Type after type comes back to me:—the courteous Flag-Lieutenant, who is always looking after his Admiral, whether in these brief harbour rests, or in the clash and darkness of the high seas—the Lieutenant-Commanders whose destroyers are the watch-dogs, the ceaseless protectors, no less than the eyes and ears of the Fleet—the Flag-Captain, who takes me through the great ship, with his vigilant, spare face, and his understanding, kindly talk about his men; many of whom on this Thursday afternoon—the quasi half-holiday of the Fleet when in harbour—are snatching an hour’s sleep when and where they can. That sleep-abstinence of the Navy—sleep, controlled, measured out, reduced to a bare minimum, among thousands of men, that we on shore may sleep our fill—look at the signs of it, in the eyes both of these officers, and of the sailors crowding the “liberty” boats, which are just bringing them back from their short two hours’ leave on shore!
Another gathering, in the Captain’s room, for tea. The talk turns on a certain popular play dealing with naval life, and a Commander describes how the manuscript of it had been brought to him, and how he had revelled in the cutting out of all the sentimentalisms. Two men in the play—friends—going into action—shake hands with each other “with tears in their eyes.” A shout of derisive laughter goes up from the tea-table. But they admit “talking shop” off duty. “That’s the difference between us and the Army.” And what shop it is! I listen to two young officers, both commanding destroyers, describing—one, his adventures in dirty weather the night before, on patrol duty. “My hat, I thought one moment the ship was on the rocks! You couldn’t see a yard for the snow—and the sea—beastly!” The other had been on one of Admiral Hood’s monitors, when they suddenly loomed out of the mist on the Belgian coast, and the German army marching along the coast road to Dunkirk and Calais marched no more, but lay in broken fragments behind the dunes, or any shelter available, till the flooding of the dikes farther south completed the hopeless defeat which Admiral Hood’s guns had begun.