My Visit to the British Battle-Cruisers 
H.M.S. Hood and Repulse 
Author - S.M. Ghani

(Webmasters note: On reading this essay you may think that some of the phrases are a little unusual, however you have to remember that this was written by a schoolboy in 1924, and what's more he was Malaysian, and he was probably writing in a second language too). 

For myself, I find it heartwarming that these ships had the effect they did on people from around the world, and indeed that the loss of the HMS Prince of Wales and the HMS Repulse touched people, and is still remembered in far away places.

Readers who expect this essay - if such it may be called - to unfold before them a scientific description of a school boy's visit to the British Battle-Cruisers, with all technical terms in it may as well turn over the next leaf; for such a property will not be found invested in it. The reason is not far to seek. One may begin at any time to learn the technical terms, but it is not at any time that one completes the learning.

After almost hours of monotonous landscape of rubber plantations, my friends and I, with other schoolboys and girls, arrived at Port Swettenham, and hustled ourselves into the waiting ferry. With the ferry laboriously cleaving its way, we kept our eyes sharp for the cruisers. The evidence of their presence could be found in their fast moving motor boats, running to and from the pier.

At length, as the ferry rounded the curve, the cruisers seemed to loom out of the recess of the sea. Though it is a fact that the Hood is longer than the Repulse, I could not be accordingly impressed when I observed them from the ferry. After some skilful steering by the skipper of the ferry, it came alongside of the cruiser, H. M. S. Hood, which we were to visit. We took some time in boarding the cruiser and a cinematograph cameraman took a record of it.

On board the cruiser a sailor volunteered to guide us. We were shown the side guns, with the opening of the breach and various other movements. I was not much interested in seeing them and I glanced listlessly at the eager, pressing crowd about me. Our guide then motioned to us to follow him. We pushed our way through the crowd and followed him to a small upper cabin, where he showed us the compass. Unfortunately for me, I was pushed away from him and the intervening space rendered his explanation inaudible to me.

While strolling along the lower decks later on, I came across the torpedo compartment above the water line. Two torpedoes were suspended above the torpedo tubes, from which they are shot forth against the enemy, when in action. These torpedoes have small propellers attached. Fortunately this room was not far below the water line. For if it had been, I could not have helped feeling that I was in some sort of a sixteenth or seventeenth century dungeon, as I had occasion to feel when I was in the engine room.

The temperature here (the engine room) could almost be called unbearable. My feet had hardly touched the floor of this room, when realising the heat I hastened up again. I heaved a sigh and proceeded along the corridor until I came across a little knot of people. Curious to discover what interested them, I stopped. There was a beautiful, miniature bookshop. A man behind the counter showed us fountain pens, erasers and post-cards, the prices of which were by no means cheap. Few of us purchased anything if at all.

I then resumed my journey about the cruiser. Suddenly a bugler rushed in, formed a megaphone with his hands and yelled out some words, the last of which I heard to be something like "Hurrah!" Wondering what on earth he had yelled out, I accosted a nearby sailor and inquired of him about it. He explained to me that the ship's visitors were to bid good-bye to it. Well, good-bye it was to it and to that day's cruiser-seeing events.


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My visit to the H.M.S. Repulse
S.M.G.

This was the day of which I can say that I had a thorough enjoyment. With two of my friends, I pushed along with a pressing crowd to the cruiser, H.M.S. Repulse. Though our boarding this cruiser must be confessed was a surprise to us, yet, nevertheless, it was profoundly welcome.

Our faces beaming with joy, we wandered aimlessly for some time. It was during these wanderings that we came across a Corporal B. Oakley who proved a very friendly and an indefatigable guide. If I am able to recount my visits to the various compartments of the cruiser, I owe it to the untiring efforts of his to gain admittance wherever possible. We proceeded to the turret where the twin 15-inch guns are installed. We had to wait for a mass of people to leave it before we could find room in it. A stout man explained to us about the guns.

The shells for them are stored some one or two decks below, so that in the case of the enemies' shells striking the turret, the fear of their own shells inflicting some extra harm is forestalled. Every movement is controlled by levers. First the breach is opened. Then with a rumbling noise, a carrier swiftly ascends carrying a shell from the storeroom below and stops in line with the yawning breach. With the application of another lever, the shell is thrust into the breach. The breach is locked and an electric wire-end is inserted into a small opening in the shutter, just large enough to admit it. The aim is taken from a place between the guns. The switching on of the current into this wire is equivalent to the pulling of the trigger in an ordinary gun, and with a loud report away dashes off the messenger of destruction. 

We listened and watched these movements with silence and genuine interest. Of course, I must not be confounded to mean that we actually heard the report, for, although these actions were shown us, a shell was not admitted to enact its share of the performance.

