musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: disaster

The loss of HMY Iolaire

Over the years I have read about many disaster’s at sea and of course the Titanic springs to mind almost instinctively. However, in October 2017 I discovered yet another disaster that has slipped below the radar, and I was determined to create some way to commemorate the men who lost their lives  in the disaster 100 years ago on this day. It was an uphill slog because unfortunately accuracy is difficult because of the poor records, contradicting evidence and the multiplicity of the same names being used.  Unfortunately I was not able to get anybody involved with the disaster commemorations to look at what I did and assist in getting it correct. 

The HMY community on LIves of the First World War.

HMY Iolaire was a former private yacht that had been pressed into naval service in the Outer Hebrides during the First World War, and on old years eve 1918 she was hurriedly loaded with over 200 members of the Royal Naval Reserve to take them home to the Island of Lewis on leave.  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 approaching. 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 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 final return home and civilian life. 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 (Gael: Biastan Thuilm) 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. 

“The Beasts of Holm rocks near Stornoway on Isle of Lewis Scotland” by Dave Conner is licensed under CC BY 2.0 (image resized)

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.

The tragedy was unfolding almost 20 yards from land, but nobody on land was aware that a ship was foundering on their doorstep, Some men tried to swim for safety but in the cold wild waters almost none would make it. One brave man, John F. Macleod from Ness, Isle of Lewis, 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.

There were really many things that went wrong on that night and 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 on the bridge 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.  Another book is due to be launched in 2018 called “The Darkest Dawn: The Story of The Iolaire Disaster” by Malcolm Macdonald and Donald John Macleod. 

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.

© 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. “The Beasts of Holm rocks near Stornoway on Isle of Lewis Scotland” by Dave Conner is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Updated: 04/01/2019 — 06:42

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: 16/02/2019 — 08:20

Return to West Park

My very first war grave photography for the South African War Graves Project happened in 2005 according to the file information that I got from the images that I took. 

It is hard to believe that so many years later I would be standing in front of the CWGC Plot in West Park Cemetery ready to do it all again. 

I was never really happy with my original images, my camera back then was not the world greatest, and to be frank I messed the first row up badly and ended up redoing it at least twice. I now have over 10000 war graves to my name and am probably much better at taking war grave images now.

The layout of the plot has not changed and my map from back then is still relevant today.

The major difference was that I was going to photograph the whole plot in a morning instead of over a few days. 

L/Cpl Lucas is grave number one in the plot.

And once the first image is taken it is really a continuous process that is only interrupted when a shrub gets in your way.

The plot is looking very beautiful, the grass is cut and the beds are planted and tended, and that is very different from when I was first here in 2005. Back then the grass was dry as it was winter, whereas it is now April and heading into Autumn in South Africa. Make no mistake, it was a hot day! In fact the weather on this day was very similar to that predicted for the rest of the week, although by Friday I will hopefully be back in the UK.

There is something about the symmetry of this plot that I find fascinating,  

There is also a cremation memorial behind the Cross of Sacrifice and it commemorates those who were cremated.

And behind the plot is a small SADF/SANDF plot where a number of soldiers are buried. You can see the memorial to the right of the big tree. There are quite a few Border War casualties that are buried elsewhere in the cemetery, and I spent many hours over the years looking for them. 

You can see the original graves as well as the newer additions to the plot of graves of members of the SANDF. Once the graves were photographed I moved across to the Police Plot which is a bit deeper into the cemetery. Sadly there have been a few new additions to the plot, and that is never a good thing, especially when a the policeman is killed in the line of duty.

However, before I photographed the war graves, I had stopped at the “Heroes Acre” area of the cemetery to see if there had been any changes, and of course I was curious to see the grave of Ahmed Kathrada and Joe Mafela. They had been buried 3 days prior to this so the odds of a headstone were small.

Admittedly, many of the names on those headstones are not known to me, but some are, and a number of them touch a chord. None more so than Nkosi Johnson. At the time of his death, he was the longest-surviving HIV-positive born child, and the furor that was created when he tried to attend school really opened many eyes in South Africa.

Right opposite that area is the Westdene Bus Disaster Memorial and graves. In 2012 I had photographed them all and was saddened to see how they had been vandalised. It was the anniversary on 27 March and yet there is still a very raw wound around the disaster. I was able to get new images and shall process them and pass them onwards to eggsa for updating. 

