note: Cadet Williams and the entire class of his year at Dartmouth
Naval College was mobilized for war on 1 August 1914. He was
fifteen years of age, one of one third of the population of
the College. Posted to Devenport, Williams was given the rank
of acting midshipman' and was to be assigned to various
ships of the Royal Navy. His letters are addressed to his mother
who was then living in Bolvinstone, Glamorganshire, and have
a schoolboyish flavour of the artlessness and simplicity that
characterized his generation.
leave has vanished into thin air, for the present at all events.
I am now on my way to Devonport to join the Exmouth; but I had
better start at the beginning.
all through this beastly war affair, the Skipper got orders to
stand by to mobilize, and in the evening he gave us a jaw and
told us that we might have to join our ships at any moment etc.
We have all got billets but theyre never made known except
in a show like this. Wednesday [29 July], we got a wire War
imminent, stand by to mobilize. There was tremendous excitement
of course. I was playing cricket in the afternoon, and we were
expecting to go at any moment. Sir Francis Drake playing bowls
before the Armada wasnt in it. I made 19 and 22 not out;
jolly good, and hit three balls running on to the roof of the
evening there was another wire, and we had to pack our chests
and get our sports gear together etc. It was though we would
have to go in the night, and messengers and people were stationed
round the place all night to call us. However, nothing more happened
and it was the same for the next two days and nights, but everyone
had calmed down a bit. Tremendous excitement every night at eight,
getting in the news from the Eiffel Tower by wireless. This morning
the papers said it was very bad, but no one thought any more
about it and train lists etc. were stuck up as usual for breaking
was cricketing again this afternoon in a dense fog, one could
hardly see the opposite wicket. We had been playing for two hours,
where at 4 oclock we were startled by people charging through
the fog and shouting orders to mobilize, whereupon everyone dropped
their cricket gear and fled for the College, cheering like hell.
I dont quite know what there was to cheer about, but anyhow
we all did. The 1st XI were playing Roehampton and they complained
that for the first two hours they could not see the ball, and
for the rest of the time they could not find the players. The
Skipper had promised to have all the cadets and seamen away from
the College in eight hours at the outside in the event of mobilization,
so we had to bustle some. Eight hours sounds and
awful lot, but the chests take such a time as they take three
men to lift them. Most of the officers had already left the College
during the week. We packed our chests and were then formed into
working parties to get them all out. We greased the stairs and
just let them rip down them, and then lugged them outside and
loaded them into carts. All the carts from Dartmouth and the
neighbouring farms had been commandeered, as each could only
take about four chests. One third of the College went to Chatham
and one third to Portsmouth and one third to Devonport, in that
order. Thank goodness I was the last lot, so we had plenty of
time, as it took getting the chests across the river. The passenger
boat between Dartmouth and Kingswear was commandeered. The first
contingent left after two hours; jolly smart work if you think
it over. By George! You should have seen those cadets coming
out; all the masters and everyone helped. We cheered the various
parties off, and then the sixth team had a select sing song,
at which we had cheerful songs to pass the time. We left the
College at nine oclock, and marched down the town, which
had turned out en masse, and cheered us in a very inebriated
fashion, and I felt quite a hero. We took hours to get over the
river and into the train, as each luggage van only took about
eight chests. I saw Mr. Reid and had a talk with him for some
time. He is going to write to you. All the masters are volunteering
their services to the Admiralty. It is much nicer to be doing
something during a war; you dont feel so useless.
is now midnight and we ought to be arriving soon. I am very sleepy
and dont relish the idea of getting into a ship at all.
Well be useless for the first week, but they wont
expect anything of us just at first. We draw way pay, 2/6 a day,
and, I believe, are promoted to acting midshipmen, so we get
a good bit of seniority out of it with luck. I dont know
if we join our ships tonight, but I hope not. I shall be tired
by tomorrow evening. I dont know where were going
at all, Mediterranean most likely, or perhaps guarding places
like Hull. The Exmouth is quite a decent ship, Second Fleet,
but there is some rumour that she has gone.
is rather a curse having to go now, and Im afraid the sports
committee at your party will be reduced to one, and Tip will
have to carry on the captaincy of the Bonvilston c.c. (Cricket
be put of by the mourning, Im still intact, but it is the
only breed of paper I can lay my hands on in the abode of love.
I dont suppose you know where I am, or what ship. There
was some talk of the Admiralty letting our various people know
where we had fetched up, but I dont expect you have heard
from them yet.
is the first decent chance of sending a letter I have had. It
is perfectly absurd not being allowed to say what ship one is
in; however, I dont think it will hurt if I tell you I
am the Fighting Agamemnon, if you have not already gathered
that from the high class picture of the old josser on the first
page. I dont think this information is in any way likely
to defer a German attack, even though they know that Mr. H. W.
Williams is ready to receive them. If they do come, they havent
got much chance now, as I have been promoted to a midshipman
in His Majestys Service; you may have seen it somewhere
or other, together with the result of passing out, which you
might let me know, as I have not seen a paper for some time.
Im low I have a good excuse, as one could not be expected
to be up to ones usual standard with the possibility of
mobilizing at any second hovering over, if Im high, it
must be a mistake and I ought to have been higher.
sorry I cant let you know where we are, and where we have
been, as I expect it would interest you, but dooty is dooty.
All post cards or urgent letters have to be read by the Chaplain,
and cannot be [sent] if they contain any naval information. He
also informed me that he censors letters from officers to actresses,
and from the lower deck to barmaids. Ordinary letters have to
go up to the Admiralty and wait their lordships pleasure,
which, I am told, is long in coming. However, I am going to try
and send this one ashore with the messman when we get in. We
are going in to coal sometime soon. I suppose well get
an unenthusiastic reception; when we first put out to sea we
were cheered by everyone. All the tommies guarding
the breakwater holloaed out together as we passed ARE WE
DOWNHEARTED? Screams of NO from the whole fleet.
shall be glad enough to have a look at a paper, but as a matter
of fact, I expect we get more actual facts than you do, as we
are continually getting wireless messages.
like it here very much; of course it is pretty strenuous now,
and I shall get beastly bored at having no leave ashore for months;
and I cannot say that I would rather be here than at home. However,
we dont get a half bad time, though, when Im not
keeping watch or eating, I seem to be sleeping. This sort of
game is all very fine now, but in the winter, if were still
fooling round, then it wont be quite such fun.
is longing for an aeroplane to come over; there wouldnt
be a rifle in the ship not being used. Im sure all the
officers would at once make a dash for them and try their hand.
as there were not any aeros available yesterday we had a cocher
drive. Went up on the Q.D. and did a kind of Harry Tate on shooting,
and had a bag of 15? brace of the very finest cockroaches ever
seen. We must have looked precious fools, but it was great sport.
position in action has changed, and I am not in the Conning Tower,
the brains of the ship; thats why I am here.
If by any chance the Torpedo Lieutenant should get bowled out,
I have to loose off the torpedoes. I am undergoing instruction
at present; its beastly complicated.
are a patriotic lot here, and always have the Marseillaise,
and Russian and Belgian things, besides the King of
an evening when we toast our allies.
wish these swines of Germans would come out, but, as far as I
can see, we cant do much until we have grubbed up some
mines and blown up the Kiel canal then they are done in.
They are cunning devils, fancy them selling the Goeben and Breslau
to the Turks. We ought to be shot for not having that little
is not known if Midshipman Williams survived the 1914-1918 War.
German warships sold to the Turkish Navy.