My thanks go to Owen Thompson who very kindly sent me this postcard of HMS Royal Oak:
HMS Royal Oak was a Revenge class battleship launched in 1914 and commissioned in 1916 in time to see service at Jutland. The fact that this postcard warns that the image has not been passed by a censor suggests that the postcard dates from early in the warship’s career when she was still a classified system. HMS Royal Oak is of course most famous for being torpedoed in Scapa Flow in the early months of World War Two. Before that however she had served in the Atlantic, Home and Mediterranean fleets in the interwar years and she came to worldwide notice in 1928 when she was part of the Mediterranean Fleet.
What began as a simple dispute between Rear-Admiral Bernard Collard and Royal Oak’s two senior officers, Captain Kenneth Dewar and Commander Henry Daniel, over the band at the ship’s wardroom dance, descended into a bitter personal feud that spanned several months. Dewar and Daniel accused Collard of “vindictive fault-finding” and openly humiliating and insulting them before their crew; in return, Collard countercharged the two with failing to follow orders and treating him “worse than a midshipman”.
When Dewar and Daniel wrote letters of complaint to Collard’s superior, Vice-Admiral John Kelly, he immediately passed them on to the Commander-in-Chief Admiral Sir Roger Keyes. On realising that the relationship between the two and their flag admiral had irretrievably broken down, Keyes removed all three from their posts and sent them back to England. Since this was on the eve of a major naval exercise, he was obliged to postpone it, which allowed rumours to fly around the fleet that the Royal Oak had experienced a mutiny. The story was picked up by the press worldwide, which described the affair with some hyperbole. Public attention reached such proportions as to raise the concerns of the King, who summoned First Lord of the Admiralty William Bridgeman for an explanation.
For their letters of complaint, Dewar and Daniel were controversially charged with writing subversive documents. In a pair of highly publicised courts-martial, both were found guilty and severely reprimanded, leading Daniel to resign from the Navy. Collard himself was criticised for the excesses of his conduct by the press and in Parliament, and on being denounced by Bridgeman as “unfitted to hold further high command”, was forcibly retired from service. Of the three, only Dewar escaped with his career, albeit a damaged one: he remained in the Royal Navy, but in a series of more minor commands. His promotion to rear-admiral, which would normally have been a formality, was delayed until the following year, just one day before his retirement. Daniel attempted a career in journalism, but when this and other ventures were unsuccessful, he disappeared into obscurity amid poor health in South Africa. Collard retreated to private life and never spoke publicly of the incident again.
Someone who knew the admiral later in life gives a greater insight into his character, which perhaps explains how the incident arose in the first place:
When I was growing up (if I ever did) during the war the long-suffering (I should think) Mrs Collard used to come round collecting money for savings stamps. A pleasant woman, goodness knows how she put up with her husband. She and ‘Sammy’ Collard lived about a quarter of a mile up the A3 from my home and latched onto the idea that I was going into the RN. I remember at age about 24 and a Lt he still used to lean out of his car and roar at me ‘When are you going to Dartmouth m’boy?’ He never had the patience to wait for an answer which saved me having to think up a polite one! Like all good gunnery officers he was deaf as a post anyway.
When he left the sea he sent for an architect (Ernest Emerson, father of one of my godmothers). Emerson duly knocked on Collard’s door. ‘Want a house built, like a ship!’ Emerson asked if the admiral could explain that. ‘Want a house built, like a ship, with a forecastle and a quarterdeck of course!’ Emerson: ‘What you need, sir, is a jobbing builder’, turned on his heel and walked away.
At the R Oak Court Martial it was said that one of the lawyers asked ‘Is it true, sir, that you called the bandmaster a b@gger?’ ‘Yes it is, and what I want to know is, who called the b@gger a bandmaster?’
Collard had already had one mutiny under his belt – as a Lt he had the duty watch turned out in RNB in Portsmouth for whatever. In order to tell them what was wanted he gave the order (perfectly good drill book order) ‘Front rank, On the knee!’ thus ordering the front rank down so that the rear rank could better take in what was to be said. Unfortunately the watch included stokers who were not up with this and thought they were being treated less than courteously. Result a mutiny. Other result, corrugated iron sheets attached to the RNB railings on Queen St so that the general populace wouldn’t be treated to another circus like that. These plates only came down fairly recently. Bet most Pomponian passers-by didn’t know how they got there.