The last bit of graving that I did in West Park was to re-photograph some of the graves in the EC section (English Church). It was really a case of having better quality images because my early images were not as good as they are today. Does a new camera make a difference? certainly, and of course the right lighting does help too. Unfortunately I now struggle with getting down to take the image, actually, I struggle to stand up. 

It was time to go home and I bid the cemetery goodbye and drove out the gate. I have 800 images to process, and they will show the difference between 2005 and 2017, assuming that there is one. Will I return one day? if I am in the country and I have transportation I probably will. It is important to monitor the condition of the graves, although CWGC does tend the graves under their care, and City Parks does look after this large space. And while the cemetery does have its moments it is not a great one like Braamfontein and Brixton where the weight of ages is heavy. In the almost 3 years I have been away quite a few open spaces have been filled, and technically the map that I drew many years ago has changed quite a lot since I started it. 

Maybe one day I shall complete it, but not today. 

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 02/04/2017

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:51

Remembering the Mendi 2017

Every year around this time I commemorate the lives lost in the sinking of the troopship Mendi on the 21st of February 1917. This year is no different and each year I know more about it.

Earlier this month I discovered a new Mendi Memorial in the churchyard of St John The Evangelist, Newtimber, Sussex. The memorial is to  “Chief Henry Bokleni Ndamase” who perished on the Mendi.

TQ2713 : Memorial to Chief Henry Bokleni Ndamase by Bob Parkes

Naturally I wanted to know more and took a good long look at my Roll of Honour and drew a blank. The big problem with the ROH is that it is really inaccurate, and there are a number of reasons for that. I consulted with the local co-ordinator of the South African War Graves Project and he replied as follows:

“This whole Mendi RoH is troubling, it seems to me that there were initial errors made in some of the names, errors crept in as a result of “tweaking” the facts and a general misunderstanding of the history of the casualties (probably due to the unavailability of any documentary evidence.) Many of these errors are now on memorials and plaques and seem to be copied from one to the next (or sourced from the internet) and how do we address that? We have forwarded copies of the documents at the SANDF Archive  that list the recruitment details of these chaps and I hope that these will eventually be filtered through the system and the graves/memorials amended. Lets see…

Typical documentation for SANLC

Henry Bokleni:   (7587)  His father was Bokleni and he was Henry. In keeping with the standard practice at the time, as he never had a surname, he was given his father’s name as a surname. It seems he was a Chief/Headman at the time.

Richard Ndamase:  (9389)  His father was Ndamase and he was Richard. In keeping with the standard practice at the time, as he never had a surname, he was given his father’s name as a surname. His Chief was Dumezweni so based on the info we have, it is unlikely he was a Chief.

Mxonywa Bangani:  (9379)  )  His father was Bangani and he was Mxonywa. In keeping with the standard practice at the time, as he never had a surname, he was given his father’s name as a surname. His Chief was Nongotwane so based on the info we have, it is unlikely he was a Chief.

Isaac Williams Wauchope : (3276) His father was Dyoba (also known as William Wauchope). Isaac was a learned man, holding the posts of a teacher and a clerk/interpreter to the magistrate and married his wife Mina as per Christian rites. He was a minister at a church in Blinkwater when he got sentenced to 3 years in Tokai Prison for forgery. He enlisted in 16 Oct 1916 as a clerk/interpreter and not as a chaplain (it is unlikely he would have got the chaplain post as he had a criminal record) The Chaplain job went to Koni Luhlongwana (9580), who also died on the ship.

 It does not seem that he used his father’s name as surname at all during his lifetime and so the use of “Dyoba” is incorrect. The reasoning behind the attempts to ‘africanise’ his name remain a mystery.

New Memorial to the Mendi :  There is also a problem with the 670 (it was 646, including the crew) who died. We have identified the home provinces of some of the casualties – Transvaal (287), Eastern Cape (139), Natal (87), Northern Cape (27), OFS (26), Basutoland (26), Bechuanaland (8), Western Cape (5), Rhodesia (1) and SWA (1) so not all were from the Eastern Cape.”

