Cymdeithas Hanes Resolfen History Society

A web log for the Resolven History Society which publishes articles and stories related to Resolven and the immediate surroundings.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Admiral Hugh Evan Thomas

February Meeting :Admiral Hugh Evan Thomas  of the Gnoll

It is our intention during the period commemorating the centenary of “The Great War”, to have one lecture per season on that topic. This month’s speaker, Mr Steve David, drew a large audience to hear his comprehensive lecture on Admiral Evan Thomas of the Gnoll Estate.

Thomas’s family hailed from Beulah, Breconshire, and had bought the Gnoll estate. He was born as merely Hugh Thomas in 1862, at Gnoll House, but as was the fashion at the time gained “Evan” in his title in 1878. One of seven children, including three daughters, his parents felt that a military career was appropriate for him and he was sent to Chatham to train as a naval officer. There, he befriended the Duke of Clarence and the Duke of York (later George V) a fact which affected his rise within the ranks of the Royal Navy and his future career. In 1888 he was promoted and transferred to Portsmouth, where he became friends with the later Admiral Jellicoe.
Admiral Hugh Evan Thomas

In 1891, an accident in the Solent led to the sinking of the flagship and the loss of over 500 men, this gave Thomas a mission to revolutionise the signalling methods of the Royal Navy, which had not changed much since the days of Nelson. Steam ships now sailed at five times the speed of sailing vessels,the gunnery was far more exact and reached longer distances,therefore the Admiralty required change. During this time, Thomas was given command of the Royal Yacht, Osborne, (probably and unhappily for him, owing to unwanted Royal patronage). Luckily, he was swiftly transferred to Malta and the Mediterranean Fleet, where he also met his wife Edith Vickery the heiress of a large estate in Bedfordshire.

In 1902, he took command of HMS Caesar at Portland and the western approaches. Here, he supervised Marconi’s famous early experiments with radio signalling. In 1906, he became Commander of Dartmouth Naval College for the training of Royal Navy Officers. To his dismay, the Royal connection played a part again, since he and his wife were personally charged with ensuring the health and safety of two royal princes, when they had measles. Hugh Evan Thomas, became a proponent of pinpoint range finding of guns which could now reach twenty miles.

In 1909, Thomas was once again transferred to Portsmouth, home

Admiral Sir David Beatty

of the Grand Fleet. He realised that the rising sea power at this time was that of Germany, and the race to build enough Dreadnoughts was already in place between the first and second greatest naval powers. However, the naval bases were all in the south, a fact stretching back to the days of Napoleon. Thomas advocated a base in the north of Scotland at Scapa Flow to allay the threat. Illness intervened and Thomas did not come back to active duty until 1914.
Admiral Jellicoe

The German Navy’s surface fleet's involvement in the Great War was minimal, since they were reluctant to leave their bases, as they feared the Royal Navy's superiority. The one major exception to this was the Battle of Jutland in May 1916. It is beyond the scope of this report to give a blow by blow description of the battle. However, the inconclusive engagement, in which both sides claimed victory, is mired in controversy. Admiral Sir David Beatty,a maverick naval commander ( see his unusual uniform style above), commanded a squadron of eight which took heavy losses of both ships and men when he inadvertently took on the German High Fleet. His cavalier firing was extremely ineffective and he is quoted as saying “What’s wrong with the bloody ships today”. Admiral Evan Thomas,had four ships some miles behind Beatty and managed through sheer accuracy to sink several of the German vessels which brought the major engagement to an end. To his discredit, Beatty blamed Thomas for the loss of his ships and the matter was not brought to a conclusion in Thomas’s favour until an inquiry in the mid-1920's (nothing new there then? Ed).

Unfortunately, in 1926, Evan Thomas suffered a stroke and retired to his estate in Bedfordshire where he died in 1928. However, his legacy is here to this day since he bequeathed the Gnoll Estate to the people of the town of Neath. As Mr David pointed out it is surprising that such a commanding figure in naval history is not recognised more widely in his own town.


Mr Gwyn Thomas, thanked Mr David for his magnificent talk, and stated that in the Navy there was no hiding place in the heat of battle for both commander and men.

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