Rosslyn Erskine Wemyss, First Baron Wester Wemyss

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Admiral of the Fleet Rosslyn Wemyss, First Baron Wester Wemyss, portrayed as an Admiral.
Portrait: Sir William Orpen.

Admiral of the Fleet THE RIGHT HONOURABLE Rosslyn Erskine Wemyss, First Baron Wester Wemyss, K.C.B., C.M.G., M.V.O., Royal Navy (12 April, 1864 – 24 May, 1933) was an officer of the Royal Navy. He is chiefly remembered for his service in the Dardanelles Campaign during the First World War, followed by his elevation to the position of First Sea Lord in 1917.

Contents

Early Life & Career

Wemyss (pronounced "Weemz") was born in London on 12 April, 1864, the youngest and posthumous son of James Hay Erskine Wemyss, of Wemyss Castle, Fife, by his wife, Millicent Ann Mary, daughter of Lady Augusta Kennedy Erskine, the fourth daughter of the Duke of Clarence (later King William IV) by Mrs. Dorothy Jordan. His paternal grandfather, Rear-Admiral James Erskine Wemyss, was great-great-grandson of David, Third Earl of Wemyss, Vice-Admiral of Scotland, and his maternal great-grandfather, King William IV, had, as Duke of Clarence, been the last holder of the office of Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom.

In his examination for Naval Cadetships, Wemyss placed eighteenth out of the successful batch of forty-six candidates.[1] He was appointed to the training ship Britannia at Dartmouth on 15 July, 1877. He left on 24 July, 1879, having gained ten months' time out of the maximum twelve: Four out of four for study, three out of four for seamanship, and three out of four for conduct. He was appointed to the Bacchante on 25 July, and rated Midshipman on 23 September. He remained in Bacchante until she paid off on 31 August, 1882. On 1 September he was appointed to the battleship Northumberland. On 9 May, 1883,[2] he joined the corvette Canada on the North America and West Indies Station, where again he served with Prince George, who was slightly his junior.[3]

He returned home and was appointed to H.M.S. Excellent at Portsmouth on 19 August, 1884,[4] for the course of study for the rank of Lieutenant, divided between the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, and Excellent. His spare time was spent at his mother's homes at Torrie House, and Clock House on the Embankment.[5] On 15 July, 1885, "Grave displeasure" was expressed at his "not having disavowed complicity" in an attack on a Mr. Procter of Landport, Portsmouth. He was ordered to be kept aboard Duke of Wellington for a month without leave.[6] Lady Wester Wemyss, in her life of her husband, describes the incident as "assaulting the editor of some local rag."[7] On 12 October he was appointed to the torpedo depôt ship Hecla in the Mediterranean. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant on 31 March, 1887,[8] and reappointed to Hecla the same day. On 4 October he was appointed to the Royal Yacht Osborne,[9] where in the winter months he got in some hunting to hounds.[10]

He joined the battleship Anson on 17 September, 1889,[11] as Flag Lieutenant to Rear-Admiral Richard E. Tracey, Second-in-Command of the Channel Squadron, having been asked for by Tracey. The Senior Officer in Command of the Squadron, Vice-Admiral John K. E. Baird, was a relative.[12] On 18 February, 1890, Wemyss was appointed to the armoured cruiser Undaunted in the Mediterranean, captained by Captain Lord Charles Beresford, a family friend. On 6 May, 1892, he received his first command, that of Torpedo Boat 21, which was commissioned for training purposes.[13][14]

On 11 July, 1893, Wemyss was appointed First Lieutenant of the second class protected cruiser Andromache for the annual manœuvres. She was paid off on 29 August, and on 11 September he joined the battleship Empress of India in the Channel Squadron,[15] flagship of the Second-in-Command, Rear-Admiral Edward H. Seymour. In December, 1894, his eldest sister died suddenly, and on 11 February, 1895, his mother died at Wemyss Castle following a stroke.[16]

