The King's trip
(A mini-play in 3 acts written by Dr. John Joseph RAY [M.A.; Ph.D.] and first performed at Lindwall St., Mt. Gravatt, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia on 1 June, 2014. The play is faction. The dialogue is entirely original but the events described are very similar to events that did happen)
ACT ONE -- set in 1906
Narrator: King Edward VII was a man of considerable personal charm so his trips abroad were always a great asset to British diplomacy. He improved the image of Britain wherever he went. He is standing by the fireplace in a reception room at Buckingham Palace.
A footman/herald opens the door and announces:
FM: "Sir Thomas Sanderson, from the Foreign Office"
Narrator: Sanderson bows himself into the room and says:
TS: "Your Majesty"
King: Ah! Sanderson. What can we do for you today?
TS: Quite a lot, actually, Sir. We know you like to travel so we were hoping to interest you in another trip abroad.
King: OK. Out with it!
TS: We are hoping to use your magic powers once again. There are rumblings of discontent in Ceylon and we thought that a visit from you might help smooth things over.
King: Hah! I have been smoothing things over for a long time.
TS: Indeed you have sir. The success of your visit to the United States when you were still a young Prince of Wales stunned us all at the FO. We have never forgotten it. To have prayers said for the Royal family in New York churches for the first time since the revolution was quite stunning.
King: And I have learnt a lot since then.
TS: Indeed you have sir. You are our trump card.
King: A visit! Ceylon, eh? Dropped in there briefy some years back. Jolly hot place.
TS: Quite hot, sir. But we were thinking that a Spring visit might be negotiated to avoid the real heat. I believe Spring is fairly bearable, particularly in the highlands.
King: Spring! I go to the Riviera in Spring!
TS: Yes Sir. But Britain calls and we could arrange it for early Spring when Britain is still a bit chilly. They have a much longer Spring in Ceylon. And we were thinking that a substantial Royal Party with both ladies and gentlemen of your court would both make the trip more congenial and create a good impression when we arrive. We could call it your Spring Excursion. It could be announced as an occasion for your court to get to know something of your dominions. And your court would be grateful for some warm weather at that time of the year, I am sure.
Narrator: The "ladies of the court" mentioned above assures Edward that he will not forgo ALL the pleasures of the Riviera
King: Oh! I see. And we go via Suez, I take it.
TS: Yes Sir, Capetown is lovely but it would be too big a detour. So it will be Port Side out, Starboard home in the usual way. With a stop at Aden for coaling.
King: Any stops in the Mediterranean?
TS: Well, we do have quite a lot of interests there but nothing pressing at the moment. You have been to the Holy Land before, of course.
King: Yes. A very dry and dusty place. Not going there again.
TS: But if there is anywhere you would personally like to stop, both we and the shipping company would be delighted to make the arrangements. We do rather like to show you off, Sir.
King: Ah! Full Naval uniform and all that.
TS: Precisely Sir. And brass band too, where possible.
King: It's always bothered me that my father would not let me take up a commission in the Navy but my honorary appointments are a consolation and they do listen to me at the Admiralty.
TS: Yes, Sir. They certainly do.
King: Will we have a naval escort?
Narrator: HM is here assuming that the party will travel on a normal scheduled commercial ocean liner. With a small party he would travel on a warship but a large party including ladies needs a liner. Liners such as those of the Peninsular and Oriental Navigation Co. [P&O] had a large first class section so that would suit well.
TS: I would think so but I am sure you can thrash out with your friends in the Admiralty just what escort to provide. I think the FO would lean more towards a cruiser than a battleship
King: Yes. A battleship would be too warlike. Though, on the other hand, we have commissioned some very powerful battleships lately so it might be an opportunity to show off one of those.
TS: As Your Majesty pleases. The FO can be flexible on some things. People will be listening to you about the purpose of your trip so if you just say something good about HMS Dreadnought, we will be happy with that. We are rather chuffed by our latest warships ourselves.
King: I think it's only going through the Med that I would like an escort. Perhaps pick up a small squadron from what's handy at Gibraltar. The Atlantic and Indian oceans are ours so I can't see any need for an escort there.
TS: Indeed sir. If we do stop in the Mediterranean we will still coal at Aden. We want good British coal in our ship's bunkers, none of that dubious foreign stuff. And it gives you a chance to go ashore for a day and stretch your legs.
Narrator: Britain did actually send out colliers from Britain to maintain the coal stocks held at Aden, mainly for naval use. After coaling at Aden, a British squadron would effectively be masters of the Indian ocean. And if French or German warships wanted to coal there, it would be entirely at the pleasure of the FO.
King: Yes. Aden is always rather a relief. And the Governor there would probably put on a good dinner that night. Ship's cooks do their best but ship's food has its limitations. You can't beat fresh.
Narrator: Edward VII was a good trencherman. He liked his food. He did therefore in his later years develop a considerable girth -- leading to his nickname at court of "Tum Tum". If you ever mentioned that nickname to his face however, you would never again be seen at court.
