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“The horrible smell of burnt flesh”

Wellington-born William Fell was a 19-year-old midshipman on board the Royal Navy battleship HMS Warspite in 1916. He took part in the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of the First World War. The Warspite was hit several times and 14 of her crew were killed.

In a 1961 radio programme, ‘First War Sailor’, Captain Fell (as he later became) vividly recounts his experience. He was a 'snotty', as the teenaged junior midshipmen were called in Navy slang, and his position at the transmitting station meant he was locked in the bowels of the ship as the battle raged above.

Year:1916 (Recorded 1961)

Location:The North Sea

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“The horrible smell of burnt flesh”

Wellington-born William Fell was a 19-year-old midshipman on board the Royal Navy battleship HMS Warspite in 1916. He took part in the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of the First World War. The Warspite was hit several times and 14 of her crew were killed.

In a 1961 radio programme, ‘First War Sailor’, Captain Fell (as he later became) vividly recounts his experience. He was a 'snotty', as the teenaged junior midshipmen were called in Navy slang, and his position at the transmitting station meant he was locked in the bowels of the ship as the battle raged above.


Year: 1916 (Recorded 1961)

Length: 14:31

Source: Radio New Zealand collection, Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision

Catalogue Reference: 27589 First War sailor


People: William Richmond Fell

Location: The North Sea


Image Title: Damage caused by a shell exploding inside HMS Warspite at Jutland [By unknown. Assumed British Government. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons]

Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHMSWarspitesidedamage1916.jpg


William Richmond Fell was born in Wellington, New Zealand in 1897. He was educated at Wellington College, and enlisted in the Royal Navy as a midshipman at the age of 18. He was on board the battleship HMS Warspite in 1916 when it took part in the Battle of Jutland, the largest naval battle of the war.

 Following his first experience under fire in the Battle of Jutland, Fell was promoted to sub-lieutenant, and then decided he wanted to serve on a smaller vessel. He was appointed to the Dover Patrol which guarded the English fleet and merchant vessels against attacks by German U-Boats (submarines) in the English Channel.

Fell ended World War I serving on submarines, but he remained in the Royal Navy and in World War II was involved in the development of midget submarines.