Having been present in Empress of India at the opening of the Kiel Canal on 20 June,[17] Wemyss was lent to H.M.S. Alexandra as Flag Lieutenant to Rear-Admiral Seymour on 17 July for the annual manœuvres. On 5 November he was appointed to the second-class cruiser Astræa in the Mediterranean as First Lieutenant.[18] At this time he apparently decided to assure his promotion to the rank of Commander by applying for a place in the Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert, which he obtained, his appointment in succession Lieutenant Christopher G. F. M. Cradock being dated 31 August, 1896.[19][20]

Wemyss evidently had a great affinity for the Royal Family. Indeed, once when he was younger, and the Queen was being driven through the streets of London, his mother was asked where Wemyss was. "Under the wheels of the Queen's carriage," replied his mother. "Where else would he be?"[21] The duties of a Lieutenant in the Royal Yacht were not so onerous, and he took a house on the Hamble River near Warsah, which he called Mainsail Haul.[22]

He was promoted to the rank of Commander on 31 August, 1898.[23] On 11 July, 1899, he was appointed to the second class protected cruiser Minerva for the annual manœuvres.[24] On 26 August he was appointed Commander (Second-in-Command) of the first-class protected cruiser Niobe, Captain Alfred L. Winsloe, in the Channel Squadron.[25][26]

Upon the return of Ophir, Wemyss was specially promoted to the rank of Captain on 6 November.[27]

Captain

For his service in Ophir Wemyss was appointed a Member of the Fourth Class of the Royal Victorian Order (M.V.O.) on 24 December, 1901.[28]

Wemyss was appointed in command of the armoured cruiser Suffolk in the Mediterranean on 1 September, 1905. He paid her off on 27 April, 1908.[29] He had apparently coveted the position of Private Secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty, and had actually been offered it by Fisher, on the condition that he would have to pay his views what his widow called "absolute subserviancy."[30] This story is rather incredible insomuch as the First Lord would choose his own Private Secretary and certainly wouldn't have relied solely on Fisher for advice. And judging by a letter Wemyss wrote to the Prince of Wales the present Private Secretary's tenure was being extended anyway, and he was more worried that he still wouldn't have enough sea time in for promotion to Flag Rank, and was actively considering leaving the Navy.[31]

On 29 September he was appointed to the Royal Naval War College at Portsmouth for the War Course. He was placed third out of twenty captains in order of merit and rated "V.G.I." [Very Good Indeed].[32] On 25 January, 1909, he was appointed for the Senior Gunnery and Torpedo Course and on 15 March took command of the battleship Albion, Atlantic Fleet. On 20 August he was appointed to Vivid as Commodore, Second Class in command of the Royal Naval Barracks, Devonport.[33]

Wemyss's service at Devonport was interrupted for several months when on 20 September, 1910, he was appointed to command the Balmoral Castle, with the rank of Commodore, Second Class. The Balmoral Castle was commissioned to take the Duke and Duchess of Connaught to South Africa for the opening of the first Union parliament. He had accepted the offer of this command in April when the Prince of Wales had intended to undertake the ceremony, but the death of King Edward VII and the prince's accession to the throne necessitated a change. King George made him an extra naval equerry on 10 June, 1910,[34] and on 17 January, 1911 he was appointed an Ordinary Member of the Third Class, or Companion, in the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (C.M.G.) for his services on the voyage.[35] On 3 January he had been reappointed Commodore at Devonport Barracks.[36]

Flag Rank

Wemyss was promoted to the rank of Rear-Admiral on 19 April, 1911, vice Tufnell.[37] He was relieved as Commodore at Plymouth by John de M. Hutchison on 25 April.[38] After his promotion, he apparently went to see the Second Sea Lord, Admiral Francis C. B. Bridgeman, who offered him command of the Mediterranean Cruiser Squadron (then the Sixth Cruiser Squadron) when it fell vacant, even though it entailed eighteen months on half-pay. Wemyss considered the appointment worth the wait and accepted it.[39] This story is somewhat suspect. The Second Sea Lord at the time Wemyss was promoted was Sir George Egerton, not Bridgeman. The men ultimately responsible for such appointments would have been either the Private Secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty (Rear-Admiral E. C. T. Troubridge) or the First Lord himself. Seeing the First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Arthur Wilson, would be more likely than seeing the Second Sea Lord.