The reality is that the memorial contains incorrect information, and it is perpetuated as there is no real way to correct many of the errors. I am relooking my own RoH and correcting it to conform with the data that SAWGP has.  

However, in spite of the errors, the fact remains that people have not forgotten the Mendi, in fact we probably know more about it today than we did way back in 1917. 

This year, apart from the Services of Remembrance being held at Hollybrook and Milton Cemeteries in Hampshire, a South African Warship, SAS Amatola, (a Valour Class Frigate) will lay a wreath at the site of the disaster.  On board her will be some of the relatives of the soldiers who died on board that ill fated troopship.

The Mendi has not been forgotten, it is now prominent in the military history of South Africa, The men who lost their lives have not been forgotten, the sea has claimed them, but their spirit and courage still resonates 100 years after they died. However, we need to broaden our vision and recognise that all of the men of the battalions of the SANLC and NMC who volunteered to serve overseas are remembered too, because the non combatant role that they played was equally important to the ending of the “war to end all wars” 

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 21/02/2017.  Image of Newtimber Memorial © Copyright Bob Parkes and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:40

Remembering the OSV Voortrekker

There are a number of shipwrecks that resonate in South African history, the biggest being the loss of the HMT Mendi,  the sinking of the SAS Paul Kruger and finally, the sinking of the OSV Voortrekker which was lost on 10 September 1993.

This page is dedicated to the crew and families of the OSV Voortrekker.

The OSV Voortrekker was built for towing rigs between drilling stations, handling and running out the rigs anchoring systems, supplying and ferrying of drilling equipment and materials between the base and the rig as well as safety standby. On commencement of her service she was placed on a long term charter to Soekor for servicing the semi submersible rig “Actinia” in the PE area.

The often extreme weather around our coast claimed the vessel on 10 September 1993 off Mossel Bay whilst she was attending to the oil rig. The Voortrekker remained afloat although upside down for two days before finally sinking, taking her crew of 10 with her. Also lost was Lighthouse; the ship’s cat.

Voortrekker Crew
Captain – Cameron Vermeulen
Mate – Allan Sillence
Bosun – David Joseph
Able Seaman – Christopher Damon
Able Seaman – Kenneth Grewar
Able Seaman – Thulebona Gambushe
Greaser – Clement Ndaba
Greaser – Gaga Mzimela
Cook – Michael Mchunu
Steward – Gerald Mkhize
Ships cat – Lighthouse

What made this particular accident remarkable was that after being upside down for two days in really rough seas, the Chief Engineer – Paul de Barry, 2nd Engineer – Peter Tighe and Greaser – Clement Ndaba managed to escape from the capsized vessel. All 3 men were in the engine room at the time of the disaster and it was from here that they managed to escape. Although salvage attempts where made, the vessel sank after 2 days and settled into soft mud upside down making a recovery operation of the deceased impossible. Divers did make numerous attempts to gain entry into the vessel, whilst she was still afloat, but the adverse sea and strong currents made this dangerous and impossible.

Of all the crew that were lost on that fateful day only two bodies were recovered. Greaser Clement Ndaba passed away due to injuries sustained escaping, and Able Seaman Christopher Damon’s body was recovered during the initial diving operations. All the rest went down with the vessel.
Today the Voortrekker and her crew is commemorated in the garden of the port authorities of Mossel Bay, where a black granite memorial was erected in  remembrance of her. While the local SPCA has a  framed memorial for Lighthouse the ships cat in their office.

Special thanks to Deene for the information I have used here, some images are from my own collection. The memorial to the Voortrekker in Mossel Bay was photographed by Robert I. Sadler of  www.southerncape.co.za (link no longer active).

In 2012 divers erected a cross on the wreck of the Voortrekker in memory of those who died in the disaster, and those who lived. 

 

On 31 January 2016,  Peter Tighe crossed the bar, his ashes being scattered at sea. 

© DRW 2016-2018.  Recreated from post at allatsea 16/09/2016

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:19

Remembering the Westdene Bus Disaster

27 March 1985 was supposed to be yet another school day for the pupils of Voorentoe Highschool, in fact it was supposed to be a normal day for the whole of South Africa, but the events surrounding the Westdene bus disaster changed all of that in a brief tragedy that will remain with us all forever.

