supervised, and the good quality food had to be eaten leaving an empty plate. The boy was a conscientious scholar.

In 1872, sponsored by Captain Robert Hall, John was nominated for the Navy, and although Mrs Jellicoe would have preferred him to adopt some other profession she did  not strongly oppose her son’s wishes to follow in the distinguished footsteps of his ancestors.

According to Correlli Barnett, Jellicoe when twelve years old entered a service in which the officers were an élite comprising men born to wealth and privilege, many of them arrogant from the inbred idea that they were superior people, but although brave and quite prepared to die for their country, not a few of them lacked imagination and any great degree of intelligence.

As a Naval Cadet, Jellicoe was sent to HMS Britannia, a veteran three-decker from which the guns and two masts had been removed, aboard which he was taught mathematics, sailing, drawing, and French. Engineering, which one would have thought an essential, was not included. During the course that lasted for two years he was punished for apple stealing. This, apparently, was an isolated misdemeanour, and his captain reported to his mother that her son was among the cleverest cadets ever to come under his command. In the summer of 1874 his parents had the pleasure of learning he had passed out ahead of all his contemporaries, and gained first class certificates in all subjects, in addition to which he took first prizes for theoretical studies and seamanship.

Promoted to midshipman, he was appointed to HMS Duke of Wellington, the Port Admiral of Portsmouth’s flagship, and then transferred to HMS Newcastle in which he did a long voyage to Gibraltar, the Cape of Good Hope, Hong Kong, Singapore, Montevideo, and the Falkland Islands. On returning to Gibraltar the squadron received orders to sail to Bombay to act as an escort for the Prince of Wales who was touring India. At Nagasaki his career might have come to an end for, when suffering from sunstroke, he was restrained from jumping overboard. Other recorded accidents were a blow on the head when the anchor cable of HMS Monarch broke, and a narrow escape from drowning when a boat in which he was conducting a rescue operation capsized in the Mediterranean.

Regarding Jellicoe’s character, all the sources I have consulted agree that he was a kind, patient, cool-headed man who, unlike many of his fellow officers, was courteous to all. After the Battle of Jutland, although adversely criticised for allegedly being too cautious, no one doubted his courage. A God-fearing man, he liked to sing hymns, and even as a young man abhorred drunkenness and unseemly behaviour. Two incidents in his life made him superstitious concerning June the 21st and 22nd, one being the sinking of HMS Victoria which occurred on the latter date – a tragedy in which he might easily have lost his life.

To be continued.

T. C. Hudson

© T. C. Hudson.
This article may not be reproduced without prior permission of the author.

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