Churchill Remembered on the Hillsdale College Cruise (3): Portland, 1914

Churchill Remembered on the Hillsdale College Cruise (3): Portland, 1914


The King’s Ships: “We may now pic­ture this great Fleet, with its flotil­las and cruis­ers, steam­ing slow­ly out of Port­land Har­bour, squadron by squadron, scores of gigan­tic cas­tles of steel wend­ing their way across the misty, shin­ing sea, like giants bowed in anx­ious thought. We may pic­ture them again as dark­ness fell, eigh­teen miles of war­ships run­ning at high speed and in absolute black­ness through the nar­row Straits, bear­ing with them into the broad waters of the North the safe­guard of con­sid­er­able affairs.”

 

Irish Sea to Portland: Churchill Connections, June 8th to 12th

Yorkshire ScotlandThe 2019 Hills­dale Col­lege Cruise around Britain offers a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to recall the Churchill saga by pass­ing or vis­it­ing key places. These shaped and affect­ed Churchill’s thought and engaged his pen. Con­clud­ed from part 2….

Here­in we high­light Port­land, from which Churchill, First Lord of the Admi­ral­ty, sent the Grand Fleet to its war sta­tion in July 1914.

Douglas, Isle of Man (June 7th)

Ene­my aliens interred on the Isle of Man in 1940-45. Churchill rec­og­nized del­i­cate ques­tions of civ­il lib­er­ties. He had mixed feel­ings on the ques­tion, and tend­ed to advo­cate lenien­cy and ear­ly release. After the war, Win­ston Churchill was named a Free­man of Dou­glas.

Liverpool (June 8th) – Holyhead (June 9th) – Dublin (June 10th)

Ban­ished from Lon­don soci­ety, after a dis­pute with “a great per­son­age,” Lord and Lady Ran­dolph Churchill moved to Dublin in 1876. There they remained until 1880. Ran­dolph served as sec­re­tary to his father, the 7th Duke of Marl­bor­ough, con­ve­nient­ly made Viceroy.  Young Winston’s first mem­o­ries were of Ire­land, and Irish affairs were to occu­py his time for decades dur­ing his polit­i­cal career.

Waterford (June 11th) – Portland (June 12th)

Many cruis­ers will vis­it Water­ford for its famous crys­tal, but I hoped to see where John Red­mond was sworn in. Red­mond rep­re­sent­ed Water­ford for the Irish Par­lia­men­tary Par­ty for near­ly thir­ty years, and his son after him.

In the debate over Irish Home Rule, Red­mond, like Churchill, favored mod­er­a­tion, con­cil­i­a­tion and Irish auton­o­my. Many years lat­er in the Com­mons, Churchill said: “I always bear in my mem­o­ry with regard, John Redmond…of the old Irish Par­lia­men­tary Par­ty, which fought us for so many years in this House, plead­ing the cause of Ire­land, with great elo­quence and Par­lia­men­tary renown… [He expressed] absolute sup­port and uni­ty with this coun­try until every­body said every­where, ‘The bright­est spot in the world is Ire­land.’”

Off to the south­west of Ire­land is the Old Head of Kin­sale, where RMS Lusi­ta­nia was tor­pe­doed and sunk in 1915. Again, Churchill was among the scape­goats, and my onboard lec­ture addressed the myth. Fur­ther on is Ply­mouth, scene of some of Churchill’s great­est speech­es in peace and war. Final­ly we stopped at Port­land, where dra­mat­ic events occurred as World War I broke out. Churchill vivid­ly recalled the scene in The World Cri­sis (1923)….

Remembering Portland, 1914: “The King’s ships were at sea”

Portland
The Naval Review, July1914.

On the 17th and 18th of July was held the grand review of the Navy. It con­sti­tut­ed incom­pa­ra­bly the great­est assem­blage of naval pow­er ever wit­nessed in the his­to­ry of the world…. The whole Fleet put to sea for exer­cis­es of var­i­ous kinds. It took more than six hours for this arma­da, every ship decked with flags and crowd­ed with blue­jack­ets and marines, to pass…

As ear­ly as Tues­day July 28, I felt that the Fleet [at Port­land] should go to its War Sta­tion. It must go there at once, and secret­ly; it must be steam­ing to the north while every Ger­man author­i­ty, naval or mil­i­tary, had the great­est pos­si­ble inter­est in avoid­ing a col­li­sion with us. If it went thus ear­ly it need not go by the Irish Chan­nel and northabout. It could go through the Straits of Dover and through the North Sea, and there­fore the island would not be uncov­ered even for a sin­gle day. More­over, it would arrive soon­er and with less expen­di­ture of fuel….

We decid­ed that the Fleet should leave Port­land at such an hour on the morn­ing of the 29th as to pass the Straits of Dover dur­ing the hours of dark­ness, that it should tra­verse these waters at high speed and with­out lights, and with the utmost pre­cau­tion pro­ceed to Scapa Flow. I feared to bring this mat­ter before the Cab­i­net, the Fleet, lest it should mis­tak­en­ly be con­sid­ered a provoca­tive action like­ly to dam­age the chances of peace. It would be unusu­al to bring move­ments of the British Fleet in Home Waters from one British port to anoth­er before the Cab­i­net. I only there­fore informed the Prime Min­is­ter, who at once gave his approval….

The Ships to their War Station

We may now pic­ture this great Fleet, with its flotil­las and cruis­ers, steam­ing slow­ly out of Port­land Har­bour, squadron by squadron, scores of gigan­tic cas­tles of steel wend­ing their way across the misty, shin­ing sea, like giants bowed in anx­ious thought. -We may pic­ture them again as dark­ness fell, eigh­teen miles of war­ships run­ning at high speed and in absolute black­ness through the nar­row Straits, bear­ing with them into the broad waters of the North the safe­guard of con­sid­er­able affairs.

We were now in a posi­tion, what­ev­er hap­pened, to con­trol events, and it was not easy to see how this advan­tage could be tak­en from us…. If war should come no one would know where to look for the British Fleet. Some­where in that enor­mous waste of waters to the north of our islands, cruis­ing now this way, now that, shroud­ed in storms and mists, dwelt this mighty orga­ni­za­tion. Yet from the Admi­ral­ty build­ing we could speak to them at any moment if need arose. The king’s ships were at sea.” —WSC, The World Cri­sis, vol. I, 1923

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