I was doing tutoring at the Telecomms Apprentice School in Braamfontein when news broke that a school bus full of pupils had plunged into Westdene Dam. It is one of those surrealistic moments in your life that somehow remains with you forever. Classes stopped and the principal sent around a message that we would be collecting money towards a wreath or similar. The days was subdued after that, even though that was not true at Westdene Dam where divers were frantically searching for bodies and parents were standing grief stricken, knowing that their son or daughter would not be coming home on that day. 

Westdene Dam. (1500x466)

Westdene Dam. (1500×466)

The actual cause of the disaster was never really pinned down to any singular factor; the driver  never really gave an adequate explanation, there was no mechanical fault with the bus, and the weather conditions were not poor. I seem to recall that he said another car had swerved, or he had blacked out. Faced with the imminent backlash and the trauma that he had gone through too, it was no wonder that no single cause was ever found.

I wont delve into the disaster because I was not directly involved and do not know the facts, there are others more qualified to do that. It was one of those moments in South African history that has remained in our pysche since 1985.  

Those that died in the disaster are mostly buried in Westpark cemetery in a dedicated plot close to the main gate. It is a tragic place to visit because the sheer sale of the disaster is only experienced when you are faced with seeing all of the graves together. 

In 2011 I spent some time in Westpark photographing all of the graves, sadly they were all desecrated a long time ago and never restored. I spent time hunting down the graves in the general cemetery and they too had been desecrated. Nobody has even been able to explain why this happened, and who was responsible. It was a sad pilgrimage for me, trying to match headstones with names, and seeing those names in the registers made it just a bit harder. The funeral for all of the children was held on the same day, and a sad day it was for so many people.

It took until 2007 for a memorial to be erected to the victims,  and even this has had its fair share of controversy.  

In 2014 I revisited the graves while I was down in South Africa and photographed the small photographs that were on some of the graves, one day I will match faces to names and make my own records of the disaster a little more complete. 

There are two graves that stick out for me, the first is grave number 7, where two sisters are buried together (Reinette and Linda Du Plooy) , and the grave of Caroline Brown who is buried in the general part of the cemetery in a grave that was stripped of its name like so many others.  The vandalism of the graves was not random, it was targeted, somebody went out of their way to hunt down the graves and desecrate them

It is just over 30 years since the disaster, had it not happened some of those children would have been mothers or fathers today, they would have had families of their own, and just possibly their children would have attended that same school that they had attended so many years ago. There are a lot of what if’s associated with the Westdene Bus Disaster, it was all a matter of timing. catching a different bus, or sitting upstairs of downstairs was the difference between life of death.

There were a lot of heroes on 27 March 1985, but sadly there were too many victims. May They Rest in Peace 

Images of the graves are available on eggsa. I sincerely hope that one day they get restored. 

My own page about the memorial may be found at Allatsea

© DRW 2016-2018. 27/03/2016

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 15:58

A potted history of potholes

Once there was a pothole….

And as potholes go it was not an overly large one, however it seemingly had a voracious appetite for carts, horses, small children and complete ox-wagons and their oxen, drivers and passengers. (Yes, this was many years ago)
 
And so the fledgling municipal authorities decided to fill in the pothole, and to do that they needed soil and filling. A work team was sent forward to harvest enough soil and filling to do the job with.
 
However, the work team was lazy (as work teams often are), and dug a hole nearby and carted off the soil and filling to fill in the pothole.
 
and it was good.
 
However, along the way to fill the pothole some of the soil and filling was lost, so the hole that they created was a bit larger than the original pothole.
 
And it was not good because carts, horses, small children and complete ox-wagons and their oxen, drivers and passengers got lost in the newly created pothole.
 
  
and a proclamation was issued to “fix that damn pothole before we all go potty!” 
 
And so the same fledgling municipal authorities decided to fill in the pothole, and to do that they needed more soil and filling. The same work team was sent forth to fix the damn pothole.  However, the wor kteam were even lazier now (as work teams often are), and dug two holes nearby and carted off the soil and filling to fill in the pothole.
 
However, more soil and filling was lost along the way and now there were two potholes.
 
  
And the bean counters were miffed because they now had to employ two teams of workers to fill in the new potholes, not before the potholes had swallowed a little old lady, a team of horses, 6 men on the back of a cart as well as the night soil men who were not amused.
 
