Frewen Letter to Evan-Thomas, 22 February, 1927

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Extracts from a letter from Lieutenant-Commander (Retired) Oswald Moreton Frewen to Admiral Hugh Evan-Thomas of 22 February, 1927. Located in the EVAN-THOMAS PAPERS, Add. MSS. 52504 at the British Library. Reproduced in The Beatty Papers Volume II, pp. 475-477.


94 Mount Street,

London W1,

Feb 22, 1927.

Very many thanks for your most intersting letter which forms a grim pendant to the Harper Report. I retired in September 1919 & went over to Canada. I returned in December, and desiring a personal copy, called on my old chief, Capt. Harper, then at the Hydrographic Dept, and asked him what about it. He told me this: that the proofs, on their return from the printers, were circulated, pro forma, to the members of the Board & were passed by them. Lord Wester Wemyss noted his copy for publication, but, as he was on the point of being relieved by Beatty as First Sea Lord, left him the copy as being of immediate interest. Beatty immediately revoked the passing for publication, blue-pencilled extensively, & sent it back to Harper with directions to make the changes indicated.

As these were in many instances entirely at variance with the logs, track-charts and signal logs, Harper meekly replied that he would be pleased to do so upon the written and signed authoirty of the First Sea Lord! Ensured months of wrangles, at one stage [476] of which, Beatty's Signal Commander, who was a go-between, did shoot himself! [actually threw himself off a cliff] At the end of it, Harper, unyielding to the end, retired to Devonshire with a nervous breakdown. Lord Jellicoe, whom I had met in Ottawa, warned the First Lord (Long) that if the Harper Report was published with any amendments or corrections, not sanctioned by Captain Harper himself, he would have questions asked in Parliament. (Lord Jellicoe wrote me this himself.) Accordingly, the Harper Report, since it could not be garbled, was supressed.

The Dewar brothers were then turned on to write a Staff précis of the battle on the lines desired. They sailed gaily in but got bogged down in a month among the masses of battle-cruisers' signals and reports. They obviously couldn't go to Harper to get disentangled. I was known as a 'hostile witness', so they went to young Pollen, nephew of A. H. Pollen, the scribe, who was the only person who knew the battle inside out at that time, and was helping Sir Julian Corbett in his 'Naval Operation' with our Harper Report track-charts. I called on Pollen soon after, who told me the story & he said 'I disentangled them all right and got them back to the bare bones of fact, and of course when you cut out the cackle and get down to the bare bones, you are left with—The Harper Report' So that particular essay missed fire too.

Then, much later, after the Corbett narrative in fact, came the eventual Staff History, which neither you nor I have troubled to read. In the last resort, I think Beatty has been forced merely to stifle information until the public has lost interest in the whole thing, but there is sufficient information available to render it possible for a serious student to get at the facts (with great labour) & the public never will be able to grasp the lessons of the battle from any ten-minutes dissertation. Future reputations will rest on intellectual analyses of the tactics employed, by unprejudiced students, and within the hundred years History will see the rehabilitation of Jellicoe in even greater measure than the early XX century saw the rehabilitation of Lord Barham's reputation. Even now I think, the impression of 'the man in the street' is that the Press & politicians applaud Beatty but that the Navy itself is 'pro-Jellicoe'. And a letter like yours adds to that impression.

You yourself, of course, are on a top pinnacle. Your Senior [477] Officer, meeting the enemy with 10 ships to 5, ignored your presence, put his 4 most powerful ships out of action & then, due to inefficiency of of pre-concentration arrangements (surely the Admiral's fault) suffered the enemy to put two more of his ships out of action, and he then turned North again, which enabled you to come into action while you went out of it. And, I note with amusement, that it was at this stage that even Winston claims that most of the damage was done to the enemy! You then got into the hottest corner of the lot at deployment.

There is not the least doubt that as a squadron, the 5th BS were the heroes of the day, but they sailed in company with the battle-cruisers, and, through the absolute silence they have maintained ever since, they might well have been supposed to support the battle-cruisers' opinion, had not your letter proved dramatically the very opposite; that is why I welcomed it as infinitely valuable. We all understand your silence—especially remembering the little good that came of Lord Charles Bereford's reprimand to Sir Percy Scott—but, when the gentlemen are silent with a self-seeker loudly advertising themselves in their midst, the ignorant public are apt to be deceived & suppose that judgement has gone by default. And that is the pity of it.[..]

[...]I took the liberty of writing to you because I am in a way, a link in the chain of knowledge of the secret history of Jutland, However acutely I suffer from 'juniority'![...]