Three Ships Month

February has become what is known as “3 ships month”, and unfortunately the 3 ships that I remember are all disasters that are part of maritime history in South Africa. This year I am going to commemorate them in one post as opposed to 3. 

11 February 1941: HMSAS Southern Floe.

The ship was a  Southern Class whaler, one of four ships 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. 

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,  but there was no sign of Southern Floe and 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. There had been other survivors but they had not been picked up and Stoker Jones had spent 14 hours in the water. Although never confirmed it is assumed that the vessel had struck a mine.

18 February 1982. SAS President Kruger.

One of three sister ships (President Steyn, Pretorius and Kruger),  the “PK” was a Type 12 Frigate, built in the United Kingdom and was launched on 20 October 1960 from the Yarrow Shipbuilders, Scotstoun. She was the flagship of the South African Navy, and at the time of her sinking she was also holder of the “Cock of the Fleet”.

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. She was under the command of  Captain de Lange and at the time were using the opportunity to carry out anti-submarine exercises, with each ship given a patrol sector ahead of the 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.

By ECSequeira – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, 

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. Because the impact was in the senior ratings mess most of the casualties were Petty Officers which impacted on the Navy due to the loss of so many senior ratings. A naval board of inquiry was appointed shortly afterwards that determined the cause of the collision was of a lack of seamanship by the captain and watch officers of the ship.  The Captain was administratively retired early and the Navy arranged a job with Armscor for him, while the PWO was sidelined to only shore appointments and had his promotion stopped.

21 February 1916. HMT Mendi.

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.

The ship was carrying 15 officers, 17 NCO’s and 802 members of the South African Native Labour Corps as well as 1500 tons of cargo and set sail under convoy for Plymouth. The SANLC men were quartered in the number 1, 2 and 4 holds. After calling at Plymouth she set sail for Le Havre on the 20th of February at full speed, escorted by the destroyer HMS Brisk. The weather was overcast, threatening mist with light winds and a smooth sea. However, after midnight the weather became thicker and speed was reduced until the ship was sailing at slow speed. The whistle was sounded  and a number of other ships whistles were heard. At 4.45 the escort signalled the Mendi and suggested that the slow speed made it difficult to keep station. The Mendi maintained her slow speed.

In the early hours of the morning of the 21st of February  The SS Darro,  inbound for the UK, ran into the hapless Mendi, striking her at right angles, damaging the bulkhead between number 1 and 2 holds where the troops were quartered. The Darro then backed out of the hole, presumably because her engines were now responding the the full astern command given shortly before the collision. She disappeared into the fog, leaving the Mendi to founder. On board the stricken Mendi orders were given to lower the boats to the rail and the 4 whistle blast signal for boat stations was given. The boats were then ordered to be lowered to the water and to lie alongside.    

Of the 802 SANLC troops on board some 607 men of the South African contingent perished, as did 30 members of her crew. The Darro lay off not too far from where the disaster was unfolding, on board her the lifeboats were lowered to the rail and all hands were on deck. In spite of these preparations and the sound of voices in the water no attempt was made to investigate what had happened or to rescue survivors although 2 boats did reach the ship and survivors were embarked. She remained in the area until until just before 9 am. and then set sail for a Channel port (possibly Southampton or Portsmouth) where 107 survivors of which 64 were from the SANLC were landed.  

The disaster shook the nation, but was gradually forgotten as the years passed. The Nationalist government conveniently erased it from history but it has become more prominent once again as veterans groups get together to remember those volunteers from the SANLC who died in a war that they knew nothing about. 

DRW © 2020. Created 08/02/2020. Image of the President Kruger is by ECSequeira – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=28102570  Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SAS_President_Kruger. This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. Image has been cropped and resized. 

OTD: The Victoria Cross is established

On the 29th of January 1856 Queen Victoria issued the royal warrant that established the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award of the British honours system.  Prior to the 1850s, there was no official standardised system for recognition of gallantry in the British armed forces and the courage of ordinary British servicemen highlighted the issue that their bravery went unrewarded. 