Send forth more workers!!!  
 
Who then created 3 potholes in their quest to fill two. and the potholes now travel around the city, occasionally visiting other cities and countries and helping to dispose of people, vehicles, complete buildings and hopefully a few 3rd rate celebrities along the way. 
 
Sadly they do not eat politicians or any of that ilk (because they may end up ill).
 
And sometimes potholes become so large that they become classed as lakes and become popular boating venues for the whole family
 
  
And somewhere out there is a team of workers digging a new pothole to find enough soil to fill the heap they were sent to repair, it is a never ending process, and as long as there are enough roads there will be potholes in them!
 
whether you like it or not.
 
The end
 
© DRW 2015-2018. Images and potholes migrated 02/05/2016
 
Updated: 01/01/2018 — 15:26

The Royal Navy Submarine Museum

Another bucket list item, the Royal Navy Submarine Museum was the first stop on my trip to Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery in Gosport. I have never been on board a submarine before, although I was always curious about them. Come to think of it, I had been on board a semi-submersible boat before, but that doesn’t really compare.

The museum has three major submarines, the biggest being HMS Alliance, the oldest being the Holland 1, and the one that really makes you shake your head HMS X24.  

Submariners are a different breed of sailor altogether, and when you come up close and personal with their weapon of choice you can see why. These vessels are not for the feint hearted, and they do have a tendency to never return. The list of those vessels that were lost is a long one, and for each ship name there is a crew.

The first submarine (apart from HMS Alliance which is not easy to miss), is the Holland 1. And I have to admit I am glad I got to see her because she really does not look very much like the images I have seen of her.  Possibly because she is not submerged? It must have taken a lot of courage to make that first dive, and I expect you need to have a lot of confidence in your design too.

Her interior is accessed by a door cut into her hull, and there is not much to see inside, but the emptiness is really dominated by her torpedo tubes and the lack of headroom. The image below is looking forward. I have no way of knowing what else was in this machine way back when, but I expect it was much more crowded.

And the image above is looking aft. Underneath the wooden deck is the battery, and the ladder goes up to the rather small “conning tower”. 

My next port of call was HMS Alliance, and she really dominates the museum. She recently underwent restoration, although I have no idea what was done on board her. 

Unfortunately you cannot just waltz on board and look around so I headed into the exhibition hall to book my spot. 

The hall really houses most of the balance of the exhibits, as well as a small souvenir shop and of course HMS X24. She is the only surviving X craft still existing (although the wrecks of them litter the ocean floor), and she is really claustrophobic (and I was standing outside her!). 

It really comes down to the men that sailed on these vessels, and the operations that they performed during the war. There is not a lot of space for all the bits and pieces that submarines need, in fact I expect it would easier to collect the bits together and build a hull around them, than building a hull and trying to fit everything inside afterwards.

I do think the latter choice was made. Bear in mind that 4 men lived in and fought these vessels, and their best known exploit was Operation Source, the attack on the Tirpitz

Heading outside I was once again confronted by a memorial to those that never returned. The Americans call it “On Eternal Patrol”, and I think that is a fitting description of the many submarines that never came home. Many were lost in events that were not attributable to enemy action, and those vessels have never been found.
Then it was time for me to board HMS Alliance through a door cut into her side just behind the forward hydroplanes and torpedo tubes. 
Alliance is a member of the A-Class and was laid down towards the end of World War 2, she was finally completed in 1947. She is no longer in her 1947 disguise though, having undergone a lot of modification and changes since she first put to sea. She has been a museum ship since 1981.
There is not a lot of headroom on board, and I expect it must have been even more crowded when she was in service. There are quite a few period items on board her and she is really a time capsule of a different life on board one of HM Submarines 
The images I took do not really show just how small the space is,  apart from there being people behind and in front of me, there was equipment and machinery above and below, as well as on either side. Although generally forward of the control room there is accommodation and living areas, whereas aft of the control room was more dedicated to engines and machinery (and accommodation) . Storage space was everywhere.  Of course the heads always interest me, and there are actually two on board (officers and other ranks). These are not your run of the mill porcelain telephone type either. The image below is of ratings heads and wash room. (Water is not plentiful on board, so any sort of shower was really impossible). The instructions on flushing them make for interesting reading:
Charge air bottle and open sea and NR valves (non return valves?)
Open flush inlet valve with CARE
Free (?) lever and bring to PAUSE
Bring lever to FLUSHING
Bring lever to DISCHARGE
Bring lever to PAUSE
Return lever to NORMAL and LOCK
Close all valves.

