Churchill Remembered on the Hillsdale College Cruise (1): Yorkshire, 1914

Churchill Remembered on the Hillsdale College Cruise (1): Yorkshire, 1914

Shelling York­shire, 1914: “Nat­u­ral­ly there was much indig­na­tion at the fail­ure of the Navy to pre­vent, or at least to avenge, such an attack upon our shores. What was the Admi­ral­ty doing? Were they all asleep?… We had to bear in silence the cen­sures of our countrymen.”

Britain’s East Coast: Churchill Connections, June 1st to 3rd

The 2019 Hills­dale Col­lege Cruise around Britain offered a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty to recall the Churchill saga by pass­ing or vis­it­ing key places, start­ing with Eng­lish Chan­nel and North Sea venues from Southamp­ton to York­shire to Edin­burgh. These venues shaped and affect­ed Churchill’s thought and engaged his pen.

YorkshireFrom the Isle of Wight, where Churchill’s par­ents met in 1874, we are remind­ed of his adven­tures dur­ing the two great­est wars in his­to­ry. Many places asso­ciate with his com­mand of the Roy­al Navy, twen­ty-five-years apart, in both World Wars.

In this series of posts we high­light the York­shire coast, shelled by Ger­many in Decem­ber 1914. Then Scapa Flow and Loch Ewe, where Churchill—First Lord again, twen­ty-five years later—visited the Grand Fleet in 1939. Final­ly Port­land, from which Churchill, First Lord of the Admi­ral­ty, sent the entire British fleet to its war sta­tion in July 1914. The three loca­tions illus­trate and inform on Churchill’s words and actions in defense of liberty.

Southampton (June 1st)

Win­ston Churchill’s par­ents met at the Cowes Regat­ta, Isle of Wight, in  1873. Island venues grand and small include Queen Victoria’s beloved Osborne House; and the Ever­est house in Vent­nor, where young Win­ston wit­nessed the sink­ing of the Eury­dice in 1880. Vis­i­tors to the south of Eng­land will find sev­er­al days worth of Churchill explo­ration on the Isle, and may recall a notable event off Port­land in July 1914 (see part 3 in this series).

English Channel and North Sea (June 2nd)

This year marks, with suit­able cer­e­mo­ny, the 75th Anniver­sary of Oper­a­tion Over­lord, the inva­sion of France, on D-Day, 6 June 1944. On the Hills­dale cruise, one of my lec­ture top­ics is the myth that Churchill opposed D-Day. Accord­ing to one film, his resis­tance last­ed vir­tu­al­ly until the ships sailed. This is the sort of non­sense up with which we shall not put.

Far­ther along we pass the Cinque Ports, Hast­ings, Rye (New Rom­ney), Hythe, Dover and Sand­wich. Churchill held the ancient and hon­orary title Lord War­den of the Cinque Ports, from 1941 to his death. (His suc­ces­sor was Queen Eliz­a­beth the Queen Moth­er.) Among oth­er things, the Lord War­den was enti­tled to and respon­si­ble for all whales washed up along this sec­tion of coast. The prospect quite alarmed Churchill, who thought he might be required to remove the carcasses!

Kent and Norfolk

Folke­stone, Kent marked the far­thest extent of World War II cross-chan­nel shelling (1943). At near­by Dover Cas­tle Admi­ral Bertram Ram­say fixed his head­quar­ters for Oper­a­tion Dynamo, the Dunkirk Evac­u­a­tion (1940). Broad­stairs, Kent, was for a time Field Mar­shal Montgomery’s head­quar­ters. It was also where lit­tle Marigold, the Churchills’ fourth child, died of sep­ticemia at the age of 2 1/2 in 1921.

