Under the command of Captain F C Dreyer RN, and wearing the flag of Rear Admiral Sir Robert Arbuthnot Bart MVO, HMS ORION had re-commissioned on 28th October 1913 and we see her here as she starts the long sinuous passage from the dockyard of Devonport down the Hamoaze, past Cremyll to starboard, the Vanguard Bank to port and Mount Edgecumb to the west, up through the narrows past Drake Island and The Hoe and then a turn to starboard to take her through either Asia or Smeeton Pass and hence to Plymouth Sound and the open sea.
The watercolour is dated on the back “summer 1914” and so this could well be ORION’s last departure from her homeport before the country went to war the following month. For ORION was present at the Fleet Review off Spithead on 19th July and from there proceeded to Portland where the First Fleet was held in readiness until late July pending clarification of the worsening international situation. From here it was sailed in great secrecy on 29th July by the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, for the misty wastes of the north to ensure that there was no pre-emptive strike by the German fleet in those anxious hours before Great Britain committed to war. And so ORION and her fellow dreadnought battleships – now part of the newly named Grand Fleet – took up residence at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands where she was to be based for the next 4 years.
Her Captain, Frederick Dreyer, was to become well known for his invention of the Dreyer fire control system with which many capital ships were fitted for central fire control; and for his non preferment as Commander-in-Chief of one of the main British Fleets in the early 1930s when all the indicators were that he was indeed destined for one of these two prizes, Atlantic or Mediterranean Fleet. But he was tarred with having been an Admiralty Board member and too inactive in events leading up to the Invergordon Mutiny in 1931 and critically lost the confidence, we are told, of his seniors. It was therefore to the China Station as C-in-C that he was sent in 1933 and from there he retired as a full admiral in 1936. He performed helpful and useful work during WW2 and died in 1956. His admiral in ORION, Sir Robert Arbuthnot, was to die at Jutland when leading his cruiser squadron in a suicide attack against the German Fleet. HMS ORION had a busy Great War, paid off in 1922 and was scrapped in 1924, one of many relatively young battleships sacrificed to the stringencies of the Washington Treaty.