As we were later going along the corridors some decks below, a sailor invited us to enter a sundering corridor. No sooner had we three reached the end of this, when, with a click an iron door closed on us. There was barely room for us and it was suffocating. I was conscious of a feeling of something formidable in all this. And, in spite of that, I knew I could not rely upon myself to do any Houdini stunt. Without further ado, I concluded that the same feeling had pervaded the hearts of my friends. Imagine our horror then! Cold beads of perspiration stood on our foreheads. Each was staring into the face of the other askance.

"Courage, friends!" I uttered, but the words, however, fell with a chill on my own heart. I knew that if such words were needed at all, I was the one needing them most. Suddenly the planks on which we were standing sank under us, and all of a sudden the movement ceased. The door was opened by a sailor and I stepped out taking in a deep breath. My two friends also left that Black Hole of Calcutta, perhaps Black Hole of H.M.S. Repulse would be a more appropriate term for it.

"What is this?" I inquired of the sailor.

"This is the stoke room," he replied. I turned round and looked at the Black Hole and discovered it to be an electric lift. Feeling ashamed to look at it again, I, with my friends, followed the other to the stoves, which contained angry flames, leaping furiously.

We got a glimpse of the beautifully furnished captain's compartments. An orderly stood guarding their entrance.

The bookshop was slightly smaller than the one in the H.M.S. Hood. Photographs recording the finishes of the athletic events in which the members of the cruiser had taken part in different climes, could also be seen hanging nearby.

Here also we visited the engine-room, but it was not so hot. To my enquiry, Mr. Oakley told me that the heat would radiate when the cruiser is on the move.

To us it was very interesting to see a telephone exchange on board. There was a man on duty with a book and we were told that always there was a man there.

While again going along the corridors we came across the torpedo compartment. The torpedoes were stored here just as they were stored in the H.M.S. Hood. There are 4 twin tubes above the water line and 2 below. Each torpedo costs 1,200. 

As regards the sporting side of the cruiser, we can say that it is very good as the reader himself or herself can judge from the little of what I am able to inform below.

The Cock Trophy, which they hold, is a cock made of silver. This trophy is to be competed for by battle-cruisers only. Every year all the battle-cruisers compete for it, sending separate classes of boats to win the races held for this purpose. The cruiser which wins the most points holds the trophy for one year. At the end of this period the competition is repeated. Last year the races were held at Skagen in Norway and the H.M.S. Repulse won by 81 points out of 230.

The Gold Vase was presented by Her late Majesty Queen Victoria to her Majesty's godson. Victor Alexander Ewart, at his birth. He became an officer of the Royal Navy and lost his life in the Battle of Jutland while serving on the H. M. S. Princess Mary. His wife, wishing that his name should not be forgotten, gave the vase to be competed for every year by Ward Room officers and Galley Crews.

The Glass Cut Bowl valued at 700, was presented by the Russian Government to the best ship in the British battle-cruiser squadron in 1914 at St.Petersberg, as it was then called. This was won by H.M.S. Inflexible and has been handed down to each succeeding ship since then. The International Cup was presented by the Brazilian Government to the warship which won the most points in all sports. In this competition nine nations competed. The Americans were especially trained for this with special diets, etc, while, on the other hand H.M.S. Repulse did not even know of it until it had arrived there. In the competition, however, it came out the winner.

These are the most treasured ones of the cruiser and about which I shall trouble the reader. The first three of the above mentioned prizes have been held by it for three years.

It may also prove surprising to my readers to learn that the first Repulse was built in 1596, the model of which can be seen in the present Repulse. Its length was 97 feet and tonnage 600. The length of the present H.M.S. Repulse is 794 feet and the tonnage is 37,100 and it is said to be the fastest cruiser in existence.

Well, we may as well join the chorus and take our cue to say just

"Rule, Britannia! Britannia, rule the waves.
Britons never, never, never shall be slaves."

 

A few words about the author (written by CHUNG Chee Min of the Victoria Institution in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia)

 

Dear Andy,

I am delighted to know that a humble schoolboy article from our School Magazine of 1924 could have elicited such interest in the UK. Yes, by all means make a transcript of it for your use. The loss of the Repulse and Prince of Wales was well known to those of my generation who were born in the war years and just after.

You might be interested to know that the author of that article, S M Ghani, later became a teacher in the Victoria Institution and in the Batu Road School (a feeder school to the Victoria Institution) which I attended (though he did not teach me) but I had the pleasure of knowing his 4 sons and daughter who attended the V.I. in the 50s, 60s and 70s. I was equally delighted to meet his grandson, a few years ago who, may I add, was also a pupil of the V.I.

I and my co-webmasters are happy that our old school, one of the premier schools in Malaysia, is able to contribute some pieces to the story of these two famous battleships.

CHUNG Chee Min, an Old Boy of:

THE VICTORIA INSTITUTION
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

The VI Web pagekeepers: Dr. Alan Teh, Ooi Boon Kheng and Chung Chee Min.

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