The Fairthorne Family

Berkley William Fairthorne

Birth: 2 March 1870, in Shrivenham, Berkshire, England

Baptism: 20 April 1870, in Shrivenham, Berkshire, England

Father: Amariah William Fairthorne

Mother: Emma (Brown) Fairthorne

Education: St Edward's School, Oxford

Married: Kathleen Louisa Vere Richards on 18 April 1897, in Little Hinton, Wiltshire, England

Occupation: Mechanical Engineer

Notes: On 29 April 1893, Berkley was made Second Lieutenant in the 1st Volunteer Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales's (Royal Berkshire Regiment) (London Gazette 28 April 1893 p2500) and promoted to Lieutenant on 17 July 1895 (London Gazette 16 July 1895 p4027). He resigned his commission on 17 May 1899 (London Gazette 16 May 1899 p3108).

Death: August 1949

1881: "Monkton Combe College", Monckton Combe, Somerset
1911: Abingdon district, Berkshire: William Fairthorne is aged 41, born in Shrivenham, Berkshire: Occupation: Mechanical Engineer
1911: Abingdon district, Berkshire: Berkley William Fairthorne is aged 41


Kathleen Elizabeth Fairthorne

Birth: 6 August 1910, in Sandown, Isle of Wight, England

Baptism: 1910, in Sandown, Isle of Wight, England

Father: Berkley William Fairthorne

Mother: Kathleen Louisa Vere (Richards) Fairthorne

January 1992, in Oxford, Oxfordshire, England

Census & Addresses:
1911: Abingdon district, Berkshire: Kathleen Elizabeth Fairthorne is aged 1


Margaret Vere Fairthorne

Birth: 18 January 1900, in Faringdon, Berkshire, England

Father: Berkley William Fairthorne

Mother: Kathleen Louisa Vere (Richards) Fairthorne

Death: 16 January 1982, Abingdon, Berkshire, England

Will: dated 28 September 1962

Census & Addresses:
1901: Abingdon district, Berkshire: Margaret Fairthorn is aged 1, born in Faringdon, Berkshire
1911: Abingdon district, Berkshire: Margaret Vere Fairthorne is aged 11


Norah (Fairthorne) Jones

Birth: 18 February 1903, in Abingdon, Berkshire, England

Father: Berkley William Fairthorne

Mother: Kathleen Louisa Vere (Richards) Fairthorne

Married: Evelyn Haines Jones on 19 January 1936 in Dartford district, Kent, England.
Evelyn was born on 19 December 1887 in Blackheath, London, and died on 3 March 1962. He was a motor engineer.
1901: Orpington district, Kent: Evelyn Haynes Jones is aged 15, born in Blackheath, London
1911: Bromley district, Kent: Evelyn Haines Jones is aged 25

London Gazette 20 August 1918 p9728
NOTICE is hereby given, that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us, the undersigned, Percy Edward Soans, Charles Herbert Soans, Evelyn Haines Jones and Edward Dunn, carrying on business as Motor Engineers, at 40, Napier-road, Bromley, Kent, and 93, Masons-hill, Bromley aforesaid, under tihe style or firm of SOANS, DUNN AND JONES, has been dissolved by mutual consent as and from the tihird day of September, 1917, so far as concerns the said Evelyn Haines Jones, who retires from the said business. All debts due to and owing by the said late firm will be received and paid by the above named Percy Edward Soans, Charles Herbert Soans and Edward Dunn, who will continue the said business. - Dated the 9th day of August, 1918.
          (by W. Jones, his Attorney).
     P. E. SOANS.
     C. H. SOANS.
     E. DUNN.

22 June 1987

Census & Addresses:
1911: Abingdon district, Berkshire: Norah Fairthorne is aged 8


Richard Berkley Fairthorne

Birth: 13 August 1898, in Faringdon, Berkshire, England

Baptism: 25 September 1878, in Shrivenham, Berkshire, England

Father: Berkley William Fairthorne

Mother: Kathleen Louisa Vere (Richards) Fairthorne

Married: Helen Dunbar Hamilton Jacob in 1929, in Hendon district, Middlesex, England. Helen was born on 16 April 1907, in Kensington district, London. She died in April 1996.

Occupation: Naval Officer; Civil Servant; Consulting Engineer
In 1911 at just 12 years of age, Richard entered the Royal Naval College at Osborne on the Isle of Wight. Two years later he moved at Dartmouth but did not complete the course since the war broke out. He started his career aboard the Leviathan and joined the battleship Warspite a week before the Battle of Jutland in 1916.
H.M.S. Warspite pp33-4 by Iain Ballantyne (2001):
Midshipman Richard Fairthorne joined Warspite on the day of her arrival at Rosyth, finding the battleship at anchor on the Forth an inspiring sight, which sent his spirits soaring. He had just come from the dull routine of serving aboard the ancient cruiser Leviathan on the boring West Indies Station. Midshipman Fairthorne was delighted there was no prospect of the 'indescribable tedium' of coaling.
  Nearly sixty years later Fairthorne wrote that, on boarding the Warspite ' sensed at once that she was a happy and efficient unit.'  The Warspite was an immaculate vessel, all spick and span, with the brass polished to blinding perfection, the paintwork pristine and wooden decks unblemished.

