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Flamborough (Carol Walkington): Week 9 – 18 October

Have you ever heard of the celebrated “Dreadnought Hoax” of 1910? It sounds like the plot of a Marx Brothers movie, one that the brothers rejected as too implausible, only it really happened. Back in the early 20th century Britannia ruled the waves (as opposed to just waiving the rules, as I’m afraid we do now, ahaha: sorry, Europe), and the battleship HMS Dreadnought was the flagship and pride of the Navy, the most powerful ship afloat. There was a friendly rivalry between ships’ crews, especially between those of Dreadnought and HMS Hawke, and some officers from Hawke approached celebrated prankster Horace de Vere Cole to see if he could hoax the Dreadnought. What followed became a national scandal, and some aspects are still pretty shocking today—or would be if it wasn’t so utterly ridiculous.

Fisherman’s hut by the harbour

Cole and several of his friends—among them the young Virginia Woolf—dressed up in Arab costume, donned false beards and (*cough*) “fake tan”, and sent a telegram to the Commander in Chief of the Fleet Lord Fisher to say that Prince Makalen of Abyssinia and his retinue were coming to see the Dreadnought. When their train reached the fleet at Weymouth (having blagged a special VIP carriage at Paddington) they were met with an honour guard and given a full ceremonial tour of the battleship. One of their number posed as an interpreter, while the others spoke garbled Greek and Latin or exclaimed “Bunga Bunga!”

And the really shocking part? They got away with it. The hoax was only exposed several days later. I mean, fair enough, it was a simpler time, but Virginia Woolf in blackface and a fake beard? Seriously? (Look it up: there’s a photograph.) Ah, well. All I can say is, in retrospect maybe Brexit shouldn’t have been quite such a surprise after all.

Image from the Johnston Collection displayed at a local street corner

Meanwhile in parish notices, Judit has sent us pictures of another triumph, a rather fetching Wick leaf pattern gansey in navy (the image colour has been tweaked to show the pattern more clearly). What a great pattern this is. This one has a narrow welt and the collar is quite short, as requested by the lucky recipient. As ever, many congratulations to Judit.

My own gansey project is drawing to a close, as I’m almost halfway down the second sleeve. This is always the point where I start to panic over the fit (more so in this case as the first measurement I was offered suggested an improbable body width of 14 inches, subsequently revised upwards to about 20 inches after some hasty work with a tape measure). I may not quite get it finished this week, but I’ll be disappointed if I’m not at least within hailing distance of the cuff.

St Fergus’ Church through the hawthorns

Unsurprisingly, the poor old British Navy became something of a laughing stock following the hoax. Apparently visitors who were subsequently shown over the Dreadnought used to exclaim “Bunga Bunga!”, and Admiral Fisher—who was actually a cousin of the two of the group but had failed to recognise them—suffered the indignity of small boys shouting it at him the street. In 1915 HMS Dreadnought heroically rammed and sank a German submarine, and among the telegrams of congratulation was one that read… well, you get the idea. There was even a popular song about the hoax, to the tune of “The Girl I Left Behind Me”: When I went on board a Dreadnought ship/ I looked like a costermonger/ They said I was an Abyssinian prince/ ‘Cos I shouted “Bunga Bunga!”…

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