Often referred to as the personification of the British John Bull, a Britisher without peers. Charlie 'B' was what the nation called Admiral Lord Charles Beresford [1846-1919]. He was the hero of the navy and the champion of the navy whilst an MP with a seat in the House of Commons. Few would dare to cross swords with him [but see bottom of page] and in the public eye, he was more than a match for the great Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Fisher.
Beresford was the second son of John Beresford, 4th Marquess of Waterford, thus despite his honorary title, as second son was still eligible to enter the House of Commons.
His later career was marked by a longstanding dispute with Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Fisher, over reforms championed by Fisher introducing new technology and sweeping away traditional practices. Fisher, slightly senior to Beresford and more successful, became a barrier to Beresford's rise to the highest office in the navy. Beresford rose to occupy the most senior sea commands, the Mediterranean and Channel fleets, but failed in his ambition to become First Sea Lord.
Despite Fisher 'pipping Beresford to the post', Fisher could not match Beresford's charm and charisma and sheer flare for life and situation, for Beresford was not only a serving MP but a serving professional naval officer at the same time, and this both angered and continuously annoyed the Admiralty that a junior officer could speak in the House about naval policy. He was a naval officer from 1859 until 1911 [52 years] and an MP from 1874 until 1880 [6 years], and again after his retirement in 1911 until his death, he retook his seat in the House. He entered parliament as a lieutenant [over 8 years] and one year later in 1875 he was promoted to commander. A lieutenant [over 8 years] was the equivalent to the rank of lieutenant commander but it wasn't until 1877 that Rear Admiral Alexander Hood introduced the half stripe. Therefore he went from two stripes to three stripes.
My story comes from the period when he was first an MP, and a commander RN, from a speech of his in the House of Commons which was more or less his swansong for the first period: it dates from March 1879.
The procedure in the navy at that time was that a man of war paid off after a commission [usually three years and sometimes more] and its crew were dispersed according to their branch, commission conduct and professional training/status. Blue jackets [sailors as opposed to men like stokers] were discharged to "receiving ships" which were hulks in the dockyards, to await through-drafting to newly commissioned ships or employment in the dockyard as a proverbial dockyard matey, and this was most undesirable for all concerned. Shore barracks and all the obvious advantages were the answer. As a young commander, nobody was in a better position in the House to talk on this subject, and as you will read, he 'pulled no punches' further embarrassing his superiors back in the Admiralty. He left the House a few months later.
This then, is what he said. His speech tells of a navy in disarray, with major personnel problems, where men deteriorate once paid off, and where captains of newly commissioned ships have to spend months working-up these crews left to rot in receiving ships.
If you wish to look at the Hansard Report of the day then look at this link:-
It would be wrong of me to tell you that the Admiralty's ruffled feathers led to change, but the speech must have caused enough waves back in Whitehall [in what we now call the Old Admiralty] to spur them on to assigning the receiving ships to history, for less than twenty odd years later, quick in terms of bureaucracies, by 1903, the naval barracks were completed and opened, the first being Devonport followed by Portsmouth and Chatham as joint second, much to the joy of thousands of men and boys.
It is widely believed, that had not Beresford become an MP and had toed-the-line as a professional naval officer throughout his 52 year career, he would have undoubtedly become the ultimate admiral of the fleet, surpassing even the brilliance of Sir John Fisher and thus being revered and remembered in the footsteps of Admiral Lord Nelson.
Please, keep telling me about our famous and resplendent admirals, but let us not forget about those, who, despite not getting to the very top, nonetheless, rendered other admirals as "also rans". CHARLIE B was one such, and yet strangely, not a lower deck favourite. He certainly is one of mine.
I have said above that few would engage the old war lord in debate about the navy. However, whilst in Parliament for the second time post 1911, he met, nay more than met his match [albeit temporarily] during a debate in the House on the 31st March 1913 on Navy Estimates 1913-14 VOTE A [which is personnel], when he insisted to the First Lord of the Admiralty that he [the First Lord] had miscalculated and was 20,000 men short of the required quota. He was so persistent with his accusation that the First Lord had to 'come on strong' to defend himself and the Admiralty. The First Lord, but not in so many words, called his accusation untruthful [almost openly calling him a liar] and that every ship in all the fleets could be manned in war, and moreover, that every man in the navy knew exactly to which ship he had been assigned should the navy mobilise. The First Lord offered Charlie 'B' the opportunity to seek friends in the House to vouch for the Admiralty figures, and if he refused that option, he was cordially invited to the Admiralty to see the evidence for himself where he would have an opportunity to speak to whomever he wished in connection to his case. The country at all costs, said the First Lord, must not be led into believing that its navy was not prepared for combat. The First Lord was none other than Winston Spencer Churchill. Charlie 'B', for the first and last time in his life, sat down with his 'tail between his legs' and said nothing: or did he? Absolutely NOT. He sat and waited and bided his time. When he did next take to the Floor, he did what the country loved to see him do, and that was to go in with all guns blazing. By all accounts he was quite angry with Churchill's slight, but his deliverance was cool and calm befitting that of an admiral.
This is what he said.
31st March 1913
Lord C. BERESFORD
The First Lord of the Admiralty has been good enough to tell me that I am a person who does not tell the truth. I do not wish to make a tu quoque and say his statement is contrary to fact, but I want to prove the statement I have made on several occasions as to our being 20,000 men short, and I believe the House will see that I was correct, and not the First Lord.
Last year, in answer to a question, the right hon. Gentleman said we were 240 men short. That was in March, but afterwards his junior came down and said it was 2,000.
That was a great discrepancy, and I pointed it out at the time. I pointed out that we were a great deal more than 240 men short.
