Mid Sussex Times - Tuesday 28 January 1919
‘THE FREEDOM OF THE SEAS’
What Does the Phrase Mean?
LANTERN LECTURE AT CUCKFIELD
Farmers locally are doing all they can to assist farmers and gardeners in France whose lands have suffered from the ravages of war. To raise a few pounds for their friends a lantern lecture on “The Freedom of the Seas” was given on Wednesday last by Mr. W. Herrington, in the Queen Hall, Cuckfield, which had been lent by the Urban Council free of charge. The worthiness the object, the novelty of the subject and the ability of the Lecturer drew a large crowd, and every chair was occupied. Many also found standing room in the gallery.
Mr G. W. Preece, having referred in his usual cheery manner to the cause being helped, called upon the Lecturer to begin.
Before the lights were lowered Mr. Herrington read a few remarks to explain what he meant by Freedom of the Seas. A certain exile from home had stated one of his reasons for declaring war was to obtain Freedom of the Seas. The President of the United States had included among his conditions for future peace the Freedom the S«as. But neither he nor the ex-Kaiser explained what was meant by the phrase, nor had any definition of it been put forward. Yet one must found, or the lecture was in vain. Mr. Herrington claimed, in the dogmatic manner which is a privilege of teachers, (a) Before Waterloo the seas had not been free either in peace or war; (b) After Waterloo thanks to the supremacy the British Navy on the seas, all of them, were free, free for all who “pass upon their lawful occasions.” For ninety nine years. 1815-1914, (a) the British Navy had patrolled the oceans, guarding with equal care her own trade and the trade of others, (b) It had kept open the sea lanes along which trade passes for herself and for others, (c) It had exterminated piracy, even when pirates had attacked vessels which did not bear our Flag, (d) It had lighted, dredged and buoyed foreign channels, where no civilised government existed, tor her own benefit and the benefit of others. Briefly, it had sown the seed, and allowed others to help reap the harvest. These circumstances formed the true “Freedom of the Seas.” By way of introduction a dozen pictures followed to show the enormous progress that had been made since the first log raft was navigated by the first sailors in the dim shadows of the far distant past. The progress of British Shipping was traced from Saxon times to the splendid five masted sailing vessels, the stately Atlantic liners, and the grimy, powerful Dreadnoughts.
THE EARLY NAVIES
of Phoenicia, Greece and Rome were reviewed. Even in those distant days each power had (to quote Kipling) to “send out her big warships to guard her wide waters.” Each power had Colonies, each fought over these colonies, and on the roads leading to them, for there was no freedom at sea. In the end Rome, by building a navy and training sailors, became supreme at sea. The Mediterranean was the great sea there, for Imperial Rome had placed all her colonies round it and settled them “like frogs round a marsh.” Great battles were fought for the supremacy of the sea and land, but the victor never gave freedom. Passing to the Atlantic, many splendid slides were shown of the Norsemen's ships which for centuries were a terror to Europe. Not a river mouth in Britain, France, Spain but had been ascended by them. Where-ever they went they carried fire and sword, and departed with plunder and slaves. Alfred resisted them in our first great naval victory off Swanage with such effect that “The land had rest for eighty years,” They had the Freedom of the Sea in the stormy waters they ploughed, for there was none to resist them. The final blow was given by Harold, the only Sussex man who became King in 1066 at the Humber. But Scotland bore their depredations another two hundred years. The Saxon Fleet, also, was in harbour when Duke William of Normandy crossed over, so having the freedom of the sea he landed. fought and won the battle of Hastings. Passing the reigns of John, Henry III. and Edward III., pictures ware shown illustrating the type of vessel then in use, and the methods of fighting—boat to boat, man to man, lance to lance, dart to dart, arrow to arrow, stone to stone, lead to lead. We met for the first time the navy of France and defeated it thrice; also the navy of Spain off Winchelsea. The arrows used in these battles were all made in Sussex, collected at Horsham, and shipped at Southampton, and in a Sussex Church (Etchingham) Edward III gave thanks for victory. It was after Winchelsea that Edward III claimed to be sovereign of the sea, and demanded a salute from all foreign vessels approaching our shores. The Crusades were touched upon when an English fleet for the first time went to the Mediterranean, conquered Cyprus (our first over-sea possession—and still ours) and taught the Saracens that the Flag of the little Island far away to the West was to be respected and feared. The Crusades really ended on that winter day when General Allenby entered Jerusalem on foot. (Applause).
OUR FLEET'S “SILENT PRESSURE.”
Returning to the struggles In the Great Middle Sea, the fortune and reverses of Venice and Genoa were touched upon and the domination of the Turk who had captured Constantinople in 1453. Turkey became supreme at sea, piracy was rampant and thousands of Christians were enslaved or murdered. The late Canon Cooper had told us how in 1631- 1632 at least three collections had been made in Cuckfield Church for the ransoms or benefit of sufferers under the Turk. The great battle of Lepanto ended for ever the tyranny of the Turk at sea, but piracy remained, there was no freedom, except the freedom of the strong over the weak, the wolf over the lamb. With the Tudors world knowledge increased, for Columbus re-discovered America, and Vasca de Gama found new way to India round the Cape. Naval activity now moved to the Atlantic and Spain became the tyrant. A Pope kindly divided the Atlantic, giving Portugal all to the east of a certain line and Spain all to the west. But England, under Henry VIII and Elizabeth, had been increasing her navy, and Drake was sent out to assert the Freedom of the Seas, the right to go anywhere on the high seas. The story the Armada was re-told. Passing on to the great Commonwealth and Admiral Blake, the Lecturer told how he for the first time spent a winter at sea, determined to extirpate pirates. What this meant in the recent war was shown by excellent slides depicting battle ships literally smothered by stormy seas. The voyage of Anson gave opportunity for some of the natural terrors of the deep to be considered—scurvy, sharks, &c., and note was made of the awful weather round Cape Horn, where two battles in the recent war had been fought. Trouble with the Dutch - the toughest antagonists we ever had—over the Salute to the Flag, but really over trade, was briefly touched upon. Finally came Napoleon and Nelson with Trafalgar and the final surrender of Napoleon to H.M S. Bellerophon. Then, as now. the silent pressure of the British Navy, our old wooden walls watching every enemy port as a cat watches a mouse-hole, suffering heavy loss from storm and disease, made ultimate victory certain the Power that ruled the seas. A few patriotic slides, with appropriate observations, brought the lecture, lasting two hours, in which over 120 slides had been shown, to an end.
Mr. Preece briefly thanked the Lecturer, who. replying, expressed his indebtedness to Mr. Rapley, whose services at the lantern made the lecture interesting, and to the Urban Council for lending the room. The Farmers Fund benefits by about £8 as a result of the lecture.
Photograph of William Herrington courtesy of Cuckfield Museum