Vice Admiral Richard Hayden Owen Lane-Poole

VADM Lane-Poole

Richard Hayden Owen Lane-Poole was born in Richmond, Surrey on 1 April 1883. His parents were Stanley Edward Lane-Poole, Egyptologist and Professor of Arabic at Trinity College in Dublin, and Charlotte Bell Lane-Poole (née Wilson). He was educated at Bedford School, Bedfordshire and entered Britannia Royal Naval College as a Cadet on 15 January 1898. He graduated in May 1899 and served, under training, in the protected cruiser HMS Talbot and the first class cruiser HMS Crescent.

He joined the cruiser HMS Hermes in late December 1899 and served in her until December 1900 during which time the ship served on the North America and West Indies Station. He was promoted Midshipman on 15 May 1900. Lane-Poole joined the protected cruiser HMS Blenheim, on the China Station, in January 1901 and served in her until June 1902. This was busy period as the British forces in China were fully occupied with putting down the Boxer Rebellion and restoring order. The majority of the fighting had ended by late 1900 but many months of policing work was required and the rebellion (or uprising as it is now more popularly known) did not officially end until September 1901. Richard Lane-Poole was promoted Sub Lieutenant on 15 June 1902 and returned to England later that year to commence his Sub Lieutenant’s courses at the Royal Naval College, Greenwich. His results were mixed with 1st class certificates in pilotage, seamanship and torpedoes, a 2nd class certificate in gunnery and a third class certificate in navigation.

In July 1903, on completion of his training at Greenwich, he joined the battleship HMS Magnificent which was part of the Channel Fleet. In November 1903 he commenced a period of training at HMS Mercury, the navigation training school ship, but failed to qualify as a navigation specialist. Sub Lieutenant Lane-Poole then spent some time in the destroyer HMS Myrmidon and was promoted Lieutenant on 15 September 1904. He was appointed to the torpedo depot ship, HMS Vulcan, serving in the Mediterranean Fleet in November 1904. This was a fortuitous posting as Lane-Poole was later to qualify and excel as a torpedo and mine warfare specialist.

Lieutenant Lane-Poole joined the protected cruiser HMS Juno, also part of the Mediterranean Fleet, in March 1905 and served in her until June 1907. He also served briefly in the battleship HMS Jupiter (Channel Fleet) from June to August 1907 before commencing torpedo specialist training at HMS Vernon in September 1907. He successfully completed the torpedo course in September the following year and stayed on at Vernon as an instructor; he was also loaned to ships to assist with their torpedo training and exercises. He served briefly in the armoured cruiser HMS Euryalus in late 1909 before joining the battleship HMS Venerable (Atlantic Fleet) in October that year.

He departed Venerable in October 1911 and then served for six months in the battleship Prince George during November 1911-April 1912. Lane-Poole then embarked in the protected cruiser HMS Spartaite, in April 1912, for passage to China to join his next ship. He joined the armoured cruiser HMS Minotaur in May 1912 and served in her on the China Station. He was promoted to lieutenant commander on 15 September 1912.

Minotaur was at Hong Kong when the First World War broke out and took part in the early searches for the German East Asian Squadron. She captured the German collier Elsbeth on 11 August 1914 and also destroyed the German radio station on the island of Yap by gunfire. Minotaur was ordered to the west coast of Sumatra in September to search for the German warship Emden then acting as a lone raider in the Indian Ocean; but was unsuccessful in locating her. She then proceeded to Wellington, New Zealand, in late September, to escort the first New Zealand troop convoy to Albany, Western Australia.

The combined Australian and New Zealand troop convoy departed Albany on 1 November 1914 escorted by HMS Minotaur, HMA Ships Melbourne and Sydney, and the Japanese battle cruiser Ibuki but soon after Minotaur was detached from the convoy. She was ordered to proceed to the Cape of Good Hope and reinforce the squadron there, on 6 November, after the Battle of Coronel where HM Ships Good Hope and Monmouth were sunk, with the loss of all hands, by von Spee’s East Asian Squadron.

Upon her arrival Minotaur became flagship of the Cape of Good Hope Station under the command of Vice Admiral Herbert King-Hall and escorted a South African troop convoy to Lüderitz Bay in German South-West Africa. Following the Battle of the Falklands, in early December 1914, where von Spee’s squadron was all but destroyed, Minotaur was ordered back to England where she became flagship of the 7th Cruiser Squadron based at Cromarty Firth. She received a brief refit in early 1915 and was then assigned to North Sea patrols.