His future supposedly settled, Wemyss and his family stayed in London, travelled to Wemyss, Vosges, and Cannes.[39] From 11 September to 22 December, 1911, he attended the Royal Naval War College.[40] There he came first in order of merit out of six flag officers who took part, and was described to have a "strong personalty & has [a] strong grasp of [the] strategical situation."[41]

It is asserted by Wemyss's widow that the new First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, had decided to give command of the Mediterranean Cruiser Squadron to Rear-Admiral Troubridge in order that he could appoint Rear-Admiral David Beatty as his Naval Secretary. In light of what Lady Wester Wemyss considered "so flagrant a breach of faith", Wemyss apparently sent in his resignation on 22 July, 1912, and only retracted it after a stormy interview with Churchill and the promise of the next available seagoing appointment.[42]

The facts suggest a very different story. Churchill had been appointed First Lord in October, 1911. Rear-Admiral Troubridge received the important new appointment of Chief of the Admiralty War Staff on 8 January, 1912, and was then replaced as Naval Secretary by Rear-Admiral Beatty. The command of the Mediterranean Cruiser Squadron, then the Sixth Cruiser Squadron, did not fall vacant until 3 June, when Rear-Admiral Sir Douglas A. Gamble hauled down his flag at Portsmouth. The command of the cruisers was taken over by the new Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, Admiral Sir Berkeley Milne. The appointment of Troubridge in command of the Mediterranean Cruiser Squadron was not announced until late November.

Troubridge didn't take up his new command until 6 January, 1913, by which time Wemyss had already been at sea for over two months. For on 29 October, 1912 he was appointed Rear-Admiral Second-in-Command in the Second Battle Squadron in succession to Rear-Admiral Herbert G. King-Hall.

Great War

Wemyss as Rear-Admiral.
Photo: Library of Congress.

Wemyss arrived back in London on 31 July, and visited the Admiralty, where he ascertained that he was to be given command of the Twelfth Cruiser Squadron. The mobilisation order went out on Saturday, and Wemyss, accompanied by his wife and his Flag Lieutenant, Bevan, headed to Plymouth. He hoisted his flag in the cruiser Charybdis on 2 August.[43]

His orders were to act in concert with the French Admiral Rouyer in charge of the western patrol in the English Channel for the protection of the transports conveying the British Expeditionary Force to France. Constantly at sea in an old uncomfortable ship without any sign of the enemy, Wemyss found this a tiresome task, and was glad when in September his squadron was sent to Canada to escort the first contingent of 30,000 Canadians to England. This duty was successfully accomplished, although Wemyss himself considered that old slow cruisers were a risky protection to a convoy. He then resumed charge of the western patrol, transferring his flag to the Euryalus until February 1915, when he hauled it down on the dispersal of his cruiser force.

Wemyss was at once selected for a new duty as governor of the island of Lemnos and to take charge of a naval base to be created at Mudros for the impending naval and military Dardanelles campaign, although occupying a most anomalous position in foreign territory without staff or detailed orders to guide him. He was required to organize and equip a base for a great army and fleet on an island which had no facilities for landing troops or discharging cargo, no water supply, and no native labour. He set to work at once with great energy and resourcefulness and in a few weeks troops were able to land and assemble for the attack on the Gallipoli peninsula. In March Vice-Admiral Sir Sackville H. Carden, the commander-in-chief, had to give up the command through ill health. His second-in-command, Rear-Admiral Sir John M. De Robeck, was junior to Wemyss, although older, but Wemyss with great public spirit himself proposed that De Robeck should succeed Carden with the acting rank of vice-admiral, remaining himself in charge of Mudros.

In April Wemyss was able to take an active part in the landing operations in command of the first naval squadron, being in charge of the Helles section, with his flag in his former flagship Euryalus, and having Lieutenant-General Sir Aylmer Hunter-Weston and his staff on board. Throughout this critical and dangerous work he maintained close co-operation with the military authorities, readily accepted ideas from his own officers, such as the celebrated beaching of the cargo ship River Clyde, and helped to maintain the morale of the whole expedition by his indomitable cheerfulness and imperturbability. In August he was mentioned in dispatches for his invaluable services in the Gallipoli landing.

