An Australian with Jellicoe (1919)
- June 1977
- Ricketts, D C
- Biographies and personal histories, History - general
- None noted.
- Originally published in the Naval Historical Review edition (all rights reserved)
In 1919, Admiral of the Fleet, Viscount, later Earl, John Jellicoe, visited Australia, travelling in the battle cruiser New Zealand, and toured the capital cities.
AT THAT TIME, CONSIDERATION was being given to the advisability of building a Naval Base in the Solomon Islands, and Jellicoe expressed the wish to visit the area.
The New Zealand being too big and expensive to send on such a mission, the Navy Board looked round for a smaller vessel to take the great man, and the decision was made to use a small trader, the Suva, which had been used as an Armed Merchant Cruiser during the First World War, mostly in the Persian Gulf, and had not been returned to her owners. She was given a coat of white paint, called a Yacht, and manned by a crew of Australians, under the command of Captain (Yank) Hyde.
I, then a young Leading Seaman, went as coxswain of the Staff Motor boat, and leading Seaman of the Watch while steaming.
When we got to the Solomons, the drill was to lower and provision the boat for the day and Jellicoe and his Staff, which included Admiral Grant, Commodore Dryer, (Chief of Staff) Commander Ramsay, and Military Captain Clifford, who, I understand was sent on the cruise for health reasons, would spend the day poking round the various islands and reefs, landing on a suitable beach for lunch.
We carried, as well as the normal boat’s crew, a signalman and a steward to look after the officers, and, as the Solomons were then considered to be inhabited by cannibals, we were all armed, the Officers with Webley-Scott Automatics, as I was, and the rest had rifles. On all these expeditions I was in charge of the boat, but Jellicoe had his own Coxswain, a Chief Petty Officer, who took the boat on ceremonial visits to various ports of call.
Jellicoe liked to go close into reefs and take soundings and my orders were, when the party landed on any island, to lay off the landing place about fifty yards off shore and, if I heard shooting, to land with my crew and rescue them.
On one occasion, when the Officers had returned to the boat, Jellicoe said ‘Where’s Dryer?’ and we heard several shots from the jungle, and all landed to assist Commodore Dryer, but he appeared carrying a small animal, into which he had put five bullets.
I must mention that Commodore Dryer had his own gun, in the shape of an ‘Automatic Revolver’, which had a recoil mechanism which turned the cylinder and which fired a huge bullet. I had never seen such a weapon before or since.
He threw the little animal into the boat and, in answer to Jellicoe’s question, ‘What have you there?’ said, ‘I have shot a Muskrat’, and I laughed and Jellicoe said, ‘There’s a joke, Coxswain, what is it?’ and I said, ‘That Muskrat is a possum Sir’, and there was a general laugh and poor Commodore Dryer was never allowed to forget it.
Join the Society today
If you enjoyed this article, then why not take out your own subscription. The Review is published quarterly to all members of the Society. By joining the Society you will always have the latest copy on hand and well before it comes onto the web site.