When the First World War broke out the United Kingdom had the biggest navy in the world, but only a small army, at least by the standards of the other european powers. Britain’s’ policy had usually been, as in the Napoleonic Wars, to send a small army to the european mainland to co-operate with allied powers while using its powerful navy to dominate the seas and the trade routes. This enabled Britain to wage a very effective economic war and to project its power in virtually every part of the globe. Doubtless there were some in 1914 who expected that Britain’s role in the new war would follow this traditional pattern. Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War, saw that this would be a war like no other, and he knew that Britain would need to raise the greatest army it had ever raised to defeat Kaiserine Germany.

Kitchener launched an appeal for volunteers, famously featuring on a recruitment poster himself. It was more successful than anyone had envisaged. The young men of Britain responded with the utmost enthusiasm. At this point of the War, conscription was clearly not needed.

The men of the Orange Order throughout the Empire responded at least as enthusiastically as anyone. The Grand Orange Lodge of England wanted to keep a record of who, amongst their membership, had stepped forward to answer their country’s call. Lodge Secretaries were asked to send to the Grand Secretary a list of the names of all those who had volunteered. As a result, the Grand Lodge Report and Directory for 1915 has a “Roll of Honour” bearing the names of 1,410 brethren, and one sister, who were in service at that time. This would have been far from an exhaustive list. Some lodge Secretaries submitted the information too late to be included in the Roll of Honour, and some may never have submitted the information at all. 168 lodges have members shown on the Roll of Honour, while the Lodge Directory for 1915 shows 305 adult male lodges in all. This is a response rate of only 55%, so 45% of lodges do not have their serving members shown on the Roll of Honour although we know that their members did step forward to volunteer.

Of the 1,411 names shown, 736 (52.16%) were in the Army, 424 (30.05%) were in the Royal Navy, 17 (1.20%) were in the “Royal Marine Light Infantry”, and 3 (0.21%) were in the Royal Flying Corps. Disappointingly, 231 (16.37%) names are shown without any unit being mentioned, so in addition to those who are not named on the Roll of Honour this is another large group of Orangemen about whom we know too little. Even for those for whom we do have some information, much of it is infuriatingly vague. Of the 736 in the Army some have their unit shown, (e.g. “2nd Regiment, King Edward’s Horse”), while with others we get merely vague descriptions such as “Territorials”. Of the 424 in the Royal Navy some are identified with a specific ship (e.g. HMS Defence), while with others we are told only that they were “Royal Navy”.

One thing that does stand out from the above figures, however, is the very large percentage of brethren who served in the Royal Navy. 30.05% is a far larger percentage than would have pertained to the general population. To some extent this figure is distorted by a few very large lodges that seem to have had a distinctly naval connection. Sons of William LOL 652, who met at the Foresters’ Hall in Gillingham, had 107 members in the Royal Navy; Ulster Scot LOL 287, described in 1915 as “on war service with the Fleet” but usually based at Devonport, had 91 members in the Royal Navy; and Royal Naval LOL 577, who met in

Portsmouth, had 40 members in the Royal Navy. These three lodges alone had 238 members in the Royal Navy, 56% of the 424.

What these figures show us, however, is that the stereotypical picture of Orangemen in the First World War as soldiers going over the top wearing their Orange sashes is only partially true. We can now see that our brethren patrolled the oceans in all manner of vessels, some of them in dreadnoughts clashing with their German opposite numbers, and some in hastily-converted merchantmen in which they pursued an unspectacular but grimly effective campaign against the U-Boats, possibly Germany’s most effective weapon.

Because of this I plan to include in my occasional papers on the Orange Order in the First World War a series devoted to “the Orange Navy”. This is the first.

Part 1 – The Goeben and the Breslau, August 1914

On the outbreak of war in August 1914 the Royal Navy faced a more dangerous challenge than at any time in the previous hundred years. Imperial Germany had decided to construct a navy of its own, big enough to challenge Britain’s supremacy. This building programme began in 1898 with the First German Naval Bill and this was supplemented in 1900 with a Second Bill. Britain was alarmed, as this could be interpreted only as a direct challenge to Britain’s maritime pre-eminence, which had guaranteed the Pax Britannica since 1815.

Britain responded by concluding an alliance with Japan in 1902. Japan was a rising power, a status to be confirmed by victory over the Russians in 1905, and this alliance allowed Britain to bring more ships home from the Far East to help meet the threat from Germany. Britain’s most dramatic riposte to the Kaiser was the launch in 1906 of HMS Dreadnought, a ship so revolutionary in its design as to render older ships obsolete. Germany was now faced with the necessity of matching Britain in the production of dreadnoughts, and this she never managed to do. Britain won the Naval Race.

Nevertheless, the Germans still had a fleet mighty enough to enable a dangerous concentration of naval power in the North Sea and, at the same time, send over the oceans squadrons that were smaller and lighter, but still extremely dangerous due to the excellent construction standards of German shipbuilding.