Lane-Poole was appointed to HMS Vernon in November 1915 for more specialist training in torpedos and mines and was promoted to Commander on 30 June 1916. In September of that year he joined the battleship HMS Commonwealth as her Commander (second in command). He served in Commonwealth until July 1917 during which time the ship was part of the Nore Command based in the Thames Estuary.

Commander Lane-Poole joined the minelayer HMS Ariadne in early July 1917 on the staff of the senior officer minelayers. A few weeks later however, on 26 July 1917, Ariadne was sunk by UC-65 off Beachy Head. He then joined the minelayer HMS Princess Margaret and remained on the staff of senior officer minelayers. In January 1918 he was appointed to the staff of Rear Admiral (Mines).

In mid-August 1918 he took command of the auxiliary minelayer HMS Biarritz then operating in the Mediterranean theatre. She was use to lay, and refresh, minefields in the eastern Mediterranean. In early 1919 the ship was returned to her pre-war owners and Lane-Poole returned to Vernon for instructional duties at the Mining School. Commander Lane-Poole was appointed as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) on 11 June 1919 for "valuable service in connection with mine laying operations".

On 31 March 1921 he was appointed to the new battleship HMS Hood as the Executive Officer and served in her for the next two years. He was noted by his superiors as having great organisational ability and also being well respected. It was also noted that his hobbies were painting and sketching.

Richard married Sigrid Mabel Lane-Poole (née Haig) in August 1921. Sigrid was the widow of Richards’s elder brother Captain Francis Gainsborough Lane-Poole, Royal Marine Artillery, who was accidentally killed while testing new ammunition at the Shoeburyness Military Range, Essex on 23 December 1916. Lane-Poole was appointed to HMS Victory for senior officer technical courses in May 1923 and promoted Captain on 30 June 1923.

He was then selected for loan service with the Royal Australian Navy and served as the Commanding Officer of the RAN College, at Jervis Bay, during 28 April 1924-24 April 1927. During his time in command he took an active interest in ensuring the college was properly maintained and also that accommodation, particularly for the civilian employees, was improved from what was literally "slum dwellings". On relinquishing command he put forward the proposal that the college become a Greater Public School in order to defray the costs of keeping the college open at a remote and expensive site.

His plan was that up to 40 boys would be entered each year of which 12 would be scholarship cadets for naval service and remainder would be fee paying cadets. Thus the cost of maintaining the college would be reduced. This became known as the Lane-Poole Scheme but the Australian Naval Board ultimately rejected the concept. Of note is that the Great Depression forced the RAN College to be relocated to Flinders Naval Depot in mid-1930 and the 1931 entry was cancelled due to the excessive cost of keeping the College open at Jervis Bay.

Upon returning to the United Kingdom, in August 1927, Lane-Poole undertook further technical training before being appointed as the Commanding Officer of the light cruiser HMS Cambrian in mid-December 1927. During his time in command the cruiser operated on the Mediterranean Station. He relinquished command in December 1929 and returned to the United Kingdom where he took command of the Royal Naval College at Greenwich in January 1930.

Captain Lane-Poole returned to sea in September 1931 as commanding officer of the light cruiser HMS Durban.The cruiser spent most of 1932-1933 operating in the South Atlantic and eastern Pacific showing the flag in South American ports and visiting the Falkland Islands and other British dependencies. His superiors noted that:

He is a very able organiser. He has under his command a happy and remarkably efficient ship. He has considerable determination and strength of character and is cheerful under the most trying conditions. His moral character and high sense of duty tend to enhance British prestige wherever he goes. In general he and his ship have done incalculable benefit to the credit of the British flag in the ports of South America and for this result he is mainly responsible.

On 15 January 1934 Lane-Poole took command of the Royal Naval Barracks (HMS Vivid) at Devonport. He was promoted Commodore 2nd Class and also appointed as a Naval Aide-de-camp to King George V. He was promoted to rear admiral on 8 May 1935 and remained in command of Vivid until January 1936. Lane-Poole was subsequently appointed as a Companion of the Most Excellent Order of the Bath (CB) on 26 June 1936 for his service to the King.

He was then appointed as the Rear Admiral Commanding the Australian Squadron (RACAS) and departed the United Kingdom in late February 1936. Upon arrival in Australia he took over from Rear Admiral Wilbraham Ford, CB, RN on 20 April 1936 and hoisted his flag in the heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra. During his time in command of the squadron the RAN’s ships operated extensively throughout the Australia Station as well as on exchange with the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean. With war clouds gathering in Europe ships were being brought out of reserve and recruiting for the RAN and RAN Reserve increased.

