On 13 February 1878 a British squadron of ironclads proceeded up the Dardanelles Straits to Constantinople during the Russo-Turkish War. This was one of those rare moments during the so-called Pax Britannica when the battleships of the Royal Navy came close to opening fire. On that winter’s day, with a blizzard blowing, and visibility practically nil, all hands were at general quarters, the squadron inched its way up the straits. On the bridge of the ironclad Achilles stood Captain Sir William N. W. Hewett, a hero of the Crimean War, knight of the Bath, and recipient of the Victoria Cross. With him stood three midshipmen, cowering in the cold, one of whom was George A. Ballard, who came to prominence as a war planner in the years leading up to the First World War. At the time Ballard was just 15 years old. He later recalled:
We had no shelter there and looked so miserably frozen that Hewett laughed and sent us down to lunch in his cabin with orders to the steward to give us champagne.
With the exception of the grounding of the flagship Alexandra on account of the atrocious visibility, the passage of the fleet passed without incident, and the Turkish forts, which were to prove so troublesome a generation later, did not open fire. And the young Ballard had a good lunch! The author heartily approves of champagne as a curative for cold.
Incidentally, if anyone is interested in the orders for the squadron which transited the straits, they are reproduced in the author’s ‘A Distinct Point in Modern Naval Tactics’ in The Mariner’s Mirror.