Was North Runcton admiral a WWI coward?

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A new controversial book, which tackles cowardice in the First World War, look sets to spark a debate in West Norfolk by throwing the spotlight on an admiral.

Author Steve Dunn’s latest biography, The Coward? The Rise and Fall of the Silver King, takes a look at Admiral Sir Ernest Troubridge, who during the first few days of the war opted to retreat and let his enemy escape.

Troubridge had strong connections with West Norfolk, having grown up with his grandfather Daniel Gurney at North Runcton Hall, from the age of five after his parents died.

The Gurneys were a powerful family of English Quakers who established the Gurney’s Bank which was a forerunner of Barclays.

Daniel founded the West Norfolk and Lynn Hospitals and was High Sheriff of Norfolk in 1853.

Mr Dunn, said: “Troubridge has fascinated me for many years. Was he a coward who avoided a fight, or a hero who put aside empty patriotism to save his ships and their sailors?

“At the time the Navy and its First Lord, Winston Churchill had no doubts that he was a coward and made sure he never commanded at sea again, while his wife chose to abandon him in favour of her lesbian lover.”

Mr Dunn’s research opens up the debate about the true meaning of cowardice and whether one decision should shape the rest of one’s life.

He said: “We all make tough decisions but even if we get them wrong, we generally get a chance to move on from our mistakes.

“But for Troubridge there was no coming back from his and rather than facing up to a negative press and constant rumours he left Britain for France, where he died in 1926.”

A rising star of the British Navy, Troubridge initially signalled his intention to engage the German battle cruiser Goeben in the Mediterranean.

He then suddenly changed his mind and turned his vessels away, allowing the German ship to escape to Constantinople.

His inexplicable decision not only dominated the rest of his navy career, but also his life, as well as playing a vital role in bringing Turkey into the war on Germany’s side.

What made Troubridge’s decision even more significant was that the First World War was just beginning and notions of bravery, patriotism, and duty were paramount.

The story of his court martial and subsequent social and naval disgrace remains a complex one.

Steve said: “It wasn’t any easy book to write because when I started I didn’t have much sympathy for the man. But as I found out more about him I realised that his story was much more complicated than simply whether he was a hero or a villain. I have tried to be fair – in the end it’s up to readers to decide what sort of character he was.”

The Coward? The Rise and Fall of the Silver King was released on Thursday, and is available from Amazon.