Thursday, 17 September 2015

From the Private's diary

Dawn had not yet broken as HMS Inconstant arrived in Rosyth Harbour at 6 am, March 5th, 1918. It had been a night without event, which by then was not so unusual, especially for the light cruisers, although the cold March winds across the North Sea, and off the East coast of Scotland meant there was little joy on board.
     The day was grey and plain, without rain, but the fifteenth century ruins of Rosyth Castle, rising above the new walls of the dockyard in which the admiralty had trapped it, were damp and blurred by the sea spray from the Firth of Forth. At one time the Castle had been surrounded almost completely by the river and over the years had been passed through many hands, but by 1903, and having been partly dismantled, it became the property of the Admiralty and soon after lost its position on the waterfront due to land reclamation for the dockyard. The Castle that had withstood many battles had been replaced by a modern defence, but still men fought to defend it.
     Having docked, the crew of HMS Inconstant set about oiling and watering the ship down. This took time, but was a well practised routine and meant little to the men and it only gained brief mentions in the diaries and letters of those who liked to write. Private Ligertwood was one of those, jotting down short notes whenever he could find a spare moment. He also liked to draw and sketch and having some free time he learned how to draw a pig with his eyes shut, and proved his success by pencilling one into his pocket diary.
     By the following morning the weather was even more unsettled, and very cold. The wind was causing problems, and the sporadic showers left everyone irritable and short tempered. The lack of orders was not helping either and although the harbour was busy, crowded with vessels and shouting, their was a general feeling of boredom amongst the men. On deck some went through rigorous fitness exercises, while down below others played cards, chess, chequers, or wrote letters, poems, diaries, anything to keep their minds occupied.
     Fred Ligertwood liked his writing, and particularly liked words. He enjoyed spelling them out, and putting them together and it was always a disappointment he didn’t have time to write more; another curse of the war. He was a young man, typical of those in the forces. He’d joined up in 1914, illegally, as he’d only been 14 at the time (instead of the required 15). Like many others, he had lied his way into the Royal Marines. Four years on he was still there, and no less happy or thrilled by the boyish feeling of being part of the War.
     He’d played his part, quite literally, when he’d blown the Bugle to begin the first attack in the Battle of Jutland, possibly the biggest Naval battle of the war to date. It had lasted almost two days from May 31st to June 1st, 1916, off the coast of Denmark. The Germans intended to lure out a portion of the British navy and defeat it, but as per usual with all well made plans, particularly in war, things were never going to be that simple. By the end of the battle many ships and even more lives had been lost, on both sides, but the British remained in command of the sea and therefore saw it as a victory for them. HMS Inconstant had returned unscathed and for her crew the war had gone on.
     At the entrance to the harbour HMS Champion, who had also been at Jutland as the leader of the 13th Destroyer Flotilla, was on the lookout for submarines, while most other ships were under ‘short notice’. At 1pm they were put under 1 hour’s notice. The white ensign was flying at the masthead of Inconstant and they were secured for sea, but they didn’t get ‘under weigh’ until 5.30pm. HMS Courageous led the way out of the harbour, the other ships filing in behind, like people from a stadium after a match has finished. For these men, though, the nervous excitement was only just beginning. Most of them knew nothing of their mission, but Private Ligertwood noted in his diary – “Weather expected to be very rough – buzz about convoy being sunk in North Sea.”
     In the end he never discovered if this rumour was true because the weather was beyond rough. So much so that at 11.50pm all ships were ordered to return to base. This alone took over 5 hours and they eventually entered the harbour under the early morning light. Private Ligertwood felt a little the worse for wear and submitted himself to the sick list. A quick injection later and he returned to update his diary. “Blinking sore.”

1 comment:

  1. Grandad's diary lives on in your writing, Jonny, and you capture the atmosphere perfectly.