THE air was thick with cigar smoke, as the men in their formal dress, and the women adorned in the newest fashions of the late 1920s, came together at a celebration held in Southampton which saw the town bestows its greatest honour on the naval hero, Earl Jellicoe.

Nearly ninety years ago it seemed appropriate that Admiral of the Fleet John Rushworth Jellicoe, one of Southampton's most famous sons, should celebrate the Freedom of the Borough on board the White Star liner Olympic.

For a considerable part of the First World War, Olympic sailed under the direct orders of the admiral when serving as an armed troopship.

It was truly a grand occasion. The guest of honour arrived in the port by ceremonial barge and after a sumptuous lunch in the ship's first class dining saloon, a carriage procession took the civic party to the newly-built Empire Theatre, for the admiral to receive his honour.

Cheering crowds thronged the route to watch Earl Jellicoe and the Mayor of Southampton pass by in an open carriage pulled by men of the merchant navy accompanied by three military bands, flag carriers from the Southampton Seamen's Orphanage as well as a contingent from the local fire brigade and a party of cadets from King Edward VI School.

When Jellicoe was born, in 1859, the family were living at 130 High Street but two years later they moved to 6 Anglesea Place, towards the upper end of Above Bar. This was followed by a further move after another four years to one of the fine houses that lined the east side of East Park Terrace.

As a boy John Jellicoe was small for his age. However he had a keen brain, abundant energy and determined ambition.

His initial schooling was at the hands of a Miss Shapcott, who ran a 'Preparatory School for Young Gentlemen' in Highfield. He then attended Banisters Court School, next door to the former County Cricket Ground in Northlands Road, before a Sussex boarding school.

When 13 he won second place out of 39 competitors for a two-year course on the training ship Britannia, on the Dart. From this he passed out first.

Having sailed around the world when still not quite 19, he spent a year at Greenwich Royal Naval College before joining the ship in which he first saw action at the bombardment of Alexandria in 1882.

He further saw action during the 1900 Boxer Rising in China, after which he steadily rose to high positions within the Royal Navy. At the outbreak of the First World War he was given command of the Grand Fleet. The name Jellicoe will forever be linked with the Battle of Jutland on May 31, 1916.

Blamed by some for excessive caution and inflexibility in his tactics, Jellicoe claimed to have achieved his prime objective in preserving his battle fleet sufficiently intact to discourage Germany from sending her navy to sea in strength again.