- from the British magazine : 'T.P.'S Great Deeds of the Great War', March 20, 1915
- 'Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty'
The Heart of the Lion
portrait of Admiral Beatty on the cover of a French magazine
The big, grey battle-cruiser is the latest word in war. She is a huge thoroughbred, all engines and all guns. Her structure is fined down so that only running power and hitting power remain. Piled on her deck are the vast turrets with immense artillery in them. She is, to outward appearances, all guns, and within her chilled-steel skin she is full of speed-producing magic. Her heart is engines. She is just a throbbing, pulsing, speeding, high-strung, wonderfully delicate tool, built to catch a foe and kill him.
Sitting on the Safety Valve
And the men who control these high-strung and quivering instruments of battle are the latest words in war too. They are like their ships, full of quivering but leashed energies. And if this can be said of the captains, what can be said of the admiral, of that man so much in the public eye, Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty, K.C.B., M.V.O., D.S.O., who controls not one but a squadron of these enormous cruisers? What sort of nature has he? He is, indeed, one with his ships, and lord of them in spirit.
Look well at this man as he paces backward and forward across the airy platform out among the smoke and rigging and sea wind. It is a small figure, for he is a little man - little and neat and well proportioned, yet giving you an impression of physical strength and a contained energy that is positively disturbing. I have never seen anyone who gives me such a sense of the energy and vitality that can be contained in one human body as David Beatty gives. You feel that energy has been poured into him at enormous pressure, that it is working and boiling within him, and that some one is sitting on the safety valve.
The Power of an Admiral's Word
This is one of the first and finest impressions of a great leader who has become a popular idol while remaining something of a personal enigma. It is an intimate picture of the man as a brother officer on the Lion sees him. In Collier's Weekly, where the impression appeared, the living character of this arresting officer is built up on a series of word pictures. Sir David Beatty steps across his deck and comes face to face with us.
His face is a curious combination of heavy lines and sharp and clean-cut angles-heavy wrinkles and lines, as though written by age and care, that diverge upon a youthful outline; quick flashing grey eyes that can rest upon you for a moment searchingly and glance away again like a bird's. There is, indeed, something birdlike about the whole man, in his quickness, his neatness, his smooth plumage, his effortless exercise of strength, and appearance of happiness and light-heartedness. His voice is deep and resonant-strangely deep to issue from so small and slim a body; and as he snaps out an order to his flag-lieutenants - "G 16" - and as the signal flags on the word run up to the yardarm, and the white bone that each ship carries in her teeth spreads wider and bigger as the speed of the squadron is increased to sixteen knots, you realise a little what an admiral's word stands for, and what powers are those intrusted to him.
A Marked Man
Sir David Beatty is one of the men born to greatness, who has also achieved it by real ability and hard work.
The brilliant action of the British fleet off Heligoland in the middle of September was the first intimation to the world at large that in David Beatty the British fleet possessed a young commander in whom the priceless qualities of dash, coolness, and judgment were remarkably combined. And his daring exploit at the end of January, when he sank the Blucher, was merely the wholesome confirmation of England's high hopes of him. For years he has been a marked man, marked by fortune, as well as by his own qualities, for the highest positions in the British navy.
And he is, by the way, yet another of the able Irishmen who have shown their ability to lead the forces of the Empire in War.
Since he first stepped upon it as a midshipman thirty years ago, the road of his destiny has lain clear and straight before him. His luck is proverbial. He has always been lucky. Springing from one of those sporting Irish families that do so little for themselves and Ireland if they stay there, and so often come to distinction in the larger world, David Beatty was not originally intended for the navy, and it is only by a kind of chance that he entered the one service in which his qualities could find their fullest scope. That
was one piece of luck; the others followed hard upon it. He got on well from the first; went through his routine training rapidly and efficiently, and got his chance with Kitchener in the Soudan campaign of 1898.
Lord Kitchener, an Irishman also, has, and always had, a flair for finding men and of using them. In Beatty the Sirdar found a man for using, and he used him. In this school of efficiency the future admiral began to rise.
