Bruin Fisher Posted March 23, 2015 Report Share Posted March 23, 2015 At sea – two boys Torquil and Ronnie were best friends. Each came from wealthy families in Scotland, and each was sent at the age of 12 to boarding school – The Royal Naval College at Osborne on the Isle of Wight. The year was 1912. As Royal Naval Cadets they did two years of officer training there and then were transferred to the college's senior campus at Dartmouth. Discipline was strict, with constant military drills and 'cold plunge' washes at 6am each day. But they also had intensive lessons in Engineering and other skills that would be useful for life aboard a Royal Navy ship. They also devoted a lot of time to sport, and were encouraged to become strong swimmers. On 1st August 1914, to their complete surprise, 434 cadets from Dartmouth between the ages of 14 and 16 were mobilised and joined the Royal Navy's reserve fleet. There was much excitement among the boys. Torquil was just 14 and Ronnie was 15 when they were assigned to HMS Goliath, a pre-dreadnought battleship brought out of retirement at the start of the Great War. Since these cadets were not fully trained they were not assigned to one of the new more capable vessels. Despite her age, HMS Goliath carried four 12-inch guns and could do considerable damage with them. The boys were given the rank of Midshipman, the lowest officer rank, known on board as 'snotties'. In March 1915 HMS Goliath was ordered to head to the Aegean Sea to take part in the Dardanelles campaign. Her role was to bombard the Ottoman positions on land, covering the allied troops landing on the beaches. The boys doubtless saw the grim reality of war, helping terribly wounded men off the beach onto hospital ships. The Ottoman high command dispatched a torpedo boat to attack the Royal Navy battleships, and on the night of 12-13 May 1915 it sank HMS Goliath with three torpedoes. She sank just three and a half minutes after the torpedoes struck. Ronnie's last letter home read “I am as well and happy as a fiddle – there is absolutely nothing to be anxious about – just you think of afterwards.” Five hundred and seventy of the crew including both Ronnie and Torquil, died. Sub-lieutenant Philip van der Byl wrote to Ronnie's parents: "I am sure it will be some comfort to you to hear how much we all loved your son in the Goliath, and how much we miss him. He was the life and soul of the gunroom, and always most cheerful and optimistic. His best friend was (Torquil) Macleod, who also was drowned. "They always used to go ashore together and buy curios for you. He really was a charming boy, loved by all who knew him. On the night we were sunk he was sleeping outside my cabin, and I saw him when I turned out. He had got his safety waistcoat on, and was going quietly up the ladder on to quarter-deck. He seemed as cheerful as usual, and perfectly cool. "When I got on to deck a few seconds later he was just going-over the port side with two other 'snotties.' That was the last I saw of him, and I shall never forget his cheery little face absolutely as full of confidence and calm assurance as it could be. He was picked up unconscious by one of the Euryaliis boats, and died on board, and was buried at sea early the same morning. Poor boy! I hoped and prayed he might have been saved, and we were all miserable when we heard he had gone... It is always the good who die young." The parents would still have been paying fees for their boys' education... If you were under 18 and wished to join up as a soldier you had to lie to the recruiting officer about your age. These boys, though, were sent to war by the British Government as young as 15 years of age. A young Winston Churchill, who was first Lord of the Admiralty, defended the policy in parliament: "It was felt that young officers of their age would be of great use on board His Majesty's ships, and that they would learn incomparably more of their profession in war than any educational establishment on shore could teach them." I read about this on the BBC News website (it's coming up to the 100th anniversary of the event) and it affected me deeply. If the men who start wars were the ones who had to fight on the front line, there would be no wars. http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-31712158 - the article there has photos of the two boys, and also of the survivors of the sinking. Quote Link to comment
Join the conversation
You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.