It is the premier award for gallantry, and is available to all ranks, to cover actions since the outbreak of the Crimean War in 1854. It is described as a cross patteé, the obverse is a lion guardant on the royal crown, with the words “FOR VALOUR” on a semi circular scroll. The reverse is a circular panel on which is engraved the date of the act for which the decoration was awarded. The cross is suspended on a ring from a seriffed “V” attached to a suspension bar decorated with laurel leaves hanging from a crimson ribbon. The reverse of the suspension bar is engraved with the name, rank and ship, regiment or squadron of the recipient.  The medal was originally made from the bronze of Russian guns captured in the Crimean War, but guns captured in other conflicts have been used at various periods.

A number of South Africans have been awarded the VC, and many were issued during the Boer War to Imperial soldiers and officers. I have an extensive section on allatsea dedicated to the Victoria Cross and the graves that I have personally seen and photographed.

The list below covers South Africans, South African born, buried in South Africa or with links to South Africa.  I also have a page for VC graves in South Africa.  

  • 21. Lance Sergeant JOSEPH MALONE VC., 25th October 1854, buried St. Andrew’s Churchyard, Pinetown, Natal, South Africa. VC location, 13th/18th Hussar’s Museum, Barnsley, Yorkshire, England.
  • 36. Lieutenant FREDERICK MILLER VC., 5th November 1854, buried Ossuary Garden of Remembrance, Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa. VC location, not publicly held.
  • 97. Colour Sergeant JAMES CRAIG VC., 6th September 1855, buried St. Mary’s Cemetery, Valley Road, South End, Port Elizabeth, Cape Province, South Africa. VC location, Scot’s Guards RHQ, Wellington Barracks, London, England.
  • 153. Lt-Col JOSEPH CROWE VC., 12th August 1857, Grave relocated on 5 February 1977 to the Moth Garden of Remembrance in Uitenhage, South Africa. VC location, destroyed in a fire at his sister’s farm, it is not known if an official replacement was issued.
  • 302. Private THOMAS LANE VC., 21st August 1860, buried Gladstone Cemetery; RC Section, Row 4, Grave 23. Kimberley, South Africa. VC location, Royal Hampshire Regiment Museum, Winchester, Hampshire, England.
  • 332. Private WILLIAM GRIFFITHS VC., 7th May 1867, buried in unmarked mass grave, Isandlwana, Natal, South Africa. VC location, South Wales Borderers Museum, Brecon, Wales.
  • 345. Lt TEIGNMOUTH MELVILL VC., 22nd January 1879, buried with Lieutenant Nevill Coghill, Fugitive’s Drift, below Itchiane Hill, South Africa. VC location, South Wales Borderers Museum, Brecon, Wales.
  • 346. Lieutenant NEVILL COGHILL VC., 22nd January 1879, buried with Adjutant Teignmouth Melvill, Fugitive’s Drift, below Itchiane Hill, South Africa. VC location, South Wales Borderers Museum, Brecon, Wales.
  • 351. Assistant Commissary JAMES DALTON VC., 22nd/23rd January 1879, buried Russell Road RC Cemetery; Plot E. Port Elizabeth, South Africa. VC location, RLC Museum, Deepcut, Camberley, Surrey, England.
  • 368. Sergeant ROBERT SCOTT VC., 8th April 1879, buried Plumstead Cemetery; Allotment EA, Grave 88. Wynberg, South Africa. VC location, Manchester Regiment Museum, The Town Hall, Ashton-under-Lyne, England.
  • 369. Trooper PETER BROWN VC. . 8th April 1879. Buried Woltemade Cemetery, Cape Town. Grave 81594A but grave has been reused, now bears the name Abrahamse). VC Location: Amatole Museum, King William’s Town
  • 371. Surgeon Major EDMUND HARTLEY VC, 5th June 1879, buried Brookwood Cemetery; St. Judes Avenue, Plot 2, Grave 193293. Cemetery Pales, Woking, Surrey, England. VC location, Army Medical Services Museum, Mytchett, Surrey, England.
  • 373. Captain HENRY D’ARCY VC., 3rd July 1879, buried King William’s Town Cemetery; Section D, Grave 32-33, family plot. Cape Province, South Africa. VC location, not publicly held.
  • 374. Sergeant EDMUND O’TOOLE VC., 3rd July 1879, no known grave, died in Harare, Salisbury, Zimbabwe. VC location, not publicly held.
  • 381. Lieutenant WILLIAM DICK-CUNYNGHAM VC. , 13th December 1879, buried Ladysmith Cemetery, Natal, South Africa. VC location, Gordon Highlanders Museum, Aberdeen, Scotland.