and when the squadron sailed on it way to the Battle p35:
Aboard the Warspite there was no feeling among the crew of going to meet a date with destiny, rather one of dull routine. Midshipman Fairthorne - new to all this and therefore excited - was amazed at how calmly the crew of Warspite went about their business.
  His new shipmates explained they found it hard to believe this would be anything other than another wild goose chase.

and after the Battle, pp57-8
The Germans were, however, claiming to have sunk the Warspite. While the 150 holes in her bore testimony to the ferocity and accuracy of the German gunnery, she had obviously lived to fight another day.
  According to Captain Donald Macintyre, in Jutland, the battlecruiser Invincible's  death, was mistaken for Warspite's destruction. In reality Warspite's casualties and damage were minimal and good evidence of her solid construction. But, like many others fretting in the vacuum created by the British failure to swiftly release a detailed account of the battle, the family of Warspite's Midshipman Fairthorne feared for the worst. They didn't want to believe their son's ship was gone, but they had no information to contradict German claims.
  Midshipman Fairthorne recalled:
    At home my family, on opening the morning newspaper of 3 June, had been confronted with several versions of the encounter, one of which was the German claim to have sunk the new battleship Warspite. Luckily I had the foresight to send a telegram of reassurance when the Marine postman went ashore, so they were kept in suspense only till that afternoon.

Lieutenant Richard B. Fairthorne was placed on the Admiralty retired list at his own request, under the Geddes Axe, on 10 November 1922 (London Gazette 21 November 1922 p8213) and made Lieutenant-Commander (Retd.) on 14 September 1927 (London Gazette 23 September 1927 p6058). After retirement from the navy, Richard trained as a mechanical and electrical engineer, and published a paper in the Structural Engineer vol 7 issue 9 (1929) on Asphalt as a Vibration Absorbent.
Richard's consulting engineering partnership with William Pollard Digby , located at 6 Queen Anne's Gate, London, was dissolved in 1933.
London Gazette 15 December 1933 p8165
NOTICE is hereby given that the Partnership heretofore subsisting between us, the undersigned, William Pollard Digby, of 6, Queen Annes Gate, in the county of London, Consulting Engineer, and Richard Berkley Fairthorne. of 6,
Queen Annes Gate aforesaid, Consulting Engineer, carrying on business as Consulting Engineers, at 6, Queen Annes Gate aforesaid, under the style or firm of DIGBY & FAIRTHORNE, has been dissolved by mutual consent as from the thirtieth day of November, 1933. All debts due and owing to or by the late firm will be respectively received and paid by the said William Pollard Digby. The said business will be carried on in the future by the said William Pollard Digby, under the style or firm of "W. P. Digby and Partners." - As witness our hands this 7th day of December, 1933.