That great winnower of human wheat from the chaff (Lord Kitchener) found in Beatty's combined coolness and dash, and above all in his common-sense efficiency, a youngster after his own heart. If there were anyone to tell it adequately, a romantic story might be made of the building of a British gunboat far away on the banks of the Nile, and of the things which happened on her trial trip. At the end of the campaign Beatty was decorated and promoted to commander, a rank which he attained at the unusually early age of twenty-seven. Luck gave him another chance in the Boxer rising of 1900, when he again distinguished himself in war service, and created a new record by being promoted to captain at the age of twenty-nine. His last command as captain was the Queen, and on relinquishing her he went to the Admiralty as Naval Adviser to the First Lord.
Rear-Admiral at Thirty-Nine
Captain Beatty retired from the Admiralty, but only for a short time.
When Mr. Churchill went into that office one of the first things he did was to send for Beatty as his adviser; an association which continued, with the happiest results, until Beatty returned to the sea to command what is perhaps the most formidable squadron unit at present occupying the seas; there in grim earnest not only to test his luck, but to give proof of the qualities that have brought him with so brilliant a rush to the most distinguished position that any man of his age, not even excepting Nelson, has held in naval history. For by his promotion to the rank of rear-admiral at the age of thirty-nine, for which a special Order in Council was necessary, and again on his appointment as acting vice-admiral at the outbreak of war, he created the highly interesting record of being the youngest officer of either rank in the naval history of all time.
A Thorough Sportsman
This is the leader of victorious squadrons at forty-five-the virile, dynamic, keenly built, strong-brained and thoroughly efficient seaman. It is an emphatic and arresting- picture. It is, however, only half a picture. Sir David Beatty is not merely an uncannily sound intellect, a figure, an automaton even, in which the brilliant essences of dash and knowledge, skill and training, and sheer ability are combined to obtain certain and unfailing results. He is a sailor first, yes, but he is a human being always.
He was, for instance, a pretty capable hunter of other things before he began to hunt Germans, and there are some men who know him best as a fine horseman. And he looks supreme in that part.
If you saw David Beatty hunting with the Quorn or the Cottesmore, you would think he had never seen a ship in his life. If you saw him on the quarter-deck, you would think he did not know one end of a horse from the other.
While he is individual as a horseman, he is also individual as an amiable companion.
In general society he never talks shop or about himself, but chatters the ordinary tune of our trivial world; and therefore people in society who hate and mistrust manifestations of superiority or difference, whether of character or intellect, love David Beatty and regard him as a charming and simple man, quite nice and harmless, and, like everybody else, with no tiresome seriousness or strenuous nonsense about him; who has the good sense to love a day's hunting better than anything else in the world, and to be infinitely bored at having to go to sea and swing about in a huge brute of a ship with a spyglass under his arm.
No Hornpipe Admiral
Man of the world and skilled seaman, he combines both in one brain and one bearing, without pose or false modesty.
David Beatty is a typical sailor, though not a theatrical one. There is nothing of the drawing-room sea dog about him, nor will he ever be one of our hornpipe admirals. But where there is work to be done, such terrible work as has been doing and is yet to do in the North Sea, he will be there doing it - doing it with a quiet and quite cheery spirit which supports such a strain as no layman can have the faintest sense of a strain that is never relieved for a moment, and that must increase as the war goes on.
In his marriage Sir David Beatty has also fulfilled the precepts of his lucky star. Married to the daughter of Marshal Field, he has in his wife not only a woman of considerable fortune, but, what is more to the point, a woman of great charm, who has always helped him in his career, and never hindered him.
Lady Beatty has provided for her husband in his rare moments of holiday the happy and quiet home life that is so dear to every Anglo-Saxon worth the name; and when he is at sea she makes the sea her home too, living quietly on board her yacht at the base port in the waters where his squadron is stationed.
She has done more than this. When war came she took her place in the scheme of war as becomes the wife of an Admiral of the Fleet.
She turned her yacht into a hospital tender, where, under her own charge and with a perfect surgical and nursing equipment, wounded men may be conveyed from hospital to hospital or the consulting surgeons carried swiftly where they may be most required. So, though she cannot be with him at this hour in his grim post, she is with him in the service of the navy.
Sir David Beatty's "luck" - it is a topic of admiring conversation in the Fleet - is therefore Britain's luck. With him on the bridge of the battle-cruisers our squadrons cannot go far wrong, and with his luck we will hope to sweep the seas.
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