Lane-Poole relinquished command of the Australian Squadron on 21 April 1938 to Rear Admiral Wilfred Neville Custance, CB, RN and then returned to the United Kingdom where he reverted to Royal Navy service on 5 August 1938. His report from the First Naval Member (Vice Admiral Ragnar Colvin) was at odds with his previous reports:

Rear Admiral Lane-Poole has high professional qualities and has in many ways advanced the technical and fighting efficiency of the Australian Squadron considerably. His considered reports are excellent and he looks at all sides of a subject, is very thorough and takes long views. Unfortunately, his good qualities are frequently obscured by a testy and intolerant personality. My own relations with him have been excellent, and he is loyalty itself; but there were unfortunate passages between him and the Naval Board in my predecessors time (Admiral Sir Francis Hyde). He has antagonised the Press and there is, I am sorry to say, little doubt that the Squadron and Sydney in general feel no great sorrow at his leaving.

The bulk of this issue appears to have stemmed from disagreements between Lane-Poole, and the First Naval Member, Admiral Sir Francis Hyde, who in his final years in command of the RAN could display a disagreeable personality. In 1936 Lane-Poole sent a signal to the Naval Board which was considered highly improper and he subsequently received the "severe displeasure" of the Naval Board. Of note is that the Australian Prime Minister, Joseph Lyons, was required in January 1937 to formally advise the Secretary of State for Dominion Affairs that Lane-Poole had been punished!

Lane-Poole was promoted to Vice Admiral on 11 January 1939 and placed on the Retired List the following day. With the outbreak of war, in September 1939, he was called out of retirement initially serving as a convoy commodore; with the rank of Commodore 2nd Class. Embarking with a small signals staff, the convoy commodore usually took up quarters in the merchant ship leading the convoy's centre column, and from her bridge gave orders for the convoy to form up. This was, for everybody concerned, an anxious time, with possibly more than forty ships milling around in narrow and sometimes shallow waters, each ships master trying as efficiently as possible to find his allocated place in the convoy columns. The convoy commodore controlled the signal traffic to all the merchant ships and the escorting force to ensure all shipping movements were coordinated and controlled for the entire duration of the journey.

In January 1940 he took up a new appointment as the Superintendent of Degaussing (Demagnetisation) where his excellent organisational skills and mine warfare knowledge made him highly suitable to the task. The use of magnetic mines by the Germans in British ports, rivers, estuaries and coastal waters had caused severe disruption to British trade in the early part of the war. While few ships were sunk many were damaged beyond repair or were clogging the dockyards with vessels awaiting repair. Degaussing required ships to be wrapped in electrical cables and by use of a strong current the ships magnetic field could be reduced significantly, making it less likely activate the mine. Ships needed to be degaussed on a regular basis to ensure a reasonable level of protection.

Vice-Admiral Lane-Poole managed and maintained this large activity across the United Kingdom and also provided advice to Commonwealth navies until he stood down in October 1943 due to ill-health. He was made a Knight Commander of the Order of British Empire (KBE) on 1 January 1944 for his services and was placed on the Retired List again in May 1944.

In July 1944 he was back at sea as the Vice-Commodore for Convoy HX 300 from Halifax, Canada to Liverpool, United Kingdom. With 166 ships this was the largest convoy, to date, during World War II. He later sailed as convoy commodore on a number of convoys, across the Atlantic, from September 1944 until the end of the war in Europe. He was once again placed on the Retired List on 4 September 1945.

Sigrid and Richard Lane-Poole migrated to Australia in 1957 (his elder brother Charles Edward Lane-Poole had migrated to Australia in 1916 and risen to become Inspector-General of Forests for the Commonwealth). He resided in Armidale, NSW and worked as a volunteer at the University of New England (UNE), as an Honorary Archivist, and also undertook extensive cataloguing and other archival tasks for the university’s Dixson Library. He was a founding member of the Armidale & District Historical Society in 1959 and was awarded an honorary degree (Doctor of Letters) from UNE in 1962.

Vice-Admiral Richard Lane-Poole died at Armidale, NSW on 25 March 1971. He was cremated and his ashes scattered at sea, off the east coast of Australia, from the fast troop transport HMAS Sydney on 16 June 1971.

Vice-Admiral Richard Lane-Poole, KBE, RN (Ret'd), on the right, receiving his honourary Doctor of Letters from the University of New England (Armidale, NSW) in 1962. (University of New England)