Richard was recalled to active service in 1939, with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. He wrote this article in the Naval Review, April 1982, pp101-107.
Some Thoughts on the Navy over Sixty-five Years
(These reminiscences were written by Lieut. Commander R. B. Fairthorne, Master Mariner - Editor.)
HAVING joined the Royal Navy as a cadet as long ago as 1911, I suppose one still cannot quite claim to have belonged to the era of the wooden ships and the iron men. Nevertheless, part of our seamanship training was on board the sailing three-decker Britannia, moored permanently in
the river Dart near the College. Ominously a raised net was spread below the rigging so as to break the fall of any unfortunate cadet who missed his footing - a grim reminder of days when this refinement was lacking. Older shipmates remembered punishments really fitting the crime, such as a sailor caught spitting being compelled to wear a spitkid slung from his neck until such time as he found another offender, to whom he then transferred the receptacle. Another example was the man charged with drunkenness, whereupon he complained that someone had added alcohol to the fresh water tank. In commiserating with him the Executive Officer ordered the ship's police to arm him for sentry duty during leisure hours to prevent such a lamentable recurrence.
Tradition dies hard
The Navy is inherently conservative and tradition dies hard. When I retired under the Geddes axe of 1923, the Boatswain's stores still included a cat-o-nine-tails, although no longer used. Likewise the paying-off pennant has persisted; it once meant literally paying off, as no payment was made to anyone until the end of the ship's commission. When eventually payment was made at regular intervals, the pennant continued to be flown from the masthead to mark the end of the commission, its length being that of the ship, plus an extra length for each additional month over two years. Traditionally it represented the combined length of all the cleaning rags stitched together. This narrow pennant terminates in a pigs bladder to keep the end afloat, and is a picturesque sight - but can be a nuisance if entangled with nearby shipping.
  Another example of lasting tradition is in the drinking of the royal toast. After bumping his head on an overhead beam, King William IV is said to have decreed that henceforward the toast could be drunk seated both ashore and afloat. This concession, although exercised to this day, seems however unnecessary in the painted hall at Greenwich where headroom is hardly so limited! One custom sometimes suspended in submarine-infested areas was that of ringing sixteen bells, instead of eight, by the youngest officer at the New Year. The ceremony of crossing the line, and the Saturday-night-at-sea toast of 'Sweethearts and wives' were both honoured in my day, even in wartime, and doubtless persist.
  Contrariwise, the Navy is not slow to adopt technical improvements, as witness the epoch-making HMS Dreadnought (1906) which rendered obsolete overnight all other capital ships afloat and under construction. Nor can it be thought lacking in resource with the example of the composite destroyer Zubian, blend of the sister ships Zulu (Hawthorn built) and Nubian (Thorneycroft built) after one had lost her stern and the other her bow (dubbed 'Hawthornycroft'), reducing the loss of two ships to one. Except in procedure, I doubt whether courts-martial have altered much. The navigator on trial for having 'negligently or by default hazarded H.M. vessel' still occasionally pleads that the black buoy had become reddish due to rusting, forgetting (which the court does not) that buoys have distinctive shapes as well as colours. Submariners will remember making the difficult dash across Portsmouth harbour, aiming to berth alongside Fort Blockhouse, but finding their craft swept on to the mudbank opposite instead. Somehow this offence escaped the heading and hazarding the grounding - is the Haslar approach still known as 'reasons in writing creek?'. One somewhat unnecessary charge has disappeared; during the first war all surviving officers and men were automatically court-martialled and it behoved them to prove that in abandoning their ship they had acted in accordance with the best service traditions; a bit hard perhaps on the six survivors who, suffering from shock and immersion, were the only ones left alive of 1275 after the instantaneous explosion which rent HMS Queen Mary for example at Jutland (1916). One of the most serious wartime offences is sleeping on one's watch. A certain submarine at the Dardanelles (1 91 5) had only one wireless operator allowed by complement. To meet such limited conditions the operational signals concerning enemy movement etc. were broadcast at certain times only. During one such period the submarine Captain found his operator slumped across the tiny wireless cabinet, an easy lapse in the stale air. Brought on deck under guard, he was informed that the sole factor saving him from being summarily shot was that there was no other operator.
  For better or worse, the rum ration, never available to commissioned officers, has disappeared - but only recently. I have known a watch-keeping lookout do an extra four hours watch in a North Sea blizzard in exchange for another's tot, consisting of half a gill before compulsory watering down in the case of junior ratings. Eccentricity is not confined to senior officers, or a particular era. A contemporary, on reporting to his youngish Commanding Officer was asked to go below and write out his resignation. In vain did my friend protest that he had barely joined, only to be told that it was required but left undated, in case of future need. There must be many who on arrival in Malta have been proudly invited by bumboatmen to inspect their testimonials containing the double entendre such as '. . . excellent custodian of other people's property', and concluding '. . . can therefore confidently recommend the bearer for a berth - the wider the better'.
A Flag Lieutenant, R.M.