On 1 January, 1916, he was appointed an Additional Member of the Second Class, or Knight Commander, in the Military Division of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (K.C.B.).[44] On the same say he was appointed Commander-in-Chief, East Indies.[45] The Euryalus was again his flagship and he soon found opportunities of effective co-operation with the military commanders in the defence of Egypt against the Turks and the Senussi rising and in the support of General Sir Archibald Murray's advance to Sinai. He then took his squadron to the Persian Gulf and went himself up the Tigris in a river-gunboat to try to relieve the critical situation in Mesopotamia. In a forlorn hope of saving the garrison of Major-General Sir C. V. F. Townshend [q.v.] at Kut from surrender he attempted to get a food ship through to the town; it failed, but he could not rightly refuse the military appeal for help. He then completed his tour of his station, visiting both India, where he saw the viceroy, Lord Chelmsford, and Ceylon, and, after meeting Rear-Admiral (Sir) W. L. Grant, commander-in-chief, China station, at Penang, he returned to Egypt in August in time to support the advance by General Sir Edmund Allenby [q.v.] into Palestine, and foster the Arab revolt by his patrols in the Red Sea. He established cordial relations with the Emir Feisal and T. E. Lawrence, as well as with the generals. He was confirmed in the rank of Vice-Admiral on 6 December, vice Warrender.[46]

Allegedly, Wemyss told his successor as Commander-in-Chief, East Indies, Vice-Admiral Gaunt, "to look out for two troublemakers, a little pipsqueak called Lawrence in Arabia, and a tiresome nigger by the name of Gandhi."[47]

In June 1917 under an agreement between Great Britain, France, and Italy it was decided to appoint a vice-admiral as commander-in-chief of the British ships in the Mediterranean with headquarters at Malta. Wemyss was offered and accepted the appointment, but on returning to London for instructions he was invited by Sir Eric Geddes [q.v.] , who had just succeeded Sir Edward Carson [q.v.] as first lord, to join his Board as second sea lord; that official had hitherto been expected to take the place of the first sea lord in his absence. But on further reflection Geddes decided to leave the Second Sea Lord to carry on his personnel work and in September created a new office of Deputy First Sea Lord for Wemyss.

First Sea Lord

About Wemyss's suitability for the position of First Sea Lord, Lord Fisher was asked by George E. Buckle, lately editor of The Times, "BUT HAS HE BRAINS??" Fisher recounted, "I gave Buckle an evasive answer! I replied, "He has tact!"[48] Given Wemyss's attributed remarks of Lawrence and Gandhi, we must supposed that Fisher judged a man's tact relative to his own capacity in this regard.

On the occasion of the King's birthday he was appointed an Additional Member of the First Class, or Knight Grand Cross, in the Military Division of the Order of the Bath (G.C.B.) on 3 June, 1918.[49]

Resignation & Retirement

Wemyss was confirmed in the rank of Admiral on 21 February, 1919.[50] At home Wemyss took a leading part in securing substantial increases in the remuneration of the naval service. His new chief in Whitehall was Walter Long, and, much hurt by an anonymous press agitation demanding his replacement by Sir David Beatty and by his exclusion in July from the list of peerages and money awards to the principal war leaders, in that month he asked his leave to resign. Long refused, but a few months later feeling himself out of sympathy with the government's attitude to the revolutionary Russian régime and to the maintenance of this country's naval supremacy, Wemyss decided definitely to resign and left office on 1 November 1919, being specially promoted Admiral of the Fleet on 29 December, dated 1 November.[51] He was raised to the Peerage of the United Kingdom as Baron Wester Wemyss of Wemyss in the County of Fife on 20 November,[52] resurrecting the title of an ancient Scottish barony in his family. He remained on half pay until he reached the age limit and retired in 1929, having received no further government employment as a governor or ambassador which he felt he had a right to expect, and lived mainly at Wemyss and at Cannes. But he was actively engaged as director of the Cables and Wireless Company and the British Oil Development Company, conducting a successful mission on behalf of the latter to the Middle East in 1927 and to South America on behalf of the former in 1929. He maintained his intense interest in foreign affairs and occasionally expressed his views in the House of Lords and in the press, particularly his hostility to the Turkish treaty of 1920, and to the Washington naval treaty of 1922. He was placed upon the Retired List on 12 April, 1929,[53] upon reaching the age of sixty-five.