The Churchills hol­i­dayed at Pear Tree Cot­tage, Over­strand, Nor­folk as war clouds gath­ered in July 1914. Win­ston was hasti­ly recalled to Lon­don, and soon after sent for his fam­i­ly. Fears rose of a Ger­man attack on the Nor­folk or York­shire coasts. Sure enough, Ger­man cruis­ers shelled Scar­bor­ough, Whit­by and Hartle­pool, spurring Churchill to action (Decem­ber 1914). To  his dis­ap­point­ment, a deci­sive encounter did not mate­ri­al­ize (see below). In Jan­u­ary 1915 came anoth­er incon­clu­sive naval con­fronta­tion, the Bat­tle of the Dog­ger Bank.

Edinburgh (June 3rd)

Approach­ing Edin­burgh along the coast of East Loth­i­an, we pass Dirleton. Here was the Scot­tish home of Prime Min­is­ter H.H. Asquith, who offered young Win­ston the Admi­ral­ty in 1911. Edin­burgh is home to the retired Roy­al Yacht HMY Bri­tan­nia, the Scot­tish Nation­al War Muse­um, and numer­ous oth­er Churchillian venues.

Leav­ing Edin­burgh is the Firth of Forth fleet anchor­age. Here Admi­ral David Beat­ty on his flag­ship watched the proud Ger­man High Seas Fleet sail in to anchor and sur­ren­der at the end of World War I. Here too, in 1919, the Ger­man crews opened their ships’ sea­cocks and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly scut­tled their fleet in a brave act of defiance.

Remembering Yorkshire, December 1914: The Perils of Silence

YorkshireOn 16 Decem­ber 1914, ele­ments of the Ger­man High Seas Fleet bom­bard­ed three York­shire coastal towns. The result was 592 casu­al­ties, most­ly civil­ians, of whom 137 died.

British Intel­li­gence had known that Ger­man ships had sailed from their home ports two days ear­li­er. But the Roy­al Navy had to patrol 500 miles of coast­line, where­as the ene­my could strike where it wished. The Ger­mans opt­ed for York­shire. Upon hear­ing of the Ger­man action, Churchill despatched a British squadron, led by Admi­ral Beat­ty in HMS Lion. As the British arrived, the Ger­man ships retired at flank speed for home, avoid­ing a deci­sive engage­ment. In The World Cri­sis, Churchill regret­ted how lit­tle the pub­lic knew. The Admi­ral­ty could only issue a vague communiqué….

This morn­ing a Ger­man cruis­er force made a demon­stra­tion upon the York­shire coast, in the course of which they shelled Hartle­pool, Whit­by, and Scar­bor­ough. A num­ber of their fastest ships were employed for this pur­pose, and they remained about an hour on the coast. They were engaged by the patrol ves­sels on the spot…. Sight­ed by British ves­sels, the Ger­mans retired at full speed, and, favoured by the mist, suc­ceed­ed in mak­ing good their escape. The loss­es on both sides are small, but full reports have not yet been received….

Public Opprobrium

Out­rage in York­shire fell hard against Churchill, who vowed to force the Ger­mans back out if he had to dig them out “like rats in a hole.” This proved an ill-judged remark. For the entire course of the war, the High Seas Fleet nev­er massed for a cli­mac­tic bat­tle, near York­shire or any­where else. His ene­mies often flung Churchill’s words back at him in deri­sion. Lat­er, Churchill expressed his frus­tra­tion in The World Crisis:

Nat­u­ral­ly there was much indig­na­tion at the fail­ure of the Navy to pre­vent, or at least to avenge, such an attack upon our shores. What was the Admi­ral­ty doing? Were they all asleep?… We had to bear in silence the cen­sures of our countrymen….

One com­fort we had…. The sources of infor­ma­tion upon which we relied were trust­wor­thy. Next time we might at least have aver­age vis­i­bil­i­ty. But would there be a next time? … On the oth­er hand, the exul­ta­tion of Ger­many at the hat­ed Eng­lish towns being actu­al­ly made to feel for the first time the real lash of war might encour­age a sec­ond attempt. Even the indig­na­tion of our own news­pa­pers had a val­ue for this pur­pose. One could only hope for the best. Mean­while British naval plans and secrets remained wrapped in impen­e­tra­ble silence.

Con­tin­ued in part 2…

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