Remembering War During War: Recalling the Anglo-Dutch Wars During the First World War (Part 2)
In the last post, I noted how various events of the Second Anglo-Dutch war – notably the Dutch attack on the Medway in 1667 – were recalled during the First World War, exactly 250 years later. Of course, by far the most famous chronicle of the Dutch War is the diary of Samuel Pepys, so it’s hardly surprising that an author thought it would be a good idea to create a new version of Pepys to chronicle the events of the Great War. The writer in question was Robert Massie Freeman (1866-1949), a journalist living in Surrey. Freeman produced three books in his role as the latter-day ‘Samuel Pepys Junior’: A Diary of the Great Warr, a Second Diary, and a Last Diary. The style is a decent pastiche of the original, and does convey something of the sense of the times; but Freeman, of course, lacked the real Pepys’s direct contact with those in positions of power (and the real Pepys was not bound by constraints of censorship, either by the authorities or by himself!). To give a flavour, here are Freeman’s first entries about the Battle of Jutland:
June 3 – So home, and, dinner scarce dis- patched, when comes a news-sheet, and gives the most horrible tidings of the fleet being hotly engaged with the Germans westward of Jutland, and three of our greatest battle-frigates sunk, the Queen Mary one of them, with many others, to the number of a dozen or more ; of the enemy’s ships but one of any note foundered, and a few smaller craft. No word of any victory gained, so that none can doubt but Jellicoe is worsted. And a most dire misfortune it is for us. Yet what does, I believe, beyond everything trouble me is two of our lost frigates being the Warrior and Defense, they both laid down while I was of the Navy Office, and did myself see them on the stocks in Pembroke yard, having their plates put on. So to bed, mighty heavy of heart, and lay till past midnight, hearing the sea roar without the windows, and considering of all the poor sailors that be drowned. God have mercy on us all.
June 4 – Up betimes and to get news of the fleet, which is better than my expectatioun, the Navy Office giving particulars of many German ships believed to be sunk. Presently walking with Mr. Cripps by the sea, there we met Comr. Williams, with whom we talked and walked some time, and is, I find, a very brave experienced seaman, as good to hear speak as ever I met. He believes that Jellicoe and Beatty have for certain given the Germans their belly-fulls. He looks to hear in a few houres that the enemy, having been at last engaged with his whole fleet, hath been driven back to port with but a remnant of it. As for our losses, they are no more, says he, than the breaking of eggs, without which we may have no omeletts. Hearing which, and seeing his trust in our men and ships, did put me in pretty good heart. So home, and to eat lunch with some gust, having to it a very choice hen-lobster, among other things. This dispatcht, to Bexhill and Pevensey, and, Mistress Cripps coming in the coach, we had a pretty merrie ride.
June 5 – Home this day by the rail road, being sorely troubled with twekes of the lumbago by my being catcht abroad yesterday in Cripps ‘s coach, when comes towards evening a most fierce gale of wind and rain, and did soke me to the skin. The news in towne this day is all of the late battle ; and now ’tis made clear enough that Jellicoe did indeed belabour the Germans most soundly, and they only saved from losing their whole fleet by taking to flight and the night ling. But, Lord ! to read of the Germans, how- they do boast of their having got a great victory over us, all mad for joy, and singing hymns of praise in publick; most ridiculous beyond anything.
The First World War also saw the publication of one of the first properly analytical histories of the Restoration navy to be written by a trained historian. A W Tedder’s The Navy of the Restoration was published in 1916, and remains a reasonable introduction to the events of the period 1660-67; in particular, Tedder’s use of a wide range of often very obscure contemporary sources, written in several different languages, is exemplary, and an object lesson to students of naval history to this day. Tedder was actually quite an important influence on my own work. His was one of the first books I perused in the naval library at Plymouth, where I’d sometimes spend dreary Saturdays in 1980-81 reading about the Restoration navy, and where the idea of studying for a doctorate on the subject first came to mind. But by the time the book was published, Arthur Tedder had rather more pressing matters on his mind than the state of victualling during the second Dutch war: newly commissioned a captain in the Royal Flying Corps, he was fighting in dogfights over the Western Front. He never returned to naval history, but went on to rather greater things. By 1944, he was an Air Chief Marshal and the Deputy Supreme Commander of allied forces under Dwight D Eisenhower; he died in 1967, the first Baron Tedder.
Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, the Dutch viewpoint on the connections between the history of the Anglo-Dutch wars and the First World War sometimes appeared in print in Britain during the latter conflict. On 14 October 1914, for instance, The Times published the poem The Dutchman’s Greeting by one A J Barnouw of The Hague, which played to a highly sentimentalised notion of shared seafaring heritage and mutual respect:
England, there was a time when the Mijnheers
Did rule the waves, and Holland sent her fleet
In honourable war the foe to meet
Whose growing sea-power was a threat to theirs.
Then were the might days of those great heirs
Of glory, great in victory and defeat:
De Ruyter, Tromp, Blake, Deane, the sea’s elite,
To whose high deeds each country record bears.
The war is now with mightier foes than we,
But not with them shall thine old rival side
In feelings nor in deeds, whate’er betide,
For we in Holland recognise in thee
The champion of our nation’s dearest pride,
Dearer than wealth and power, sweet Liberty.
In November 1915, J C Van der Veer, the London correspondent of the Amsterdam Telegraaf, filed a story about a visit to the Grand Fleet, which was circulated by the Press Association and printed in many British papers. Memories of shared heritage came to the fore once again, even in his conversations with the commander-in-chief:
Sir John Jellicoe can…cruise around the North Sea with a broom at the mast of his flagship, as did our Tromp, of whose heroic deeds the above-mentioned admiral reminded me good-humouredly. It seems to me that the British naval officers still today respect our naval heroes Tromp and De Ruyter.
Is that strange? The famous traditions of the former British fleet have gone over to the British. The latter rules the sea today… And when the British destroyer conducted me through long lines of warships, passing out of sight on either hand, I thought involuntarily how proud our great sea-hero would have been of the command of such a mighty fleet.
There’ll be no post next week due to various commitments during the preceding weekend and early part of the week. Back in a couple of weeks!