Wester Wemyss married in 1903 Victoria, the only daughter of Sir Robert Burnett David Morier, the eminent diplomat, and had one daughter. He died at Cannes 24 May, 1933, and was buried in the chapel garden of Wemyss Castle after preliminary services at Cannes and Westminster Abbey, at which naval honours were officially accorded to him.

There is a drawing of Wester Wemyss by Francis Dodd in the Imperial War Museum, and his portrait is included in Sir A. S. Cope's picture "Some Sea Officers of the Great War," painted in 1921, in the National Portrait Gallery. His widow published a biography of him in 1935, based on letters and Wemyss's own unpublished memoirs. Admiral Sir Sydney R. Fremantle, who served with Wemyss on the Board of Admiralty, wrote to Sir Vincent W. Baddeley in 1946: "I am sorry no life of Rosy has ever been published, except that by Lady Wemyss, which is little short of ridiculous."[54]

Bibliography

  • "Lord Wester Wemyss" (Obituaries). The Times. Thursday, 25 May, 1933. Issue 46453, col B, p. 18.
  • "Lord Wester Wemyss: French Tributes at Funeral Service" (Obituaries). The Times. Monday, 29 May, 1933. Issue 46456, col D, p. 13.
  • "Lord Wester Wemyss: Official Arrangements for Funeral" (Obituaries). The Times. Tuesday, 30 May, 1933. Issue 46457, col D, p. 18.
  • "Lord Wester Wemyss: Appreciations" (Obituaries). The Times. Tuesday, 30 May, 1933. Issue 46457, col C, p. 21.
  • "Lord Wester Wemyss: Funeral Service at the Abbey" (Obituaries). The Times. Wednesday, 31 May, 1933. Issue 46458, col C, p. 19.
  • Wester Wemyss, Admiral of the Fleet Lord, G.C.B. (1924). The Navy in the Dardanelles Campaign. London: Hodder and Stoughton Limited.
  • Wester Wemyss, Lady (1935). The Life and Letters of Lord Wester Wemyss. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode.

Papers

Service Records

Naval Appointments
Preceded by
New Command
Captain of Royal Naval College, Osborne
1 Aug, 1903[55]
Succeeded by
William E. Goodenough
Preceded by
David Beatty
Captain of H.M.S. Suffolk
1 Sep, 1905[Citation needed]
Succeeded by
Norman C. Palmer
Preceded by
Arthur H. Limpus
Captain of H.M.S. Albion
15 Mar, 1909[Citation needed]
Succeeded by
Charles H. Morgan
Preceded by
Arthur Y. Moggridge
Commodore-in-Command, Royal Naval Barracks, Devonport
20 Aug, 1909[56]
Succeeded by
Lionel G. Tufnell
Preceded by
Lionel G. Tufnell
Commodore-in-Command, Royal Naval Barracks, Devonport
3 Jan, 1911[57]
Succeeded by
John de M. Hutchison
Preceded by
Herbert G. King-Hall
Rear-Admiral, Second-in-Command, Second Battle Squadron
29 Oct, 1912[Citation needed]
Succeeded by
Sir Robert K. Arbuthnot, Bart.
Preceded by
New Command
Rear-Admiral Commanding, Twelfth Cruiser Squadron
1 Aug, 1914[58] – 15 Feb, 1915[59]
Succeeded by
Command Abolished
Preceded by
Sir Richard H. Peirse
Commander-in-Chief, East Indies Station
1 Jan, 1916[60]
Succeeded by
Sir Ernest F. A. Gaunt
Preceded by
?
Deputy First Sea Lord
6 Sep, 1917
Succeeded by
George P. W. Hope
Preceded by
Sir Cecil Burney
Second Sea Lord
6 Sep, 1917[61]
Succeeded by
Sir Herbert L. Heath
as Second Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Personnel
Preceded by
Sir John R. Jellicoe
as First Sea Lord
First Sea Lord and Chief of Naval Staff
10 Jan, 1918[62]
Succeeded by
The Right Hon. The Earl Beatty

