The grandaddy of British undersea powerPosted: 12/09/2011
I’ve been reading how some of the lyrics from British Sea Power’s “Carrion” have been painted on the walls of a new wing of the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich in London. I like BSP, I like BSP’s lyrics, I like the National Martime Museum, and I like text as a graphic element, so this seems a perfectly splendid idea to me.
Thinking about this led me to thinking about John Philip Holland, the fella with the natty bowler and the magnificent walrus moustache pictured here. Holland was the brains behind Britain’s first submarine, the artfully named Holland 1, which was launched in great secrecy in 1901. The head of the Royal Navy at the time, Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, was not impressed and described the boat as “underhand, unfair and damned un-English”, but it remained in service for several years. It was decommissioned in 1913 and sank while being towed to the scrapyard. I’ve been imagining the crew giving a rousing chorus of BSP’s “Carrion” – “Oh the heavy water, how it enfolds“ – as the submarine settled upon the seabed in a thick cloud of silt and shells and old fish bones. Never mind that there wasn’t actually anybody on board when it went down.
Admiral Sir Arthur Wilson, incidentally, was born in my home town of Swaffham in Norfolk. That’s Nelson’s county, that is.