A Life Cut Short - The Edited Letters of Lieutenant Commander Ralph Lyall Clayton, 1885 - 1916

Chapter 8 - The Last Chapter

Sadly, we now come to the moment when Lieutenant Commander Ralph Clayton’s life, in common with 1,265 others, was finally cut short at the Battle of Jutland on May 31st, 1916. Chapter Eight brings his story to an end.

We now return to Ralph Clayton aboard the Queen Mary in war time. The First World War started uneventfully as far as the officers of Queen Mary were concerned. Very little news was reaching the ship and initial enthusiasm and excitement soon gave way to frustration and boredom.

August 19th,1914

‘an opportunity for sending letters....I don’t think any of your letters fail to arrive...on the other hand my letters seem to take longer than ever, so I expect the Censor at the Admiralty must be taking them home as models for his own family. Ralph was sorry to hear that Admiral Bearcroft was still ill and thought his opinion about the war will not be far off the mark; but there seems to be a growing feeling that a few months will not see us through it....I expect Mr.Barker’s story of how the Expeditionary Force was embarked is quite correct....The transport of such a number of men with all their equipment so safely and quickly is really marvellous. Kitchener may be responsible but the details must have been arranged long before he came on the scene....I think Jack [now a Vicar] will find plenty to do at Bristol, though of course it is the feeling of not being suitable to go, rather than not going, that hurts.

On board here, the number of bearded ruffians is increasing.It is to be hoped that the war will continue long enough for beards to be suitable trimmed before they are introduced to family and friends; but even then I fear, some of them may be shocked. It would be awkward to feel that you weren’t quite sure of recognising your intimate relations when you met them at the station...’

August 29th

I wish we could hear that the advance of the German Army in France had been stopped...It must be necessary that the French should check the advance more, in order to give the Russians time for their advance. Although I don’t think the end can be doubted, both Belgium and Northern France will have a great deal to suffer before the Germans are finally broken.

I am glad kittens can’t be sent by parcel lost, if you would like to send me all your spare ones. We are a ship overrun with cats – nearly all black ones, of all sizes.

I have heard a story on very good authority – Lord Grey – that the war was in no way the desire of the Kaiser, but that Germany was irrevocably involved during the Emperor’s absence in the Baltic, by the Crown Prince and the war party at Court, and the Kaiser when he hurriedly returned, had to sign the Declaration. He was very anxious about the result and said his ministers would live to repent their action.

September 6th

Ralph feels that all the news about Heligoland has already been in the papers so there will be no problem in his talking of it to his mother:

‘Well, in our affair last Friday, we heard about the Destroyers being engaged, soon after eight – I was in my bath But nothing happened with us until nearly noon....Our first sight of the enemy was a dissolute looking cruiser with one funnel standing. We couldn’t make out what it was doing; it didn’t appear to be damaged, though we now know it should have had more funnels; it wasn’t firing and one saw no one, while none of our ships appeared to be taking any notice of it. In fact, she looked like a derelict. This was the Mainz, surrendered I imagine to our Light Cruisers and later on sunk by them. However, soon after that we saw constant flashes far away on the horizon., and sighted a cruiser there. We couldn’t make out for a long time what she was firing at though present[ly] the Arethusa and her destroyers came out of the thick haze. I don’t think the German firing had any idea of our presence for she came on, and eventually had the audacity to open fire on us. Of course nothing but flight could have saved her. Partly due to the fog, but no doubt also because we couldn’t believe that such a small cruiser would engage a squadron of Battle Cruisers, we all thought she was larger than she turned out to be. Of the firing there isn’t much to be said, it was a bad day for accuracy, but hers was very inferior; and we weren’t touched ourselves. In fact our chief bandmaster, who said his nerves aren’t good, watched the action from the open deck. A few shells went over us, and we heard others which went short and ricocheted over us....Eventually the cruiser passes astern of us, and meanwhile another had appeared on the other side but she didn’t stay long – though too long for her. We came on our original target shortly after, it was then the gunfire completed the work. She sank by the stern....it was so quick that I hadn’t time to get my camera ready – it was close at hand – before she went. It was too misty to have taken a good photo so it wasn’t much loss...so you see that we can’t call our part in the affair a very splendid feat of arm but s from all accounts the Destroyer Flotilla really did do very fine work.

September 12th

I don’t think there is any chance of finding myself lent to a destroyer. You must have a low value of my importance on board, or else great confidence in the behaviour of electricity to imagine me being sent casually to a destroyer. Remember, almost everything is electrical; and everything that isn’t depends on something that is; so you may expect to find me on the Queen Mary still when Germany sues for peace.

I hope Adm. Bosanquet gave a satisfactory speech at Ross...I think he is the last man to thrill anyone; and a most unsuitable person for a patriotic meeting.

September 12th

Our Sundays are usually working days now....we have either coaled all day or else coaled the whole night previously. It makes the day of the week difficult to locate...

I do not require to be financed during the war, since my expenses are almost confined to what I can manage to eat, and for the sake of my figure I daren’t increase the amount very much....The German Navy is certainly not adventurous; but it is annoying that they should sink even fishing vessels.

Will you, when you buy your sheets of 1d stamps preserve me the corner six which carries the Control number, A followed by some figure on the stamp paper – like this [diagram].It is the only way to check the varieties of English stamps,...I have just been studying the English ones from 1911-1914; there are great numbers of small varieties, some of which are quite rare. Do you remember the ½ and 1d you got me at Cromer,.at the time of the Coronation. They were the first printed from the plates, and the latter were slightly altered almost at once; the first printings are now priced in the catalogue at 5/- each – a good percentage on your capital of a. if there is a market for them.

September 30th

As regards socks and comforters, I have already mentioned whom I should like them for. There are a good many men – about thirty who would want them. One doesn’t keep strictly to Navy Blue these days --. or indeed to any strict details of uniform. Officers in coloured shirts and grey flannels are quite ordinary and men wear much what they like within reason...

I wonder if you will be amused or gratified to hear that the Admiralty has ordered all ships present at it to have painted in gold letters ‘Heligolans, 28 August, 1914 in some convenient place. Imagine how the shades of Nelson and Jervis will feel to see it placed next the names of Trafalgar and St Vincent...I hope we shall be able to find ‘a convenient place.’...

When you wrote the last letter I got, you had just seen the news of the loss of three cruisers. The Germans certainly did their work well, and I don’t grudge the ‘Iron Crosses’ to the Officers of the Submarines.....I suppose [if] the two other ships had gone off with all speed instead of trying to save the men of the Aboukir that public opinion in England would have been against them. Now I hope it will be sufficiently obvious that they are more likely to save more lives by not being sunk themselves, and that their ships should, for preference, be used for war and not life saving....

October 10th

Ralph gives short shrift to rumours: ‘Your rumour about Prince Louis has arrived on board in other letters today; but can hardly strengthen the chances of its being true. Both reports agree as to the Tower being the place of confinement; and it seems to go with the words, ‘High Treason’. There are other stories - the Manager of the Ritz has been shot for using a wirekess installation in the roof of his hotel to pass news to Germany – and Mrs Randoph Churchill has been imprisoned for spying or something.....He bemoans the lack of official news on Queen Mary and the need to rely on rumours and media journalistic accounts of events in newspapers and magazines

October 12th

My stamps had a sad accident a fortnight ago, about nine volumes getting drowned. Since then, I’ve had their pages hanging up all round my cabin to dry. Also it was necessary to take out about two thousand to prevent their sticking to the pages when they dried....

October 18th

The bad news about the Hawke is balanced this morning by that of sinking the German destroyers....‘with the Navy, the loss of men is always accompanied by the loss of the ship. or else the latter goes and the crew are saved; then the ships cannot be replaced....It is a sad thing about the Hawke, as about the other three cruisers, that she carried a number of boys just sent away from Dartmouth. It was the idea that they should be sent to ships which would not form part of the Battle line, so that they should not stand much risk. As things turned out they would have been better in the Battleships....Ralph becomes more depressed by news of the ground war, ‘difficult to imagine what will eventually happen; the armies in France cannot get on; their progress is of the slightest. The Russians don’t seem to advance much in spite of enormous numbers; it all looks like a deadlock, the key to which may be only the strangling of German Trade which can’t take effect for a long time...

We’ve had one great change since last week. Capt. Hall has gone. It was quite sudden. Last Monday we first heard that he had been offered another job; and within two hours he had left this ship and we had a new Captain. The latter is Captain Bentink, though at present he is only appointed temporarily...He is tall and rather grey, with somewhat strongly marked features, talks easily but not as much as Captain Hall and so much quieter and less highly strung than the latter. Altogether we approve of him and should like him to stay.

October 26th

I have been ashore twice since we left Portland nearly three months ago; but of course we have to keep in easy reach of the ship all the time....

All your comforters and socks are given out….. The men don't like the idea of Charity and wouldn't come for them. Then I sent everything forward to them, without asking who took them, and assured them they were made by people I knew and specially for them. Remember, they are picked men, with no mean idea of themselves.

November 1st

The change at Admiralty meets with plenty of approval.....it was rather generally considered that Prince Louis was hardly the man to cope with Winston’s imperious ways. Before we knew of the resignation, several people were wishing for Lord Fisher- provided age hadn’t affected him too much; and I think his appointment was the best that could be made in the circumstance; in fact I am not sure that there is any one to equal him. If only he and Winston Churchill agree, we are sure to have a strong policy, and at the same time, a sensible one.

November 13th

Ralph spends a lot of time commenting to his mother on the news which comes to him through newspapers, magazines and the information provided by friends. In the editing of these letters I have focused on the retailing of his own experience aboard Queen Mary.

I don’t think I told you last week that Captain Bentink has gone, very much to our regret, for he would have been a most suitable person to succeed Capt. Hall. I am afraid we are unlucky in our present man, and that he will be very difficult to get on with. I think I told you that Father Weld Blundell had joined the Squadron. He is now living n board us. I should imagine our Chapel was the only one where both Anglican and Roman Services are held......a nice little man.....

Much colder weather that last few days...: We haven’t started steam heating the air yet, as we are always considering what happens when it gets colder – rather a mistaken argument I think and rather selfish as most Officers have radiators in their cabins and a stove in Ward Room and Smoking room.

November 25th

...our movements have rather interfered with writing....expenses are far less while war is in progress, practically nothing on shore to spend it on – no plain clothes required, as we always wear uniform when ashore and any old uniform will answer the purpose when aboard. There isn’t much to tell you about myself. The days are getting very short and there is less and less inducement to get up in the morning...we show no lights between sunset and sunrise...plenty of light below, as all ships are fitted to practically seal up tight. Pin Pong has come in again and after fourteen years is going very strong again.

November 14th

You mustn’t imagine that in every gale we are pitching into a heavy sea. It is rather more probable that we are in harbour; or even if at sea we may have the wind behind us, which is only unpleasant because the smoke from the funnels goes over the bridge and fills eyes, mouth and everything. The danger and discomfort of storms is largely a matter of romance, and they always have their good side – not least that submarines can’t possible work in a heavy sea....not much to tell you at the moment.

December 13th

One feels more and more that there is no reason for the German Fleet to come out and fight. Nothing would be much use to them except the extermination of our Battle Fleet without serious loss to themselves; and that is more than the wildest, enthusiastic German could imagine...I know of Captain Hall’s liking for his chamois leather garments...I shan’t worry Gieve about them....must finish now as I am expecting the Torpedo Lieut. of the Lion to lunch and to go ashore with him for a couple of hours....

December 28th

My last letter in 1914...The Christmas was certainly a most unusual one....there was at any rate, one thing - a lovely day, clear and bright and cold without any wind – so the weather did its duty. We all ate turkey and plum pudding, just as usual, but there was little attempt at decoration on the mess deck; the boys took full advantage of the time honoured privilege of being allowed to smoke on Christmas Day –with numerous cigarettes and cigars....a good thing Christmas is over and done with – it felt a very absurd day altogether. Princess Mary’s brass boxes haven’t arrived yet...we had a message from the King and Queen on Thursday, to the whole Navy with their good wishes for Christmas ; but the Queen didn’t take the opportunity of sending a message to this ship as she should have done.

January 1st 1915

The New Year promotions included the name of our First Lieutenant as expected; but as usual they omitted many people who we think have better right to promotion than several of those who were given it. I’m glad to say there is no one junior to me this time.

January 6th

The loss of the Formidable is very sad; though she has, at any rate, had her go at the Germans....the greatest loss is her Captain – Loxley – one of the nicest men and best officers in the Service. He was Gunnery Lieutenant of the Grafton for part of our commission. Curiously enough the Grafton ‘s Torpedo Lieutenant – Pound was promoted to Captain on the same day Cpt. Loxley was drowned.. He also is another remarkably fine officer.

This letter.... I shall keep to censor myself. We all lend a hand to get through with it, so I can do that alright and I know there is nothing wrong with it.

January 11th

Of course we were in the same state as the ‘Lion’; I hadn’t noticed that Adm. Jellicoe had written a letter mentioning her. That made it very un Christmassy; but with fine weather it wasn’t uncomfortable, and it was only during daylight. My cabin is somewhat bare – pictures all gone and chests of drawers and bookcases; but there is still enough left to be fairly comfortable; and a good many books and other things, which were gifted below five months ago have now crept back. You see the cabin is not behind armour as those below are. You remember there are a lot without scuttles down below; that was because there was armour outside. They have the advantage now, for they needn’t be disarranged; and none of us get any air through scuttles at night, for they all have the deadlights down to prevent any light showing to seaward.

February 2nd

In the face of the censorship of letters and Ralph’s care that he should never say anything amiss to his mother, it is difficult to be sure what happened at this time but it would appear that Ralph was sent to Portsmouth as a relief officer;

Up to Godalming, I had the company of a Charterhouse Master...he talked a lot...of certain naval matters which should not have been talked about....after he got out, the carriage was invaded by bluejackets, but I felt that couldn’t be allowed, and they departed to the third class.....I got on board about two, found the dockyard perfectly filthy and the ship too. I turned in in my cabin for the first time for five months and found the bunk remarkably comfortable. At 6.30 the fellow I was relieving came in to turn things over........Well, I suppose I mustn’t go into too much detail. I was kept on board Thursday and Friday by there being no other Lieut. Cdr.; on Saturday and Sunday owing to coaling...

I managed to get on board the ‘Vernon’ and found a race of ‘Strange Children’ in possession; all sorts of people, rich and otherwise, workers and idlers, who had left the Navy for one reason or another. The fellow I relieved in the Blenheim is there, Marshall, who had a nervous breakdown at Malta shortly afterwards and was invalided... I heard of the action of Sunday week and ever since we have got more and more bitter at being away.

February 10th

Largely paper work....no warlike interest. We have had Captain Hall’s opinion in his own words, on our absence from the action. We all agree that we should have made a great difference; and with Captain Hall in command, only one German of the four would have had much chance of seeing Willhelmshaven again; as we are at present, the result would probably not have been so decisive.

February 15th

I think both the..Navy Lists have now become confidential. They should have been long ago since one can see at a glance what ships have to be reckoned with, exactly what our losses are, what Admirals are in command....great quantity of useful information.

I hope there are more losses among the [German] submarines than are generally known about...can’t have this sort of thing going on steadily... some method of convoy will have to be arranged, I suspect.

March 4th

I believe we started the rumour that the Queen Mary was to go to the Dardanelles ourselves. We frequently make up more interesting programmes...needless to say we can’t start stories about our own sinking....I should be glad if the story had been true: no luck comes our way now. Capt. Hall took it all away to the Admiralty.

We had the King here last Saturday as a very confidential visit...confined chiefly to the Flag Officers,

A very uneventful time.....still full enough of work always. I’ve taken up the collecting of Fiscal Stamps which will require all the time I can give to it.

March 12th

I don’t think there is any chance of a change of Captain.. Capt. Bentink...is up here again in another ship and the difference between the two when I saw him yesterday was very great. I had a day ashore playing golf last Saturday – go ashore about once a week now.

March 21st

The change of Admirals is probably a good thing. Admiral Cardin fell into the position when Berkely Milne and Troubridge were brought home for the Goebem inquiry. Cardin was Admiral Superintendat at Malta Dockyard and as such would have had no further employment. Admiral De Robeck is much younger and has most people’s confidence.

April 13th

Our doings are all of the confidential kind..... From now on Ralphs’s letters are mostly to do with family matters and the retailing of his opinions as to the general course of the war from what he hears elsewhere. He is careful to reveal nothing of his own actions or those of the ship, but he does feel free to reveal his opinions of fellow officers and account for any movements in his naval career.

May 8th

The news of the sinking of the Lusitania produced a passionate response from Ralph:

I suppose you are now furiously indignant with the Germans...or you will be tomorrow when you see this evening’s paper. Don’t! Be indignant instead with the Admiralty, the Government or the Cunard company, or better still, with this fatuous, idiotic British Public, which prides itself on ‘carrying on business as usual’, and hasn’t yet realised that Germany is at war with the British Empire and all it contains; and not merely with the British Army.

Do you imagine, I wonder, that it is mere luck that every battleship in our Navy has not been torpedoed; or do you think we never leave our defences; do you think we have some wonderful invention that turns the torpedoes away. And yet here is an enormous vessel, managed by officers whom the papers say are equally capable to take charge of a man of war, with officers of the Royal Navy; here is a ship which can go so fast or faster than any Battleship; and she is torpedoed in broad daylight, after actually being warned that the submarines would make her their special target. What can her Captain have been thinking of – probably of saving 30 minutes in arriving...Well, if this at lasts opens our eyes....

A lunatic asylum of mad politicians talking...’dastardly acts’. The Germans gave very needful warning and we knew or should have realised that Germany stops at nothing...Yet ‘business as usual ‘ must go on in England. Anyone who wants to get drunk must be allowed to ; and if he doesn’t want to work, why should the poor fellow; this is a free country. Oh, for a dictator; for martial law throughout the British Isles and for a little less lightheartedness.

June 7th

I’m afraid my letters are more than ordinarily uninteresting now: but nothing happens to put into them.

June 30th

The promotions are out today and the ‘Queen Mary’ has had another failure. Neither the First Lieutenant who left last week, nor the Gunnery Lieutenant has been promoted. There were a good many names from the Battle Cruiser fleet but the majority went to the Inflexible and Invincible which were engaged off the Falkland. The lowest on this list, C.R. Dane goes over my head, though he is much older than I am, and he wasn’t in the Britannia at the same time.

August 24th

I’ve had a great disappointment over the departure of the Lieut. Cdr. I mentioned. He was a little senior to me and I had a right to expect his relief would be junior to me; unfortunately the new fellow is my senior by a month. As I only missed getting an extra six Months by a few marks in my Sub Lieutenant’s exams at Greenwich, I’ve had to pay pretty heavily for doing so. I should have been 1st Lieut. of the Blenheim all my time there and should probably have become 1st Lieut. here when the Gunnery Lieut. is promoted, as he is almost certain to be next December. If I saw any possibility of getting away form the ‘Queen Mary’ I’d go without hesitation, as I see no very pleasant prospect before me with a fellow just senior to me whom I suspect is not at all likely to get early promotion. But I’m afraid that as long as the war lasts it will be quite impossible for a Torpedo Lieutenant to get out of an important ship like this.

September 11th

...lovely clear days when we could have engaged our German friends at the full range of our guns; in fact everything was in our favour; and it was a great disappointment that none of them turned up...

September 25th

Weve just got our new Chaplain – Kewney by name, who was appointed some months ago...just come home from the Highflyer somewhere in the Atlantic and we’ve had another Padre temporarily who came from the Naval Division at the Crystal Palace. The new man is a Naval Instructor, which is the reason for the change since the Admiralty are now fully aware of the need for doing away with the Naval Instructors, and are anxious that Midshipmen should once more begin to learn something.

October 3rd

What was Bri’s ‘Row about..? I am interested in the matter...[Brian was Ralph’s brother and had joined the Flying Service ] because the whole discipline of the Royal Naval Air Service is being taken up – and quite time too. Officers are being appointed to various districts to shake things up, and I have no doubt that we shall soon see a lot of undesirable people being removed.

October 12th

Haven’t been doing anything....there was a report that the Germans had sent their Gunnery ratings from their Fleet to the front in the West. I wish our Admiralty would follow their example, for there seems absolutely no chance of anything happening at sea.

December 4th

I’ve begun negotiations to get a change of ship. I don’t suppose anything will happen for a month or two. I took the opportunity of Captain Bentinck. The Chief of Staff, being on board, to talk to him about my position; he fully agreed that it was pretty hopeless, and also thinks that nearly three years on one ship is enough for anyone. So he is going to mention it to the Vice Admiral and he is also writing to the Captain of ‘Vernon’. I shall do the same as soon as I know the Admiral raises no objection; and when I hear from the ‘Vernon, it will be time enough to talk to our own Captain. Meanwhile it is a subject on which silence is best kept as too much publicity hinders change......Arthur Strutt is leaving us to go to the ‘Lion’. He isn’t going far therefore, but it is much the same as if he was going to a ship in quite another part of the world, he didn’t want to leave the Queen Mary. Our new navigator is a man named Pennell.....He is our own Captain’s selection which is not in his favour; but he may suit us alright in spite of that.....there is only one officer left who was appointed before me and that is the Commander and he isn’t likely to go before me.

There are now six months left of Ralph Clayton’ s life and he is now desperate to leave this ship in which nothing ever seems to happen.

December 16th

When I wrote last, I didn’t say anything about my progress as regards getting a new ship, as I knew too many people would probably read the letter. Well, on Sunday I went over to see Captain Bentinck – found him away- in order not to waste the visit, saw the Vice Admiral instead. The substance of his remarks was that he didn’t consider it made much difference having someone senior to me on board, as the names of all the Lieut.Cdrs. within certain limits of seniority were forwarded by the Captain of the Ship with his comments on each; still he admitted that would be better it there was no one above me and said he would raise no objection to my efforts to get another ship as First Lieutenant.

Later on that day I also saw our own Captain. He said much the same and went further, - in that he said of the two, I should always be the one recommended for promotion However, he agreed that there was no chance of promotion before June of 1917. I left it at that.

Last Saturday, I saw Captain Bentinck. He had actually met and talked to the Captain of the ‘Vernon’ who told him that there were two ships for which no one had been selected, which would require Torpedo Lieutenants within a month or two. He further said he would put my name down for one of them. I hope to hear from them on Saturday or Sunday to have something to go on.

I don’t at all fancy having to spend another eighteen months here, finding less and less to do, when I’m feeling anxious and ready to have amore difficult job.....of course any step must be more or less of a gamble and I may eventually find myself even worse off; but that can’t be helped. I must leave the question there for the present.

December 22nd

I have had answers to my two letters. Captain Hall fully agreed with me, said he had already seen Captain Bentinck and started the matter off and would do all he could to press it. The Captain of the ‘Vernon’ said he had noted my name, but that he already had three Torpedo Lieutenants waiting for new ships so that he was afraid I wouldn’t expect an early change. I wrote again to Captain Hall to tell him that and remarked that the ship I should most like was that building at Palmer’s yard at Jarrow, where I should know my way about. I don’t expect to hear from him again, as he is a very busy man and that everything possible has been done and that probably it will be well on next year before anything happens.

December 29th

The Mess Deck was decorated as usual and all the officers went round headed by the band, but it was a rather dismal performance, as the Captain had no idea of talking to the men and the whole affair only took ten minutes instead of an hour. Capt.Hall would have made it a very different show, and there would have been some enthusiasm.The decorations are chiefly coloured paper and paper flags …however, I think the men amused themselves alright, with plenty of noise and some music; so it was better than last year.

January 16th 1916

One takes the loss of the ‘King Edward’ very calmly; that class aren’t of much importance now; as the only question appears to be if the Germans will give battle at all, not if they will win and sink all our Dreadnoughts and then want to engage older ships. The Kaiser is probably the only person of importance who considers a NAVAL Action as being of the least use to Germany.

February 13th

I had a letter yesterday from the ‘Vernon’ which advances my affairs considerably. It was only from another Torpedo Lieutenant, a fellow who belonged to my class in the ‘Vernon’; but he has been offered the Queen Mary and advised to take it from a promotion point of view. – he is about six months senior to me. He wrote to me for my opinion and I said I thought it would do him very well as he would come as First Lieutenant. He understood I should be sent to a new ship – one I’ll tell you more about when I see you. I wrote to him at once as I wanted to get my leave and the refit over.....I shan’t be glad to leave the ‘Queen Mary ‘if it was not for promotion, I shouldn’t do so, although as we are expecting a new Commander shortly, things might become a little unsettled and not quite so comfortable.

March 21st

I told you that Cdr. James was going didn’t I, and we have had our new Commander Sir Charles Blane, for a week now, so I can safely offer the opinion that we lost nothing by the change, on the whole. He is an older man, both actually and also old for his years, owing to illness, I think. I expect he will combine a good deal better with the Captain than James did, which may be an advantage to us all. At any rate, I like him at present and expect to do so.

May 7th

Time was running out and it is rather sad to think that Ralph’s last days were taken up with Spring Cleaning:

We put a coat of paint and another of enamel over the dirt to make sure it’s hidden. It’s rather a nuisance to have to paint out a cabin while one is occupying it, but it badly wanted it...It looks quite nice and I’ve got good intentions in the way of keeping it tidy, which will last a week or more, I trust....

It only lasted another three weeks – on May 31st, 1916, Lieutenant Commander Ralph Clayton’s life was cut short and Queen Mary and all her newly painted cabins were sunk by the Germans at the definitive Battle of Jutland.

(Mary Jones asserts copyright)