HMS Vanguard

Use of above image of HMS Vanguard by kind permission from Orkney Library & Archive

This page is dedicated to Claude Du Mauleverer who died on 9th July 1917 when HMS Vanguard exploded whilst moored at Scapa Flow when one of her magazines overheated, most likely detonating cordite stored on board.. One of some 840 casualties, Claude Du Mauleverer was aged eighteen when he died. His remains were never found.

Claude Du Mauleverer was originally from Leamington Upon Spa, but his parents are shown to be living in Parkstone,Poole, Dorset by the end of the Great War. He is remembered in war memorials in Hove, where he went to school, and also the main Royal Naval memorial in Chatham.

Du Mauleverer was a midshipman on board HMS Aboukir, when along with HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy, all three cruisers were sunk after being torpedoed by the U9 within one hour on 22nd September 1914, The three ships are known as the ‘Live Bait Squadron’ , and the incident referred to as ‘ The Broad Fourteens disaster’ after the shipping are in the North Sea that it occurred. Du Mauleverer was one of some 400 men who were rescued,whilst 1369 men and 61 officers lost their lives.

Sudden explosions of battle ships when in port had occurred before; HMS Bulwark exploded whilst moored at Sheerness on 26th November 1914 and HMS Natal in the Cromarty Firth on 30th December 1915 with 421 casualties, including women and children who were visiting.

HMS Vanguard Captain R A Hopwood

Chose for her helm more fair than fame
A spotless record to her ancient name
Her compass that which varied not
swerved
Lit by a loyalty that never failed
Shone high tradition when the Vanguards sailed

…………………………………………………..

But her Squadron, all in silence, set
their steel-clad stern to sea,
For the wake shows white and empty
where their sister loved to be.

Full poem can be found here.

HMS Vanguard – David Horne

Stand still! Stand Still! Ye leaping waves
And mourn along with me
For a gallant ship has crossed the bar
Of the great eternal sea:
A flash, a roar, a blood red flame,
Then a huge overwhelming cloud,
And a thousand soles ( sic) are wrapped within
The ocean’s winding shroud.

Ten thousand doors do ever lead
To death upon the deep:
Sometimes they open silently
Sometimes our hearts do creep
When a blinding flash, and a deafening crash
Sends a good ship to her doom
And her gallant crew are hid from view
Within a watery tomb…….

Full poem can be found here.

Quite a contrast and a more likely representation of an explosion at sea. First appeared in the Chatham News, 24 July 1917, and seems to have been anthologised. Jonathan Saunders, who has researched HMS Vanguard quite extensively, located this poem and kindly gave consent for its use. Also has been published online here.

Have quoted the first two verses; little is know about the author David Horne. The poem evokes the explosion at sea well. The line ‘For a gallant ship has crossed the bar’ probably refers to Tennyson’s 1889 poem ‘Crossing the Bar’ one of the last poems that Tennyson wrote, and considered to be about dying.

The Role of the ‘Great War at Sea Poet’

Personally I have reservations about the term ‘soldier-poet’ even more than ‘war-poet’ but Ronald Hopwood probably could rightly be called a ‘Sailor Poet’. With quite a number of ‘Soldier Poets’ -with the exception of Julian Grenfell – it seems just the historical uniqueness of the Great War and the urgent need for men, saw them enlist or even get conscripted. I think that it was the great military historian John Keegan who stated that some men are just born to be soldiers.Captain, later Admiral, Ronald Hopwood seems to have been born to sail. And his work is popular with naval veterans in both Britain and in the USA.

What is intriguing is that though HMS Vanguard blew up due to the storing of explosives, Hopwood places her loss firmly in a British naval tradition. Strange as the who point of the HMS Vanguard explosion was due to the problems of storing cordite- and a significant factor in the loss of British ships at the Battle of Jutland : However there were other ships that accidentally exploded in home waters before the Great War. On 7th March 1665 the ‘London’ exploded and sunk whilst moored near Southend on Sea with the loss of some 300 lives. The incident was recorded by Samuel Pepys in his diaries, and featured in the 2012 J.D. Davies novel ‘ The Blast That Tears The Skies’ . There was also HMS Amphion, refitted off Plymouth that exploded on 22nd September 1796, with the loss of 300 lives, some of them were family members of the crew.

As regards the tradition of the name ‘Vanguard’ a previous battleship with the same name sunk in 1875 after ramming another battleship ‘Iron Duke’ in thick fog during naval exercises and her captain faced a court martial over the incident, and never commanded a ship again. Presumably the poet was thinking of HMS Vanguard launched on 1787, that became Lord Nelson’s flagship in 1798 and 1799. Ironically this ship became a powder store ship in Plymouth.

Yet how important is all this criticism of Hopwood and his poetry ? It’s been mentioned elsewhere that there is a danger of awarding privileges to Great War poetry which is now deemed to be ‘anti-war’ and creating this as a standard where war poetry -or memoir- succeeds or fails. The idea of a war poet as a ‘daring truth teller’ has its limits. If someone who read Hopwood’s poems without knowing about HMS Vanguard exploding, they wouldn’t learn that from reading the text but they would be able to work it out from David Horne’s poem..

But Hopwood wasn’t a journalist or historian but a serving naval officer who was evoking a British naval tradition. How far we penalise Hopwood in retrospect for not being ‘realistic’ and elevate Horne’s poem on this basis is open to question: Should the poet have enough imagination and empathy to imagine the reality of war, or are we suspicious of poetry that seems to mask its horrors ? The total reconstruction of Rupert Brooke’s life and mass circulating of poems such as -The Soldier- after its death whilst in uniform on 23rd April 1915 springs to mind, especially before conscription was introduced.

The impact of Nicholas Monsarrat’s 1951 novel ‘The Cruel Sea’ -drawing on the author’s own service on the North Atlantic and Artic convoys of World War 2 – has meant that ‘war at sea’ literature can never be the same again: Sailors from a torpedoed tanker are caught alight when petrol floating on the sea catches fire, corpses of dead men still in their lifejackets have had their faces pecked out by seagulls, a captain of a destroyer has to pursue a U boat by sailing through sailors floundering in the sea after their ship has sunk.

Constance Ada Renshaw

Constance Ada Renshaw has been described as follows by the Facebook group promoting her life and work;

Constance Ada Renshaw (1891 – 1964) was a teacher, cricketer, artist, musician and poet who was born and lived in Sheffield. She published six volumes of poetry between 1916 to 1939 and is perhaps best know for her first collection “England’s Boys” published in 1916.

This 1916 poem was written and published before the loss of the HMS Vanguard but would like to end by quoting the first verse :

DEAD SAILOR BOYS

What far faint sea-winds passed into their soul,
What glimmer of dim-seen waves, and sting of spume
And low lone wash of waters through soft gloom !
Desire went sea-ward to the sea’s control
When all the world was young. . . .
Then lo ! the roll Of battle-thunder crashed with echoing boom
Across the hissing breakers,

Full poem can be found here.

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