The admiral who gave washing machines to the Royal Navy

HMS Queen Mary was the last battlecruiser built by the Royal Navy before the First World War
HMS Queen Mary was the last battlecruiser built by the Royal Navy before the First World War

THIS WEEK IN 1983: ‘Prosecute him’ – pleas ‘battered’ wife

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When part of Bedhampton was a mass of Nissen huts housing sailors from the overcrowded Queen Street barracks in Portsmouth, the roads around the camp were all named after serving and former commanders-in chief, Portsmouth.

Two remain, Fraser Road and James Road.

James Road is named after a hero of mine although he retired from the navy before I was born.

Admiral Sir William James when C-in-C Portsmouth

Admiral Sir William James when C-in-C Portsmouth

Admiral Sir William James joined the Royal Navy in its transition from sail to steam in 1895. In fact, he went to sea in a barque.

His rise in the service was through hard work and learning how to get on with people, but his best trait was that he knew how to treat his men whether the lowest seaman or fellow officers.

I have recently secured his 1951 book The Sky was Always Blue in which he tells of his meteoric rise through the ranks.

In his time he was responsible for many features in modern ships believe it or not, although I should think much would have happened anyway through the natural advances in shipbuilding.

When he served in the battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary as commander his captain was Captain William ‘Blinker’ Hall.

The two of them instigated the three-watch system within the navy.

Hall, being a deeply religious man, mentioned to James that there was no special place for communion or special services aboard ships.

Together they found space for a chapel and there was no shortage of hands to set about the conversion.

This became the first chapel on board a man-of-war and The Admiralty ordered that a chapel should be fitted to all ships under construction.

The next ‘event’ organised by James was a ship’s laundry.

It was the custom for sailors to do their laundry on the upper deck but it was not the best way to do their dhobi’ing.

James had a set of four laundry machines installed and four men were rostered to do it all.

In later years Chinese men were commonplace on all naval ships for doing the laundry.

The next innovation James instigated was the building and equipping of a bookstall which soon became a valuable amenity and which, again, was adopted by most ships.

Another of Hall’s and James’s innovations was better accommodation for chiefs and petty officers.

With rapid promotion in 1932 James was a Flag Captain taking control of the battlecruiser squadron which he did from his flagship HMS Hood. In 1933 he was made vice-admiral and from 1938 he became a full admiral.

He became C-in-C Portsmouth in 1939 and served through the worst years of the Blitz.

In 1943 he became Tory MP for Portsmouth North which he held until 1945.

James retired from the navy in 1944 after 50 years’ service.

I could write several pages on the marvellous well-liked seaman if there were but room.

n I just wanted to thank all of you who turned up at the unveiling of the Portsmouth boxers’ memorial last Sunday in Guildhall Square.

It did justice to Andrew Fairley’s hard work and commitment and I know he was over the moon with the response.

When the gifts of private memorials from Alver Stones stonemasons were handed out, many were visibly choked.

Thank you all for making it such a fine day.