In 1912 the Germans had formed a Mediterranean Division consisting of the battlecruiser Goeben and the light cruiser Breslau. These arrived in the Mediterranean in November 1912. The Goeben was 612 feet 2 inches long, 98 feet 5 inches wide, and displaced 25,300 tons when fully loaded. It had a top speed of 25.5 knots, a main armament of ten 28cm SK L/50 guns in five twin-gun turrets, a secondary armament of twelve 15cm SK L/45 guns, and four 50cm torpedo tubes. The Breslau was a Magdeburg-class light cruiser, 455 feet long, 44 feet wide, and displaced 4,570 tons when fully loaded. It had a top speed of 27.5 knots, a main armament of twelve 10.5cm SK L/45 guns in single pedestal mounts, and two 50cm torpedo tubes, and could carry 120 mines.


The German navy planned to use the Goeben and Breslau to attack French convoys bringing troops to metropolitan France from North Africa. The commander of the German squadron was Rear-Admiral Wilhelm Anton Souchon, (who was a descendant of Huguenots), and he headed for the western Mediterranean even before war was declared, anticipating that a formal declaration could not long be delayed. At 18.00 on 3rd August he had confirmation of the commencement of hostilities, and Goeben bombarded the port of Phillippeville while Breslau bombarded Bone. The bombardments were brief and caused minimal damage.

The French had concentrated their naval strength in the Western Mediterranean, expecting to have to defend their troop convoys from German attack. Meanwhile, by 1st August the British Mediterranean Fleet had concentrated at Malta under the command of Admiral Sir Archibald Berkeley Milne. He had three modern Battlecruisers (Inflexible, Indomitable, Indefatigable), with four Armoured Cruisers, four Light Cruisers, and fourteen Destroyers.

Milne′s instructions were "to aid the French in the transportation of their African Army by covering, and if possible, bringing to action individual fast German ships, particularly Goeben, who may interfere in that action. You will be notified by telegraph when you may consult with the French Admiral. Do not at this stage be brought to action against superior forces, except in combination with the French, as part of a general battle. The speed of your squadrons is sufficient to enable you to choose your moment. We shall hope to reinforce the Mediterranean, and you must husband your forces at the outset."

On 2nd August Milne received instructions to shadow the Goeben with two Battlecruisers, while at the same time watching the Adriatic in case the Austrian Navy attempted a sortie, but when the French ports were attacked the Admiralty feared that Souchon may attempt to breakout into the Atlantic and Milne was then ordered to send the Indomitable and Indefatigable towards Gibraltar.

On 4th August, Souchon received orders from Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz, the head of the German Navy, to turn east and head for Constantinople. The French preferred to leave their naval strength concentrated in the Western Mediterranean to protect their troop convoys, so Souchon’s turn to the east left them behind. Meanwhile, the Indomitable and Indefatigable were still heading west to support the French and, at 9.30am, they passed the Goeben and Breslau heading in the opposite direction. The British ships turned about and began to shadow the German ships, but the two countries were not yet at war and so the British could legally do nothing.

Souchon knew that his ships had insufficient coal stocks to reach Constantinople, so he headed to Messina to take on more coal. The German ships were able to make more speed than the British battlecruisers who eventually lost contact. The light cruiser HMS Dublin managed to stay in touch longer but by 19.37 hours, amid fog and gathering darkness, the Dublin too lost contact with the German ships. Souchon reached Messina that night.

When Milne was told that Britain and Germany were formally at war he stationed the Inflexible and Indefatigable at the northern end of the Straits of Messina as he thought that a breakout to the west was still Souchon’s most likely next move. Indomitable was sent to coal at Bizerta, and only the light cruiser HMS Gloucester was at the southern end of the Straits.


Captain Howard Kelly was the Captain of the Gloucester, while his older brother John was the Captain of HMS Dublin.

Souchon was in a very difficult position. The Italian authorities were not as helpful as he had hoped they would be, and were enforcing neutrality laws quite strictly. He had to leave Messina without the amount of coal stocks he needed. He was also told that his Austrian allies would supply no support for him in the Mediterranean and that, contrary to the orders he had received from Tirpitz, Turkey was still neutral. He decided to make for Constantinople anyway, and slipped out of Messina at 1.30am on 6th August.

HMS Dublin sighted the Germans and passed the news to Gloucester and to Rear-Admiral Ernest Troubridge, who commanded the 1st Cruiser Squadron, which consisted of the Armoured Cruisers Defence, Warrior, Black Prince, and Duke of Edinburgh. The British ships had only 9.2 inch guns against the Goeben’ s 11 inch guns, they had only 6 inches of armour against the Goeben’s 11 inches, and the Goeben being faster could dictate the range at which any action took place. Troubridge decided that his only chance of fighting a successful action was to attack at dawn from the west, preferably with Destroyers launching torpedoes. Some of the Destroyers, however, had begun to run out of coal.

At 14.00 hours HMS Dublin, having completed coaling, left Malta to join Troubridge’s force.
At 20.30 hours Milne ordered Dublin, in company with two Destroyers, to launch a torpedo attack that night and the British ships managed to position themselves across the path of the Germans. They were spotted by the Breslau, however, and this gave the Germans opportunity to escape to the north.

