musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: Military

Loving Liverpool (8) Western Approaches Command

As I was saying…

The war at sea was a brutal one, lasting from the first day of the war right through till the last. To make matters worse any person serving on board ship faced an even worse enemy than the Axis forces, and that was the medium which they sailed in. The convoys that plodded along between the United Kingdom and the United States were shepherded by escort vessels of all shapes and sizes, and overseeing the area of ocean between the two continents was Western Approaches Command.

The Western Approaches Command may be found at the Liverpool War Museum at 1-3 Rumford St, Liverpool. Do not expect this to be one of your normal museums geared towards children, it is mostly undergrond in the former bunker that used to serve as the operational nerve centre of the Western Approaches. I knew more or less where it was situated but came from a different direction so ended up making a wrong turning and that proved to be quite beneficial to me as I discovered two more War memorials in the process.

There is an open square behind the City Hall that is bounded by a large building that seems to have been called “Exchange Flags” but is now called Horton House and Walker House; recognise those names? 

The first memorial was dedicated to “the Men of the Liverpool Exchange Newsroom”

While the other is dedicated to “Men from the Liverpool Cotton Association”

There is a third monument in the centre of the square and it is known as the Nelson Monument. 

Nelson Monument

However, I am not going to cover these in this blog but will do so later at allatsea. My main interest here is the Western Approaches facility underneath this vast space. 

Walker House (formerly known as Derby House) was adapted during its construction to include a reinforced bunker that housed the Western Approaches Command Headquarters.  Construction of the main building was completed in 1939 but the construction of Walker House was interrupted by the war. The inclusion of the re-enforced bunker to house the command centre for the Battle of the Atlantic meant that Walker House wasn’t finished until 1941. The bunker was closed on 15 August 1945 after the end of WW2 but was re-opened as the Western Approaches Museum. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exchange_Flags)

The museum entrance is almost unassuming, but beneath it is another world in another era.

Please show your pass to the guard at the door (he has stepped out for a moment). 

This is not some glitz and glass museum, you really need to remember it in the context of what it was like between 1941 and 1945, it is one of those places that is stuck in time. 

I am following the file numbering of my images so hopefully they will be in some sort of order as I passed through the museum, although I did backtrack on a few occasions.

I am not in a position to explain the Battle of the Atlantic as it it really did not consist of a single event but rather a whole sequence of events, milestones, disasters and victories.  The men who bore the brunt of it were the men from the Merchant Navy who manned ships that were often one step away from disaster without the enemy even being close. They faced submarines, aircraft, weather and public and official indifference just to keep the lifelines of commerce open. 

Those who served on the escorts initially faced an uphill battle to keep the convoys safe but slowly a combination of factors turned the tables on the U-boats of the Axis. Even Churchill feared the submarine menace but at the end the battle was won and Western Approaches Command  had a vast role to play in that victory.

Communication in this labyrinth was via wireless, telex, telephone and messenger. 

Radio Room

These were often manned (womaned?) by a staff of naval ratings and WRENS who often had to deal with the emotional trauma of knowing that a convoy was sailing towards a disaster and being unable to do anything about it. They had a job to do and they did it with excellence. 

The operations room was the nerve centre of the command, a large plotting wall was used to keep tabs of the situation at sea and of course track the convoys and known enemy forces. Information coming in through all means of communication available. 

The Plotting Wall

Those involved had to really keep tabs of the big picture as well as a localised view of the situation on the ground. The course of a convoy’s often painfully slow progress was tracked by means of  colour coded elastics that followed its track across the Atlantic. 

The needs of the job sometimes meant that staff slept over at the bunker and limited sleeping accommodation was available. Even back then your bed had to be square.

The reality was that it was a totally enclosed bunker with limited ventilation and considerable stress; smoking was also common back then and the air quality must have been terrible. A four watch system was in place 7 days a week with only two 15 minutes rest periods during a watch. It was a not a very pleasant place to work, but then the men on board ship probably would not have swapped with them if they were given the chance.

The “Hot Line” to the War Office in London was able to connect directly to 10 favoured lines. It was housed in a sound proof booth and it is possible that Winston Churchill was heard in it a few times. It was a standard telephone but was modified especially for this purpose. There are only 2 of these instruments known to survive.   

The man in charge of the Western Approaches Command was Admiral Max Kennedy Horton, GCB, DSO & Two Bars, SGM (29 November 1883 – 30 July 1951). A former decorated submariner,  he was appointed Commander-in-Chief, Western Approaches Command on 17 November 1942.

As a successful former submariner he was able to understand the limitations of submarine warfare and instituted a number of tactical changes in the way the escort ships were to be used. 

Staff often saw him appear at the window overlooking the operations room clad in his pyjamas. As a keen golfer who may have had golf balls on his desk or clubs nearby. Given how much stress he was under golf this was his favourite way of unwinding.

He died in 1951 and there is a memorial to him in Liverpool Cathedral. 

He was one of the major reasons that the tide was turned in the Battle of the Atlantic, and of course his staff contributed to the success of this little known nerve centre. 

One of the stranger things to see was a film projector that was used to screen footage of the war. Originally the Gaumont Kalee Dragon projector was up in in London.  It is a fascinating piece of machinery. 

I trained as an apprentice in the telecommunications industry and quite a lot of the equipment on display was telecommunications related so it really interested me. This room housed the switchboard and probably part of the telex equipment.

Have you shown your pass?

 Below it was Naval Telex Station

And switchboard

As well as the cipher station.

And then it was time to head upwards to sunlight.

There was a mockup street on display too, and it was really quite poignant because the reality was that once staff emerged from their bunker they would often end up finding a city that had been bombed. Liverpool was the second most bombed city outside London, the first raid taking place on 28 August 1940. Roughly 80 raids were conducted between August 1940 and January 1942, and over 75000 people were left homeless as a result of the bombing which mostly targeted the docks and warehouses on the Mersey. 

And then it was over. (my visit and the war). 

It was an extremely interesting place and it had an “otherness” about it, definitely a latent aura was present. It is very difficult to comprehend what it was like during the war, and the euphoria when it was all done and almost everybody got to go home. Sadly too many never did see that victory so this is really a part of commemoration. The men and women who worked here have all passed into history, they will however be remembered for the part they played, they were unsung heroes. 

It is a tangible link to World War 2, and one of those rare surviving places that we can see and experience. My only gripe was….  none really. I know that there is so much more that can go in here that is relevant, and I believe they are working towards it. It was well worth the visit and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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I shall leave you with my usual odds and ends pics.

DRW © 2018. Created 09/06/2018

Updated: 13/06/2018 — 07:03

Loving Liverpool (5) Birkenhead

Continuing where we left off… 

It was now day two of my Liverpool trip and outside all was grey and gloomy and I was at a momentary loss as to what to do with myself. While researching my navigation I discovered that Liverpool was also home to “U-534“,  a Type IXC/40 U-boat from World War II. She had been raised on 23 August 1993 by the Dutch salvage company Smit Tak  after being undiscovered for nearly 41 years. She now formed the nucleus of the U-Boat Story museum at the Woodside Ferry Terminal in Birkenhead, which, was a short train journey underneath the Mersey. You can see the dismembered U Boat in the image below.

Woodside ferry terminal

I actually did not use my brains when I decided to hop the train across the river, for starters I was at least 2 hours too early, and secondly I could visit the museum free if I bought a ticket for the river cruise on the ferry.  With the clouds hanging over my head I picked up the underground at Lime Street and headed to Hamilton Square Station in Birkenhead.

Hamilton Square Station

It was chilly too, and I regretted not bringing my jacket with.  I also regretted missing the lift and hoofing up an infinite number of stairs to get out of the station. 

The promenade, U-Boat Story and Waterside Ferry Terminal were about a block away. A quick walk and I was there, but everything was closed and not a soul was in sight. It was only 8.15, why was everything closed? It was very depressing indeed. The only item that looked reasonably interesting was a replica of the Victorian submarine “Resurgam

The original ill fated vessel met its end in Liverpool Bay off Rhyl on 25 February 1880 while en route for Portsmouth. How successful it may have been as a functioning submarine is not noted. However, the information plaque records that she did sail and submerge successfully. 

At the waters edge I discovered that not only was the tide out, but there was actually a ship alongside at the ferry landing on my side of the river! Huzzah! let’s go have a look!

She was busy loading and there was no way of knowing when she would sail and of course I was on the wrong side of the river to get a proper look at her (for the record she was the Stena Mercy).  And, to my amazement a movement on my right revealed a tanker running light outbound.

I idled along checking my watch. The first ferry to Woodside was destined to arrive at 10H30 and  the museum only opened at 10H30 and it was only 8.20! I had a decision to make because nothing was happening here. Looming next to the terminal were the segments of U-534 and I peered at them through the fence with interest. 

I really wanted to see this exhibition so I either had to hang around till opening time, or head back to the other river bank and come across with the ferry after 10H30. 

There were a few other surprises on this short stretch of river bank. 

The Birkenhead Monument.

The HMS Birkenhead is one of those definitive shipwrecks that litter the pages of history, and especially early South African History, as she foundered after colliding with an uncharted rock near Danger Point (today near Gansbaai, Western Cape) on  26 February 1852. The sinking of the Birkenhead is the earliest maritime disaster evacuation during which the concept of “women and children first” is known to have been applied. There were of the approximately 643 people on board the ill fated vessel of which only 193 were saved. 

The memorial was unveiled on 5 March 2014

The HMS Thetis Memorial.

A bit further along the promenade I found a memorial to the men lost in the sinking of HMS Thetis on 1 June 1939. I recall reading the story of the disaster and unsuccessful attempts to rescue the men trapped inside her, and it was really one of those disasters that could have been prevented.

Ninety-nine lives were lost in the incident: 51 crew members, 26 Cammell Laird employees, 8 other naval officers, 7 Admiralty overseeing officers, 4 Vickers-Armstrong employees, 2 caterers and a Mersey pilot.

Thetis was successfully salvaged and repaired, being commissioned in 1940 as HMS Thunderbolt but was sunk by depth charges by the Italian corvette Cicogna on 14 March 1943 off Sicily.  All hands were lost and Thunderbolt settled to the bottom in 1,350 m of water.

She is listed on the Submarine Memorial at the Royal Navy Submarine Museum in Gosport.

It was time for me to head back to the other bank of the river. The ferry was currently running 10 minutes trips across the Mersey between the terminal in Liverpool and Seacombe/Wallasy and if I arrived too early I would ride her up and down until I got tired. The round trip on the “River Explorer Cruise” runs from Pier Head Ferry Terminal to Seacombe Ferry Terminal, Wirral and then to Woodside Ferry Terminal, Wirral where the U-boat Story was and then back to the pier head. It was a 50 minute hop off and hop on trip and I intended to climb off at Woodside, check the exhibition and then reboard at 11H30 to return to the starting place.

However, I am going to skip the ferry trip in this post as I really want to do a post about the ferry separately so this one will deal with my visit to U-534.

Having bought a River Explorer ticket I was entitled to free entry to the exhibition. I had allocated enough time to grab the ferry back at 11H30, although I was equally prepared to catch the next one at 12H30 too, although it would be much more crowded on that trip. There were not too many of us at the museum at that awful time, and I headed directly for the vessel instead of pausing at the exhibits in the hall.

The submarine had been sawn into 4 parts, with the conning tower balanced between two of them. Each sawn end had been “sealed” with a transparent bulkhead that allowed you to see inside it.

I am however ambivalent about what was done because they really sliced up an intact (albeit rusty) U-Boat but it did allow for a limited view of the interior of a U-Boat. The limitations of what they did were several: the biggest being that you could only really see a jumble of badly rusted machinery but nothing that lay beyond roughly 2 metres away. The state of the transparent bulkheads did leave much to be desired because they were badly smeared and I would have thought that they would been cleaned every morning before the exhibition opened. In some sections the machinery was also covered in pigeon crap! and if a pigeon can get in then so can the rain.     

But, those slices were fascinating to see, and while there were cross section explanations that marked certain components it was not always easy to understand what you were seeing. The vessel was full of water for over 40 years so the interiors are badly rusted, and the few wooden parts that I saw were rotten and there was a certain eeriness about that interior. I recall reading a book called “The Night Boat” by Robert R McCammon many years ago, and it was about a submarine full of zombies and what I was seeing looked very much liked what I imagined that literary submarine looked like (although without the zombies and pigeons). I am not going to even try explain the images because it is beyond me.

It was fascinating to say the least. What really amazed me was how they squeezed so much machinery into such a small area and routed pipework and cables through the hull. The vertically orientated image shows the inside of the saddle tanks, with the curvature of the pressure hull on the right hand side. I never thought to check the underside of the saddle tanks because technically they were free flooding.

On 5 May 1945 she was underway heading north towards Norway, when she was attacked by a Liberator aircraft from RAF 547 Squadron which dropped depth charges. the submarine took heavy damage and began to sink by the stern. Forty nine of the fifty two crew members survived, including four who escaped via a torpedo hatch.

Inside the main building is an exhibition of items that were found inside the submarine, and these were very poignant, and obviously from long ago. 

For me it was a rare glimpse at the inside of a ship that could have ended the war if affective countermeasures were not found, and at times it was a close run thing. U-534 never sank a ship but did shoot down two British aircraft. Her end came right at the end of the war, and today we are able to catch a tiny glimpse into a vessel that descended from primitive hand powered machines that were considered an ungentlemanly weapon. We have come a long way since U-534 was built way back in 1942, and today the nuclear powered submarine is a true submarine and even deadlier than before.

It was time to catch the ferry on the next part of my journey, so I headed outwards, slightly miffed because the shop did not have prices on their ferry models.

My next post will deal with the ferry and my 2 trips on board the ferry Snowdrop.

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DRW © 2018. Created 03/05/2018

Updated: 15/06/2018 — 06:06

Loving Liverpool (1)

There are many places in the UK that are famous for their maritime history, and Liverpool is no exception. This was where Cunard sailed from and where the Lusitania and Mauretania were based. The Titanic was registered in the city, and of course Liverpool was home to the escorts that shepherded convoys across the Atlantic during the 2nd World War. And, like so many ports in the UK it became bereft of ships as the passenger traffic died away and containerisation replaced the conventional cargo ships that used to call this place their home port. 

Recently I have been mulling over making another short trip somewhere, similar to the one I made to London in 2016 and Liverpool ended up on the top of the list. The logistics of getting there are not huge: catch a train from Cheltenham, bail out at Birmingham, catch a different train to Liverpool Lime Street Station and voila! there you were. The biggest snag was timing though. My original plan had been to head out on the last weekend of May, but the Monday was a bank holiday and rates and ticket prices tended to be higher over a weekend, so I ended up planning for 29 May till 01 June instead. I found a hotel easily enough, booked my train tickets, paid my deposit and started the countdown. 

Early on the morning of the 29th I was at Cheltenham Spa Station. I had tweaked my train booking so that I had roughly half an hour to change trains at Birmingham, but the train was late arriving at Cheltenham and that cut my changing time down to 20 minutes. I was curious about what Birmingham New Street Station looked like now that it was finally completed as I had last passed through it in mid June 2015 and it was a real mess. Hopefully things were better now. 

Upon arrival I dashed upstairs into the concourse and out the main entrance to the station (I may be incorrect about it being the main entrance). I got very disorientated when I saw that they had added a giant alien eyeball onto the front of the station!

While inside resembled something out of a cheesy science fiction show.  

Still, it is a major improvement, and the platforms are much lighter now than they were before. It is still a horrible crowded and frenetic place

The train to Liverpool from Birmingham stopped at: Smethwick Gatton Bridge, Woolverhampton, Penkridge, Stafford, Crewe, Winsford Hartsford (Cheshire), Acton Bridge, Runcorn, Liverpool South Parkway and finally Liverpoool Lime Street. It was roughly a 2 hour train journey excluding train changes. 

When I was doing my navigation I had marked a number of places that I wanted to see, and I had planned to do them over the 3 days that I had. The big unknown was the weather though, it was overcast in Cheltenham when I left, although Liverpool appeared to be clear which was forecast to change. I would really have to play the weather by ear. My goals were: The waterfront with associated War Memorials and statues, the Anglican and Catholic Cathedrals, a ferry ride, the Cenotaph, museums, and anything else that caught my wandering eye.

I arrived at midday, and the sun was shining!

Liverpool Lime Street Station was yet another of those glorious cathedrals of glass but in total disarray as they were renovating it (and is going to be closed completely for 2 months).

The cuttings leading to the station were amazing, at least 3-4 stories deep, they are covered in vegetation and moss with bricked areas and bare rock all on display. It was quite a view but getting pics was impossible because of angles and reflections. It was one of those sights that leaves you with admiration for those who built the early railways. They laid bricks by the millions and gangs of men created these artificial caverns in the city.

Lime Street (what a great name) is probably the most well known station in Liverpool, although there are a number of stations in the city because it also has an underground rail network. 

Imagine this space in the days of steam…. 

My hotel was literally a quick walk “around the corner*, and I believe it is the 2nd oldest hotel in Liverpool. It was a nice hotel, although I did battle with hot water and the bed. The staff however were awesome, and the rate was a good one. I would stay there again if ever I came this way in the future.

I dropped off my bag and headed down the road to my first goal: 

St George’s Quarter.

The map below gives a rough outline of some of the structures in what is known as “St George’s Quarter”, although I am not dealing with all of them in these posts.

1 – St George’s Hall, 2 – St John’s Garden, 3 – World Museum, 4 – Central Library, 5 – Walker Art Gallery, 6 – Empire Theatre, 16 – Lime Street Station, 18 – Queensway Tunnel approach

Liverpool’s War Memorial was unveiled in 1930, it was designed by Lionel B. Budden, an associate professor from the university of Liverpool.  It is was placed on the plateau below St George’s Hall and is a long low rectangular structure with two long friezes. I will do a more detailed post on the memorial on allatsea at a later time.

St George’s Hall (# 1 on the map) was somewhat of a puzzle because it was a huge building that seemingly had no visible purpose although it had quite a number of secrets in it. The whole area around it had a number of bronze statues, and was very impressive. It was probably even more impressive when it was built, but the traffic in front and size of the building really makes it look like a large tomb. My first goal was accomplished and it was now time to find the waterfront. Behind the building is a very pretty park known as St John’s Garden (# 2 on the map), and in it there is a Memorial to the Liverpool Regiment that lists men who died during the Anglo Boer War, Afghanistan and Burma.

To the right of the park there were three very old and visually impressive buildings (3 – World Museum, 4 – Central Library, 5 – Walker Art Gallery,)

Walker Art Gallery

World Museum and Central Library

I visited the museum on my 3rd day and it was absolute chaos with all the crowds of people. I was very glad to get out of there! 

There are two other structures to mention while we are in the area, the first is: the former North Western Hotel building which stands almost attached to the station complex (# 16 in the map). Originally opened as a railway hotel in 1871 it was designed by Alfred Waterhouse, and had 330 rooms. The hotel closed in 1933, and at the moment it appears to be student accommodation. 

and next to is the Empire Theatre dating from 1925, (i# 6 on the map)

My hotel was in Lord Nelson Street that was sandwiched between these two buildings. 

It was time to find the waterfront! I had spotted the Liver Birds at some point so really just headed in the general direction where they were because the waterfront is a large area and I was bound to hit it sooner or later. I detoured to a number of buildings along the way but eventually reached my destination, and it was not to disappoint. I entered the area through Water Street, with the famous Royal Liver Building on my right, and the equally beautiful Cunard Building on my left. 

The former is famous because it is really a unique landmark on the waterfront and it is topped by a pair of “Liver Birds”.  Legend has it that while one giant bird looks out over the city to protect its people, the other bird looks out to sea at the new sailors coming in to port.  It is said that, if one of the birds were to fly away the city of Liverpool would cease to exist, thus adding to the mystery of the birds. The are  eighteen feet high, ten feet long and carry a cast sprig of seaweed in their beaks. They are officially cormorants but will always be known as the Liver Birds.

Royal Liver Building

The three buildings along this spot of waterfront are collectively known as the “Three Graces” (Royal Liver Building, Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building), and all three are spectacular.

Cunard Building

Port of Liverpool Building

I was able to get into the foyers of the Cunard and Port of Liverpool buildings, and I was stunned. The  building dates from 1917 although Cunard left the building in the 1960’s.  In fact the Cunard Shipping Company of today is owned by Carnival Cruise Lines and based in America. 

I would have loved to have seen this space back in the heady days of the Cunarders that used Liverpool as their base, but I would have ended up booking my passage in a very different looking room. The room in the images above is the 1st Class Booking Hall.

The Roll of Honour was placed in nearby Liverpool Parish Church in 1990

The Port of Liverpool Building was equally unbelievable. It was completed in 1907, and is a Grade II* listed building. The central area under the dome is where the passages lead off, and it reminded me a lot of a panopticon. But, unlike those it is much more beautiful.  

And seeing as I was at the pierhead I could check out the ships…  but unfortunately the only ship in sight was the Mersey Ferry “Snowdrop” and she was running cruises between the banks of the river spaced an hour apart.

Snowdrop

The queue was horribly long so I shelved that plan and went and hunted down some of the other items on my list. 

The Titanic Memorial with Royal Liver Building in the background

Captain Frederic John Walker RN. Memorial

The statue of Captain Frederic John Walker RN ties into the Merchant Navy Memorial in the two images below.  The escort groups he led sank more U-boats during the Battle of the Atlantic than any other British or Allied commander, and he was instrumental in the Allied victory of the Battle of the Atlantic,  The statue, by Liverpool sculptor Tom Murphy  was unveiled in 1998 and shows him  in a typical pose on board his ship. Sadly he died of a cerebral haemorrhage in July 1944.

Many ships and men owed their survival to Captain Walker and the escorts of the Western Approaches Command. Their contribution to the war effort is often neglected, but these unsung heroes will always have a special place in my heart.  Most have no other grave but the sea. 

The Liverpool Naval Memorial is also close to these Memorials, but it proved to be a very difficult memorial to photograph.

Liverpool Naval Memorial

I also passed this statue of these 4 guys.. but they don’t interest me.

And having reached the point on the pierhead we shall turn the page to reveal more about my trip to Liverpool.  I shall however leave you with this Superlambanana to keep you company. Or you can just bite the bullet and turn the page

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DRW © 2018. Created 02/06/2018.

Updated: 18/06/2018 — 06:39

Four Ships Week

Regular readers will know that I have slowly been adding in reminders about important dates in South African naval history. The most prominent being in February when I commemorate Three Ships Month. Sadly though, it does not all end with those 3 disasters (although technically the Mendi was not a naval vessel as it sailed with a civilian crew while doing trooping duties). 

There are however four more ships that I am adding into these reminders, and they were all lost in April of 1942.  The men killed in these sinkings were seconded to four British warships that were lost in what has become known as “The Easter Sunday Raid“. 

I am not in a position to elaborate about the disasters that befell these ships, as there are others who have done a much better job than I have. I am heavy reliant on Wikipedia for the information below.

HMS Cornwall, was  a County-class heavy cruiser of the Kent sub-class built for the Royal Navy in the mid-1920s. Cornwall was transferred to the South Atlantic in late 1939 where she escorted convoys before returning to the Indian Ocean in 1941. she was transferred to the Eastern Fleet in March 1942 and  was sunk on 5 April by dive bombers from three Japanese aircraft carriers during the Indian Ocean Raid. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Cornwall_(56)

HMS Dorsetshire, was a County class heavy cruiser  and a member of the Norfolk sub-class, of which she was one of two ships (HMS Norfolk was the other).  Launched in Portsmouth in January 1929, she was completed in September 1930.  After a long and varied career she was transferred to the Eastern Fleet to support British forces in the recently opened Pacific Theatre of the war.   On 5 April, Japanese aircraft spotted Dorsetshire and her sister Cornwall while en route to Colombo; a force of dive bombers then attacked the two ships and sank them. More than 1,100 men were rescued the next day, out of a combined crew of over 1,500. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Dorsetshire_(40))

HMS Hermes, was the world’s first ship to be designed as an aircraft carrier, her construction began during the First World War but she was not completed until after the end of the war.  She  was commissioned in 1924, and served briefly with the Atlantic Fleet before spending the bulk of her career assigned to the Mediterranean Fleet and the China Station.  When the Second World War began she was briefly assigned to the Home Fleet and conducted anti-submarine patrols in the Western Approaches  before being  sent to patrol the Indian Ocean. She was refitted in South Africa between November 1941 and February 1942 and then joined the Eastern Fleet at Ceylon.

While berthed in Trincomalee on 8 April a warning of an approaching Japanese fleet was received, and she sailed that day for the Maldives with no aircraft on board. On 9 April she was spotted by a Japanese scout plane, and she was subsequently attacked by several dozen dive bombers shortly afterwards.  Without air cover she  was quickly sunk although most of the survivors were rescued by a nearby hospital ship, but 307 men were lost in the sinking. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Hermes_(95))

HMS Hollyhock, a Flower-Class Corvette, was laid down on 27 November 1939 and launched on 19 August 1940. She was commissioned into the Royal Navy on 19 November 1940. Hollyhock was bombed and sunk by Japanese naval aircraft on 9 April 1942 east of Ceylon in the Indian Ocean, along with the aircraft carrier Hermes, the Australian destroyer Vampire and two tankers.  53 men lost their lives in the sinking.  (http://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-20Cor-Flower-Hollyhock.htm)

64 South Africans lost their lives as members of the crew of these 4 ships.  Unfortunately these losses were conveniently shunted aside in the quest to sanitise history, but slowly we are recognising that there is much more that we need to discover and commemorate.  

Further Reading:

The major inspiration for this post is The Observation Post, a  blog that was set up to keep contemporary South African Military history alive and reveal the truth – because historical “truth” in South Africa is so often skewed to some or other political agenda.

Recounting South African Sacrifice on the HMS Dorsetshire

Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Cornwall

Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hermes

Recounting South African sacrifice on the HMS Hollyhock

DRW © 2018. Created 02/04/2018.  The Observation Post is created by Peter Dickens 

Updated: 09/05/2018 — 12:47

Three ships month

February has become known as a month where South Africa lost a number of men in shipping disasters. These are the three:

HMSAS Southern Floe. (11/02/1941)

One of four Southern Class whalers taken over by the Navy from Southern Whaling & Sealing Co. Ltd., Durban. The four ships were renamed  HMSAS Southern Maid, HMSAS Southern Sea, HMSAS Southern Isles and HMSAS Southern Floe. The four little ships, with their complement of 20-25 men,  “went up north” in December 1940. In January 1941, Southern Floe and her sister ship Southern Sea arrived at Tobruk to take over patrol duties along the mine free swept channels and to escort any ships through them.  

HMSAS Southern Maid. (SA Museum of Military History)

On 11 February 1941,  HMSAS Southern Sea arrived at the rendezvous two miles east of Tobruk where she was to meet Southern Floe,  but there was no sign of  her. A common enough occurrence as often ships would be delayed by weather or mechanical difficulties or even enemy action. However, a passing destroyer notified the vessel that they had picked up a stoker from the vessel, clinging to some wreckage. The stoker, CJ Jones RNVR, was the sole survivor of the ship, and he explained that there had been a heavy explosion on board and he had barely escaped with his life.  24 Men lost their lives; although never confirmed it is assumed that the vessel had struck a mine. 

SAS President Kruger (18/02/1982) 

One of three sister ships (President Steyn, Pretorius and Kruger),  was a Type 12 Frigate, acquired by the South African Navy in the 1960’s. Built in the United Kingdom, she was launched on 20 October 1960 from the Yarrow Shipbuilders, Scotstoun.

SAS President Kruger (F150)

On 18 February 1982, the vessel was conducting anti-submarine exercises with her sister ship the SAS President Pretorius, the submarine SAS Emily Hobhouse and the replenishment ship SAS Tafelberg. The President Kruger was stationed on the Tafelberg’s port side between 10 and 330 degrees, while the the President Pretorius had a reciprocal box on the starboard side. At approximately 4 am, the whole formation had to change direction by 154 degrees which would result in an almost complete reversal in direction. To maintain station the frigates would change direction first to maintain their positions ahead of the  Tafelberg on the new heading. President Kruger had two possible options: turn 200 degrees to port, or 154 degrees to starboard. The starboard turn was a much smaller one but was much more dangerous as it involved  turning towards the Pretorius and Tafelberg.  The officer of the watch elected to make the starboard turn, initiating 10 a degree turn. that had a larger radius and would take longer to execute than a 15 degree turn, Critically while executing the turn, the operations room lost radar contact with the Tafelberg in the radar clutter. An argument ensued between the officer of the watch and the principal warfare officer over the degree of wheel to apply, it was however too late and the bows of the much bigger Tafelberg impacted the President Kruger on her port side.

The President Kruger sank 78 nautical miles (144 km) south west of Cape Point, with the loss of  16 lives. 

HMT Mendi (21/02/1917)

The 4230 GRT Mendi (Official number 120875), was owned by the British & African Steam Navigation Company Limited. which was part of Elder, Dempster and Company. She was 370 ft long with a beam of 46 ft and was built by Alexander Stephen & Sons, Glasgow. She was fitted with triple expansion steam engines that gave her a maximum speed of 13 knots.

Model of the SS Mendi by Buddy Bacon, in Simonstown Naval Museum. Used with permission.

On 21 February 1917, South Africa lost some 607 African volunteers en route to the battlefields of France when their troopship:  HMT Mendi, was in a collision with the SS Darro off St Catherine’s Point on the Isle of Wight. Many would perish from exposure that night and the resulting death toll was high. Of the 802 SANLC troops on board some 607 men of the South African contingent perished, as did 30 members of her crew. 

———————————————————–

The deep sea is a place fraught with danger, made even worse by wartime restrictions and the ever present weather conditions that often hamper navigation and the safe operation of a ship. In the case of the Southern Floe enemy action was responsible for her loss, while the President Kruger and Mendi sank following a collision. The Mendi has only recently become important once again and we probably know more about it now than we did before. Sadly, there are none alive who can tell us how it happened.  It is however important that we remember these disasters, and the loss of lives that were the result. And, to remember the families of those who never saw their loved ones again. 

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning

We Will Remember Them.

 
DRW © 2018. Created 10/02/2018. 
Updated: 04/03/2018 — 08:28

Connections: it’s all in the name

I found a great set of connections this past week and while I have it more or less down pat there are still a few things that I need to do. The story goes like this:

Very close to where I live is the parish church of St Nicolas in Aschurch. It is a pretty church with a long history and I visited there in November 2016.

What I did not know at the time was that there was a war memorial associated with Ashchurch, in fact it is right across the road from the church. I photographed that one on Boxing Day last year

When I had completed my blogpost I decided to create a community at “Lives of the First World War” for the 24 names from the First World War commemorated on the memorial. Three of the men commemorated on the memorial were Majors in the British Army, namely:

Major The Hon. Alfred Henry Maitland

Major Frederick Eckersall Nixon-Eckersall

Major James Bertram Falkner Cartland

Fortunately for me, a lot of the research had already been done on these officers and I really just had to tie them into the parish of Ashchurch. 

I knew that Major James Bertram Falkner Cartland (CWGC LINK)  had a Memorial in the grounds of Tewkesbury Abbey which could be a connection. 

Actually there are also two Cartland brothers commemorated on that memorial, both being killed a day apart during WW2. ( Major John Ronald Hamilton Cartland (Worcester Yeomanry, KIA 30/05/1940) and  Captain James Anthony Hamilton Cartland (Lincolnshire Regiment KIA 29/05/1940))  Remember this surname as it is important. Both of those two men were from Poolbrook in Worcestershire, while Major James Bertram Falkner Cartland was from Pershore in Worcestershire. The border between Tewkesbury and Worcestershire is not too far away, probably about a kilometre but so far I did not have a tangible link to Ashchurch

Major Frederick Eckersall Nixon-Eckersall was my next puzzle. According to his CWGC Casualty Record he was born in Ireland, however the record listed his wife as being from “Gainsborough”,  College Rd., Cheltenham. But, no real link to Tewkesbury. 

Major The Hon. Alfred Henry Maitland: According to his CWGC Casualty Record he was killed very early in the war (September 1914). And, his wife was listed as being “Edith, daughter of Sanford G. T. Scobell”. As yet I do not know where he was born, but I will find it given enough time. He served in the Boer War too, so he connects to South Africa. The Scobell link looked interesting and I accessed the 1881 Census record and discovered the following.

The Scobell family in the 1881 census comprised of:
 
Father: Sanford George Treweeke Scobell   Born 1893
Mother: Edith Scobell (Born Palairet 1850)
Edith M Scobell  daughter, born 1872 (Brighton)
Florence Eleanor Scobell daughter, born 1875 (Brighton)
Emily K Scobell, daughter, born 1876 (Worcestershire)
Mary Hamilton Scobell, daughter, born 1878 (Worcestershire)
Sandford TG Scobell, son born 1880 (Brighton)

I checked the names against my three majors and discovered:

Major James Bertram Faulkner Cartland,  married Mary Hamilton Scobell.
Major Frederick Eckersall Nixon-Eckersall,  married Florence Eleanor Scobell.
and The Honourable, Major Alfred Henry Maitland married Edith M Scobell.
 

That connected all three men to the same family. The Scobell family are listed in the census as living at “The Down House”, Redmarley-D’abitot Worcester. Google maps puts Redmarley in Gloucestershire, although it was part of Worcestershire up till 1931.

The Down House was recently on the market ( £3,250,000) and is described as having 7 bedrooms, 3 reception rooms, 4 bathrooms, morning room, formal drawing room, impressive library and dining room as well as separate three bedroom staff flat in the grounds, coach house and yard, stables, garaging, in all about 130 acres. It is a Grade II Listed Regency house and was originally designed and built by the well-known architect Thomas Rickman between 1820 and 1823.  Tewkesbury is 7 miles away, Gloucester is 10 miles, Cheltenham 15 miles, and Worcester 25 miles. (http://www.rightmove.co.uk/property-for-sale/property-59662366.html)

The connection to the Scobell family was complete, but what connected these men and the Scobell family to Ashchurch? To find that out I shuffled through my photographs of St Nicholas in Ashchurch to see whether there were any wall memorials in the church that could tie into the Scobell family. 

The answer to that was not inside the church, but outside the church in a family plot.

There are a number of individuals named on these graves, including Maj Gen. Sandford John Palairet Scobell (1879-1955) and his wife Cecily Maude (1885-1955), as well as Sandford George Treweeke Scobell (1839-1912) and his wife Edith (+1929), Charles John Spencer Scobell (illegible – 1918) and a number of others. Unfortunately I did not photograph individual graves at the time but rectified that in January 2017. 

The 1911 Census has the following information:

Sandford G T Scobell Head, Private Means, 72, 1839, Southover Lewes Sussex
Edith Scobell Wife Married Female, 61, 1850, Bradford Avon Wiltshire
Meloney E, Scobell, Daughter, Single Female, Private Means, 39, 1872, Brighton Sussex

Address: Walton House Tewkesbury, Parish: Ashchurch, County: Gloucestershire. 

As you can see from the inscription above, Walton House is mentioned on the grave of Sandford Scobell and that definitely connects to St Nicholas parish church in Ashchurch. Three of their daughters connect three Majors from three different families into Ashchurch and in turn they connect to the Ashchurch War Memorial as they lost their lives in World War 1.

But what about Walton House? 

Google is my friend and I hit paydirt when I picked up a link to the Smithsend Family. Amongst the information I found the following: “In 1911 the house was bought by a Colonel Scobell (the maternal grandfather of the Novelist Barbara Cartland) and the house passed to his wife Edith and then his son John Stanford Scobell in 1929 (including the Lodge and 1 and 2 the Poplars on the main road). From 1937 to about 1945 the house was owned by a Vet – Mr Maguire.(http://smithinfamily.co.uk/page17a.html)  

The house they were referring to is called Walton House in Tewkesbury, The paragraph puts the house firmly in the Scobell family from 1911 at least till 1937 and it is 1,9 kilometres from the parish church of St Nicholas. The house was granted to Gloucestershire County Council in 1946 from a John Carradine Allen and used as a children’s home. In 1994 it was sold and converted into flats. Incidentally the area where the house is is now called “Newtown” and it is roughly midway between Tewkesbury town and Ashchurch. 

After visiting St Nicholas I went looking for Walton House and found it. Unfortunately it is not an easy place to photograph as it faces an area that is not accessible. This is probably the back of the house

while the image below is the one side.

Remember I said that we need to remember Major Cartland? The very popular romance novelist  Barbara Cartland‘s mother was Mary Hamilton ‘Polly’ Scobell, and she grew up at the Down House and as a small girl Barbara was a regular visitor from Pershore.  Her father was Major James Bertram Faulkner Cartland,  She was born in Edgbaston, West Midlands, July 9, 1901 and Christened Mary Barbara Hamilton Cartland and she attended Malvern Girls’ College and Abbey House, Netley Abbey, Hampshire. Her paternal grandfather allegedly committed suicide when he went bankrupt and her  father was killed in Flanders in 1918. and her two brothers were killed 1 day apart in World War 2.  Cartland was reared by her strong mother, who moved the family to London and opened her own business, a dress shop in Kensington  http://primrose-league.leadhoster.com/cartland_files/cartland.html

There is enough evidence to connect Ashchurch with Walton House, the Scobell family and the three majors who lost their lives in the First World War. Like so many families in the United Kingdom they lost their sons and fathers in the Great War. That war really decimated the professional class of officer from the army, and it was really the beginning of the end of the “gentry.” 

The Scobell family connections may be found at The Peerage, A genealogical survey of the peerage of Britain as well as the royal families of Europe.

I am more or less happy with this series of connections, the only additional find that I did make was the grave of Col. Henry Gillum Webb (1842-1904) who was one of the previous owners of Walton House. He bought the house in 1879 and it was probably Webb who made many of the later modifications to the house..

And inside the church is a wall memorial to members of the Ruddle family of Walton House.

There is an interesting observation in (http://smithinfamily.co.uk/page17a.html)  website that may be found on a PDF at http://smithinfamily.co.uk/Smithsend-tewkesbury.pdf   (page 61 onwards) it mentions Walton Spa, a potential rival to Cheltenham Spa, and it was centred around Walton House…. 

I won’t delve too deeply into that, suffice to say I am confident of the connections I have found. And can really publish this blog post.

Connections are everywhere though, you really just need to find that start and endpoint.

DRW © 2017-2018 Completed 07/01/2018.  

Updated: 24/03/2018 — 14:35

Lost at Sea: HMY Iolaire

This past year I have been busy with shipping disasters that tie into the First World War, and this post is about one of them. This particular tragedy occurred on the 1st of January 1919 and concerns HM Yacht Iolaire. I originally wrote this in October 2017, but am moving it to the 1st of January to commemorate the disaster. 

During the September and October 2017, while adding information to Lives of the First World War I encountered the grave of a crewman from HMY Iolaire that went down in the early hours of New Years Day 1919. I had bumped into the name of this vessel before so I decided to do some looking further and I was shocked by what I found.

The Iolaire was a former private yacht that had been pressed into naval service in the Outer Hebrides, and on old years eve 1918 she was hurriedly loaded with over 200 members of the Royal Naval Reserve to take them to the Island of Lewis.  That passage is fraught with danger for those who do not know these waters; rough seas, an unforgiving coastline and submerged reefs are all just waiting for the right moment to spring their deadly trap. The RNR men were all inhabitants from this area, most had served and survived through the war years, often serving in minelayers or small craft that performed a very necessary function, but without the glitz and glamour associated with a much larger vessel. Their own knowledge of the sea meant that these experienced seamen were much in demand by the Royal Navy, and they performed admirably in the roles they filled. It was almost the beginning of a new year and they had survived the war and the flu epidemic and Hogmanay was looming. The Iolaire would take them home to waiting families, and there were more men than spaces on that ill-fated vessel.  Crowded with happy reservists she would sail into destiny from the pier at  Kyle of Lochalsh. 

Back home on Lewis; parents, wives and children were preparing to welcome home their men, it would be a festive occasion because Hogmanay is very much an important part of the people around Scotland and these islands. Some of the men had not been home in a long time, and with the war over all that was left was demobilisation and a return home. There were brothers and neighbours on that ship from a small community that worked hard and who lived an often precarious existence. On board the yacht some of the men slept, some talked, others swapped yarns and compared their military service with men that they did not know. The master of the vessel was Commander Richard Gordon Mason and once they had sailed the commander went below, presumably to sleep, leaving  Lieutenant Leonard Edmund Cotter in charge. These were not amateur seamen but experienced men who knew how to handle ships. 

The Beasts of Holm is a rocky outcrop near the harbour and Iolaire was driving towards it, with seemingly nobody in charge attempting to rectify the situation.  To make matters worse the weather was starting to get rough, and the darkness compounded the problem.  It also emerged that there was no lookout stationed in the bows of the vessel, although given the darkness and how little time there would be to make course corrections it was really a moot point. 

Below the men had no way of knowing the calamity to come, and when the ship struck the rocks they were all in immediate danger. The chances are that many died almost immediately, but for others it was the beginning of a life or death struggle. Many were encumbered by their heavy uniforms and unfamiliarity with the ship, To make matters worse she did not have life-saving equipment for them all, the lifeboats were few, and in the heaving seas trying to launch them successfully would be almost impossible as the ship plunged and ground her iron plates on the rocks. There was also a lack of guidance coming from the bridge although Lt Cotter remained on it but very little is known of the whereabouts of Commander Mason.

The tragedy was unfolding almost 20 yards from land, but nobody on land was aware that a ship was dieing on their doorstep, and that the men had very few minutes to save themselves. Some tried to swim for safety but in the cold wild waters almost none would make it. One brave man managed to get ashore with a rope and a hand over hand crossing was established, but the sea would clear that vital rope of its cargo on more than one occasion, but men were getting ashore,  often battered and bleeding but alive.

On the bridge rockets were now being fired but these lacked the percussive element that would alert the people on the land, the rockets that were fired from the ship were taken as part of the celebration of the first year of peace, and a lookout on land reported a blue light as a “request for a pilot”. There were really many things that went wrong on that night and the end result would devastate the small community of Lewis

Once the alarm had been sounded on land things moved at a frustratingly slow pace; people had to be woken up, keys had to be found, horses found, cars hired and so on. By the time all of it had been coordinated it was too late, the ship had gone down, those who could reach safety had, although one man still clung to the mast. The morning light revealed the carnage, dead men washed up on the shore, or drifting in the sea, exhausted survivors looking for help and trying to find their friends or family that may have survived. The full horror was still to come as the islanders tried to take stock of what had happened. Isolated families were notified and the festivities of Hogmanay would be forgotten as married women found that they were now widows while their children were unable to understand the magnitude of the tragedy that was unfolding around them.

Aftermath.

The dead were gradually gathered in and taken to a hastily evacuated ammunition store that now served as a mortuary. Small boats scoured the area looking for and recovering bodies, while parties on shore walked the jagged coastline, hoping to find survivors, but the sea had not given up all of it’s dead.  Of the ship there was little trace, and a number of bodies were invariably trapped within its flooded compartments.

The community where this disaster had unfolded was never the same again, families would grieve for many years, while those who had lived through it would suffer from “survivors guilt”. A commission of inquiry was set up but it could find no real reason for why the ship ended up on the Beasts of Holm in the first place. There was nobody alive who could explain the sequence of events that had led to the ship hitting the rocks, and naturally scapegoats would be sought so as not to throw the spotlight on high ranking officers or the Admiralty. 

A further inquiry was launched to establish more facts and possibly apportion blame, and generally it seemed to do a reasonable job given the difficulties involved, but no real reason behind the accident was ever found. Those that knew went down with the ship.  

The dead are buried in many places. I found a crewman buried in Portsmouth while a search at CWGC under 01/01/1919 will bring up a long list of men who are buried in a number of cemeteries in the community and surrounding settlements, while some are commemorated on the Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham Naval Memorials. There is a memorial to those who lost their lives on the Island of Lewis, but is is a rarely visited memorial because the story is almost forgotten.

The Iolaire Memorial, Holm Point, near Stornoway, Lewis

Young children would grow and watch as the world plunged once again into a mad war, some would following in the footsteps of the previous generation and serve their country, and once again women would mourn those who never returned. The story of the sinking of the Iolaire is more than a story about a small ship foundering, it is about complacency and negligence and about a community ripped apart in the early morning of a new year. 

Sadly the men of the Iolaire are mostly forgotten now, occasionally someone like me will stumble on the story and ask the same questions that were asked almost 100 years ago. We will not find any answers either. Unfortunately a number of difficulties facing anybody who is researching the disaster is trying to make sense of the Scottish naming conventions that often leave a researcher with multiple occurrences of the same name. There is also a lack of information in general as to the men who served in the Merchant Navy as well as the Royal Navy Reserve,  most of these me were members of the latter. Fortunately somebody has done the work for me and there is a Roll of Honour that I found very useful. 

There is not a lot of information out there. A good place to start is the The sinking of H.M.Y. Iolaire – 1 January 1919 page, as well as the Wikipedia page and of course the relevant CWGC pages for individual casualties. I bought a very good book called: “When I Heard the Bell: The Loss of the Iolaire” by John MacLeod (Edinburgh: Birlinn Press. ISBN 978-1-84158-858-2.), and it went into aspects that I had not even considered before. 

The Iolaire was built in 1881 by Ferguson of Leith. (634 tons) and her original name was Iolanthe. This was later changed to Mione, and later, to Amalthaea. She is however not to be confused with the  Iolaire that was owned by Sir Donald Currie. In 1915, the luxury sailing yacht Amalthaea was commandeered by the Admiralty and converted and armed for anti-submarine warfare and coastal patrols. Her owner was Mr Michael Duff-Assheton Smith, who later became Sir Michael Duff. He had bought her from the Duke of Westminster.

I am not finished with the Iolaire tragedy, so I do not consider this page as completed. There is still so much to find out, but even if I do not complete it be rest assured that the story of the loss of the Iolaire will remain with me for a long time.

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 21/07/2017. Image of Iolaire Memorial is © Stephen Branley and is being used under the the Creative Commons  Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license. Image has been cropped, darkened  and resized. 

Updated: 04/03/2018 — 08:29

Pressing on to Prestbury

When I originally photographed Prestbury Cemetery in Cheltenham in 2015 I did some reading about it and one name popped up that I stashed away “just in case”. That name was the Prestbury War Memorial and it sort of became famous after it was bit by car! Unfortunately the opportunity to find it did not happen until today as I had business to attend to in Cheltenham, so could really kill 13 birds with two stones. Very close to the memorial is the Parish Church of St Mary’s, and I would be an idiot if I missed visiting it while I was in the area. 

From Clarence Street in Cheltenham I caught the “A” bus (gee, it is nice to have working bus services) that took me towards my destination, and the friendly bus driver set me off as close as he could to the church. That also happened to be next to the United Reformed Church which is a beauty in it’s own right.  

Being Autumn the light is beautiful, although it really depends on how cloudy it is. On this particular trip it alternated between overcast and sunny and by the time I headed off for home I was overheated in my lightweight hoodie.  

Left would take you to the church while right will take you into Prestbury village. I took the left path.

And there she is…

Like so many parish churches it is hard to date it because of the numerous restorations that have been done to the building, however the church appears to have been largely rebuilt in the 14th century when the north and south aisles were perhaps added to an earlier building. The church was so thoroughly restored in 1864–8 that the date of the medieval work is difficult to determine. (British History) . It is really very similar to many of the parish churches I have seen but it is no less beautiful. Fortunately I was able to access the church and my images do not really do it justice.

My camera tends to get confused with the available light so pics are usually hit or miss.

The Prestbury page at the Open Domesday Project may be found at  http://opendomesday.org/place/SO9723/prestbury/  and this is what the entry looks like: 

The war memorial inside the church is unlike any I have seen before, and it is really beautiful. 

Unfortunately it is difficult to photograph it because of ambient light but I am sure the gist is there. That memorial must have taken a long time to create.

The church has quite a large churchyard,  and there are six casualties buried in it,  and I managed to find 5.

There are a lot of these wooden crosses in the cemetery, and I always thought they were found more in Orthodox churches, but for some reason this seems to be a regional thing in the churchyard. Irrespective though, I could not help but think of a flock of birds when I first saw these.

The weight of ages is heavy in this churchyard, and who knows how old the earliest burial may date from. From what I can see the churchyard is in use for limited burials, and the lack of space is what would have brought Prestbury Cemetery into use.

I did the obligatory circuit of the graveyard, but could not really form any opinion as to what is the oldest grave in it. These churchyards hold more than what is visible on the surface. It however a very nice graveyard with some really beautiful headstones.   

Then it was time to leave this pretty place and head for the war memorial up the road.  Past the local with its fine views of the churchyard.

and finally…

As war memorials go it is not really a big or fancy one, but it does tell the story of how many men lost their lives from this area which makes it an important part of the village. And, I hope on 11 November the people of this village will pay their respects to those who never came home. There are a number of names that match the graves in the churchyard close by, and this memorial really provides something tangible to those who were never able to see where their loved ones were buried. 

The list of names may be found at Remembering.org.uk

Then it was time for me to head back to Prestbury Cemetery to try to find a grave that had evaded me the last time I had been there. It is a mere kilometre “down the road”, but that was much easier to deal with than my mammoth walk from Painswicke to Stroud last month. 

Prestbury Cemetery is a beautiful cemetery to visit, it too is full of the history of this area and the people and families that lived nearby, and I am happy to say I found the grave I was missing, although it was quite a search. The one memorial in the cemetery that is really outstanding is the Gloucesters Memorial that is made up of the battlefield crosses from the graves of those who are buried in foreign fields. It is a very unique tribute that is in dire need of restoration. 

 

And then it was time to head to town to deal with the business I had to attend to. It was a long day and I covered a lot of ground. Many of my goals were achieved, and others were not. But Prestbury is in the bag, but who knows whether I will ever go their again.

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 03/11/2017.  Domesday Book entry courtesy of the Open Domesday Project, under the CC-BY-SA licence, with credit to  Professor John Palmer and George Slater. 

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 17:01

Lives of the First World War

Regular visitors to the blog may be thinking that I have given up on the blog. Be rest assured I have not, and this post will explain why.

Recently I started submitting images to “Lives of the First World War”, and it is a lot of work. I have over 8000 images of war graves, and a large number of War Memorials  in my collection. The majority of graves have been photographed in the United Kingdom and most have been submitted to the British War Graves Project. This is really an opportunity to marry up a grave with a record, and it is really a decision  that I decided to take seeing as I had all these images that have never really seen the light of day. 

Lives really is a series of templates that are populated from a variety of records, ranging from CWGC right through to British Census records up to 1911. However, there is no real consistency as to what records will be available for each casualty. In some cases even the CWGC record is missing, which is odd considering that technically there is a CWGC record for every casualty. Lives does not only touch on casualties, but on survivors too, and in that department I am totally clueless as my photography has been about casualties and not survivors. The one thing I do like is that many of the private memorials that I have photographed can now be linked to an individual and that record can be further fleshed out with the data on the private memorial. Unfortunately these can make for very sad reading. The one PM I did yesterday involved three brothers that were all killed in action, they were able to be linked because of a simple typed piece of paper stuck to a tree above the grave of one of them  (Sgt Evan Victor Joseph DCM, MM).

The other PM I have found today concerns Ernest Lute and Alfred Morgan. The latter had a sister called Amy who married Ernest Lute, who was killed in action on 25 October 1918, while Alfred died on 05 October 1918 in a Berlin hospital after being a POW for 4 years. Amy did not live long after that, as she passed away on 15 December 1918. The war ended on 11 November 1918, and she was the only one to see it, although having lost a brother and husband it is possible that she died from a broken heart. This particular memorial sums up a lot of what the war was about for those who were left at home. 7 people were involved in this case, and they are all remembered on this forgotten memorial. Whether Albert or Doris are still alive I cannot say, but loosing their parents within such a short period of time must have been very traumatic and life changing.  

At the time of writing I have “remembered” 1958 individuals and have created 53 “communities” where I have my images sorted into. The biggest being for Netley Military Cemetery with 528 “lives” in it. The nice thing about the project is that I am revisiting those places that I photographed in 2013 and 2014, seeing pictures that I had really forgotten about completely. 

Unfortunately the project is not that great a design, in fact I could rip it to shreds given how rigid it can be in the way it does things.  A good example would be the cause of death field that does not include a “died at sea” option. With so many naval casualties you would think that it would have occurred to them to have that option available.

And on the subject of naval casualties, it is shocking to see how poor the records are for the merchant navy men. Trying to find the correct record for a “John Smith” who served in the merchant navy is almost an impossibility. Just out of curiosity, there are potentially 113007 occurrences of the surname Smith, of which 1917 served with the merchant navy.  The merchant navy has always been an odd many out amongst the many services and corps that served in both world wars, and that is true even today. They lack the glamour of a uniform, but when courage was handed out they stand right near the front.

Amongst the Dominions; Canada, New Zealand and Australia stand out, with the Canadian records being the easiest to make sense of. There are lamentably few South Africans to research. I know from our time doing the record cards way back in 2012  the military records are sparse for our men and women, and even sparser for those who served in the South African Native Labour Corps.  The only real sources for information about our casualties is the CWGC and of course the South African War Graves Project

There is a community for those who drowned in the HMT Mendi and that constitutes the biggest grouping of South Africans in the project. I was recently able to have 151 South Africans added that are buried in Brookwood Cemetery, most of them died of Spanish Flu in 1918, although amongst the millions who were taken by the epidemic this is really a small group. Unfortunately only certain people are able to add in new lives, and that really leaves me with no real way to increase the coverage of our men. 

I will be busy with this for a long time; looming in my future are 778 naval casualties in Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery, and I am currently busy with Arnos Vale in Bristol and the 363 casualties commemorated there. I can do roughly 20 in a day, although I am having a lot of fun with private memorials in Arnos Vale and they tend to take more time. I dread Haslar though because even the Royal Navy tended to confuse everybody with how they did things. One of the biggest problems in my opinion is that the British Army did not allocate service numbers to the officers, and you can realistically only search with a surname and a service number. 

So, if things are quiet that is why. I do get some sort of enjoyment out of something like this, one day they will probably start a World War 2 version, but the odds are I won’t be alive to see it.

View this as part of my legacy for the future, I may not have achieved much worthwhile in my life, but I have certainly ensured that a small portion of those who never came home are remembered.

‘When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.”
 

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 17/09/2017

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 17:03

The Mud of Passchendaele

On 31 July 1917 the third battle of Ypres started. but it is more commonly remembered as the Battle of Passchendaele. A name synonymous with mud, wasted lives and no gains for the high cost in human lives. The battle took place on the Western Front, from July to November 1917, for control of the ridges south and east of the city of Ypres in West Flanders, and was part of strategy decided by the Allies at conferences in November 1916 and May 1917.

An estimated 245,000 allied casualties (dead, wounded or missing) fell in 103 days of heavy fighting. many of those killed were buried in the mud, never to be seen again. 

South Africans generally recognise the Battle of Delville Wood as our “definitive battle”, and as such we do not commemorate it the way Delville Wood is commemorated, and a quick search for 31/07/1917 at the South African War Graves Project website will only bring up three pages of names, of which at least one page may be discounted as not occurring in the battle. However, from 31 July 1917 many families in the United Kingdom would be discovering that they had lost a father, or a son, or a husband. My current project is called “Lives of the First World War” and there I am encountering many of the casualties from that battle. I was particularly struck by a private memorial that I photographed in Reading Cemetery in 2015.

Serjeant Charles Stewart MM. lost his life on 31 July 1917, probably in this very campaign. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate like so many of his countrymen and comrades who would loose their lives tomorrow, 100 years ago.  He is also remembered on this overgrown gravestone that I found by chance. 

The sad reality is that  little, if any, strategic gain was made during the offensive, which was in fact a total of eight battles.  It increased the soldiers distrust of their leaders, especially Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig, and left many soldiers utterly demoralised, shell shocked or badly wounded. The often atrocious weather just made things that much worse for Tommy on the ground, whereas the Generals, far behind the lines could condemn the lack of progress safely in the dry map rooms of their headquarters.    

The French lost 8,500 soldiers. while estimates for German casualties range from 217,000 to around 260,000. Bearing in mind that each one of these casualties had parents, possibly wives, occasionally children. A single death would have repercussions that would affect many more people.

World War One is really a series of disasters, The Somme battlefields, the icey sea of Jutland, the slaughter of Gallipoli, the mud of Passchendaele, the horrors of chemical warfare, the rattle of machine guns and the cries of the wounded and the dieing.

There were many heroes in these battles, and many wore the uniforms of nurses who had to drag extra strength from within to deal with the flood of blood in the casualty clearing stations as the wounded were brought in. Their story is often overlooked amongst the khaki uniforms, but their sacrifice was equally important. A light of sanity in a world of blood soaked madness.

We commemorate the battle from the 30th of July, but for those caught up in the trenches the hell would continue right through until November.  The only light on the horizon was that it would all stop a year later on the 11th of November 1918. 

Unfortunately, we never seemed to learn those lessons from the First World War, because a second war was looming in the future, and that war would define our world from then onwards.  

Remember the Dead.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.”

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 30/07/2017. The “Ode of Remembrance” is from Laurence Binyon‘s poem, “For the Fallen“, which was first published in The Times in September 1914. 
Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:56
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