NOSTALGIA: Embarrassment as admiral’s sea burial goes terribly wrong

The late Admiral Sir John Kelly.
The late Admiral Sir John Kelly.
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The burial at sea, off Southsea, went very wrong during the service for Commander in Chief Portsmouth Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Kelly.

Sir John’s funeral was held in London on November 6, 1936.

According to Godfrey Dykes’ Burials at Sea, his coffin was drawn through the streets of the capital from the Old Admiralty to Trafalgar Square for the service which was held St Martin-in-the-Field, the naval church.

After the service his coffin was brought to Portsmouth by train where it remained at rest in St Anne’s Church in Portsmouth Dockyard.

Two days later, on November 8, his coffin was taken on to the cruiser HMS Curacoa for the service at sea off the Nab Tower.

The Curacoa departed the dockyard with four sailors standing with heads bowed at each corner of the coffin.

The service of committal over with, the coffin was committed to the deep.

But the most awful event occurred – the coffin floated.

What to do?

Members of the family were taken below for tea while several admirals attending the service conferred.

A three inch quick-firing gun was turned and fired many rounds at the coffin, completely destroying it and the remains inside.

The sea-boats were launched from escort destroyer HMS Witherington to pick up the remaining wood.

The destroyer HMS Kelly was named after the admiral.

Within a year another C-in-C died but the lesson had been learnt and two six-inch shells were placed inside his coffin.

HMS Curacoa had a very unfortunate ending to her career.

On October 2, 1942, when escorting the RMS Queen Mary carrying 10,000 American soldiers to Glasgow, the two ships collided off the Scottish coast.

The 18,673-ton liner sliced the 10,000 ton cruiser in half.

The captain was under orders to stop for nothing and the Mary continued on her course.

Sadly 338 sailors lost their lives. Many of the lost are named on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

n Can anyone tell me what on earth has happened to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo?

At one time it was exactly that, a military tattoo.

I happened to view it last week on TV and, to be honest, it was nowhere near up to the standard of years gone by.

Having said that, the BBC editor needs to do some explaining.

Whereas there used to be military bands from many nations marching and counter-marching, all I saw last week was lots of men and women dancing – and a school choir!

There was one part of the show where it was supposed to be the flight deck of an aircraft carrier.

Twenty seconds later it was all over.

When the Royal Marines Band appeared it became somewhat better, but even then they only played one traditional tune and there was very little marching involved.

Some of the arrangements were not the greatest either.

And don’t get me started on the guitarist playing the rock guitar.

Don’t phone us, we’ll phone you.

The final insult to Scotland was that there was no pipe band.

Well, there was of sorts, but all standing still with no stirring pipes and drums to make all Scotsmen proud.

Finally, they do not march off the parade ground through the main gate to the castle anymore, which was always a feature.

When there were massed bands at the end of the evening, the editor cut from the march the castle parade ground. Awful.

I don’t think I will tune in again.

n I have been sent a photograph from Mrs JK. Taylor of Purbrook.

Unfortunately I need more information before I can publish it.

Could you please call The News on (023) 9262 2229 and they will give you my private phone number so I can talk to you.

Thank you.