  • 389. Surgeon JOHN McCREA VC., 14th January 1881, buried Kokstad Cemetery, Transkei District, Cape Province, South Africa. VC location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 391. Trooper JOHN DANAHER VC. (or DANAGHER), 16th January 1881, buried Milton Cemetery; Plot M, Row 1, Grave 6. Milton Road, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England. VC location, National Army Museum, London, England.
  • 413. Trooper HERBERT HENDERSON VC.. 30 March 1896. Buried Bulawayo Town Cemetery, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. VC Location: National Army Museum London, England.
  • 414. Trooper FRANK WILLIAM BAXTER VC. 22 April 1896 Buried Bulawayo Town Cemetery, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. VC Location Imperial War Museum, London, England
  • 415 Captain RANDOLPH NESBITT VC.. 19 June 1896. Cremated, ashes interred at Anglican cathedral, Harare, Zimbabwe. VC Location: National Archives of Zimbabwe.
  • 429. Lieutenant RAYMOND de MONTMORENCY VC., 2nd September 1898, buried Molteno Cemetery, near Dordrecht, South Africa. VC location, not publicly held.
  • 436. Captain CHARLES MULLINS VC., 21st October 1899, buried Grahamstown Old Cemetery, South Africa. VC location, Imperial War Museum, London, England.
  • 440. Cpl. JOHN DAVID FRANCIS SHAUL VC.. Born 11/09/1873 Kings Lynn, Norfolk. Died 14/09/1953 in Boksburg, South Africa. VC gazetted 28/09/1900.
  • 446. Lieutenant FREDERICK ROBERTS VC., 15th December 1899, buried Chievely War Cemetery; Plot 136. South Africa. VC location, National Army Museum, London, England.
  • 449. Sergeant HORACE MARTINEAU VC., 26th December 1899, buried Andersons Bay Soldiers’ Cemetery; Returned Serviceman’s Area, Block 73, Plot 16. Dunedin, New Zealand. VC location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 450. Trooper HORACE RAMSDEN VC., 26th December 1899, cremated at The Maitland Crematorium, Woltemade, Cape Town, South Africa. VC location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 452. ROBERT JAMES THOMAS DIGBY-JONES VC.Born 27/09/1876 Edinburgh. Died 06/01/1900. Buried Ladysmith Cemetery, Ladysmith. KZN. VC Location: Goredon Highlanders Museum, Aberdeen, Scotland.
  • 454. Trooper HERMAN ALBRECHT VC., 6th January 1900, buried in mass grave, Waggon Hill Cemetery, South Africa. VC location, Museum of Military History, Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • 457. Lieutenant FRANCIS PARSONS VC., 18th February 1900, buried Driefontein Cemetery; an isolated grave on the battlefield. Orange Free State, South Africa. VC location, Essex Regiment Museum, Chelmsford, Essex, England.
  • 458. Sgt ALFRED ATKINSON VC.. Born 06/02/1874 Leeds. Died 18/02/1900. Originally Buried in an unmarked grave at Gruisbank British Cemetery, Petrusberg District, Paardeberg, Free State.
  • 468. Driver HORACE GLASOCK VC., 31st March 1900, buried Maitland Road No. 4 Cemetery, Cape Town, South Africa. VC location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 478. Captain DAVID YOUNGER VC., 11th July 1900, buried Krugersdorp Cemetery, Halgryn Street, Krugersdorp, South Africa. VC location, not publicly held.
  • 497. Private JOHN BARRY VC., 7th/8th January 1901, buried Belfast Cemetery, East of Johannesburg, South Africa. VC location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 500. Corporal JOHN CLEMENTS VC., 24th February 1901, buried Town Cemetery; Dutch Reform Section. Newcastle. South Africa. VC location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 507. Lt. ALEXANDER YOUNG VC. 13 August 1901, No known grave, commemorated on Thiepval Memorial Pier 4, face C. VC Location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 503. Lt GUSTAVUS COULSON VC. 18 May 1901, Buried Lambrechtfontein Farm Cemetery near Bothaville. VC Location: King’s Own Scottish Borderers Museum, Berwick-Upon-Tweed, Northumberland.
  • 558. Bandsman THOMAS RENDLE VC. 20th November 1914, buried Maitland Road No. 1 Cemetery; Family Plot No. 24598. Cape Town, South Africa. VC location, Duke of Cornwell’s Light Infantry Museum, Bodmin, Cornwell, England.
