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The Navy League.
SEVEN YEARS' WORK.*
THE Navy League was founded in January, 1895, so that in the month of January, 1902, it completed the first seven years of its existence. It therefore seems timely to consider what has been accomplished by it for the Navy and Nation in its brief life.
1895. — The first year was largely occupied in organizing the work of the League, which at the very outset sustained a cruel loss in the death of its first President, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Geoffrey Hornby.
The journal was first commenced in July of that year, and consisted of a single sheet. The first branches were formed in Bristol, Bath, Windsor, Cape Town, Natal, Toronto, Malta and Hong-Kong, and it is pleasant to notice that with one exception these earlier branches are now more active than ever.
The Navy League was doubtless largely instrumental in drawing the declaration from the Duke of Devonshire, Chairman of the National Defence Committee, that "the maintenance of sea supremacy has been assumed as the basis of the system of Imperial Defence." This was followed by the significant pronouncement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir Michael Hicks Beach, that it was " the policy not merely of one party, but of both parties, of everybody in the United Kingdom, to maintain our supremacy at sea, and that whatever happened we would maintain our supremacy." These were brave Words, and the Navy League seeks to impress them upon the mass of our countrymen.
1895. — In the same year the Trafalgar celebration was also inaugurated.
1896. — Eleven branches of the League were established, and it was in that year that the influence of the Hong-Kong branch commenced to make itself felt. In that year also Lord Charles Beresford made his first appearance on a Navy League platform at the Cannon Street Hotel, and the practice of taking Navy League members down to Portsmouth to visit the establishments there was initiated.
The Nelson column was in the same year decorated from Summit to base, and the Trafalgar celebration was general throughout the Empire.
1897. — A return published by Mr. Clark Hall, the Registrar-General of Shipping and Seamen, attracted a very great amount of attention. From this Blue Book it appeared that the number of British seamen employed in British Sea-going merchant vessels had steadily decreased for many years, and that the loss was unfortunately most marked and serious in the class knOwn as young seamen and boys. The Committee, after careful consideration of the figures, addressed a letter to various county councils who had control of the money available for technical education, inquiring whether they would feel disposed to devote some portion of it to the establishment of training-ships, with a view to increasing the facilities for boys to enter the British mercantile marine. That work has been continued up to the present time, and an association was formed (in 1901) for the purpose of securing the establishment of training-ships for boys of good character and physique desirous of entering the mercantile marine and Royal Naval Reserve, and of preparing a scheme under which these ships might be worked, The communications that have since passed between the Association, the Admiralty, and the Board of Trade, have been of au eminently satisfactory nature.
In the same year a memorial prepared by the Toronto branch for presentation to His Excellency the Governor-General of Canada was widely circulated among Chambers of Commerce in Great Britain. The memorial dealt with the formation of a Colonial Naval Reserve to consist of Canadian seamen and fishermen. This matter was brought to the notice of Admiral Hopkins, then commander-in-chief on the Mediterranean Station, who stated that if North America would furnish a tithe of its magnificent sea-faring population to the Naval Reserve it would produce a force in quantity and quality unsurpassable anywhere, and that this would have the effect of binding in closer union Britain and a very important portion of Greater Britain. It may fairly be considered that the movement which took place to establish a reserve of Newfoundland fishermen was the outcome of this work of the League.
Mr. McHardy in the same year published for the League a book entitled The British Navy for 100 Years. To say that this work is invaluable would be to give it small praise.
Mr., H. F. Wyatt also produced a pamphlet entitled The Use of the Navy to You, for boys in elementary schools. This pamphlet has since been circulated in thousands of schools throughout the country.
In the same year was published a Guide to the Naval Review, which met with considerable pecuniary success. Special arrangements were made for members of the League to witness the Review, and, the Government having failed to invite the Colonial troops to visit Portsmouth on that occasion, the Navy League opened a fund and organized an expedition for that purpose. At the last moment, however, the Admiralty decided to act as hosts, and the League arrangements were cancelled.
A deputation from the Executive Committee also waited upon the Colonial Premiers when they were in England, and the League may justly consider that the offer of the Cape Colony to provide a battleship was largely due to the action of its Cape Town branch.
1898. — There was a great accession in that year to the number of Vice-Presidents of the League. Influential gentlemen now began to take their proper place in the movement, notably headmasters of some of the great public schools.
The League in that year carried its educational propaganda still further by the publication of the Navy League Map, which has since run to more than one edition.
The League also, in conjunction with the proprietors of the National Review, offered a prize of £50 for the best essay giving a forecast of the probable effect upon the United Kingdom of an indecisive war between two first-class Powers. Captain Sir John Colomb, K.C.M.G., M.P., acted as judge.
In the same year the League convened a Conference at the United Service Institution to consider the probable position of the country if involved in war, with regard to the adequacy (1) of the Navy; (2) of the food supply. The Conference was attended by very many influential gentlemen, and the proceedings were of much interest. The lecture programme was energetically carried out, and still further efforts were made to increase the number of British merchant seamen.
1899. — The Windsor and Eton branch initiated a scheme for giving elementary instruction in seamanship to boys who wish to go to sea, and a barge was established on the Thames at Windsor. This undertaking is notable for having received the support of the late Queen Victoria.
The same year was notable in the League's history for the adverse response given by the Right Hon. Mr. Ritchie, who with the Right Hon. Mr. Goschen received a deputation from the League on the manning question. Looking at it, however, by the light of past experiences, it is perhaps not an altogether regrettable incident, as it cleared the air.
1900. — In the following year the Executive Committee adopted the plan of drawing attention to certain serious defects in the fleet by means of sandwich men, and the effect of this may be judged by the reduction of the number of ships on the active list of the Navy that are still armed with muzzle-loading guns.
In the same year the Earl of Drogheda, who had been President of the League since the death of Sir Geoffrey Hornby, expressed a wish to resign his position as he was setting out on an extended foreign tour. His place was filled by Mr. Robert Yerburgh, M.P.
The Liverpool branch in the same year made enormous strides, increased its membership very largely, and became a powerful organization.
The second edition of the handbook to the Navy League Map, written by Mr. Crofts, of Tonbridge, was also issued, and the second edition of the map taken in hand.
The Southern County Councils held a Conference at the League Offices, under the presidency of Admiral the Hon. Thomas Brand, and further steps were taken towards the establishment of training-vessels.
In the month of March a meeting was held at the Queen's Hall to protest against retaining battleships armed with muzzle-loading guns on the active list.
1901. — The work of the year 1901 will be familiar to most of our readers. Mr. Arnold White, a member of the Executive Committee, accompanied by Mr. Yer-burgh, visited the Mediterranean fleet, and, as the result of inquiries which he made in the Mediterranean, was satisfied that the position of that fleet left much to be desired. His conclusions were embodied in an article entitled "A Message from the Mediterranean," and though this article was bitterly attacked, his facts were confirmed by the admissions of Ministerial speakers in Parliament. The net result has been a considerable increase in the strength of the Fleet.
The honorary secretary of the League, Lieut. Knox (late R.N.), continued the work of propaganda by means Of lecturing in the schools.
Owing to current reports that, through the interference of the Treasury, the expenditure considered necessary by the Admiralty for the maintenance of the Fleet in a condition of efficiency has been reduced, there is now great need for the Navy League to watch the Estimates with vigilance, and to be prepared, if necessary, to support the Admiralty by public meetings should it protest against these reductions.
* Taken, by kind permission, from the Navy League Journal, January, 1902.