Filson Young

Filson Young: The first media man (1876-1938), by Silvester Mazzarella

Table of contents

25. FY’s private train

Once in harbour, there was a lot to do. In the first two days Filson answered two or three hundred letters and telegrams of congratulation addressed to Beatty. On 27 January the Admiral transferred his staff to Princess Royal, which meant ousting many of that ship’s senior officers from their cabins. There was no room for Filson. Beatty offered to have part of his dining-cabin partitioned off for him, but Captain Brock of Princess Royal was adamant that there must be no structural alterations. So Filson was left behind on the battered Lion, where he had plenty of work to keep him busy. Fisher had written urgently enquiring why the action had been broken off and the Germans allowed to escape; Beatty decided to send Filson to London with his reply, but before he could write it the battle cruisers were ordered to sea again. He only had time to scribble a note telling Fisher that Filson would answer his questions orally, and to brief Filson on what to say.

Filson reached London on the evening of January 29 and was taken to Fisher’s room at the Admiralty. Three months in office seemed to have aged Fisher a lot.

‘Oh! it’s you? I didn’t recognize you in the dim light; all they told me was “an officer from Sir David Beatty”. Well, tell me about it. How was it they got away? What’s the

explanation? Why didn’t you get the lot? I don’t understand it.’ (111)

Fisher looked at Filson as though he held him personally responsible. Filson gave Beatty’s explanation, a technical one to do with signals and alteration of course. Fisher looked at him as if this were mere invention: ‘Come, you were there. You saw it. What do you think? What is your own opinion?’ Filson gave his opinion in one sentence, blaming an officer who remains unnamed in With the Battle Cruisers but was clearly Rear-Admiral Moore. Fisher said ‘Oh!’ and stared hard at him for a long time, until Filson began to wonder whether he’d been too frank. When he got outside and told Fisher’s secretary what he’d said, the secretary remarked: ‘Well, you have put your foot in it; – [naming the officer] was one of his men … As it happens, you needn’t worry. He’s not so keen on him now.’

All of which, thought Filson, was extremely characteristic of Fisher and not very pleasant. He spent the next day at the Admiralty giving the news to various people who wanted to hear it, returning north that night, with Winston Churchill and the Third and Fourth Sea Lords who wanted to speak to Beatty. Churchill was beginning to think he’d like to have Beatty as Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet in place of Jellicoe; later he wrote:

Well do I remember how, as I was leaving the ship, the usually imperturbable Admiral Pakenham caught me by the sleeve, ‘First Lord, I wish to speak to you in private,’ and the intense conviction in his voice as he said, ‘Nelson has come again.’ (112)

Though sleeping on Lion, Filson had to join others on Princess Royal in working on the many supplementary documents that would accompany Beatty’s formal dispatch on the battle. The Admiralty had telegraphed urgently for this dispatch. When they got it they made considerable alterations to it, and the full original text was apparently not published until six years later when Filson included it in With the Battle Cruisers.

It was decided that Filson should take the dispatch to London by the night train on February 4; the Admiral’s barge stood by with steam up all evening ready to rush him to land, and at the pier a car was waiting to take him to Edinburgh. But finishing the dispatch was a slow job, and it was not ready for him to take from Princess Royal till 10.50pm. When he reached Waverley station he found he’d missed the train by ten minutes; there wouldn’t be another for nine hours. This called for initiative and presence of mind, he felt. So he told the station master he needed a special train to take

urgent dispatches to the Admiralty. The station master took this information in his stride and telephoned the engine sheds. Filson was in luck: a spare engine happened to be ready with steam up because the night express, which normally travelled double-headed, had had a lighter load than usual. A guard was fetched by telephone. Only one matter remained to be settled:

‘And what about the payment for this train, sir?’

Things had gone so smoothly up till now I felt this was not the moment to lose hold.

‘I will give you a chit for that,’ said I, and taking pen and paper wrote: ‘This will be your authority for providing a special train for me from Waverley to King’s Cross, February 4th/5th 1915. Proceeding to the Admiralty with urgent despatches,’ and signed it. To my surprise he took it and, locking the door behind him, led me out to the deserted station. Presently, to the accompaniment of a slight hissing, a huge sleek express locomotive, hauling a saloon carriage and break van, slid alongside the platform – my special train. The guard alighted and opened the door for me, touching his hat. With the station-master I graciously shook hands, stepped into the train and said, ‘Carry on – I mean, that’s all right; we can start now.’ And with a very gentle whistle we pulled out under the bridges on the road to the south. (113)

Telling the guard to stop the train and bring him a cup of tea at the first station with a refreshment room after six o’clock in the morning, Filson turned in for the night, too exhausted to stay awake and enjoy the sensation of travelling the length of England in his own private train.

Reaching London, he delivered the despatch at the Admiralty and informed the Accountant-General’s office that he’d taken a special train. Nothing much was said, but he got the impression he’d have to pay for it – a matter of some two or three hundred pounds, quite a lot of money for a lieutenant on eleven shillings a day. Several weeks later a letter reached Beatty from the Accountant-General, asking if he could give any reason why the cost of the train should be ‘allowed’ to Filson. Beatty left it to Filson to conduct his own defence, but drew up a long letter making full use of the official jargon of service correspondence. Nothing more was heard of the matter.

Just before the incident of the private train Captain Brock of Princess Royal told Filson that since Beatty had ‘definitely expressed a wish’ that he should be accommodated on board, a cabin would be ready for him on his return from London. Brock was as good as his word, but Filson found Princess Royal in a state of greater confusion than ever. She now flew two flags, Beatty’s and Brock’s, since Brock had been promoted to Commodore. He was still on board though a new captain, Captain Cowan, had been appointed to take over command of the ship. Various other senior officers had also been added and, at a dining table thus thronged with admirals and captains, junior officers like Filson sank into greater obscurity than ever. Even Captain Cowan suffered; Filson met him wandering round his ship like a lost soul asking the way to his cabin (Brock was still in the official captain’s cabin), while at table, to begin with, his seniors did not deign to talk to him and seemed scarcely to notice his existence. Filson marvelled at this evidence of the ‘formidable atmosphere of seniority’ in the Navy.


111  This scene is described in With the Battle Cruisers 225-6.

112  Winston S.Churchill The World Crisis, single volume edition 1931, p 73.

113  With the Battle Cruisers 228.

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