  Fallacies abound in the layman's concept of naval life, e.g. seamen do not inhabit the lower deck, their quarters being two decks higher on the main deck, above the waterline; an Admiral does not command a ship (exception, the Royal Yacht) but a squadron. Equally vague is the frequent question as to the function of the Royal Marines. It is not really a matter of what they do, but is there any duty they cannot perform? Located between the officers' quarters and the rest of the ship's company, the marines, traditionally loyal, occupy this missing space. They constitute about one fifth of the complement and form their own guns' crews in friendly competition with the seamen. With their badge, the globe and laurel, they are first in a landing party and by reputation they can outsmart the guards. One admiral who regarded Marines highly, decided not so long ago to nominate one as his flag lieutenant, but was told there was no precedent. Yet nothing could be found in the regulations confining this appointment to a naval officer, and it duly went through. Most people think they know the regulations, then comes the awful moment when they find the reverse!
  A friend was riding his motorcycle in uniform along the narrow sea wall near Fort Blockhouse when he saw approaching him the Flag Officer Submarines. There was no escape down a side street, and panicking on being unable to remember the appropriate salute, he stopped short and jacked up his machine, standing at the salute. Unfortunately the Admiral himself was a keen motorcyclist and tongue-in-cheek put the most searching questions to my friend as to why the machine had failed.
  Naval regulations and rules are both numerous and complicated, rendered more so by their antiquity, frequent ambiguity, comprehensive scope and exacting nature - an amalgam indeed. Basic guidelines for behaviour include the Kings Regulations & Admiralty Instructions, the Naval Discipline Act, the Articles of War (read once a quarter before the assembled ships' company in wartime). Periodic instructions were promulgated in Admiralty Fleet Orders and local port orders, but these do not exhaust the list. Chart corrections seemed to come in too frequently for officers doing navigation and pilotage as an extra duty in ships too small to carry a specialist.
  Some KR and AI were disregarded, for instance the Commanding Officer is required to visit the engine room once every twenty-four hours. By so doing he would have astonished the department and seriously embarrassed the Engineer Officer. One thing is certain concerning the regulations - they invite and receive much ingenuity. On finding it laid down that the crew must be exercised by night at action stations once a quarter, one astute captain ordered this to take place at 23.50 on New Year's Eve when everyone was still awake due to the festivities, and the evolution to be completed at 00.10, thus reducing the requirement for four per year to two. Once I experienced firsthand a wartime wangle which, although amusing, could have had dire consequences if detected. When the Captain's wife, a Malta-based VAD, expressed a wish to go to sea in the ship, she was told it was out of the question. Undeterred, she insisted, and a way out was duly found (it had to be). After refit we did a short trip on the measured mile to satisfy the dockyard.
   The lady was smuggled below deck, and when clear of the harbour she emerged clad in oilskins and souwester, surveying the scene from the upper bridge. I have sometimes wondered what would have resulted if a signalman at the Castille had chanced to level his telescope on the group clad in oilskins, for the weather was perfect! And now for a personal confession - adorning my home is a fine brass gong formed from an inverted shell case originally logged as 'lost overboard by accident during heavy weather'.
  When a man during inspection steps forward with the seemingly Lilliputian request 'Permission to grow, Sir', he is merely asking to be allowed to grow a beard. (If this permission were not required, he would only need to plead, when unshaven, being in the process of growing one). In the Sailors' Guide of 1843, taking fourth place under 'Miscellaneous', I find rather surprisingly '. . . .the sailor may change his religious denomination with the consent of the Captain'. Equally strange is the continuing requirement of pure European descent, whatever that meant, for the cadet entrant.
  There seems little basis for the popular idea of seasickness - on the first day out being afraid you are going to die, the next day that you are not. Seasick-prone, I have never found the victim who did not recover, and quickly. Yet there is the testimony of Nelson himself that here was an exception. The captain of my first seagoing ship (born 1867), a not unkindly man, was wont to declare that there is only one cure, the doubtful recipe of plenty of hard work.
Defect list strategy
  If there was a job for the dockyard one had to be careful that it was described in the defect list in acceptable form - a repair rather than an addition or alteration. A captain of mine was constantly disturbed by traffic along a small but important passageway outside his cabin. Sending for the Engineer Officer as the time for refit approached, he told him to enter in the list '. . . to install partition. . .'. The Chief advised him that this would be turned down flat, and first to let him get the shipwright to rig up a makeshift consisting of something, if only millboard, and to rephrase the application '. . . to repair existing bulkhead and render seaworthy . . .', whereupon there were no problems.
  Gunroom initiation of midshipmen going afloat was only the beginning of their troubles. By 1914 they were tending to ease, but every newcomer was initiated, i.e. 'christened' by the breaking of a soup plate over his head. A colleague of mine considered himself lucky - the plate was already cracked. If there was one law for a section of the community and another for the rest, it was surely in the rights of the lower deck compared with those of subordinate officers, though hardly in the direction suggested by the old saw. The lowest rating could lodge a formal complaint and insist that it received attention, if necessary up to appeal. By contrast, woe betide the midshipman who tried to air his rights, assuming that he had any (did any midshipman dare even to enquire?). Before long he was reminded that a midshipman has been defined as the convenient medium of abuse between two officers of unequal seniority. Leaving the Forth on a pitch dark evening, the Captain bade me 'Tell the wireless officer to make a coded signal to Inflexible, which is entering harbour on an almost opposite course, that we are timed to pass Inch Keith at midnight.' On reporting this to the W/T officer he said 'I don't accept signals verbally.' Quite correct, but how to act! Had I returned to the bridge as the bearer of this remark, even soft-pedalled, the balloon would have gone up, but the eventual sufferer would have been myself. Rustling up a signal pad, disappearing behind the cabinet, and cunningly allowing a suitable interval to make the W/T officer think I had gone to the bridge and back, I scrawled the message and some initials which proved sufficient. My two and a half years as a midshipman taught me the double attitude towards the subordinate rank. As an extreme case, one could take charge of a picket boat landing troops under fire in the afternoon (and later be awarded the DSC), and that same evening receive childish chastisement at the hands of one's gunroom seniors; all this and a good deal more for one shilling per day if I remember rightly.