Footnotes

  1. "Naval Cadetships" (News). The Times. Saturday, 30 June, 1877. Issue 28982, col A, p. 14.
  2. The National Archives. ADM 196/20. f. 507.
  3. Wester Wemyss. p. 32.
  4. ADM 196/20. f. 507.
  5. Wester Wemyss. p. 33.
  6. ADM 196/42. f. 223.
  7. Wester Wemyss. p. 33.
  8. The London Gazette: no. 25689. p. 1978. 5 April, 1887.
  9. ADM 196/42. f. 223.
  10. Wester Wemyss. p. 35.
  11. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. f. 223.
  12. Wester Wemyss. p. 35.
  13. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. f. 223.
  14. Wester Wemyss. p. 37.
  15. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. f. 223.
  16. Wester Wemyss. pp. 38-39.
  17. Wester Wemyss. pp. 40-41.
  18. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. f. 223.
  19. Wester Wemyss. pp. 42-43.
  20. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. f. 223.
  21. Wester Wemyss. p. 43.
  22. Wester Wemyss. p. 44.
  23. The London Gazette: no. 27004. p. 5431. 13 September, 1898.
  24. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. f. 223.
  25. The National Archives. ADM 196/20. f. 507.
  26. Wester Wemyss. p. 45.
  27. The London Gazette: no. 27372. p. 7147. 5 November, 1901.
  28. The London Gazette: no. 27390. p. 9061. 24 December, 1901.
  29. ADM 196/42. f. 223.
  30. Wester Wemyss. pp. 97-99.
  31. Prince of Wales to Wemyss. Letter of 7 May, 1908. Wemyss Papers. Churchill Archives Centre. WMYS 2/8.
  32. The National Archives. ADM 203/99. f. 31.
  33. ADM 196/42. f. 223.
  34. The London Gazette: no. 28383. p. 4075. 10 June, 1910.
  35. The London Gazette: no. 28457. p. 412. 17 January, 1911.
  36. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. f. 223.
  37. The London Gazette: no. 28487. p. 3093. 21 April, 1911.
  38. "Naval and Military Intelligence" (Official Appointments and Notices). The Times. Friday, 21 April, 1911. Issue 39565, col G, p. 4.
  39. 39.0 39.1 Wester Wemyss. Life and Letters. p. 128.
  40. Wemyss Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. p. 223.
  41. The National Archives. ADM 203/99. f. 47.
  42. Wester Wemyss. Life and letters. pp. 131-132.
  43. Wester Wemyss. Life and Letters. pp. 157-159.
  44. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29423. p. 79. 31 December, 1915.
  45. ADM 196/42. f. 223.
  46. The London Gazette: no. 29853. p. 11970. 8 December, 1916.
  47. Sheila de Moleyns. Tape recording in possession of the Liddle Collection, University of Leeds.
  48. Fear God and Dread Nought. III. p. 497.
  49. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30723. p. 6527. 3 June, 1918.
  50. The London Gazette: no. 31223. p. 3294. 11 March, 1919.
  51. The London Gazette: no. 31715. p. 57. 2 January, 1920.
  52. The London Gazette: no. 31651. p. 14036. 21 November, 1919.
  53. The London Gazette: no. 33486. p. 2512. 16 April, 1929.
  54. Letter of 16 April, 1946. Baddeley Papers. National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth. MSS 264.
  55. Wester Wemyss Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. f. 223.
  56. Wemyss Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. f. 223.
  57. Wemyss Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. f. 223.
  58. Wemyss Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. f. 223.
  59. Wemyss Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. f. 223.
  60. Wemyss Service Record. The National Archives. ADM 196/42. p. 223.
  61. The Naval Staff of the Admiralty. p. 119.
  62. The Naval Staff of the Admiralty. p. 119.

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