One mistake and you would probably be the most unpopular person on board.

Passing through the vessel I could not help think that many wartime submarines were much smaller than this, and their crews were still under the added stress of combat. I would be interested to see how she compares to a U-Boat, and she would be considered luxurious compared to the wartime U-boats. I visited U-534 in Liverpool in 2018, and you are able to see her rusty interiors and they do not compare at all.
We were now passing into the motor/engine rooms, and things were somewhat more open, but multiply that by the heat and sound of her diesels running and this could be a very noisy and uncomfortable place. But engineers have always been special, they really thrive on the heat and noise and without them the ship would  just be a steel box going nowhere.
And our tour ended at the aft torpedo tubes. I was ready to go around again, but the bottleneck was still stuck somewhere near the control room, so I gave it a miss. The fresh air felt good though,  and I came away with a whole new perspective of submarine warfare.
 
Then I made a quick circuit of the exhibition hall, and saw many things that I had read about over the years. Some were hard hitting, and all seemed to involve bravery and sacrifice. I was particularly glad to see that HMS Conqueror had not been forgotten
And that the infamous K-Class had not been neglected in the roll of disaster. Now they must have been interesting to see. Although if you think about it rationally, we have really returned to the age of the steam powered submarine, after all, nuclear powered submarines are really driven by steam turbines.
And one last reminder of disaster. HMS Thetis.
And then it was time for me to go, I had a cemetery to find, and it is probable that some of the men in that cemetery had a connection to the vessels mentioned at the museum.
The “Silent Service” is still one of the deadliest military forces around. They have become true submariners since the advent of the nuclear powered vessel, and they can be anywhere, ready to strike at any time. As a surface vessel fanatic I have never really considered the impact of meeting a submarine would have. I think I have a whole new appreciation of them, and of course much to read about in my travels. The museum is not a large one, but it is really a worthwhile one to visit. Gosport is easily accessible through Portsmouth, and it is worth taking the time to pay your respects. I know I will return one day.
 
DRW © 2014-2018. Created 24/07/2014, images recreated 19/04/2016, updated 03/06/2018
Updated: 03/06/2018 — 17:41

All that is left.

Southampton likes to boast of its connection to the ill fated Titanic, and there is evidence all around the city, some hearkening back to 1912, and some created to cash in on the interest around the ship. I have dealt with the memorials and graves already at my webpage. This blogpost is more about the odds and ends that are neither. 
 
Just up the road from me is….
 
and it is very close to…..
This is a newish area, and it could be that it is land cleared after the war. The railway line that runs into the docks is just behind this area, and it comes out alongside berth 43 and runs up to QEII Terminal which would have been the Test Quays in 1912. The boat train probably travelled along this railway line to pull up alongside ships berthed at 42, 43 and 44, I suspect there must be a branch out to where the Ocean Terminal is today (Berth 46 and 47)
 
Carpathia Court is also very close to the harbour, but again it is on a newish development. 
  
And on the subject of the Carpathia, Captain Arthur Rostron used to have a house up in West End, and there is a close named after him. 
 
His house also has a plaque in his honour. 
 
It is not all about plaques and street names though, some of the buildings that are mentioned in various books about the Titanic still exist. “The Grapes” is a local pub that was frequented by members of the crew, it isn’t too far from dock gate 4, although it doesn’t face the harbour. However, the city did look very different then compared to now, and it must have still been quite a run (while full of beer) to the berth to catch your ship. 

 
Dominating the skyline very close to here is South Western House. In 1912 this hotel was where many of the richer passengers took up lodging before boarding the ship. It also bordered on what was then the Terminal Station (now called Genting Club), so could have been a very noisy and smokey place in 1912. Today it is high priced apartments. 
 
Interestingly enough, Union-Castle Line had their offices just across the street from this building. It is also a short 2 block walk to the headquarters of the former White Star Line in Canute Street. 
 
