OMG! It’s a hundred years old today. That’s right – it’s exactly a century since Admiral of the Fleet Sir John Arbuthnot Fisher – Lord Fisher, First Baron Fisher of Kilverstone – coined the acronym we all know and love.
He came up with OMG (“Oh! My God!”) in a letter of 9 September 1917 to his former colleague Winston Churchill, boggling at a new form of knighthood invented by the government and suggesting that the Admiralty – who he was out of favour with – should be showered with it. I have an original edition of his 1919 autobiography where the letter was published.
Coining OMG like that was totally Fisher, all the way. I know: years ago I wrote a dissertation on the guy, and I’ve soaked up everything I can find on him since. He was an incredible character, a career naval officer best described as ‘volcanic’; an eccentric in an age when eccentricity was a virtue. His private letters were punctuated with exclamation marks, multi-coloured inks, and riddled with acronyms he had coined himself, mostly as abbreviations so he could write faster. OMG, for instance. He had boundless energy. As First Sea Lord between 1904 and 1910 – when he was in his 60s – he habitually rose at 4.00 am, got to his office in Admiralty Arch, and began working. By early afternoon he was typically parading around the other offices with a sign around his neck reading ‘I have no work to do’. He worked every day, even Christmas when, as he told a friend, he was hard at it ‘answering the letters of pessimistic fossils’.
As a person he was faultlessly loyal – providing you agreed with him – and a good friend of King Edward VII. He loved dancing and would often waltz, even around the Admiralty offices, if he could find a woman to waltz with him.
During those same years Fisher engineered a whirlwind of reforms to the Royal Navy – including radical ‘dreadnought’ battleships and battlecruisers. The force that entered the First World War was utterly transformed from its stately Victorian-age incarnation, and they didn’t call it ‘the fleet that Jack built’ for nothing.
Inevitably there was opposition, but Fisher bulldozed his way through it, pursuing vendettas to the point of senselessness along the way. And in 1915, when he was once again First Sea Lord, he managed to collapse the Liberal government of H. H. Asquith.
For the story of how Fisher took down the British government in the middle of its gravest First World War crisis, and more naval stuff, check out my short book Dreadnoughts Unleashed, available on Kindle.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2017