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me why he did not give me the first-term men who were leaving the Service last year and who had left during the last three years? He said that it was not in the public interest. I maintain that it is in the public interest. The public should know if we are short of men in the Fleet, and they should know why men who are worth their weight in gold are leaving the Service in great numbers.
The First Lord by increasing the pay will retain some, but I do not think he will retain them all or nearly all. He knows perfectly well that the men were overworked and underpaid. He knows perfectly well that it was the shortage of men in the Fleet which gave rise to the discontent; it was overwork in the Fleet, and not the question of pay which made them discontented.
The First Lord is not going to tell this House—if he does it will not believe him—that it is a good thing to get in an enormous number of recruits, some 15,000, as we are going to do now. They are nearly all lads, except the Marines, and he must acknowledge that it will take five years to properly train them for fighting.
He tells the House this large amount of recruiting is to fill up ships that are going to be commissioned. I deny that altogether.
The Government reduced the complement of the Fleet for five years. They were warned over and over again by many of us that they would have to join an enormous number of men suddenly like this, and my statement that they are 20,000 men short is proved to have been correct by what he is now doing.
He is joining the same number next year and the year after in order to fill up the 20,000 of which I say the Fleet is short. I do not want to have recriminations. I believe him to be as perfectly honest as I am in endeavouring to get the Navy correct, but he is absolutely wrong about the men. He invited two Members from this bench to go to the Admiralty. I hope they will go. It is a very fair offer, and the question is very important. I do not for one moment say the First Lord cannot man these 143 ships.
What are the 143 ships?
Lord C. BERESFORD
They are all in the Navy List—nucleus crews and skeleton crews; what you call "the Reserve."
Does the Noble Lord include ships of the Second Fleet, or is he speaking of the ships in the Second and Third Fleets.
Lord C. BERESFORD
If the right hon. Gentleman will get the Navy List, and look up the ships that have got nucleus and skeleton crews, he will find there are 143. I do not say he cannot man them. He will man them with the Royal Naval Reserve and with boys.
He has letters at this moment from captains and admirals to say there are a great many boys in the ships.
There are a great many, too many, boys in the Fleet. There are a great many boys taking the place of able seamen.
I was perfectly right when I told my countrymen that we were 20,000 men short for the selected moment, and proof of it is to be found in that which the right hon. Gentleman is now doing.
Just fancy having to join men at the rate you are now joining them, when you know they cannot be ready for five years!
If you had joined them during the last three or four years you would not have been in your present position.
The fact is our Fleet is not ready to go out to fight at the selected moment.
You are short of men. You have too many boys and too many young stokers, and all because you have not looked ahead during the last five years.
Instead of joining extra men, you reduced the number. I do not want to have a violent recrimination with the First Lord. When I made that statement I believed it. I believe it now.
I believe that if any hon. Member went to the Fleet and asked any officers or men he would be told that they are shorthanded and overworked.
If, by some wave of a fairy wand, the First Lord could have six "Dreadnoughts" to-morrow, he could not man them unless he paid off ships now in commission.
Naturally. How many "Dreadnoughts" more than the Admiralty now possess or have in prospect are they expected to provide crews for?
Lord C. BERESFORD
You cannot provide crews for the selected moment, because you are short-handed, and you are going to call out your Reserve.
Any captain will tell you that the reserve ships are not fit to fight an action.
The right hon. Gentleman informed us that the Germans were going to have four-fifths of their fleet always ready. You are not prepared for that.
Ninety per cent. of the whole fighting strength of the Fleet is manned without the use of a single Reservist.
Lord C. BERESFORD
There, again, is one of those charming sentences which take in the House. The right hon. Gentleman is perfectly right in what he says, but what are these crews? The ships' companies consist largely of boys and young stokers. The First Lord knows it.
Mr. CHURCHILL It is not true.
Sir C. KINLOCH-COOKEOrder, order.
Interruptions such as these ought not to be made by an hon. Member unless they are of sufficient importance to lead the hon. Member to rise.
Lord C. BERESFORDI still maintain what I have said, both in the House and in the country. I think I have proved my case.
I take it all hon. Members have an interest in this question. They all have friends in the Fleet. I suggest they should go to any naval officer, or any man in the Fleet, or any man in the torpedo-boat destroyers, and make inquiries. I am sure the reply will be that they are shorthanded in the Fleet. To make up what the right hon. Gentleman calls the fighting Fleet, he will have to put in Reservists.
Mr. CHURCHILLNot in the First and Second Fleets.
Lord C. BERESFORDThe First and Second Fleets have far too many boys and young stokers in them to make them efficient. I again maintain I was right. The right hon. Gentleman has simply made a statement to show that I was incorrect, whereas I have given proof of the accuracy of my statement.
Mr. MIDDLEMOREI do not feel competent to follow the discussion in regard to manning, but I wish to make some observation as to the figures we have had from the right hon. Gentleman, and also as to some figures which he gave me in answer to questions a fortnight ago last Wednesday—questions replied to with some asperity, and, I might also say, with rudeness. The right hon. Gentleman on that occasion refused to disclose the facts for which I was appealing. Those facts are vital, and in regard to them I propose to make a general statement. This Government has provided and completed, while it has been in office, seventeen armoured ships, against the German fourteen armoured ships. It has provided and completed seventeen small cruisers, against Germany's ten; that appears to be a good majority, but it is a very deceptive one, as I shall show presently. It has provided and completed seventy-five destroyers against the German seventy-three; that is a serious fact. In that case the 60 per cent. is only in imagination. I think, too, it is an unworthy record. It represents the compromise of the various wings of the party which go to make up the majority, while the German list represents an understanding between their Admiralty and their Foreign Office.
I wonder what Mr Winston Spencer Churchill said to himself when he left the Chamber that evening. If he ever lost a major battle, this was one of his earliest !