  There was an optical illusion which never failed to fascinate. On approaching the Forth Bridge it seemed right up to the last moment that the topmast must foul the underside. Hardened seafarers would dive below decks, and some behave so irrationally as to duck or even turn up their coatcollars. Then almost as the impact seemed imminent, the mast appeared to take a dive. Looking back, one again wonders how it cleared. At high water spring tides our actual clearance at midspan was some twelve feet.
Pitfalls abound
  The Service is riddled with procedure pitfalls, but some could be foreseen from a common-sense viewpoint, such as the formal approval for the officer to proceed on short leave. This must be done whilst still in uniform it being considered presumptuous otherwise. Similarly, junior officers descend the gangway into the boat first, thereby not keeping seniors waiting. There is the story of Winston Churchill around 1911 finding his way unobserved into a naval dockyard at dead of night, giving a battleship's quartermaster the slip, and after ringing a wardroom bell, demanding how the First Lord could get so far unchallenged! The enormity of this gaffe can only be appreciated when it is realised that the wardroom is sacrosanct to its inmates; even the most autocratic Captain removes his cap on the rare occasions of entering. A more clumsily ignorant layman's choice it would be difficult to conceive. There is, I suppose, nothing strange in the fact that the one unbroken rule is unwritten - never to instruct or even ask another to undertake something dangerous or unpleasant which one is not fully prepared to do oneself. Is there a link with the Christian ethic here?
  Ships were manned from either Portsmouth, Chatham or Devonport depots, but commissioned officers may serve anywhere and this gives them an opportunity of seeing the characteristics of each. Personally, give me a Chatham (Nore Command) crew with its cockney element. There is no seven-and-a-half-hour day afloat, and after emergency cancellation of leave, a dismal affair, the second-in-command gets the bugler to sound off 'Clear lower deck, everybody aft', steps up on to the roof of the aft turret, and tells them in plain language why it has been necessary, what is required of the ship and her company, and they get to work with a will. This is not to say that the other two depots are lacking in fine qualities also.
The Matelot
A word about the characteristics of the matelot of yesteryear. He was not overburdened with knowledge and a trifle naive. For example, when volunteers were called for Scott's expedition, some applied thinking that because the Arctic was cold the Antarctic must be warm. He could be clumsy to a degree - remember Murphy's Law - if someone can try to connect up two half components the wrong way round, and bust one or both in the process, he will do just that. Hence equipment for the Services is robust in the extreme. One of the more tiresome maladies which can afflict him is 'last-ship-itis'; the previous commission in retrospect is always a paradise. True, the rollicking Jack Tar may have had the occasional urge to despatch the ship's police to the bottom of the nearest dry dock on a dark night, but on the whole he was not lacking in generosity. When a messmate died, his kit was auctioned and as the proceeds went to the dependants, high prices resulted. Not so, however, when a deserter's kit was similarly auctioned, for the State benefited. He was kind to animals to the point of overfeeding them, was the soul of honesty and could leave his pay on top of his ditty box in the certain knowledge that it would remain intact - can the same be said today? He was also quick-witted, for when I was serving on a battleship involved in night collision with another, after firing exercise in Scapa Flow, a voice alongside me, before the tremor had subsided, piped up 'There's a week's leave'. To say that his gags never became outworn, especially if topical, would be to put it mildly; 'If from Plymouth Hoe you can see the Eddystone, it's going to rain, if you can't it's raining already'.
  He had a profound contempt for politicians, written down as a crafty breed, as likely as not to couple a pay award on the one hand with a reduction in allowances on the other. When it came to a complaint, he had to be careful to make it individually, as any suggestion of joint action could be construed as mutinous. It is safe to say that
drunkenness has declined. It was the unenviable task of the Officer-of-the-watch, unaided by the medical officer (unless drugs were involved) to decide, then and there, whether a rating was drunk or sober. No grading was permissible, the only criterion being whether he was capable of performing his duties; but how could the Officer-of-the-watch be sure, if no practical test, such as walking a deck seam, was allowed? I have seen two libertymen ascending the gangway, each with difficulty, holding the other up, successfully brace themselves for separate inspection on the quarterdeck, then go forward to create a disturbance on the mess decks. The unfortunate Officer-of-the-watch, having given them the benefit of doubt, was then himself for it.
  One of the worst things which can befall the Service, casting gloom overall, is to let down unwittingly one of the other services, the example immediately springing to mind being the loss of Lord Kitchener when HMS Hampshire was mined in heavy weather off Orkney in 1916. Fortunately such events can be offset by instances of the Navy coming to the timely help of her two sister services.
