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|EXITCecil Wykeham Lydall|
Cecil Wykeham LydallJanuary 9th 1873 - Killed in Action 31st May 1916
Cecil Wykeham Lydall was the second son of Wykeham Hawthorne and Sarah Lydall of 19 Mecklenburgh Square, London, WC1. Cecil’s father was a successful London physician and surgeon, a profession that his older brother Wykeham Tracy Lydall would later follow his father into. The family on the Lydall side had been bankers and lawyers in the city while Cecil’s mother was of the French family with estates in Ireland.
His grandfather on mother’s side was Commander John Tracy William French of the Royal Navy. His uncle was John Denton Pinkstone French, later as Field Marshal Sir John French to become Commanding officer of the British Expeditionary Force from the outbreak of war to 1916. Cecil went to Bradfield College in Bradfield, Berkshire as a boarder and from there was awarded an exhibition at Worcester College, Oxford. Cecil arrived on the teaching staff of Bancrofts in the September of 1898 at the age of 25 years and took lodgings locally for some time with Mrs Hurrell at 11 Whitehall Road, Woodford. He was from the outset very popular with the boys and to a large extent closer in age to them than some of the teaching staff. He was a sportsman through and through and involved himself in every aspect of school life. In those days particularly when playing club as opposed to other school sides the masters would frequently be amongst the eleven selected to represent the school.
Turning the pages of the Bancroftian for the period his name appears regularly taking the field in school football and cricket elevens. His teammates for these games included Raymond George Vincent, Hubert Dickie Kidd and Augustine Harry Mahr. Keenness, robustness and resolution in defence appear his chief characteristics. Interestingly this is reflected in the match report for the game against the Barclay Swifts FC of January 1903. Similarly in a ‘friendly’ against a scratch eleven fielded by our James Henry Thorpe the stalwart of defence was evident. Cecil was no less a consideration when bearing down upon a hapless middle order batsman at the crease. Indeed for some years he was very much a force to be reckoned with in the school’s bowling attack. Notably in the annual School v Staff match Cecil managed in securing the staff’s victory to combine being the staff’s top scoring batsman with figures of 5 wickets for 35 runs.
He was elevated house master of the boarding house by the time he left in 1905 to take up the priesthood. The Bancroftian marked his departure in the Easter of 1905 with the reverence and thanks he deserved as he left to take up post in Battersea. It was not long after this, however, that Cecil determined on a life afloat as a chaplain in HM Royal Navy. Perhaps he hearkened back to his forbears. The years that followed saw him serving as ship’s chaplain on a number of the Navy’s finest warships and mainly in the Mediterranean between Gibraltar and Alexandria. It was a good time to be in the Royal Navy. For a hundred years or more Britannia, if not in reality then in the popular imagination at least ruled the waves. With the exception of some local policing operations such as combating piracy and gun-running in the Persian Gulf, showing the flag formed the lion’s share of the duties of the Royal Navy. Between 1906 and 1908 Cecil was Chaplain on the Cruiser Minerva on the Mediterranean station. Then from the October of 1908 Cecil progressed to Chaplain on the battleship HMS Swiftsure, still plying the warmth of the Mediterranean. In a few years time both these ships would form part of the Gallipoli campaign.
Then in 1912 came Cecil’s move to the prestigious position of Chaplain to the more than one thousand souls that formed the officers and crew of HMS Lion. She was the battlecruiser and flagship of the Royal Navy’s first battle cruiser squadron. Here began Cecil’s association with Rear Admiral Beatty. The year 1914 was to prove an eventful one for HMS Lion and its crew. In June she visited Kronstadt in the Baltic. Sailing past the berths of the Kriegsmarine in northern Germany she arrived on schedule at the naval port of Tsarist Russia. This was a goodwill visit which reinforced those ties of affiliation and entente that would prove so telling in the next few months as Europe slid inexorably into war. In June this was, however, still far off and Cecil with all the ship’s crew would have experienced the spectacle and the entertainment of the Tsar and his family on board which was the highpoint of the tour. On a more personal note Cecil became engaged to be married. After Kronstadt HMS Lion returned to home waters and played its part in the grand Spithead review of the fleet.
The days of peace were dwindling away and within a matter of weeks war was declared and HMS Lion and Cecil would go to Scapa Flow its war station. HMS Lion, as the flagship of the battlecruisers, represented very much the rapid strike force of the Royal Navy. Accordingly with war declared she was among the first of the capital ships to see action. On 28th August 1914 she lead a flotilla raid in the Battle of Heligoland Bight. Though an action that was marked with some confusion and rapid improvisation in the planning, the battle was an undoubted early victory for the Royal Navy. From the start it scuppered any pretensions on the part of the German Fleets to substantively leave port and challenge for supremacy in the North Sea. Wounded, the German Navy was in the following months to conduct raids on the towns of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool which much angered public opinion. The war of intelligence, however, had given the Royal Navy a significant advantage in breaking partially at least the German naval codes. This then led to the next large engagements in the North Sea off the Dogger Bank on the 24th January 1915. HMS Lion was in the vanguard of the chasing pack and was in the process hit by 14 or more shells from the outnumbered and fleeing German fleet. The damage was enough to disable HMS Lion, which, towed back to port, underwent two months of repairs. A worse fate, however, had only been narrowly avoided when a shell threatened to ignite the ammunition store below decks in the forward turret.
It is likely the damage brought with it some welcome leave to the ships complement. HMS Lion’s next major outing came in May 1916. Cecil was on leave and his wedding had been set for the 5th June. Then he was recalled to duty as again code-breaking had seen the battlecruisers made ready to leave port for the Jutland area of the North Sea. The aim was once again to spring a trap on the main German battle fleet. The battlecruisers engaged the German fleet on the afternoon of the 31st May. Pretty soon, however, the battlecruisers found they were being drawn into a battle with German warships that far outweighed them in number and firepower. By the time Rear-Admiral Beatty turned his battlecruisers about later that afternoon accurate gunnery had sunk two of his force of six battlecruisers each with the loss of many hundreds of lives.
As well as those sunk, within half hour of the fleets sighting each other, HMS Lion had been hit at least three times. The last of these had been a direct hit on ‘Q’ turret a midships and it is understood it was this explosion that killed Cecil. The battle had been a strategic victory for the Royal Navy and their domination of the North Sea. The German fleet never returned en masse to the fray. The cost in lives was 6,094 British sailors killed and a further 2,551 German sailors. By the 2nd June HMS Lion had once again limped home to port for repairs. Cecil’s burial at seal is described above. His death is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial and at Bancroft’s School.