Very close to The Grapes is the White Star Tavern, although in 1912 it was known as the Alliance Hotel, which was used by some of the passengers before they embarked on the ship. It is interesting that it is now named after the defunct shipping line that owned the Titanic.

Not too far from this area is a new housing development, and it too has been branded with the Titanic. A very nice mural adorns the one wall of the flats, sadly, a guy with a strange hat also adorns the parking lot…
hula 004
 

To make matters worse, close to St Michael’s Church is “The Titanic”, a pub named after the ship.
arcadia 079

The QE2 Mile has a number of plaques referring to historical events set into the pavement, two of them relate to the Titanic.
solent 015
Close to the SeaCity museum is the Millvina Dean Memorial Garden. Millvina was the youngest Titanic survivor, as well as the last living one. She passed away on 31 May 2009

The biggest piece of “Titanica” in the city is the SeaCity Museum with its overly large Titanic display that dominates any other reference to the maritime history of the city. And if you like that sort of thing then so be it. For me the most meaningful part of the city and the long lost liner is the berth that she sailed from in the Eastern Docks.
 
It is hard to visualise this spot 100 years ago, the ships then looked very differently from what they do today, and they did not have the ability to berth and unberth without the aid of tugs. There would also be a pall of smoke over the docks from all the coal burning ships and trains. The view below is looking into the Ocean Dock area, and the orange bollards mark where the Titanic was alongside.
 

 

I am sure there are other references in Southampton, so I will probably add them in as I find them. The city back then was very different to what it is now, yet there are elements of it from 1912 that still survive, especially amongst the older buildings, and of course the old city walls. The big change probably came as a result of the Blitz, when portions of the city were destroyed by bombing.

Unfortunately Southampton is more renown as being the place where the Titanic sailed from as opposed to the premier port where North Atlantic liners sailed from, or where the Union-Castle mailships used to sail from. 
 
© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 09/04/2016
Updated: 29/12/2017 — 07:22

I used to be a Titanic Enthusiast.

Yes it is true, I too was obsessed by the Titanic, and probably way back then it was much easier because there was more mystery and legend than anything else. Come 1985 and the Titanic is rediscovered and photographed, and then the ride began. Scouring the newspapers, buying books, every find was an aaah moment. I bumped into a fellow enthusiast on a train home and between us we started what was to become the Titanic Society of South Africa (aka TSSA). Those were heady days. I was also a member of the Transvaal Branch of the World Ship Society, and we shared members and even presented programs for them, all the time trying to grow the local interest.

Titanic display at Sturrock Park

Why was I interested in the Titanic? probably I had read about this spot in the Atlantic where she had gone down, and how ships avoided it because they would often encounter bodies. It must have touched the dark side of me. Of course having a love of Trans-Atlantic liners didn’t help much either.  At one point I had the largest Titanic model in SA, (see pic above), and probably the biggest collection in the country. Each new article was carefully pasted into an ever larger scrapbook that eventually spanned 1000 pages. My intention being that one day I too would write a book.   
One of the high points was when we were interviewed on Radio 702 by Chris Gibbons, It went down so well, and we had such a great response to it. I even collated a very successful slide presentation that I used to give to clubs and societies. Collecting was expensive though. In those days bringing stuff in from the USA was a major mission that involved bank drafts, forex, large amounts for postage and long waits. It was worth it though, because much of the material would not be brought in by the local book monopoly.
 
 

The original newsletter cover


The society was a chore though, producing monthly newsletters was a major job, and we used some very interesting techniques to do it. Originally produced on a typewriter and photocopied; eventually we moved across to a computer and used to move files around using modems and terminal programs. In fact we did things with those computers that were leap years ahead of their time in South Africa. We were equally fortunate that photocopying wasn’t something we paid for either. The society was donated a copier, and in later years I was able to use a laser at work. But, finding articles was difficult, and I used to write quite a lot of them myself.  I even have some of the original Wordstar files from those early newsletters. 

One of our best moments was when one of our members, Hymie Alper, finally found the Titanic grave in Braamfontein Cemetery. From then on we would hold a short service at the gravesite every year. Oddly enough we were never really able to find out what happened to the family at the time, and I only solved that mystery many years later. Last year I visited Hymie Alpers grave in West Park Cemetery, rest in peace you wonderful gentle soul.