  The sea has a magnifying effect on the individual. If, for example, he is mean ashore, he becomes twice as mean afloat. If he is brave on land he becomes braver at sea. It has other strange effects; a contemporary of mine, although due for the luxury of a night-in (no night duty watch) used to put down for the sentry to shake him up at 03.45, for the pleasure of resuming sleep. The type who is legendary throughout the Service is not your VC, but more likely someone renowned for his capacity to sink a dozen pints before breakfast, or who ran three ships ashore in succession. There is a common lay belief that your VC is invariably a dashing extrovert. Having served with five (not, I may say, during their exploits) I found that this is far from reality; all have been retiring, modest and if anything introvert. One peculiarity about the naval officer of my generation - he was an extraordinary mixture of extreme caution, coupled with utter recklessness, the former born of pilotage risks, e.g. commanding a ship entering port, particularly a foreign one, he would go in stern first so as to obtain more power and steerage way if a speedy departure became necessary.
  The exchange of signals has always played an important part in naval life. When the flag-captain of Lord Charles Beresford, Sir John Fisher's second-in-command, had made a mess of mooring the second flagship in Malta, thereby delaying the rest of the squadron which was unhappily entering in reverse order, the C-in-C signalled in full view of the fleet, 'You are to proceed to sea again and reenter Valetta in a seamanlike manner.' Many believe that this episode sparked off the long and unedifying feud between the two Admirals. Similar dynamite resulted from the undoubtedly insubordinate signal from Sir Percy Scott, gunnery enthusiast, to a ship of his squadron, to the effect that paintwork being more important than gunnery, she was to break off exercises and as ordained by the C-in-C make herself look pretty for a forthcoming inspection.
  This gave rise to a signal by the C-in-C (Lord Charles Beresford) ordering that the offending signal be 'expunged from the log' - of doubtful feasibility anyway; it merely perpetuated both signals.
  The flagship in which I served abroad had a habit of spending too long in harbour while the rest of the squadron did more than their share of wartime patrolling. After a particularly long spell, the flagship put to sea to the accompaniment of jeers from the adjoining cruiser. When our admiral signalled 'Indicate the cause of the disturbance on your upper deck', everyone wondered what possible reply there could be, but not for long! Back came the immediate signal 'Submit the cause was a fight between ship's pets.' In lighter vein, signals can go down to posterity. At Scapa Flow was a floating theatre which used to come alongside the battleships in turn if they wanted to put on a show. After one such entertainment, in which a 'cobra' rose from its box, worked by invisible wires, a flag officer visitor signalled next morning 'What a marvellous show! Please say how the snake act was done.' Our reply, 'There was no snake' took some living down.
  In my day it was only necessary for a Post-Captain to serve some twelve years without blotting his copy book and putting in the qualifying sea-time, to attain flag rank automatically on heading the seniority list. If not given a Rear-Admiral's appointment he then flew his flag in HMS President on Blackfriars Embankment for one day before retiring. The ten most senior captains automatically became ADCs to the sovereign. The courtesy title of Captain for Commander seems to have died out, while that of Commander for Lieutenant Commander has emerged and automatic promotion, which in some cases extended to the retired list, seems to have disappeared altogether.
Technical change
The chief changes during my first spell (1911-23) were the replacement of coal by oil fuel, the advent of the gyro compass which pointed to the true north uninfluenced by the magnetism of the earth and the ship itself, and lastly the conferring of military rank on the non-executive branches.
  Later there was an innovation so obvious that it seems amazing not to have been thought of before. Hitherto the procedure was to send half the ships' company from each ship on leave at Christmas and the other half for the New Year, thereby incapacitating all the ships because at a pinch a warship can be steamed on sixty per cent complement, but not on half. The brainwave consisted of sending on leave forty per cent of all ships' company together with sixty per cent of another ships' company at Christmas. At the New Year the reverse took place, thereby maintaining half of the fleet operational throughout. Less bright was the review-time notion of assembling a contingent from each ship aboard the Fleet Flagship in order to save the King visiting each in turn. What the Executive Officer had not foreseen was that the large assembly on the far side of the upper deck would cause a slight list, but enough to raise the gangway platform well clear of the water, thus causing the royal party needless dexterity in clambering aboard.
  More recent changes
  On recall in 1939 I found a welcome change in attitude towards the RNR and RNVR. The old saying that the former were sailors but not gentlemen, and the latter gentlemen but not sailors, had gone out. Another improvement was the tendency to encourage juniors to submit practical suggestions. For example, a simple effective way of warding off frogmen carrying limpet mines is attributed to a young engineer. He merely prescribed keeping the propellers just turning in the astern direction when at anchor, thus drawing sufficient water past the ship to thwart their operations which rely on still water. On the other hand, expert debaters could still find room for criticism of the wardroom or messdeck argument which invariably follows three stages - flat assertion, equally flat denial, followed by abuse of a highly personal nature.
  The use of the christian name after only brief acquaintance, unduly familiar to older hearers, seems to have sprung up after World War 11. Previously one addressed messmates either by surname or when off duty by nickname, if any. In 1951 I heard a senior officer lecturer, after 'Any questions?', addressed unbelievably as 'George'. Carried but one stage further in the path of current degeneracy, shall we have to endure 'Aye Aye, Jeremy'?
  An apt definition of the Senior Service is 'The finest bachelors' club in the world'; but another thought is 'Never to have served afloat in the RN, is only to have half lived.' It is necessary to include afloat, because in this bureaucratic and technological age it has been recently said of the naval trend, with more than an element of truth, that a situation is approaching when the Admiralty (now MOD Navy) is becoming a hundred per cent efficient, but there will be no corresponding ships!

