Capt. Arthur David LINKLATER

Captain Arthur David LINKLATER 1879 - 1955

Work for the Calcutta Port Authority
on the River Hooghly and as a Hooghly Pilot.

Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods

In connection with the first successful navigation at night of the Hooghly to Calcutta mentioned above, a family story had it that Crown Prince Wilhelm was on board and witnessed this noteworthy feat of navigation and was so impressed that he awarded Arthur with an Iron Cross. Alas, somewhere along the way some exaggeration appears to have crept in! I wrote to the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany querying the likelihood of a military medal being presented on such an occasion and had the following letter back from C. M. Clausen, Commander FGN, dated 29 Nov 1995.

Thank you for your letter inquiring about the possible award of the Iron Cross to one of your ancestors. I have contacted the appropriate military archives in Germany in order to find some answers to your questions.

Crown Prince Wilhelm was indeed in India on board SMS Gneisenau in the years 1910/ 1911. SMS Gneisenau was a battle cruiser classed ship. However the Crown Prince left the ship before she sailed to CALCUTTA. Furthermore, it is highly unlikely that an Iron Cross would have been awarded because this medal is a wartime decoration. If your ancestor did get a medal it most certainly would have been a medal from the House of Hohenzollern, the ruling royal family of Prussia at the time.

It is also impossible to go back to any records of this kind. Archives were bombed in the last war, records do not exist any more.

It seems clear from this reply that at the time Crown Prince Wilhelm was in India on board SMS Gneisenau in 1910 - 1911 Arthur had yet to carry out his night pilotage. Whether some other feat or service caught the attention of Prince Wilhelm I do not know, but in any case, night navigation of the Hooghly is evidently something calling for great skill and some nerve, but hardly valour. I don't know if any sort of award other than money was ever given to Arthur. Whatever mythical award it was, it was not around to be examined because his wife apparently gave it as a good-luck charm to a friend of hers who was about to undergo an operation! But this is all fable upon fable.

Night navigation of the Hooghly was officially sanctioned by the government of Bengal Maritime Department in Resolution no. 618 dated 16th February 1915 and announced "operational" in the news papers from 15th March 1915.

While in the realm of family mythology here is as good a place as any to mention another story, but this one more redolent of disaster than success and involving the shipping of elephants. This being India, elephants were essential to the teak extraction business, and Arthur certainly shipped teak - along with sugar, the combination being, apparently, not good. The elephant story involved unloading them at some unspecified place lacking an adequate quay, common enough in those days. It was decided the only way the elephants could be got ashore was to winch them overboard onto rafts. However, the elephants took great exception to being winched into what looked like deep water - because appearances did not deceive and that is precisely what it was. The technological breakthrough came with the idea of making four holes in the raft appropriately spaced and sufficiently large to take the four feet of an elephant. With the raft still on deck, the elephants were persuaded to step onto the raft but with their feet through the holes thus remaining calm under the illusion that they were still on terra firma - or navis firmus maybe. Then the raft with elephant was then winched overboard and towed ashore. That was the theory at any rate.

All seems to have gone well till the rafted elephant got sufficiently close to the shore to feel the welcome ground under foot. With a loud "harrrrumph" - elephant for ‘bugger this for a game of sailors’ [above right] - apparently lifted up its skirts and made a dash for freedom which took the elephant with its raft still attached, careering through the settlement towards the jungle. In doing so the place was reduced to a shambles and fear and amazement spread among the local citizenry. There is absolutely no mention anywhere in Dum's papers of elephants, whereas camels abound along with many [rather poor] photographs of them in various degrees of suspension.

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