  • 642. Captain PERCY HANSEN VC, DSO, MC, Born 26 October 1890 in Durban, South Africa, died on the 12th February 1951. There is reference to his funeral been held in London, his ashes were interred in the family vault, Garnisons Kirkegard, Copenhagen. Section R. Row K. Grave 3. VC Location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 731. Private WILLIAM FAULDS VC. 18th July 1916, buried Pioneer Cemetery, Remembrance Drive, Harare, Zimbabwe. VC location, unknown, medal stolen from National Museum of Military History, Johannesburg, South Africa in 1994.
  • 746. Captain WILLIAM BLOOMFIELD VC. (born BROOMFIELD), 24th August 1916, buried Ermelo Cemetery, Ousthuizen Street, Transvaal, South Africa. VC location, with recipient’s family.
  • 775. Sergeant FREDERICK CHARLES BOOTH VC.  : 12 February 1917.  Buried Bear Road Cemetery, Brighton, Sussex. VC Location: Rhodesia Native Regiment, Harare, Zimbabwe.
  • 783. Captain OSWALD REID VC., 8th to 10th March 1917, buried Braamfontein Cemetery; Section EC, Plot 22932. Johannesburg, South Africa. VC location, Museum of Military History, Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • 883. L/Cpl WILLIAM HENRY HEWITT VC., 20 Sept 1917, Cremated in Cheltenham, ashes scattered off Hermanus, Cape Townl. VC location, Framlingham College, Suffolk.
  • 891. Captain CLEMENT ROBERTSON VC., 4th October 1917, buried Oxford Road Cemetery; Plot III, Row F, Grave 7. Near Ypres, Belgium. VC location, not publicly held.
  • 919. Acting Lieutenant Colonel JOHN ‘BOMB’ SHERWOOD KELLY VC., 20th November 1917, buried Brookwood Cemetery; Block 86, Grave 196296. Cemetery Pales, Woking, Surrey, England. VC location, National Museum of Military History, Johannesburg, South Africa.
  • 937. Acting Captain ARTHUR MOORE LASCELLES VC 03 December 1917. Emigrated to South Africa in 1902 and joined the Cape Mounted Rifles as a Trooper. Buried Dourlers Communal Cemetery, France. VC Location Durham Light Infantry Museum, Durham.
  • 955. Acting Captain REGINALD HAYWARD VC., 21st/22nd March 1918, ashes scattered at Putney Vale Crematorium; Garden of Remembrance. Stag Lane, London, England. VC location, The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire & Wiltshire Regiment Museum, Salisbury, Wiltshire, England.
  • 1029. Acting Captain ANDREW BEAUCHAMP-PROCTOR VC. (born PROCTOR), 8th August to 8th October 1918, buried Mafeking Cemetery; European Section, Grave 1050-2. South Africa. VC location, not publicly held.
  • 1040. Captain FERDINAND MAURICE FELIX WEST VC. 10 August 1918. Buried Holy Trinity Churchyard, Sunningdale, Berkshire. VC Location: The Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum
  • 1108. Temporary Lieutenant ROBERT GORLE VC., 1st October 1918, buried Stellawood Cemetery; Section K, Grave 144. Durban, Natal, South Africa. VC location, The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 1133. Lieutenant Colonel HARRY GREENWOOD VC DSO* OBE MC. 23/24 October 1918. Buried Putney Vale Cemetery, London. VC Location: King’s Own Yorkshire Museum, Doncaster.
  • 1170. CSM GEORGE GRISTOCK VC.. Born 14/01/1905 in Pretoria. VC Gazetted 23/08/1940. Buried in the War Graves Section (Plot Z.G.L. Grave 28), Bear Road Cemetery, Brighton, Sussex, England.
  • 1203. CHARLES GROVES WRIGHT ANDERSON VC. MC. Born 12/02/1897 Cape Town, VC gazetted on 13/02/1942.  Died Red Hill, Canberra, Australia 11/11/1988
  • 1214. Squadron Leader JOHN DERING NETTLETON VC Born 28/06/1917 in Nongoma, Natal. VC was gazetted on 24/04/1942. His aircraft was shot down on 13/07/1943 and his body was not recovered.
  • 1217. Sergeant QUENTIN SMYTHE, 5th June 1942, ashes buried on his farm, Nottingham Road, Natal, South Africa. VC location, original unknown, the official replacement is in The Ashcroft Collection.
  • 1293. Lieutenant GERARD NORTON, 31st August 1944, burial location unknown, died in Harare, Salisbury, Zimbabwe. VC location, not publicly held.
  • 1316. Acting Major EDWIN SWALES VC., 23rd February 1945, buried Leopoldsburg War Cemetery; Plot VIII, Row C, Grave 5. Limburg, Holland. VC location, National Museum of Military History, Johannesburg, South Africa.

