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News > Rugbeian News > New book to feature Rugbeian, Edmund Lushington Rhoades, Commander of HMS Gwendolen

New book to feature Rugbeian, Edmund Lushington Rhoades, Commander of HMS Gwendolen

HMS Gwendolen
HMS Gwendolen

Martin Pegg, a former marketing professional turned writer, is set to release his third book, "Bananas, from the Bottom Up," early next year. However, this book isn't just another literary endeavour for Martin; it's a heartfelt exploration of his birthplace, Malawi, which he fondly refers to as ‘the Eighth Wonder of the World.’ 

Martin has found solace in writing about his beloved homeland, where his army-medic grandfather was well-loved by the locals. His upcoming book promises to be an immersive experience, offering readers ‘twenty-six reasons why you will soon place Malawi at the top of your bucket list.’  

In a generous gesture to the Rugbeian Community, Martin has provided a sneak peek into the eighth chapter of his book, titled 'HMS Gwendolen.' This chapter sheds light on a lesser-known but significant aspect of Malawi's history, featuring the remarkable story of Rugbeian Edmund Lushington Rhoades (T 81-88.)  

Edmund was a student at Rugby School between 1881 and 1888, and his father (also a Rugbeian) was a teacher at the school. Edmund’s journey took him from the merchant navy to the colonial system of Central Africa. Tasked with commanding the navy on Lake Nyasa (now Lake Malawi), he played a pivotal role in safeguarding the country's waters against German threats. 

Martin writes about Edmund Rhoades’ decisive action during World War I, where he successfully thwarted a German gunboat, marking the first significant victory of the war. Enjoy reading this extraordinary story in Martin’s chapter below.  

Rhoades then returned to Zomba, the colonial capital of Nyasaland (now Malawi), where he continued his work on maritime affairs. Tragically, he passed away in July 1939, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, and his death was mourned by the Rugby School community, as reported in the Meteor (excerpt also below). 

Martin’s poignant retelling of Rhoades' story not only honours the courage and dedication of a forgotten hero but also adds depth to Malawi's maritime history. As "Bananas, from the Bottom Up" prepares for its release, readers can anticipate a captivating journey through the wonders and complexities of Malawi, as seen through Martin’s insightful perspective. 


Excerpt from the Meteor in 1939: 


The death is announced from the European Hospital, Zomba, Nyasaland, July 22nd 1939 of Commander Edmund Lushington Rhoades, R.N.R (O.R, Town, 1881-1886) at the age of 71. E.L Rhoades was the second son of the late Henry T Rhoades (O.R), formerly a master at Rugby School. Under the administration of Sir Harry Johnston, K.C.M.G., in Nyasaland, Rhoades was given the command of the gunboat, Gwendoline, which patrolled Lake Nyasa in order to check the slave raiding which was still prevalent in the early nineties. Four days after the outbreak of the Great War, in August, 1914, the Gwendoline surprised the German gunboat Herman von Wissmann, the only enemy craft on the lake, and compelled her to lower her colours. For this achievement, Commander Rhoades was mentioned in a despatch from the Governor of Nyasaland, dated Nov. 1st, 1915.  


CHAPTER EIGHT, ‘HMS Gwendolen,’ from ‘Bananas, From the Bottom Up’ 

Until the rot set in during the 1960s it was reasonable to assume that the man on the Clapham omnibus carried in his head a register of Britain’s greatest naval victories, recitable at will: Gravelines/Armada 1588, Quiberon Bay 1759, the Glorious First of June 1794, Cape St Vincent 1797, the Nile 1798, Copenhagen 1801, Trafalgar 1805 etc. 

The other one worthy to be on the list but not (a shocking omission) was the Great War’s first naval action, which took place by the north-eastern shores of Lake Nyasa (now Lake Malawi). It bears retelling. 

On 14th August 1914 HMS Gwendolen, commanded by one Edmund Lushington Rhoades who had been tipped off about war with Germany, steamed into the port of Sphinxhafen (now Liuli) in German East Africa (now Tanzania). On the slipway undergoing repairs was the German gunboat Hermann von Wissmann. Kapitan Berndt the commander was ashore at the time (playing the piano?) and unaware that war had been declared. 