Death: 13 December 1991, at Rock House, Austenwood Lane, Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire, England

Probate: granted 14 August 1992, at Oxford, Oxfordshire, England

Census & Addresses:
1901: Abingdon district, Berkshire: Rich B. Fairthorn is aged 2, born in Faringdon, Berkshire
1991:  Flat 6, Graham House, Criss Grove, Chalfont St Peter, Buckinghamshire (London Gazette 21 October 1992 p17696)


Robert Arthur Fairthorne

Birth: 1 July 1904, in Abingdon, Berkshire, England

Father: Berkley William Fairthorne

Mother: Kathleen Louisa Vere (Richards) Fairthorne

Education: Bradfield College, Berkshire, and the University of London where he obtained a B.Sc. in mathematics.
Robert attended Bradfield College from September 1918 until December 1921, and was a member of the Shooting VIII in 1920-21.

Married: Doris Mona Whiteside Hirst on 9 December 1933 in St Cyprian Church, Hayhill, Birmingham, Warwickshire, England. The marriage was witnessed by G. H. Hirst and E. R. Alexander.
Doris was born on 13 October 1903, and baptised on 22 November 1903 on the Isle of Man, the daughter of George William Hirst and Mary Ann Higgins. Doris was also a mathematician. She graduated from Birmingham University with a B.A. in 1924. She obtained her M.A. in 1925 and was on the staff of the Queen's University, Belfast from 1926 until 1930. In 1928 she published a paper entitled "Supplementary note on the parallel-plate condenser in two dimensions". She died about 1988.
1911: Aston district, Warwickshire: Doris Mona W. Hirst is aged 7

Occupation: Mathematician and pioneer in the field of information science.
In 1927 Robert joined the scientific staff of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), in Farnborough, Hampshire, working on studies of the stability of structures and the application of statistics to aeronautical research. In 1945 he launched what became the Mathematical Services Department of RAE, starting with commercial punched-card equipment and techniques for scientific computing.
In 1963, Robert resigned from RAE to spent more time in information science. He joined the staff of Herner and Company as senior scientist and hled this post until 1967. He later served as visiting research professor at Western Reserve University, and at State University of New York at Albany.

Mechanical instruments for solving linear simultaneous equations (Robert A. Fairthorne, 1944)
Matching of operational languages in documentary systems (Robert Arthur Fairthorne, 1956)
Towards Information Retrieval (Robert Arthur Fairthorne, 1961)
Unification of theory and empiricism in information retrieval (Robert Arthur Fairthorne, Herner and Company, 1967)
Essays presented to Robert A. Fairthorne on the occasion of his seventieth birthday (Robert A. Fairthorne, Percy B. Walker, Aslib, 1974)

In 1907 Robert had a mastoid, a severe complication of a middle ear infecton. His life was saved because their next door neighbour was the editor of the Oxford Times and therefore was one of very few to have a telephone. The doctor was called and he was operated on on the kitchen table.

IMage from the film X+X=0
Image from the film X+X=0 by Robert Fairthorne and Brian Salt (1936)
photo from Tate Britain
Robert was one of the earliest members of the British Film Institute and in 1936, he made a critically acclaimed animated mathematical film "Equation X+X=0" with Brian Salt.
extract from the 'Crystals and Curves' programme in the Avanto Festival in Helsinki in 2005
Robert Fairthorne, Brian Salt: Equation X+X=0
(35mm, 1936, 5′, b/w, silent)
Animations of lines in motion were seen as an useful way to visualize mathematical concepts or mathematical proofs. Most mathematical films have been made as an aid for teachers, and this film is no exception. Robert Fairthorne was a mathematician with an immense interest in avant-garde film, and he saw aesthetic potential in the educational animations Brian Salt was making. ‘If abstract films are really abstract films...they deal exclusively with those abstract relations that can be expressed in terms of shape and motion’, wrote Robert Fairthorne in 1936.

Death: 24 May 2000

Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science vol 27 no1 October/November 2000
In Appreciation
Robert Arthur Fairthorne, a true pioneer of information science, died on May 24. He was a colleague, mentor and, above all, friend to many of us. I want to present here an expression of appreciation of this giant of our field, both of the scientist and of the personal friend. I do not intend a complete biography, nor bibliography, just warm memories.

After obtaining a degree in mathematics from the University of London, Robert Fairthorne spent the next 30 years on the scientific staff of the Royal Aircraft Establishment (RAE), working on studies of the stability of structures and the application of statistics to aeronautical research. In 1945 he launched what became the Mathematical Services Department of RAE, starting with commercial punchedcard equipment and techniques for scientific computing.

Fairthorne said that his transition from computation to information tasks occurred after attending a 1950 International Congress of Mathematicians at Harvard University, at which time he also saw some pioneering computer projects.  He also visited with Calvin Mooers and studied his superimposed coding scheme. Mooers had presented a paper in the Congress entitled "Information Retrieval Viewed as Temporal Signaling," which was the first appearance of Mooers' phrase information retrieval. With his keen respect for language, Fairthorne took up this phrase and used it in his writings, as witness his seminal book, Toward Information Retrieval, published in 1961.

