Not many minutes ago I was quick-marching in the rear of a section of our gallant Navy, stepping out briskly towards a harbour where lay some of the ships which the "victorious" German fleet had run away from a week earlier. Sunshine had succeeded a drenching shower, a Marine band played a lively tune, and apparently everything was bright and gay.
So began an article in the Beds & Herts Saturday Telegraph on June 10th, 1916, written by "one of our own" in tribute to an unnamed comrade who "went west" in the Battle of Jutland and was about to be buried somewhere on the North East coast on June 8th.
Half an hour earlier, the article continued, the picture had been very different, and, often as we are told that every picture tells a story, these two contrasting scenes have to be reviewed together to tell this story.
Those men who go down to the sea in ships, and who were stepping out so briskly, had earlier this afternoon set their faces westward. Some of them who had been in the thick of the fray a week earlier only came into port on Tuesday. One of them will never sail again.
While on the grey North Sea he had found that haven whither we all would be. In service language he had "Gone West," and westward he was taken today to a quiet park-like place where flowers bloom round his last resting place, and where the blossom of laburnum is even now dropping on the sods which cover him.
The way to his resting place was by a road which in ordinary times left behind the madding crowds of the town. But today it might have been in the centre of a city. Some were there because the ceremonial offered free entertainment. Others have tragedy always staring them in the face. Their menfolk are on the sea, and from day to day they have a fear that the finger of fate will bear heavily on them. So they were there to mourn with those that mourned, and to pay their tribute of respect to the brave men who had borne the burden of the day, and to the one who would endure the troubles of war no more.
By a queer sport of fate, many of those in the Army party were wearing for the purpose of this ceremonial side-arms which in themselves were ample evidence of the manner in which the Hun had departed from the methods of honourable warfare. The plain service bayonet of the British Army is deadly enough at close quarters, and required a brave man to face it intrepidly. But these Hun weapons are not only double the size of ours, in addition one edge is fashioned into a very brutal saw, and these were the weapons which, having come into our possession, were worn on this occasion in ceremonial for one more brave man whose death lies at German doors.
They made a brave picture, those men in blue. Whether they had gold braid and swords, or just the seaman's blue or the blue and red of the Marines, they were a tangible evidence of the power which keeps England free.
The Army, also, paid its tribute, but whether it was the Artillery, a force which has the fortune to claim precedence next after the Navy or any other branch of the Service, it cannot but have been felt that the tribute which was paid was due as much to the living as the dead.
With drums beating and bands playing the procession wended its solemn, slow way to the flower-surrounded resting place, and many were those who could restrain their tears. The crack of the rifles and the strains of the Last Post, and a storm which in a few seconds drenched the spectators, combined to emphasise the depths of tragedy which had been sounded.
Then, as in a moment of time, the clouds lifted, the sun shone again, the band played a stirring march, and the men in blue set their faces to te sea again. Brisk and alert, they were on the way to another day of reckoning.
And this exemplifies the spirit of the Navy all through. They cannot fight without losing brave comrades, but, much as they may grieve when men with whom they have stood shoulder to shoulder through times of danger are severed from them, they have to face the fight which is yet before them.
So from a graveside almost within sight of the waves they march down to their ships to the strains of a gay tune, not because they are light-hearted, but because to look on the dark side will not strengthen their arms when the day of reckoning does come. Doubtless on "the day" there will be more power to their elbows because of their memories of gallant comrades who are no longer with them to take a hand in the reckoning.