On hearing the opening salvos the portly Berndt, in his vest, ran to the beach, took a dingy to the Gwendolen and shouted out: “Gott for damn, Rhoades, vos you dronk?”, whereupon Rhoades replied “Afraid not old chap, our countries are at war, don’t you know” 

It ought to be mentioned that for more than a decade prior to this point Rhoades and Berndt had been drinking buddies on board each other’s vessel, a necessary consequence of their co-operation in anti-slaving patrols. The two crews, both part-European part-African, were also acquainted. 

But now, in the greatest harbour action since 1587 when Drake singed the King of Spain’s beard, the Gwendolen scored a direct hit showering splinters everywhere. Profanities, the best available in the German language, were profuse and only when another six-pounder shell blasted away the von Wissmann’s funnel did Brendt allow the new reality to dawn on him. Then, in the finest traditions of the Royal Navy, he was brought on board the Gwendolen, given a double whisky, appraised of the state of affairs in Europe and made a prisoner of war. 

Meanwhile the Gwendolen’s twenty-five KAR askaris, commanded by 2nd Lieutenant Beaumont (who wore a monocle and was known as ‘Champagne Charlie’), searched the harbour and found the von Wissmann’s engineer hiding under a bed in a grass hut. He too was taken prisoner. The sailors who formed the boarding party confiscated the von Wissmann’s deck gun and its bell and removed key components from the engine room. Meanwhile temporary ship’s surgeon Dr Sanderson, having no wounded to treat, spent his time unscrewing the master clock from the chartroom. 

After everyone had regathered on the Gwendolen, Rhoades retired into deeper waters and tossed the engine components overboard. 

Hornpipes were danced, shanties were sung and Fleet Street trumpeted the news. The Admiralty Lords, never ones to let the chance of a victory dinner slip away, spliced mainbraces into the wee hours. 

Now that, normally, might have been that but donner und blitzen, there’s more! 

The darstardly Germans, egged on by the Kaiser, managed to press-gang a replacement engineer, obtain spares for their engine, fit a new gun and had all but completed their repairs. Plans were made to steam off and obtain Rache (revenge), whereupon HMS Gwendolen, now under Lieutenant Commander George Dennistoun, reappeared on 30th May 1915 and sent ashore the detatchment of KAR askaris to capture the von Wissmann, which they did without loss. However the ship was deemed not completely seaworthy, so instead the boarding party planted explosives and withdrew. The Gwendolen then shelled it until it blew up. 

Double Hurrah! Cue: reprise of hornpipes and another Admiralty dinner.  

Now that, surely, should have been that but Gott in Himmel, there is more still! 

The dreaded Hun, their Kaiser now in die Wut (a rage), again managed to obtain all necessary spares to rebuild the von Wissmann and to arm it as an even more formidable gun platform. New plans were made for sea trials after which the Gwendolen was to be hunted down ruthlessly. The time for süße Rache (sweet revenge) was at hand. 

Then, in the dark shortly before cockcrow on 28th April 1916, a flotilla headed by the Gwendolen glided into Spinxhafen bay where Dennistoun, demanding as much quiet as possible, ordered detatchments of KAR askaris into the lifeboats to row up and take the von Wissmann with their bare hands. (Novel tactics!) They boarded without a fight (the Germans were asleep ashore) so the askaris simply called for Dennistoun to tow her away, which he did. 

The Imperial German Navy’s gunboat Hermann von Wissmann, gleaming, intact and ticking over like clockwork, was recommissioned as HMS King George and served the remainder of the Great War as a ship of the line, Royal Naval Fleet, Lake Nyasa. 

The Germans: they never learn. 

Meanwhile, in St Pauls, Nelson sat up and smiled. 

Triple Hurrah! Cue: re-reprise of hornpipes and a third Admiralty dinner. 

How is it that no one has yet made an Oscar-winner about all this? Someone call Spielberg. 


Copyright © Martin Patrick Pegg – Chapter shared with permission from Martin Pegg 

Martin welcomes feedback and information requests from Rugbeian readers.  

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