Rudi van Dijk, Derek Walker, George Durant, Hymie Alper, Neville Dolley

Rudi van Dijk, Derek Walker, George Durant, Hymie Alper, Neville Dolley

As the interest in the wreck increased and the first artefacts were brought to the surface I was faced with the dilemma of how I felt about it. Even today I am still against raising anything from the ship, but I am probably in the minority in the world. It was an interesting topic to debate though and a part of me really wanted to see the artefacts, and a part did not.
Unveiling of a painting of the Titanic for one of our members

Unveiling of a painting of the Titanic for one of our members

Another high point of the society was when one of the members commissioned Keith Alexander to do a painting for him.  I recall that we even made a video recorded the event, but I never saw the finished product.

The biggest disappointment for everybody was the final confirmation that the ship had not survived the sinking intact and that realistically she was a wreck that was deteriorating. We all wanted the Titanic to be upright and intact with shiney paint and looking like new. The reality is far from it.

An obvious highlight was our screening of the movie “A Night to Remember” which I obtained on video. It was a very popular item and one year we went totally overboard and had masses of dry ice “smoke” flowing through the passages in Sturrock park. We were lucky that never threw us out.

In 1997 James Cameron’s “Titanic” hit the screen and suddenly everybody was an instant expert. I will admit it, I did enjoy the movie, especially because I was finally able to see a 4 funnel liner at sea, albeit a CGI version. Those too were heady days because the volume of material was massive, we could afford to be picky. A lot of good research was also being done, and a lot of snake oil was also being pedaled. I had by now stepped back from active work in the society, it had become a chore, and I was tired of it. My interest was beginning to fade.

In 2000 I was in the USA and saw the artefact exhibition myself. It was amazing, the personal items were so touching, and while the whole thing was very commercialised it was pretty much the end of it for me. I had been there, done that, and bought the tee-shirt.

One dream that did still exist was visiting Southampton, and as I sit and write this there are at last 4 memorials within 5 minutes walk from where I am.  That dream has come and gone too. Sadly, the museum in Southampton has really become all about the Titanic and nothing else, and that is what makes me angry. Southampton is about a rich maritime heritage, it is not about a failed ship.
Titanic Engineers Memorial

Titanic Engineers Memorial

I disposed of most of my collection just before I came to the UK. Most of my books I had sold before going to the USA, and all that was really left was the research material, and a few books and models. I did not feel any remorse about selling it off, if anything I was glad to let it go, and the new owner will carry things forward from here. He has a huge project running, and I wish him much success with it. I too was that enthusiastic once.

The one lesson to draw from this is that when your interest becomes a chore, and you dread everything to do with it, then it is time to step away and do something else. Nowadays I pursue graves, and my search for Titanic graves in Southampton has been very interesting. And, even though I have seen the berth where she sailed from, I still cannot quite picture the ship in that berth, and I can’t quite picture the New York incident when I stand at the edge of the quayside.

Titanic was berthed where the tug is moored

The problem with the Titanic is that it is one of those black and white image things, we cannot quite view something as being real if it is in black and white, trying to imagine the ship berthed at this expanse of dock is almost impossible, and its equally impossible to imagine the dawn over a cold Atlantic Ocean, as seen from a lifeboat of the ship that was realistically a failure.

Postscript.
On the 30th of April 2015, I was informed that one of our stalwart members from the Titanic Society, Val MacKeown had passed away in September 2014.  It was a shock to hear, but it was inevitable as she had been in poor health for quite some time. The last I had seen her had been in 2001, and she was still as busy and pro-active as she had ever been. Val was a go-getter, and almost nothing frightened her off. Her husband Jim was a slow talking Irishman who was almost the exact opposite of his energetic wife.  I suspect Jim passed on long before her, and that their wonderfully energetic Border Collie: Tip, is chasing tennis balls in heaven somewhere. Rest in peace fair lady from the Emerald Isle, thank you for all you did, and for supporting us when we needed it so much.

The Titanic exhibition did come to South Africa eventually, and I believe there was a lot about the society at the exhibition. Typically, I was not in South Africa when it happened.
 
© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated 09/04/2016 
Updated: 29/12/2017 — 07:26
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