DRW © 2020. Created 29/01/2020

Remembrance Day 2019

Another year has almost passed and we are already at Remembrance Day. It has been a troubled year though, not only for myself but for the UK in general. However, come Remembrance Day then the whole town comes out to observe the silence and to Remember The Fallen of both wars. Actually we commemorate too those who lost their lives in the service of their country in other wars and political upheaval, and of course the millions of innocents who were caught in the middle. 

The weather on this day was forecast as being cloudy but by the time the service was underway it had turned into a pleasant day overall. 

Just for a change I decided I would showcase some of the businesses and shops that decorate their windows, and while this is not all of them it is those that I have seen and managed to get pics of. Reflections are always a problem though and of course parked cars and passing pedestrians. 

 

I do not necessarily endorse any of the shops above, but would like to thank them for making the effort. Oh, we do seem to have a lot of undertakers in our small town, which is really odd when you think about it. 

The War Memorial I have dealt with on several occasions so won’t go into it in any detail, however it does sit on a crucial junction and when it is in use you can be rest assured the town comes to a stop. 

The service this year was more or less the same format as previously, but was much shorter although it was well attended as usual. 

(1500 x 671)

And the Tewkesbury Town Band led the parade as usual. They are very professional and popular too, and if music is required then they can help! 

The marching column is a long one though, and gets more ragtag as it gets to the end as it includes the many children’s groups that are included in the parade (Boys Brigade, Girls Brigade, Air Training Corps, Army Cadet Force, Scouts (Beavers, Cubs & Scouts), Girl Guides (Rainbows, Brownies & Guides), Sea Cadets, Tewkesbury Tigers & Tewkesbury Colts). Many of the children are shivering with cold though so you can bet they will be glad when its time to head off home. 

And then it was time for the Last Post and the 2 minute silence…

and the wreath laying.

“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.”

And then they all marched off. I think that this portion of the parade was done by 11H20 and all that was left was the march past at the town hall.

Last year the biggest highlight for me was the small girl who sat on her father’s shoulders and saluted as everybody marched past. I was hoping to spot her again this year and I did too. Only she had grown now and while she sat on her father’s shoulders this year I doubt whether she would be able to next year. But, she took the salute again and I hope she will continue to for many years to come. Those shivering children are the future of Remembrance and in 20 years time hopefully they will be standing in our place watching the parade pass by while their children straggle along at the end.  

The red of the Flanders Poppy represents the blood of all those who gave their lives,

the black represents the mourning of those who didn’t have their loved ones return home,

and the green leaf represents the grass and crops growing and future prosperity after the war destroyed so much.

DRW © 2019. Created 10/11/2019