Stewart wrote this after reading a biography of Admiral Lord Fisher, who resigned as First Sea Lord in 1915 after a dispute with Winston Churchill.
Fisher (1841-1920) is regarded by some as second only to Lord Nelson in British naval history. He was born in what was then Ceylon, the son of a British Army officer, enlisted in the Royal Navy aged just thirteen and rose to the position of First Sea Lord, retiring on his 70th birthday. Fisher was recalled after Prince Louis Battenberg (another of Stewart's heroes) was forced to resign at the outbreak of war in Europe on account of his German ancestry. Both these men appear in "Manuscript," the song which can be said to have started historical folk-rock.
The album version of "Old Admirals" runs to 5 minutes 54 seconds; it is also included on the 1996 unofficial fan club release Oceans Of Delphi, in which Stewart tells his audience this was the most uncommercial song possible being about the rise of British sea power immediately prior to the First World War. Fisher, he added, was utterly devoted to the British Empire, and was cast aside and forgotten at the end of his life; the song was an extended metaphor for growing old and unwanted. Although the first part of this statement is undoubtedly true, Fisher was anything but forgotten in old age. He resigned in May 1915 after a dispute with Churchill, but soon found another post, and on his death he was given an illustrious funeral at Westminster Abbey. Stewart said on this live recording that "Old Admirals" was probably his personal favorite of the songs he had ever written (up until that time), but he has said the same thing about "Manuscript," the first song he wrote in this new genré, and which bears an even stronger metaphor.
Suggestion credit: Alexander Baron - London, England, for above 3