Captain Edward Evans CB DSO RN of the Terra Nova

(subsequently Admiral, the 1st Baron Mountevans, KCB)

From Whitefriars Journal, vol. V, no. 7, January 1920, pp. 234-37.

Captain Edward Evans

18 December 1919 :–– The Whitefriars Club Christmas Dinner at the Criterion Prior: Friar W. Lindley Jones

The Prior confessed that he felt like ‘the fly in amber’. He explained for the benefit of the lady visitors that the club consisted of two sections – the one comprised the brainy men who were great talkers and the other the silent men who were sometimes very useful. He belonged to the latter section; he believed that he was the only representative coming within that category at that dinner. HHe asked their sympathy because this was absolutely the first appearance in the capacity of Prior. It was not that he was was afraid to take the chair, but what he feared was the Club toast. He had heard this toast given in a variety of manners; he had heard it delivered with great dignity by Friar Spurgeon, and with all the charm of the silvery-tongued Friar Leslie Burgin. He had hear it mumbled and stuttered by others. Immediately he decided to take the chair, the toast became an absolute bugbear to him. It ought not to have been the case, as he had some claim to be considered an elocutionist, of sorts; he had won a prize for this sort of thing. On one occasion, he reached the apex of success. He was reciting ‘Gone with a Handsomer Man’ before his landlady; he had reached the words ‘Curse you!’ when he heard a tapping on the wall from next door. Then came an inquiry at the front door: ‘Oh, Mrs Smith, is something troubling your young man lodger?’ This was a testimony that he could recite, and he made up his mind that he would not be beaten by the Spurgeons and Burgins. One evening to the astonishment of his family circle, he commenced to recite the toast. His wife looked up with her usual wifely smile and said: ‘Why waste time learning the toast – you can read it just as well.’ This was why he read the toast that evening.

The second resolve he made was not to follow that example of some Priors and become too talkative, but instead of keeping that resolve he had become a mere chatter-box. In proposing the health of the Club guest, the Prior remarked that he supposed it was usual for the Prior to look up Who’s Who to find something of the career of the chief guest. He was quite sure that that volume could not tell him anything he did not know of Capt. Evans of the Terra Nova. Capt. Evans lived in the hearts of his countrymen ; he was a superman who had helped to keep our coasts clear of enemy submarines, a man who had been overwhelmed with honours and tributes, but in spite of this he remained the simple naval man he had had the honour of talking to that evening.

Capt. Evans, C.B., D.S.O., R.N., who was enthusiastically received, acknowledged the toast, and in proposing ‘The Spirit of Christmas’, recounted some of his previous yuletide experiences. Last Christmas, his wife in an outburst of generosity gave the servants a week’s leave. Temporary help was engaged, but did not arrive. The household consisted of his wife, himself, a baby of four months and a nurse. He undertook to cook the Christmas dinner; he was able to get through all right with the aid of a Norwegian Cookery Book. His wife did not blame him when the dinner was served, as she had had no hand in the cooking; the nurse did not complain – she regarded it as a novelty for the dinner to be cooked by an arctic explorer; the baby could not complain. He took a proper pride in his own work and ate his share of the turkey.

The most unique Christmas he spent was with Capt. Scott and six other companions, when they pitched their camp in the awful stillness 3,000 feet above the sea. It was quite a humorous Christmas. Probably they had read in Capt. Scott’s book how the stores officer produced two little plum puddings from his socks, and one was given to each tent. As far as the navy was concerned, he considered that ‘the spirit of Christmas was rum’. Sailors thoroughly enjoyed their Christmas; on a man-of-war the ship’s company decorated their messes. The captain or admiral went round the messes and he did not want his Christmas dinner when he had finished, for he was invited to taste the plum pudding, the turkey, mince-pies and sardines.

During the war some of us had the good fortune to be in harbour, where we had a splendid Christmas. He was adopted by a fairy godmother – a big Strait Settlement merchant sent his ship all kinds of grocery for Christmas.

As indicating the spirit which prevails at sea, Capt. Evans narrated an incident which occurred when the hospital ship Asturias was mined. A nurse was attending to the wounded; and as the water was rushing into the ward she was urged to leave the ship. She sat down, remarking ‘my place is with the wounded’, and she went down with the vessel.

‘Yesterday at Newcastle,’ Capt. Evans continued, ‘I saw a funny little man with a tiny wife. I recognized him as Stoker Brooks, who was wounded with a shell fragment, his back being almost shot away. He made his way to the cabin, and when I went down to see if I could do anything more for him he apologized for leaning on my cushions. If this is not exactly the spirit of Christmas I think it is the spirit of the navy. Later I went to the hospital, and my wife took some things for the wounded. The man’s small wife from Newcastle was there, and thanked me for coming to see her husband. I told her that I had recommended him for the distinguished medal for bravery. “Well, Sir,” she replied, “I have got strong arms and I can work for him,” and she bared her tiny little broom sticks. “He has served his country and I am proud of him.” That is the spirit of British womanhood. During one of the scraps in the Channel people came to my wife, who is a Norwegian, and asked “Is your husband all right?” My wife replied: “He will tell me when he comes home to lunch.” That is the Viking spirit.’

In a lighter vein, Capt. Evans described an incident which occurred during the Ostend races where he met Mr. Bottomley. Mr. Bottomley had a horse named Ainsworth running, and announced that he was going to put all he could on the horse. Capt. Evans backed the Fox with a small bet and won a considerable sum. After the race, Mr. Bottomley expressed his regret that he had advised Capt. Evans to back Ainsworth. Capt. Evans replied: ‘You are not so sorry as I am for you, Mr. Bottomley; I have backed Fox.’

On another occasion, Capt. Evans was escorting 32 British Allied and neutral nation ships from England to Gibraltar, Owing to the long wait it was difficult to keep the officers fit. A huge ball made of cork and other things sewn up in canvas weighing 30 pounds was used in a game. The ball went overboard and a boat was lowered to recover it. Lest anybody should write to John Bull, always a captious critic, he hoisted the code for ‘man over-board’. A little Danish ship hoisted three flags to indicate ‘much congratulation!’ Capt. Evans then described a visit he paid to a convent in Bruges, where he gave a lecture on Capt. Scott’s expedition. After the lecture he was presented by the Lady Superior with a silver chalice, holding three quarts. The Mother Superior said: ‘I wish you to keep this cup for your day’s rum.’ ‘I have never been in a convent before,’ Capt. Evans added, ‘and I am quite sure the Mother Superior has never been on a man-of-war.’ During the war he never allowed any officer to have intoxicating drink while at sea. When his little cruiser was paid off, he received the following letter from the last man aboard: ‘Dear Sir, Everybody is demobilized: everybody has a good record and on demobilization all are sorry to leave; hope we may meet again. P.S.– I have burnt the wine books.’

In conclusion, Capt. Evans thanked the club for the sincere welcome given to him and Mrs. Evans.