TS: Indeed sir. Then we go across to Bombay for a couple of days. It would be insulting to visit Ceylon without a visit to India first and Aden/Bombay/Colombo is a normal commercial route anyway. Maybe a mini-Durbar in Bombay if there is such a thing. We would put our India people onto that.
King: Of course. Lots of hands to shake in India.
TS: Yes. At the FO we do greatly admire your stamina in that regard.
King: Yes. With all the exercise it gets, my Right hand must be the strongest part of my body!
TS: We will have to show you around a fair bit in Ceylon too. Colombo for starters, then the highland tea plantations to meet our heroic planters, then the North to meet the people up there.
King: It sounds bearable so I will do my duty. Fix up the details with my appointments wallah.
Narrator: By using the Indian word "wallah", HM was showing that he was already getting into the mood for his trip to the East.
TS: That I will do sir. Thank you sir.
Narrator: Sir Thomas bowls into the office of the King's appointments secretary, Sir Francis Knollys. Both men address one-another by school nicknames ("Lamps" and "Nol"), as they are both of the same social class.
TS: Ha! Nol. I see you are working hard as usual.
Nol: I need to, Lamps. And you are here to give me even more work, no doubt.
TS: Indeed. We are going to Ceylon.
Nol: "We"? Oh, I see. You are using the advocate's plural. But please don't tell me that "we" includes HM.
TS: It does, I am afraid. I have come straight from him. National need calls for oil on the waters in Ceylon and no-one dispenses that better than HM.
Nol: So when is this infernal trip going to take place?
TS: Spring. Early Spring
Nol: Spring! But you can't do that! Spring is totally booked up already and the King wouldn't want to miss his pleasures on the Riviera.
TS: We are looking at just a month of early Spring in Ceylon when it is really still winter here -- and we are sending the King with a substantial party from his court so he should not be too bored
Nol: You think of everything, Lamps. Let me work on it.
TS: Thank you Nol. Cheers.
Narrator: This act is also imaginary but HMS Dreadnought and Sir Jackie Fisher were real. The King was always a great supporter of the navy, as befits a British king. And even when he was still Prince of Wales he had in fact been given the honorary but very senior rank of Admiral of the Fleet. So the FO were right in thinking he would have more influence there than they did. So they left him to make the arrangements for a navy escort himself.
The King is talking to the First Sea Lord, Sir Jackie Fisher:
Jackie, they are sending me out to the Far East for my latest jaunt: Bombay first then Ceylon. In early Spring. I am taking people from my court so it will be on a normal passenger liner run. We will have the whole of first class so the ship owners will be very co-operative.
But I do think a navy escort for at least the Med would be wise. The French have got North Africa well and truly under their thumb so one of their colonial governors could do a stunt. Paris would disown him but in the meanwhile we would have been made to look foolish -- And then there's always the Balkans ...
Jackie: Yes. The Med does tend to be unsettled. And sending an escort to show the flag would be all to the good.
King: I had thought of a battleship but that might be a bit too aggressive. But on the other hand showing off our latest warships does have its attractions.
Jackie: Hmmmm .... I wonder if Dreadnought would be worked up enough by that stage for us to put her to sea? If so, we could send her out to Gib on a shakedown cruise just a bit before your trip. We would have to send a substantial escort with her, of course, and then we could perhaps peel off a few ships from that to shepherd you through the Med.
King: Great idea! As you know, I have backed you all the way in getting Dreadnought built. My ministers don't have to do what I tell them but they do have to listen to me -- and I used that to the full. So just to view her at sea would be a great reward in itself.
We could run Dreadnought alongside the liner for a few miles out of Gib and that would give everybody a very exciting view of her
And once she had full steam up we could put Dreadnought into "Full speed ahead" and let everybody see what four Parsons steam turbines running at full pelt can do. Dreadnought would leap ahead and leave people on the liner feeling that they were standing still.
I'll be on the foredeck of the liner in my Admiral's uniform and the Captain of the Dreadnought can throw me a salute -- which I will return -- as he goes to full power. A little bit of ceremony always goes down well.
Jackie: And reports of all that would go down well at home. We must do all we can to keep up pride in the navy.
King: We are agreed on that Jackie
Jackie: Leave it with me. I will see what I can do.
King: Thank you Jackie. I knew I could rely on you.
Narrator: So the king walks away from a meeting with no undertakings given and nothing definitely decided but leaves in perfect confidence that the navy will be there for his trip. Very British.
Dreadnought -- with a speed of 21 knots and mounting ten 12" guns capable of hurling a shell 20 miles. Dreadnought was the especial pet project of the First Sea Lord, Adm. Jackie Fisher. It was built in a year and a day -- a build-time which remains impressive today. She was launched by Edward VII and christened with a bottle of Australian wine!
The "pipes" down the side of the ship are torpedo net booms
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