Category Archive 'Arthur Wilson'

29 Jul 2019

“Rich in Highly Individual Commanders”

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Admiral William Packenham

James Morris, in Pax Brittanica (1968), described some British Naval Officers of the late Victorian Era.

Nothing in Nelson’s life appealed more to the British than his loyal disregard of orders, and in the 1890s the Royal Navy was rich in highly individual commanders. Algernon Charles Fiesché Heneage, ‘Pombo’ to the Navy, habitually carried a stock of 20 dozen piqué shirts in his ship, was alleged to break two eggs every morning to dress his hair, and took off his uniform code when he said his prayers, because for a uniformed British officer to fall on his knees would be unthinkable. ‘Prothero the Bad’, Reginald Charles Prothero, was one of the most alarming persons ever to command to warship, with a black beard down to his waist, flaming eyes, huge shoulders, an enormous hook nose and a habit of addressing everyone as ‘boy’, even sometimes his eminent superiors. Arthur Wilson, ‘Old ‘Ard ‘Art’, when he commanded the Channel Squadron, used ride out of Portsmouth Dockyard on a ratty old bicycle, gravely saluted by the sentries, and on June 6, 1884, laconically entered in his diary: ‘Docked ship. Received the V.C.’ Gerard Noel, greeted with a cheery good morning on the bridge of his ship in the small hours, turned with a snarl and replied: ‘This is no time for frivolous complements.’ Robert Arbuthnot was so absolute a martinet not that when, soon after he handed over a ship to his successor, a seagull defecated with the plop upon the quarter-deck, the Chief Bosun’s ate remarked without a smile: ‘That could never ‘ave ‘appened in Sir Robert’s day.’ William Packenham instructed his Turkish interpreter, when sent ashore to quell a rising in Asia Minor, and surrounded on all sides by angry brigands, ‘tell these ugly bastards that I am not going to tolerate any more of their bestial habits’: when an elderly lady at a civic luncheon asked him if he was married, he replied courteously: ‘No, Madame, no. I keep a loose woman in Edinburgh.’

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