First War Sailor. [Two episodes].
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Two talks by New Zealander Captain William Richmond Fell, about his involvement in World War I with the Royal Navy.
1. The Battle of Jutland. In this recording Fell recounts the Battle of Jutland in 1916. He gives a detailed account of the battle, a vivid description of his ship being shelled and the reaction of crew members under pressure. He was a nineteen year old junior midshipman on the HMS Warspite, which at the time was the newest and fastest battle ship in the world.
He first recalls waiting in Scapa Flow with the rest of the fleet and then heading to the Firth of Forth where they joined a battle-cruiser squadron. They were commanded by Admiral Beatty and the midshipmen were kept busy ferrying officers to shore for leave in Edinburgh, on their picket boats.
He describes the fleet leaving the Firth, led by the submarines. He was on first watch in the transmitting station in the bowels of the ship. He remembers he spilt cocoa all over the navigator's charts, for which he was awarded 'six-of-the-best', to be administered when they returned to harbour. The sentence was never carried out. Action stations were sounded at lunchtime the next day
Captain Fell explains the roles of the different crew members. A seaplane from the first aircraft carrier ever used in battle, HMS Engadine, reported sighting enemy ships. Guns were loaded and ranges were plotted and the first salvoes of 15-inch shells was fired. He says each salvo sounded like 100 claps of thunder, with paint and dust showering down on top of them. Then the Warspite was hit and he says he began to feel scared, knowing there were five immovable armoured hatches between him and the sky, and also with the news that the Queen Mary, the biggest battle-cruiser in the British fleet, had been blown up just ahead of them.
He says the noise and hits on them got worse and worse and he lost track of time. A huge hit plunged them into pitch darkness and he realised he was now sitting in water, with a deathly silence around him except the sound of water.
All instruments had stopped working. Two boy ratings were whimpering in a corner and had their heads cracked together by the senior midshipman. Morale was boosted when one of their guns began firing again. Hours later he was able to survey the rest of the ship and describes the huge holes in various parts of the vessel where it had been hit by shells, and the gruesome smell of burnt flesh.
On the bridge Captain E.M. Philpotts greeted him and asked for another pair of trousers, as he was cold. At dawn a submarine broke surface right in front of them and several torpedoes chased them, but missed. They arrived back at the Forth Bridge on June 1st to be greeted by men spitting and throwing coal at the ship from the bridge, as they thought the Warspite had run away from a defeat.
2. Dover Patrol. In October 1917, Fell was promoted to Sub-Lieutenant and decided he wanted to serve on a smaller vessel. He was appointed to P11 in the Dover Patrol which guarded the English fleet and merchant men against attacks by U-Boats. He describes the roles of the crew on the small ship and a typical day guarding a troop convoy, which formed a long line of ships snaking across the Channel from Dover to France.
They also worked sinking mines which had broken adrift and he describes an incident in which they accidentally picked up a mine and towed it by its mooring line.
Towards the end of the war they were armed and given secret instructions by Rear Admiral Roger Keyes to escort ships taking part in the attack on Zeebrugge. They could hear the boom of gunfire from the trenches.
Then, out of the blue he was appointed to join submarines.
[Recording ends abruptly. Continues on ID24062]
Reference number 27589
Media type AUDIO
Collection Sound Collection
Documentary radio programs
Nonfiction radio programs
Fell, W. R. (William Richmond) 1897-1981, Speaker/Kaikōrero, Great Britain. Royal Navy
Radio New Zealand. National Programme (estab. 1964, closed 1986), Broadcaster