The Muckle Flugga Hussars

She was a member of that gallant and distinguished corps after which

this article is named. You will not find her regiment mentioned in any

British Army List, nor, so far as I am aware, and for all the foreign

sound of it, in the Army List of His Imperial Majesty the Czar of All

the Russias. The name does not appear in any Army List at all, for the

Hussars to which she belonged are a sea regiment, pure and simple.

Her uniform of dull grey, with no facings or trimmings of any sort or

description, was strictly in keeping with her surroundings, for her

favourite habitat was anywhere in the wild waste of waters lying

between Greenland, the North Cape, the Naze, and the Orkneys.

Some people with a libellous sense of humour referred to her as a

member of "Harry Tate's Own," while others, most unkindly, said she

belonged to the "Ragtime Navy." But she did not seem to mind. She

knew in her heart of hearts that her work was of paramount importance,

and, complacent in the knowledge, smiled sweetly as a well-conducted

lady should when jibes and insults are hurled at her long-suffering


She had a great deal to put up with in one way and another. Thanks to

her enormous fuel capacity she spent a long time at sea and had very

brief spells in harbour. Her work, though important, was always dull

and monotonous, while in bad weather it was even worse. She had no

prospect of sharing in the excitement of a big sea battle like her more

warlike sisters, though, with them, she ran the chance of encountering

hostile submarines and of having an altercation with an armed raider.

But, taking it all round, she had comparatively little to hope for in

the way of honour and glory; she merely had to be at sea for many weeks

at a time to prevent money-grabbing neutrals from reaping a rich

harvest by supplying munitions of war and articles of contraband to an

impoverished Hun who could not be trusted to put those commodities to

any gentlemanly purpose.

Muckle Flugga, I believe, is a remote headland in the Shetlands, and

she, a member of the corps called after it, flew the White Ensign of

the British Navy and was an armed merchant cruiser.

* * * * *

Before the war she was a crack passenger liner. On her upper deck, and

expressly designed for the use of potentates and plutocrats, she had

regular suites of apartments. Gorgeous suites they were, furnished

like the rooms in a mansion ashore. The sleeping cabins had white

enamelled panels and comfortable brass bedsteads. The day cabins or

sitting-rooms, panelled in bird's-eye maple, oak, walnut, or mahogany,

had large square windows, regular fireplaces, and were fresh with

flowered chintzes, while the tiled bathrooms were fitted with all the

different appliances for hot baths, tepid baths, cold baths, needle

baths, shower baths, and douches. One simply turned a handle and the

water came. A telephone in each sitting-room communicated with a

central exchange somewhere deep down in the bowels of the ship, and one

could summon a barber to trim one's hair, a manicure expert to attend

to one's hands, a tobacconist with samples of cigars, cigarettes, and

tobacco, or the presiding genius of a haberdashery establishment with

quite the latest things in shirts, collars, socks, and neckties. In

fact, living in one of the expensive suites was exactly like being in a

large and luxurious hotel, except that it was vastly more comfortable.

Lower down in the ship were the single, double, and treble-berthed

cabins for the first and second-class passengers. They, though small,

were very comfortable, and were fitted with telephones through which

one could summon a stewardess with a basin or a steward with a whisky

and soda. Down below, too, were the saloons, huge apartments with

carved panels, ornamental pillars, glass-pictured domes, coloured

frescoes, and dozens of small tables. There was also the Louis XIV.

restaurant, if one preferred a simple beefsteak to the more formal

dinner, and smoking-rooms, reading-rooms, libraries, drawing-rooms,

writing-rooms, not to mention the swimming bath and the children's


We can imagine the great liner, spick and span in her spotless paint

and gleaming brasswork, steaming through a placid summer sea. Her long

promenade decks would be plastered with deck-chairs filled with

recumbent passengers, some dozing, others smoking and talking. Some

energetic enthusiast would be passing from group to group to collect

sufficient people to play deck cricket, quoits, or bull-board, while

yet another, armed with a notebook and a pencil, would be endeavouring

to inveigle recalcitrant ladies with strict notions as to the sins of

gambling into taking tickets for a sweepstake on the next day's mileage.

One would hear the laughter of children as they chased each other round

the decks, and the sotto-voce remarks of some old gentleman roused from

his afternoon nap by the sudden impact of a podgy infant of four

tripping heavily over his outstretched feet.

After dark in some secluded corner one might happen upon a man and a

girl. They would be sitting very close together, and behaving... well,

as men and maidens sometimes do, to beguile the tedium of voyages at


Everything would be calm and peaceful. Everybody would be happy, even

the young gentleman with no prospects travelling second class, who

having won the sweepstake on the day's run and suddenly finding himself

L20 the richer, celebrated his luck with his friends in the


* * * * *

But then the war came and changed everything.

The Admiralty requisitioned the ship and armed her with guns. They

painted her a dull grey all over, and tore down all her polished

woodwork to lessen the chances of fire in action, leaving nothing but

the bare steel walls. Most of the cabins were stripped of their

furniture and fittings, only enough being left intact to provide

accommodation for the officers.

The carved woodwork and most of the tables and chairs in the saloons

were taken away, and though the painted frescoes and glass domes still

remained, they were dusty and neglected.

In one corner of the first-class saloon was the wardroom, a space

partitioned off by painted canvas screens to provide messing

accommodation for the more senior officers. Opposite to it was the

gunroom, a similar enclosure for the juniors.

They manned her with a crew of between three and four hundred Royal

Navy Reserve men, with a leavening of Royal Navy ratings and a few

Marines. They appointed a Captain R.N. in command and two or three

other naval officers, but by far the greater proportion of officers and

crew belonged to the Reserve, and excellent fellows they were.

Certain of the men had served on beard in peace-time, and had elected

to remain on, but the majority came to her for the first time when she

commissioned as a man-of-war. Some were Scots fishermen, men from

trawlers and drifters, excellent, hardy creatures used to small craft,

bad weather, and boat work. Others, having served their time in the

Navy, had taken to some shore employment, and in August 1914 had been

recalled to their old Service.

Nearly every imaginable trade was represented. In one of the

first-class cabins was the barber's shop, presided over by a man who in

pre-war days had worked in a hair-cutting establishment not far from

Victoria Station. Next door lived another man who had been a

bootmaker, and he, bringing all the appurtenances of his trade to sea

with him, carried on a roaring business as a "snob." There was also a

haberdashery emporium kept by a seaman who had been employed in some

linen-draper's shop in his native town, while a professional tailor in

blue-jacket's uniform spent all his spare time in making and repairing

the garments of his shipmates. Even the ship's electric laundry was

manned by folk who were well acquainted with starching and ironing.

Most of the cooks and stewards had left, but sufficient remained to

provide for the needs of the officers and men. The catering was still

run by the company to which the vessel belonged, and, as she had roomy

kitchens and all manner of labour-saving devices in the way of electric

dish-washers and potato-peelers, the messing was even better than that

on board a battleship.

Gone were the troops of laughing children and the passengers. A pile

of wicked-looking shell and boxes of cartridges for the guns lay ready

to hand in the nursery, while the promenade decks resounded to the

tramp of men being initiated into the mysteries of the squad and rifle

drill and the work at their guns.

* * * * *

They have been at it for two years; two years of strenuous naval

routine and discipline which have transformed the passenger liner into

no mean man-of-war.

The Mother Ship The Mutineers A Tale Of The Sea facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail