- William F. Cook, MVO, Captain, RAN (Rtd)
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW2, Book reviews, Royal Navy, Biographies
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- June 1996 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
Title: “Where the Hell is Africa?” Author: Philip Seymour Publisher: self-published
“The Laws of the Navy”, a collection of verses reminiscent of Rudyard Kipling’s “Laws of the Jungle”, was written around the turn of the century by Admiral Hopwood. Copies were framed and hung in many gunrooms and officers’ cabins and messes. One verse reads:
“Dost think in a moment of anger Tis well with thy seniors to fight? They prosper who burn in the morning The letters they wrote overnight. For some there be shelved and forgotten With nothing to thank for their fate Save that on a half sheet of paper A fool “…had the honour to state.” There is a fine line between following this advice and displaying the “Dartmouth installed irreverence” and the “non-respecters of persons” syndrome which the author attributes to the training which he and his contemporaries received at the Royal Naval College, where he served from the age of 13 for 3 years.
There must be many ex-naval officers who have regretted – later – and often too late, not having burnt “the letters they wrote overnight!” Yet, on the other hand, initiative must not be stifled but rather encouraged in young officers. Was the author and his friends over-imbued with the Dartmouth philosophy? Did this affect their careers, namely their appointments and promotions? Whatever the answer, there is no doubt that the author and a number of his “term” seemed to have had a happy time in “The Service”, in spite of the always arduous and occasionally very scary time during the war (WWII). The book sets out to tell the story of a junior naval officer in war and peace. One could complain that the author delves too deeply into the stories and characters of his contemporaries, although some of their activities form part of, or are a backdrop to, his own.
Similar experiences to those described of near misses by bombs, torpedoes, collisions at night while ships were fully darkened, or in fog, and navigational dilemmas such as led to the apt title of the book, were commonplace with officers of all navies; many ships had their “happy hooligans”, and their hilarious ‘runs ashore” were methods of letting off steam – unwinding the knots of stress – after torrid spells at sea. (There was no “counselling” on such matters in those days!) For many readers, therefore, Seymour’s stories will evoke interesting memories. Although it is essentially an account of Royal Naval Officers, men and ships, his reflections on the navy and naval life apply generally to the Royal Australian Navy as well.
The author states in his preface that “the material is derived from the recollections of the writer and his friends with research limited to only readily available records.” I congratulate him on his prodigious powers of recall! One feels that the “readily available records”, apart from his (legal) midshipman’s journal, must have included a personal (illegal), diary!
From correspondence with the author, I know he likes ‘small points of trivia’ to be “tidied up.” Therefore he will not object to one or two nit-picks.
‘Was it not “Bismarck”, not “Tirpitz”, in action with the “Hood”? (pg.333)
‘The Australian sub-lieutenant wearing a straight stripe, whom the author claims was NOT a permanent (as opposed to a reserve) officer must have been about 45 years before his time! (pg. 331)
‘Ungallantly, he has misspelt the name of one of his Adelaide friends – my wife’s cousin!!! (pg 256)
The appendices are interesting, but not altogether relevant. An index would be a welcome addition.
This book as a good yarn and a fair commentary on the life and times of a junior naval officer in war and peace in the mid-twentieth century.