During this early period of his involvement in our field, Fairthorne wrote his paper "The Patterns of Retrieval," which appeared in American Documentation, April 1956. There he offered the expressions marking and parking to describe the activities in information work of identifying objects for retrieval (marking) and placing them in some order (parking). Those expressions would prove useful to others of us in the field.

It was not until he resigned from RAE in 1963 that Fairthorne became even more active in information science circles, particularly in this country. He came here earlier in the '60s to attend conferences and speak at meetings. I met him at about this time. We who attended those meetings at which he spoke soon recognized that it behooved us to listen carefully, because he had important, perceptive messages for us.

Fairthorne had also met Saul Herner at this time. Saul invited Fairthorne to join the staff of Herner and Company as senior scientist, a position in which he served from 1963 to 1967. This appointment put Fairthorne in close contact with another colleague and friend, Harold Wooster, who was director of information science in the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFOSR). Under a contract with the AFOSR Fairthorne carried on various projects with fundamental contributions to information science. A major accomplishment, for example, was his analysis of the meaning and limitations of Bradford's Law of Scattering, relating it to Zipf's Law and Mandelbrot's work. Fairthorne thus helped to rationalize and explain the derivations and, again, limitations of the newly emerging field of bibliometrics. His paper, "Empirical Hyperbolic Distributions (Bradford, Zipf, Mandelbrot) for Bibliometric Distribution and Prediction," became a classic in our field. But Fairthorne liked to refer to it as "Zipf Unfastened."

Fairthorne also served as visiting research professor at Western Reserve University, at the invitation of Dean Jesse Shera, and at State University of New York at Albany, at the request of Professor Lea Bohnert. And he received the ASIS Award of Merit in 1967 for his dedicated and pioneering efforts in information science.

Another major Fairthorne style contribution was his article "Morphology of Information Flow," which appeared in the Journal of the ACM, October 1967. Fairthorne discussed the limitations of Shannon's information (or communication) theory, which considered the transmission of information as a statistical phenomenon. To some it seemed that Shannon's work could lead to development of a theoretical foundation for information retrieval, but Fairthorne helped to repudiate this belief. In the "Morphology... " paper, he identified two triads, characterized as signaling and discourse, which when interconnected formed a hexagon of 20 different triads, which Fairthorne labeled notification. Two of the most familiar of those triads could be denoted as messages held in a channel according to a classification system ("parking") and the classification and notation system itself ("marking").

This contribution sparked additional efforts by colleagues in the field.  Specifically, in the Journal of Documentation, June 1974, an issue dedicated to Robert Fairthorne on his 70th birthday, we see a paper by Calvin Mooers, "Analysis of the hexagon of notification"; one by Lea Bohnert, "Fairthorne's triads as an aid in teaching information science"; and one by Harold Wooster, "Marking and parking  a sexist fable," a tongue-in-cheek spoof of librarianship. I'm sure Fairthorne enjoyed all of the contributions in that issue.

This list points up the esteem and affection we felt for Fairthorne as scientist and friend. He was a witty and precise writer with a deep respect for the language. He also had a great sense of humor, which delighted all of us who knew him. I've already mentioned "Zipf Unfastened" and "marking and parking." He chided us gently about our foibles in our field and activities, particularly in "The Information Revolution  A Britisher's Perspective," which appeared in the Bulletin of the American Society for Information Science, September/October 1975. Consider, for example, "It is true that most innovators are nuisances, but the converse is not true..." Or "Punchedcard equipment ...was now applied to such informational tasks as suited it... It was also applied to tasks that did not suit it... because (it) had one huge advantage... It existed." Or again, "Rapid growth of an information profession and a much greater information industry at the same time generated all the problems that arise when an activity becomes fashionable before it becomes understood." Again, "The pragmatics of individual communication, exhortation, and persuasion, under its older nonderogatory name of Rhetoric, is also at the heart of clear and concise presentation, these days becoming a minority sport." Yes, indeed, it behooved us to listen carefully.

Robert Fairthorne was 97 years old when he died and had been in failing health for some time. We have to admit that he deserves his rest, but we sure are going to miss him down here!
        Madeline M. Henderson
            Mechanicsville, Maryland

Census & Addresses:
1911: Abingdon district, Berkshire: Robert Arthur Fairthorne is aged 6
1921: Lindfield, Abingdon, Berkshire (Rootsweb WorldConnect (Christopher Richards))
1933: RAE Technical Staff Mess, Farnborough, Hampshire (Rootsweb WorldConnect (Christopher Richards))
1934: Kirk Michael, Hillfield Road (later renamed 30 Clockhouse Road), Farnborough, Hampshire (Rootsweb WorldConnect (Christopher Richards))
1998: 30 Clockhouse Road, Farnborough, Hampshire (Rootsweb WorldConnect (Christopher Richards))

Return to Chris Gosnell's Home Page
Return to Chris Gosnell's Genealogy Page

If you have any comments, additions or modifications to the information on this page, please feel free to email me.
Created and maintained by: