musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Category: United Kingdom

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

Sheepish in the snow

There is snow outside again. Wow, we will write about this winter for a looooong time, or at least still spring or summer (assuming we have one).  Anyway, I went walkies again because frankly I love seeing the snow.  I never grew up with the phenomena when I was young, in fact the first real snow I saw was in the USA in 2000.  Gathering my winter woolies I headed out on a different route and looked for somewhere new. The sad irony is that from Mitton I could see hills in the distance but could not find a place to photograph them as there was no open area with a clear view. Unless otherwise noted all images are 800×600 when opened.

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My meandering took me to a part of Mitton I had not been in before and I really wanted to see whether I could find Mitton Manner which served as a military hospital from June 1915, until it closed in January 1919. It treated 1,188 sick and wounded soldiers, the first patients being a group of Belgian soldiers. Over that period, only three patients died, and those from the 1918 influenza epidemic. It was manned by the Gloucestershire Red Cross volunteers, who were almost entirely local women, under the command of Mrs Devereux. (https://www.tewkesburymuseum.org/mitton-manor-plaque-unveiled/) . Not too long ago I spotted a set of images at the local doctors office about the house and it’s history as a hospital, but as usual I could not find them (since found  and their information is added to the update).

This strange structure below is supposedly called “the long barn”.

Update 07/05/2018.

This wonderfully warm and sunny bank holiday took me back to the former Mitton Manor where I was able to photograph the plaque relating to the role the house played in World War 1. I have however not found any trace of the Devereux family that were associated with the house at the time. 

The display at the Devereux Centre did not throw out too much information either. This is what it says:

In 1872 Dr Daniel Devereux was the inspiration for the opening of the first hospital and was appointed as surgeon.   

1914, Dr W.C. Devereux presides over the Tewkesbury Voluntary Aid Detachment under the Red Cross, to treat the influx of wounded. Mrs Ethel Devereux is appointed Commandant at Watson Hall

In 1915 the Red Cross moves to Mitton Farm. Over the next four years at least 121 local people served there.  

In 1918 Mrs Devereux is awarded the M.B.E for her work as Commandant.  And in 1919 Mitton Farm is stood down.  In 1927 Dr Devereux resigns from the post and the couple move to Cambridge. Mrs Devereux dies in 1931. Strangely enough, one of her daughters married a South African from Johannesburg. 

The Domesday Book entry for Mitton reads: 

  • Head of manor: Bredon.
  • Taxable units: Taxable value 4 geld units.
  • Value: Value to lord in 1066 £4. Value to lord in 1086 £4.
  • Households: 12 villagers. 6 smallholders. 10 slaves. 3 female slaves.
  • Ploughland: 5 lord’s plough teams. 9 men’s plough teams.
  • Other resources: Meadow 40 acres. Woodland 2 furlongs.
  • Lord in 1066Worcester (St Mary), bishop of.
  • Lord in 1086Worcester (St Mary), bishop of.
  • Tenant-in-chief in 1086Worcester (St Mary), bishop of.
  • Places mentioned in this entryMittonTeddington.
  • Phillimore reference: 2,23

I hope to revisit this post once I find the odds and ends I had collected about the manor and Mrs Devereux. Another interesting snippet came via a work colleague who told me that at at one point the house was in the family of some baroness who was a famous model and who slept under her car when she arrived home only to find it had been vandalised in her absence (the house.. not the car). After our original conversation he found the following info:

“In the 1950s the estate was in the possession of an Austrian Baroness, Violet von Gagern, a former Cecil Beaton model. However, by 1960 the Baroness was rarely in residence, and the manor started to fall into decline. It was at this time that she sold much of the surrounding farmland to the housing company Jane s of Luton, which constructed the present housing estate, mainly between 1963-7. By 1969 the manor house had become so dilapidated that local residents started to voice concerns. But thankfully in 1971 a planning inquiry refused the Baroness permission to demolish the manor house to provide space for further new housing. Subsequently the house was bought and carefully restored by its present owners Jan and Margaret Lucas.”  (http://www.glosarch.org.uk/Glev%2037.pdf)

I also found out that the Carrant Brook that flows past where I live is actually the border between Worcestershire and Gloucestershire. 

My exit from Mitton took place more or less where the border signpost is, and I photographed that sign when I paid a visit to St Giles in Bredon in 2016. On the left hand side of this sign is a farm and of course the Avon flows past here too. It looked like this in 2016.

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The Avon was running quite low at that point, although the same cannot be said of today. What I was hoping to see were the sheep that live on that patch of green, and this post is dedicated to them. 

They were looking quite cosy in their woolie jumpers too. The area where they are is now a snow covered winter field, and the Avon is much higher than in 2016

(1500×791)

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It is looking very beautiful out there, and at the time of writing the wind is blowing like mad. The weather forecast is for temps between 1 and -2 degrees with snow showers and breezy. It looks like it Winter will be with us just a wee bit longer this year. 

And that was the weather. We return you now to our regular Sunday broadcast of church music, radio drama and pictures of sheep. Baaaah. 

Incidentally, this is what it looks like today (07/05/2018)

(1500 x 544)

DRW © 2018. Created 18/03/2018. Updated 07/05/2018.  Domesday Book Image by Professor J.J.N. Palmer and George Slater. The Open Domesday Project and the associated  images are kindly made available by Professor J.J.N. Palmer. Images may be reused under a Creative Commons BY-SA licence.  

Updated: 07/05/2018 — 19:26

Counting down the days

Having left South Africa we are almost at our destination… sort of.

En route to London

My post for 02/03/2013 has the following to say:

“It was time to put my new visa to the test, and surprisingly enough passing through immigration was easy. Now I had to find my way to Kennington in South London which was where I was staying until 8 Feb. There were 3 options: Heathrow Express, Tube, or Coach. I suspect I am sucker for a train so chose the Tube. I had to change trains at 3 different places but surprisingly that in itself was a breeze.  I do remember sitting on that tube from Heathrow with my luggage and heavy eyes from the lack of sleep; with people all around tied up in their own world of cell phones, headsets or books. They were on their way to work, I was on my way to a new life.” 

I have never forgotten that tube ride, it was my first time riding the tube too, but I think at that point I was feeling very uncertain of what I was doing. Fortunately finding your way on the tube is reasonably simple, assuming you know how to read a tube map  you can get almost anywhere in London. The only tube line that runs to Heathrow is the Piccadilly Line, and I rode it to Leicester Square where I changed to the Northern Line and bailed out at Kennington, and then did a short hop to Oval Station for some or other odd reason.

When I exited Oval Station I was very disorientated and I had been hoping to find a taxi to take me to my destination, but contrary to my expectations there were no taxis at Oval. I re-orientated myself, grabbed my suitcase by the hand and headed down the road. My suitcase was not one of the wheelie bags, it was a suitcase with a set of wheels on one corner and a handle on the other. It rolled easily enough assuming that the pavement was level. By the time I got to where I would be staying I was exhausted. But I had arrived. 

Camberwell New Road

The owner of the flat had cooked me breakfast although she was not at home at the time and a friend of hers showed me the ins and outs of where the loo was and how the shower worked and all that sort of stuff. I seem to recall I only met the owner the next morning. While I had not really crossed too many time zones I was still tired after being on the go from the afternoon of the 28th up till the afternoon of the 1st. I did not have a sim card for my phone yet and that was something I needed to do and I seem to recall that afternoon heading down to Camberwell after having a shower to buy myself a watch and a sim for my phone. The shenanigans of my watch having finally cheesed me off enough! Strangely enough I still wear that replacement Timex that I bought at Argos for $19.99.  

I spotted a cellphone shop somewhere and did some enquires about airtime packages. The person on the other side of the counter was a South African and she recommended I rather go try a place up the road because the people she worked for were overpriced. It was quite an odd encounter but I did appreciate her honesty so ended up going elsewhere and was connected probably an hour later. That cell phone package would come back and bite me in the rear end as we got to the end of the month, and my time in London. 

Brixton

Opening a bank account was easy as it had been pre-arranged, all I had to do was sign on the dotted line and bob was my uncle! However, the banking worked slightly differently to how we do things in South Africa and it took me a long time to get used to it. It too would bite me in the rear end when I left London in March. 

St Mark’s Church, Kennington

My immediate need for accommodation was solved when my landlady (another South African), let me stay for another month while I sorted myself out. She was very helpful and weaned me off the tube and showed me how to use buses! I had not travelled on one of those in years either and the bus service is London is amazingly efficient although it can be very crowded at peak times. Do not expect to see any smiles either because nobody seemed to smile on the buses. If only they had experienced the poor public transport back in SA they would have jumped for joy at what they had in this incredible city. 

I will admit I did a lot of the touristy things in that month, but it was very clear that there were a few snag in my job search. For starters I had to get my qualifications assessed and that would take at least 3 weeks. I was a tad too old to work in the customer service industry and I was really struggling with my hearing. There was a lot of competition for some of the jobs and I was at somewhat of a disadvantage. I was however prepared to relocate, although did not find any jobs outside of London at the time. The usual lack of feedback or responses by agencies also happened in the UK, and of course I also sat with that almost 2 year gap in my CV after my retrenchment. I did know one thing though, I had to get out of London and Southampton was really my city of choice. With hindsight it was a bad choice, if anything I should have headed to Reading or Basingstoke, but purposely avoided the latter  because it supposedly had a lot of South Africans in it. I wanted to avoid those if I could. It is not that I dislike my countrymen, its just that I tend to see things differently to how many of them see it.   

Kennington Park

My time in London spanned from 01 March till I left on 7 April. I saw a lot of things in that month and literally walked myself into exhaustion. The one issue that had plagued me in London was what I suspect may have been shin splints, although it may have been as a result of the extended cramped conditions on the 2 flights. Irrespective of what it was I was in pain for quite a lot of the time. Unfortunately I am allergic to ibuprofen and almost everything that I saw had Ibuprofen in it!  I also discovered that many of the pharmacists are really poor compared to what I was used to in SA. I battled for quite a long time to rid myself of the problem, but it was not fun at the time. 

I won’t even try to explain all I saw or all I did in London, there was just so much. My London folder has over 13000 images in it, and it is doubtful whether there are 2000 of them on this blog.  I started blogging halfheartedly in January 2011 and it really took off when I hit London. All of my travels are in here, and I often go back and reread what my thoughts were back then. I recall that I was at Lewisham one day and while I was there I found the old military hospital, and it was at that hospital where my grandfather was treated after being wounded at Delville Wood. It was a strange encounter, and I could not help but wonder what he thought of the place. I had a love/hate relationship with Lewisham for some unfathomable reason, and yet it turned out to be a very handy location for some of the places I visited. 

Lewisham

A lot of the places that I visited were “cities of the dead”;  when I left South Africa I thought that I would not be doing any war grave photography in the UK. I was very wrong and have photographed twice as many war graves here than I photographed in South Africa.  

At this point I will stop my waffling and draw your attention to the London galleries that I have added to the blog. They can be found under the old Photo-Essay pages.  My London Memorials page is at allatsea

It is also worth looking at the index for March 2013 and the many links inside it. Theoretically they all open in a new tab/page

Finally  I would like to thank my landlady in Kennington, we lost touch in 2014, and I hope that she is still well and has managed to sort herself out with a decent job. Thank you for everything you did for me. 

DRW © 2013-2018. Initially created around about 01/03/2013 but still adding bits as I go along. 

Updated: 18/03/2018 — 16:13

Snowed under

It is now the weekend and Tewkesbury is trying to recover from under the snow that we had on Thursday evening and Friday. It really feels like a major disaster happened although it was really just unseasonal snow (soon to be accompanied by rain). Chaos did reign though and I am sure the highways were bogged down with stuck cars and accidents. I havent been biking to work since Wednesday but hoofing it to work and back. Fortunately I do not live too far away from work.

My camera was working overtime though, and as usual I have been taking pics galore. I am sure everybody has seen the same old places in my pics, so I tried for different ones for a change. The wind was very strong on Thursday evening so some very interesting shapes were to be found in the snow drifts and wind driven snow.

 

And of course I was also fortunate enough to spot an “ice giant” lurking in the undergrowth….

He is just waiting to swallow us all!! Run away run away! 

What I did find interesting is that parts of the Carrant Brook are frozen, 

I suspect we are not finished with this lousy weather yet, rain is forecast for today and tomorrow, and that could cause the snow to freeze which will make things very dangerous. I am hoping that the cycle path will be more navigable during the week so that I can fetch my meds, of course assuming that the pharmacist pitches up for work.

And that was the weather. We now return you to our regular broadcast.

DRW © 2018. Created 03/03/2018

Updated: 04/03/2018 — 08:28

5 years ago

On this day 5 years ago I was facing my last day in South Africa. At this point last of my possessions had been moved to the storage unit and there were no more sleeps left as I had to catch my flight. I had accommodation organised for my first week in London, but anything after that was uncertain. On arrival my priorities were: find a place to stay,  open a bank account, obtain a National Insurance Number, have my qualifications assessed, and find work. I had played these scenarios out in my mind a number of times, but was pretty sure that the odds of finding work almost immediately were small. When I had originally planned this I had decided that I really wanted to settle in Southampton, although that depended on whether I found work elsewhere first. I had visited the UK in 2008 so was not completely in the dark about what it was like. At least I more or less knew where London was!

I had a lot of stuff to store, so much so that I hired a storage unit to keep it all in, and the last week I spent driving to and from the unit and offloading into it. The unit also had to be big enough for my car which I had not sold. It is scarey how much stuff I really had at that point, much of which would be superfluous with me being the UK, but I was loathe to dispose of my books and other collectables. 

At my age (52) packing up and leaving is not easy, I literally had to turn my back on everything I had accumulated since I moved out of the family home so many years ago. Make no mistake, I had no loyalty to South Africa, I could easily turn my back on the place without a second glance. I would not be missing “braaivleis, rugby, sunnyskies and Chevrolet”, although I would miss Mrs Ball’s Chutney.

My visa was for 5 years and the start date was 1 January 2013. My original plan had been to leave on the 15th of Jan, but as things turned out I finally left on 28 Feb. 

The last sunset I saw in South Africa for a year

My flight was not a direct one, but via Dubai, and it would be a long schlep with roughly 17 hours in the air and 4 hours in transit in Dubai, and unusually it was partly during the day but I was still dreading the flight the most.

There were many preparations that I had to make; that included changing money (I seem to think the exchange rate was around R14 to £1), getting enough medication to last me at least 3 months until I had organised a doctor and a new repeat prescription. I was not lugging too many clothes around although, and was technically “traveling light”. Because my arrival would be towards the end of Winter I did have to take warm clothing and that included my infamous 20 year navy parka. I also needed comfortable shoes, and bought a pair that seemed perfect but which turned out to be hell to wear. At the last minute I also bought a pair of Hi-techs that served me very well through many cemetery visits. I was also going to take my coal burning laptop because I would really need to search for work and frankly my small smartphone not be adequate for that task. 

I closed my bank account and killed off as much debt as I could, the one thing I did not need was having to run around trying to placate my creditors. A last minute snag with my broadband provider did cause me a lot of trouble and I ended up fighting with them while waiting for my flight at the airport. Fortunately when things went pear shaped at work my car was finished paid for so it was really a case of paying insurance while it languished in storage. 

It is very difficult to believe that 5 years have almost passed and I am now heading into year 6. I have seen many things in this period or my life, and have taken thousands of photographs to prove that “I was there”. The most difficult thing to believe is that I have literally started over. Although realistically starting from scratch really started in Southampton and not in London.

Was I scared? I would have been an idiot not to be, if things went pear shaped I was up the creek without a paddle, and because I had a one way ticket could not return to South Africa easily. I did not have any friends in the UK that I could call on and I really had to make a success of it as quickly as possible.  The fact remained that I was not able to find work in SA, I was prevented so by the constitution and legislation that enforced discrimination in the guise of “transformation”. It is important to know that my retrenchment was not a result of any racist agenda by the company I worked for, but rather a result of skulduggery by those in charge. Many of my African co-workers were similarly retrenched when I was.

In the 5 years I have been in the UK I have lived in London, Southampton, Salisbury, Basingstoke, Burntwood and Tewkesbury. The furtherest North I have been is Crich to visit the Tramway Museum. I have been to many museums in my travels, and walked myself to a standstill on a number of occasions.  I am much more physically active here than I was in South Africa. I have even started to ride a bicycle, but have not driven in the UK yet (although I do have a license to drive).

What do I find different?

For starters their postal system works! But the much vaunted NHS does not live up to the Doctors and medical professionals that I encountered back in SA, although I was a paying patient in SA (I had a medical aid). What amazes me in my day to day life is how many people I see. Dogs get walked, children accompany their parents to shops or the park, the trains and buses work, the weather is not only overcast and wet, houses are not fortresses, and life does not revolve around driving from home to the mall and back, or braai-ing meat over a weekend

There are negatives too: accommodation is expensive and hard to find, meat is pricey, food can be expensive depending on where you shop, London can get horribly crowded, employers do not tolerate slackers and works starts and finishes on time with overtime being paid unlike in SA. Safety in the workplace is often crazy but it is also there for a reason. 

I have met people from many countries, and I have worked with all manner of nationalities. Unfortunately my poor hearing and their accents does sometime create odd looks. Tatoo’s and “vaping” are very big, as are tanning salons, betting shops and nail bars. Many of the cities in the UK are in a decline as they are realistically built around old towns with a much simpler layout. I currently live in a small town and it and goes back many centuries and it too is suffering from the accommodation shortage and declining business within its borders. My council tax is roughly £75 per month and on top of that I still pay National Insurance and income tax. I was fortunate enough to find a bedsit and lead my own life surrounded by my ships and toys. I do miss my books, although have quite a collection already. I came to the UK with 1 suitcase and a wheelie bag, I now have 3 suitcases and 3 wheelie bags (and a wodge of other bits and pieces).

The experience has been a life changer for me though, at my “advanced age” (nudge nudge wink wink) I have had to adjust myself to a whole new country, timezone, hemisphere and culture. Fortunately I am somewhat of an anglophile so it was not too difficult. My biggest challenge has been in the workplace. Lets face it, my skills are out of date and my poor eyesight really negates me applying for jobs that require small work. I have however worked 3 temp job, the first as a baggage handler, the 2nd as a “recycling operative” and the third as an “assembly operative” in the manufacturing industry. Those entry level jobs do not exist in South Africa and if they do come available get flooded by thousands of applicants.

Like many places the UK has its problems. I was here when the Brexit referendum occurred and by the looks of it will be here when Brexit actually happens. Gang violence does occur in some cities, knife crime is commonplace and drugs and alcohol abuse are a problem. Hooliganism and petty vandalism are common too, but alcohol does play a major part in it. Overall people obey the rules of the road (which can be confusing), and parking is expensive. Relatively speaking cars are quite cheap to buy but not as cheap to operate. I do miss my car, especially where I live now which is somewhat of a public transportation dead zone. Rail fares are not cheap either, especially if bought on the day and in peak hours. Bus fares are expensive too (Day rider is £7.50 to Cheltenham and back). However, public transport does exist unlike in SA. The transport system in London is to be seen to be believed. 

The weather does play a major part in our lives, and flooding happens more often here than it does in SA. Gloucestershire suffered a disastrous flood in 2007, and I tend to be nervous when it rains.

Snow is welcome but not an every day occurrence (at the time of writing we are suffering from a week of low temperatures and possibly snow too). I have seen snow 4 times in the UK which is 4 times more than I saw it in SA. Generally though most of the places I have lived had warm but short summers and long cold winters, and 2017 was probably the closest I have come to how the weather is supposedly in the UK; cloudy days and low temperatures in summer.

When Spring starts to arrive the country becomes a riot of colour as the flowers bloom and everything wakes up from its long winter sleep.

I have picked up some strange new habits and have a whole new line of food to try. I have developed a taste for cod ‘n chips, I tolerate “brown sauce” and I really enjoy a glass of cider. Pizza is not that great here, so my consumption of it has declined. I was never much of a meat eater and now eat even less, although I do live on “ready meals”. I do not own a television and if I did the TV license would snag a chunk out of my salary, I do not intend buying one. I have really quick broadband and my cellphone has 4G of data.

I could probably rattle on all day about this stuff, but I think I have covered it pretty well in blogposts that stretch from 2013 right up till 28 February 2018. 

It has been quite a ride, but stick with me because I am here for another 5 years, and who knows what changes will happen in South Africa while I am gone, or what will happen when the UK finally divorces itself from the EU. It is going to be interesting though. Talk about Interesting times.

I will periodically return to milestones in my sojourn from a retrospective point of view. It is always good to look back and say “Wow…. I did that?”

DRW © 2018. Created 28/02/2018

Updated: 04/03/2018 — 08:28

A last farewell

This post is one that I have dreaded for quite some time, and the time has finally come to make it. However, there is much more to it than a mere farewell, because it is really the culmination of many parts. It really starts way back in the in 1992 when I first saw the newly built RMS St Helena in Cape Town from the Canberra. Both of these vessels are legends, but at the moment we are more interested in the RMS. and this was the first photograph that I took of her. 

Because her prices were in £ she was very expensive to sail on, and a short cruise was not easy to get because she ploughed a long furrow between Cape Town, St Helena, Ascension Island and finally the UK. She was amongst the last passenger ships doing a dedicated line voyage and was also amongst the few ships left that flew the Royal Mail pennant. 

RMS at St Helena. Image courtesy of Sabrina Harper

By some weird piece of luck I heard about spaces being available on board her for the voyage to Tristan da Cunha  that was happening in  1993, and I took a chance and booked passage. It was not cheap by any means and I am thankful for my travel agent who helped me with my booking and the associated flights to and from Cape Town.

Naturally sailing day was a long drag away. I was stuck in a dead end job with a company I loathed, and was only too glad to get away from them for awhile. Around about the same time I picked up issues with my health and ended up having to lug a stash of pills on board with me. There was no way in hell I would be stopped by aches and pains. The report of my voyage exists on allatsea so I am not going to repeat it, suffice to say I enjoyed it thoroughly; Tristan was a fascinating destination, but the ship was so much better. She is really a hybrid passenger and cargo ship and of course does not have the glitz and glamour of the modern cruise ships, if anything she really came from a much nicer era of travel. Her crew were composed of a mixture of “Saints” and ex Union-Castle staff and of course that meant that I was experiencing just a tiny piece of the legacy of the glorious  Union-Castle mail ships. 

I was very fortunate to get that opportunity of a voyage and I kept an eye on her as much as was possible in the intervening years. At some point she stopped calling in the UK, and she was managed by Andrew Weir Shipping as opposed to Curnow Shipping. Work was started on an airport at St Helena and that was really the death knell of my favourite ship, although it was still a number of years away. 

A number of years have passed, the airport was ready to open and it was announced that the RMS would make one final voyage to the UK, arriving in June 2016. At first I thought “Who do I know that can get me pics?” And then I decided I would get them myself and set out for London  on the 7th of June to see the RMS for the last time.   I have told that story before and you can read about it on the blogpost.

The airport was not without its problems though and the RMS was granted a reprieve for another year and a half. 

A year and a half has passed, and sadly the RMS has sailed from Cape Town on her last voyage. The moment that all of her many fans dreaded has finally arrived. 

What of her future? she is came into service in 1990 so is already over 27 years old and is already in the zone where a replacement should have been on the table. She has always had engine issues, and recently had to return to drydock for repairs in Simonstown. The odds of her finding a reputable buyer is really very small, and the odds of her becoming a static hotel in St Helena is even smaller. Unless a buyer can be found she will make one last voyage to the beach, and that will be incredibly sad. However, rather she gets broken up than stuck in some backwater and left to rot.  I am a realist, and preserving ships in a very costly business, even one as small as her. 

I remember many years ago a print advert for Union-Castle that showed the inside of a jet aircraft and a view from the window. It more or less said: “From (date unknown) this is the view you will see when you go to England (or South Africa).” That is now also true of those who wish to visit St Helena Island. 

She will be sadly missed, there will never be another like her. 

The end of the era has come.

Glenn Kasner took photo’s of that last sailing and these images are copyright to him. I am using them with permission.

Sadly she had somewhat of a poor send off, but thanks to the tug for showing some respect.  And while Cape Town hardly budged from their torpor the same could not be said about her send off at St Helena. These images were kindly sent to me by Sabrina Harper and are used with permission.

**Update 2018**

10/02/2018. The RMS sailed from St Helena for the last time. The ship, which has supplied the island since coming into service so long ago was expected to reach Cape Town on the 15th of February (Since revised to 17 Feb) where they will disembark the last passengers who sailed on the ship. Thereafter she will go into lay up or alternatively head off to her next destination, whether it is the beaches of Alang or a new career. The Master was unable to reveal what the final destination of the vessel will be as he would only find out while en route for Cape Town. Once I know more I will post it here too. 

Farewell RMS, fair weather for your final journeys. Thank you for the experience of real sea travel the way it used to be.

**Update 17/04/2018**

It was announced that the RMS has been sold to Tahiti Shipping, a subsidiary of MNG Maritime, bought the ship for an undisclosed amount. Under the name MNG Tahiti she is to be based in the Gulf of Oman, and used as a floating armoury, packed with automatic weapons, bullet-proof jackets and night vision goggles, all stored for maritime security operatives who keep vessels secure from piracy attacks. At this point there has been no announcement as to when she will sail from Cape Town for the last time. 

DRW © 2018. Created 25/01/2018. Cape Town sailing images are by Glen Kasner © 2018 and last 3 by Sabrina Harper and are used with permission, updated 15/02/2018, additional images added  18/04/2018

Updated: 18/04/2018 — 18:44

Gadding about in Gloucester

This “fine” Friday morning I took a days leave to attend to some business in Gloucester. It was a grey and overcast day and not really photography weather, but I always lug a camera along just in case I spot something of interest. My business took me to the Post Office in the city and it sits on the edge of a public square that is often used to hold a market in.

My business was done quite quickly which was a surprise considering that I read about these long queues and delays. Instead it was done professionally and courteously and there is no hope in hell that the post office in South Africa will ever be as “jacked” as the post offices I have encountered in the UK. 

On my way out the door I discovered a War Memorial in the one corner and was given permission to photograph it.  I have posted the memorials and name lists on allatsea

The memorial is cared for by the Royal Mail and it is the second War Memorial that I have seen in a post office in the UK.  There are 7 names from WW2 and  23 from WW1 on the plaques. 

Having made my first discovery for the day I was really at leisure. I had no real hard and fast plans but did want to go to the Old Cemetery and photograph some of the CWGC graves in it. My last visit had been more of a reconnoitre  than a serious gravehunting expedition and I have always hoped to get back to do a better job of photographing the graves. Unfortunately on my first expedition in 2015 had seen similar poor weather, so not much had changed. The area around the bus station was like a bombsite, as they are “improving” the existing facility (which isn’t all that much anyway, anything would be an a improvement). There is a bus that stops at the cemetery, but I had no idea where to catch it so decided to catch a taxi instead. The cemetery is roughly 2 km’s away depending on where you are coming from. Luckily I found a taxi by accident and was soon outside Gloucester Old Cemetery. The cemetery is on the Painswick Road in an area seemingly called Tredworth. It was opened in 1857, and now covers 35 acres. 

It is divided into two halves by the road,  All but a few of the 158 First World War graves are in the original ground, 81 of them in a war graves plot, known as ‘NG’ Ground. Of the 94 Second World War burials, 60 form a separate war graves plot known as ‘B’ ground. There are also 10 non World War service burials and 7 Foreign National burials here. (CWGC information on the cemetery)

The older part of the cemetery is where you will find the chapel. It is quite an attractive building but unfortunately it is fenced off. I do not know if it still in use as a chapel though. They seem to use it as a place to park the digger machinery.  

This part of the cemetery is bisected by a stream/culvert,

And the World War 1 plot and Cross of Sacrifice can be seen on the left side. The chapel would be behind me on the right. The strange thing about this part of the cemetery is how few headstones there are. However, that does not mean that it is all empty space, it is very likely that there are graves under all that grass. I headed towards the furtherest part of the cemetery and worked my way to the opposite end of it, photographing as I went. On my last visit I had really just captured a few headstones, and never really intended to return as images of the graves were not needed. However, I have created a community on Lives of the First World War  which is why I wanted the pics of the rest of the graves. 

By the time I arrived at the Cross of Sacrifice my shoes were squelching, the grass was sodden with dew and it would have been fun to walk this area when frost had fallen overnight because it freezes the grass and it makes a nice crunching noise as you walk. 

Once I had completed this half of the cemetery I crossed the stream/culvert into what is probably the oldest part of the cemetery and hunted down the graves in that area. There are not too many, but I am sure I missed some casualties that are on private memorials.  There are a number of really beautiful headstones in this cemetery, and here are some…

What always amazes me is how the weathering does affect the gravestones, and that is a major problem with the white CWGC headstones that are often badly discoloured. The two CWGC plot headstones were reasonably clean, but some of the scattered graves were in an appalling condition. 

Then it was time to hit the newer part of the cemetery, or I assume it is a newer part although there were some very old graves in it. It would be interesting to know how this cemetery developed, and I can’t help but think that at some point this was one big cemetery, although the area I was now heading to was laid out in a more ordered way and parts of it had a a lot of headstones. My guess is that this part of the cemetery may still be in limited regular use.  

The majority of new burials and cremations probably all happen at Coney Hill Cemetery which is not too far away. I had visited it last time around too, and it did not really leave much of an impression on me. 

The graves here are most WW2 graves although I did find a few WW1 graves up near the top of the cemetery. It is also where the other Cross of Sacrifice and associated WW2 graves are.  

I photographed them all and wove my way through the cemetery and photographed those familiar white headstones (although some are a strange shade of green). Overall there were not too many CWGC graves here, so I covered large areas without seeing much, naturally there would be a grave at the furtherest far corner of each cemetery and I always end up making that trek across the cemetery to photograph it.

And then I was finished for the day and was ready to head back to town. It was 11H55 by the time I reached the bus stop outside the cemetery, and the next bus was scheduled for 12H06, so I decided to hoof it instead. 

Or should I say squelch it instead? This is Tredworth Road and I intended following it to back to town.  That bridge in the image is the line to Bristol and quite a lot of trains hurtled over it. Naturally none would do that while I was watching.  

The area was mostly residential, with row houses on either side of the street. It is always interesting to see this style of housing because housing in the parts of South Africa where I grew up were totally different, and many of these older houses predate the founding of the city of Johannesburg!

 In the image below Stroud Road  feeds into Tredworth Road from the left, 

and I was now in Stroud Road. My first discovery was one of those beautiful Anglican Churches. 

This the Church of St Paul and St Stephen,  and it was consecrated by the Bishop of Gloucester, on 11th October 1883. It is in a beautiful condition and I was fortunate enough to be able to go inside, after I had photographed the War Memorial outside.

I could not get an image down the aisle as there were people talking in the centre, but the stained glass window behind the Altar is magnificent.

The War Memorial inside the church really comprised of two elements. A large plaque (as per the image) and a smaller wooden cross with the lists of names on either side. I really think the cross really detracted from the beauty of the plaque.

When I left the church I made one critical blunder, instead of turning right at the church I decided to go straight which took me towards the docks instead of the bus station where I wanted to be. However, it wasn’t too much of a problem because there were still areas of Gloucester that I have not seen.

And then I started to recognise a few places and knew where I was and could find the bus station (assuming it hadn’t moved since this morning). But, as I arrived at the turning my bus drove past me and I would have an hour to wait till the next one. The local Wetherspoons is close by so I headed across to it for lunch. This particular one is called “The Regal”  and it is housed in what I assume to be an old movie house or theatre.

While the food is good and the toilets are clean I always find ordering food a hit or miss affair. If it gets too busy at the bar you can end up starving. However, I persevered and after lunch I caught the bus home and by the time I hit Tewkesbury  I was bushed. Fortunately I had left my bike in town so did not have to face another long walk home, but when I finally got into the flat I realised how tired I really was. These extended outings are not a good idea, I am not able to handle them as well as before. 

I had achieved my goals, but the crappy weather really did not make for good photography, but I did remember that the likelihood of me returning to the old cemetery was small. And the same is true for Gloucester. Bristol is back in my sights again, but that will have to wait till the weather improves. 

The following blog posts from the past link to other visits that I made to Gloucester:

More random images (some from 2015)

   
   

DRW © 2018. Created 12/01/2018.  Some images of the cemetery are from 2015.

Updated: 04/03/2018 — 08:29

Photo Essay: Eurocopter EC135

I love helicopters, there is something about that transition between sitting on the ground with your rotors spinning and taking off that really tickles me pink. This morning, the Midlands Air Ambulance Charity Eurocopter G-HWAA landed outside and I had the chance to have a really good look at it. 

I have seen her and a sister before though, at the Tewkesbury Classic Vehicle Festival in 2016 and 2017, but there were always crowds around her. Whether you like it or not, a helicopter landing or taking off is a moment that is worth standing in the cold for. And, it was cold.. I know because I dashed out there sans woolly hat and big jacket. But, it is always worth the discomfort to have a good look at machines like this. This particular helicopter is a Eurocopter EC135 T2, and according to the manufacturers plate it was built in 2005 in Germany.

so without further ado… here are the pics.

 

Unfortunately by the time I had found my camera and keys she had already landed, but I have seen two of them in flight before.

G-WASC. 2016 image

And when she took off I could not get a clear image of her because of the large trees and the need to stay out of range of the downdraft. I was originally in a better position to take pics but left because of the cold, and by the time I got back it was too late to be on the sun side of the chopper. Bah humbug! 

G-HWAA

And that concluded our excitement for the day.  The Midlands Air Ambulance Charity is a worthwhile cause, and it is probable that today another life was saved by men who gave up their Sunday to shave time off the golden hour that is all the time that is available in many cases.  Since 1991, the charity has responded to more than 43,000 missions,   and that is a large number when you consider how many helicopters it operates. Maybe one day I will be able to read about this particular one.

DRW © 2018. Created 07/01/2017 

Updated: 04/03/2018 — 08:29

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
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