HMS Gloucester had continued to shadow the Germans and decided to make one last attempt to bring them to action. Gloucester tried to engage Breslau, hoping to force Goeben to drop back to support its smaller sister ship. This may have caused enough delay to the Germans’ progress that they could be overtaken and brought to battle by the British Battlecruisers. Souchon later said that during the brief action Breslau had taken some hits, though not enough to cause serious damage. At 04.00 hours on 7th August, Troubridge decided there was no chance of staging a successful action and decided to call off his pursuit.

By just after midnight on 8th August Milne was moving east with all three of his Battlecruisers, together with the light cruiser HMS Weymouth. At 14.00 hours he was told that Britain and Austria were at war, and he moved his force to cover the Adriatic to block any sorties by the Austrian navy rather than chase the Goeben and Breslau. In fact, this information was incorrect and this was just one of several cases where the local commanders on both sides were given misleading information by their more remote superiors.

On 9th August, Milne was finally given clear orders to “chase Goeben which had passed Cape Matapan on the 7th steering north-east." By this time, however, there was little he could do. On 10th August Souchon rendezvoused with a German collier and was able to take on much-needed coal. At 17.00 hours the next day he reached the Dardanelles and was escorted to Istanbul by Turkish ships.


In order to satisfy neutrality laws, which would have prevented German ships from remaining in a port of neutral Turkey, the ships were formally transferred to the Turkish Navy and their crews became Turkish sailors. The British continued to blockade the Dardanelles to prevent any sortie into the Aegean, but on 29th October 1914 these two “Turkish” warships sailed across the Black Sea and bombarded Russian bases at Sevastopol, Odessa and Novorossiysk. This action brought the Ottoman Empire into the First World War on the side of the Central Powers and led to four years of bitter fighting in the Caucasus, the Dardanelles, Mesopotamia, Palestine and Syria, and the Arabian Peninsula. It is a great “what if” of history that a successful interception of Souchon’s squadron might have prevented all this. Winston Churchill said of the Goeben and Breslau that they brought “more slaughter, more misery, and more ruin than has ever been before borne within the compass of a ship”.

The Battle of Antivari – a postscript
Soon after the start of the War Montenegro joined the Allies. This was strategically important as the country had a small coast line which might allow the Allies to send help to landlocked Serbia. Two Austro-Hungarian ships, the Zenta and the Ulan, were bombarding the Montenegrin port of Bar on 16th August 1914. A large Franco-British naval force, comprising three dreadnoughts, ten pre-dreadnoughts, four armoured cruisers, one protected cruiser and more than twenty destroyers had sailed into the Adriatic and caught the two Austrian vesels. The contest was massively uneven, but the Zenta put up a spirited fight which gave the Ulan the opportunity to escape. Eventually the Zenta sank with 173 men killed and over 50 wounded. The British contribution to the Allied force was the armoured cruisers Defence and Warrior, with accompanying destroyers.

The Orange contingent
What has this to do with the Orange Order ? Quite simply, there were Orangemen serving on the Battlecruisers HMS Indefatigable and HMS Inflexible, on the light cruiser HMS Dublin, and Troubridge’s 1st Cruiser Squadron was especially Orange with brethren serving on HMS Defence, HMS Duke of Edinburgh, and HMS Warrior. These are only the ones we can identify from the “Roll of Honour”, and there must certainly have been more.

The “Carnarvon” Loyal Orange Lodge number 827 was in existence before the outbreak of war. It is shown in the Grand Lodge Directory of 1910 under the Plymouth District number 72, and the WM is recorded as William Gardiner whose address is given as “HMS Carnarvon, Plymouth”. The meeting place is also given as “HMS Carnarvon”, implying that lodge meetings were held on board ship. In the 1915 Grand Lodge Directory the lodge has become part of Devonport District number 94. It is shown as meeting on the first and second Wednesdays of the month, but its place of meeting is shown as “On War Service with the Fleet”. The WM is recorded as J A Britten and the Secretary as Brother Moorhouse. No address is given for either, all of which suggests that the lodge was working on board ship. The lodge is still listed in the 1916 Grand Lodge Directory under the Devonport District, but no details are given. The Roll of Honour in the 1915 Report shows members of the Lodge serving on Indefatigable, Inflexible, Duke of Edinburgh, and Defence. Perhaps the Lodge had been broken up by so many of its members being posted to other ships.

HMS Carnarvon was a Devonshire-class Armoured Cruiser. She had been launched on 7th October 1903 and completed on 25th May 1905. After serving in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic she was assigned to the (Reserve) Third Fleet based at Devonport in April 1909.

Having a relatively stable base would have made it easier for the Orangemen in the crew to form a lodge, which is probably why LOL 827 was founded about this time. Most of those Orangemen identified as serving on Indefatigable, Inflexible, Duke of Edinburgh, and Defence, came from LOL 827, so the members of the Carnarvon Lodge were probably posted to these other ships by the summer of 1915.

Michael Phelan
Grand Orange Lodge of England
31st May 2014