musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: World War One

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

The Mud of Passchendaele

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remember the Dead.

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

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

100 Years of Delville Wood.

The Battle of Delville Wood lasted from 15 July – 3 September 1916, however, South Africans commemorate the portion of the battle where the 1st South African Infantry Brigade was involved in, and that runs from the 15th till 20th of July.

My late grandfather was one of the men who entered that wood on the 15th, and today, 100 years later I cannot quite picture him with his mates digging shallow scrapes in the tree root entangled earth  of the wood. I cannot imagine him experiencing the bombardment that the Germans threw at that small portion of France, at times as high as 400 shells a minute. I cannot imagine him fighting hand to hand with Germans, and most of all I cannot even begin to imagine what the wood looked like when his comrades staggered out of it on the 20th. He was luckier than most because he was evacuated on the 18th with a shoulder wound, and as a result I am here today.

(Drawn by Frank Dadd from a description by a British Officer. The Graphic  Aug 19, 1916)

(Drawn by Frank Dadd from a description by a British Officer. The Graphic Aug 19, 1916)

I have never had the privilege of visiting the wood myself,  but I have had the privilege of sorting through over 113000 record cards from World War One and photographing nearly 8500 of them.  I would come across a lot of cards where the soldier in question had died in the wood and it was really a sobering glimpse at what we lost as a country in the month of July 1916. 

Image courtesy of Brian Roberts

However, when compared against the overall slaughter of The Somme, our casualties are mere drops in an ocean of dead soldiers. And once the last survivor had passed on Delville Wood seemed to have been finally forgotten by South Africa. The Delville Wood Memorial in France is really one that very few South Africans will visit, although I believe it is a very beautiful place.

Image courtesy of Brian Roberts

Yet, there are still many who ask about those who fought in that hell of a battle, they ask the same questions as I do, and possibly cannot picture the same things that have plagued me over the years. 

In fact Delville Wood has always been contentious in our national psyche, it is untouchable because of the blood that was shed and that small part of France that is really a small part of South Africa now. Many of those who died in the wood have no known grave, they are names on a memorial, their physical bodies vaporised or smashed to pieces in the barrage of steel:  the wood is still the real cemetery for Delville Wood.

In 2014, the remains of Private Myengwa Beleza, a black soldier, was re-interred at the memorial and in 2016, a new Roll of Honour was unveiled to honour all those South Africans who lost their lives in the First World War, and to ensure that the role played by South Africans of all races in the First and Second World Wars was accorded the necessary recognition. A new Garden of Remembrance was to be created for those who fell but whose remains were never recovered.

The list of of all South Africans who died during the battle of Delville Wood 15/20 July 1916. It lists all those who died in France. Of note, many of them are listed as having a date of death (particularly the 3rd Regt. SAI) of 1 August 1916. It wasn’t until that date a roll could be completed. Many of the prisoners taken by the Germans at Delville Wood were originally on the roll until the Red Cross could determine who had actually died in the battle. 

A SOLDIER’S SONG

Lt Frederick Carruthers Cornell, S. Africa Native Labour Corps

In Delville Wood – in Delville Wood,
The German foe in thousands lay,
And no-man’s land, with British blood,
Ran red as wine that summer’s day
We’d sworn to take it – and we would!
 

God help the Bosche in Delville Wood!
To Delville Wood – to Delville Wood,
We faced his fire, and forced our way
To where his grim machine guns stood,
And where he fiercely turned at bay –
We’d sworn to beat him – and we would!
We’d turn him out of Delville Wood!
 

In Delville Wood – in Delville Wood,
As inch by inch the ground was gained,
With bullet, steel, and smashing butt.
We fought and fell, till few remained;
But Boer and Briton steadfast stood,
For Freedom’s sake – in Delville Wood!
 

In Delville Wood – in Delville Wood,
Midst splintered trees and shattered wrack,
From morn till night we still made good
Gainst shot and shell and massed attack,
We’d sworn to win, so firm we stood –
Or died like men – in Delville Wood!
 

In Delville Wood – in Delville Wood,
The shattered trees are green with leaves,
And flowers bloom where cannons stood,
And rich the fields with golden sheaves –
Sleep soft ye dead, for God is good –
And Peace has come to Delville Wood!

© DRW 2016-2018. Created 15/07/2016. 2 Images by Brian Roberts, “In Vlaandere se Velde” courtesy of Karen Dickens.  

 

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:26

The Battle of Jutland

The anniversary of the Battle of Jutland is one that is rarely remembered, because the war at sea was far remote from the realities of the slaughter of the trenches in France. The clash of the Grand Fleet and the High Seas Fleet sent many sailors to their deaths, often trapped within the ships that they fought, or drowned as the cold waters of the North Sea closed over them.

 

The Royal British Legion produced an information pack to commemorate the battle and I have drawn heavily from that pack to produce this post.

I have never really understood this Clash of Titans, my interest is more related to the ships themselves than the physical act of battle. However, it is 100 years since the thunder of guns was heard in those distant waters, and it is fitting that tribute be paid to those who lost their lives in or after the battle, and to remember them as being part of one of the largest and most costly fleet engagement of the First World War. The battle, which took place over Wednesday 31 May and Thursday 1 June 1916 and the 100th anniversary provides an opportunity to commemorate the sacrifices and contributions made by all those from the Royal Navy, Merchant Navy, fishing fleets, shipbuilding towns and coastal communities who continue to guarantee The United Kingdom’s security in peace and war.

A Short History and Reflection.

Jutland will always be remembered for the huge sacrifices that our naval personnel made. Britain is an island nation with no town more than 75 miles from the sea. Many families therefore have relatives who served at sea and this is the perfect moment to reflect, not only on the sacrifices made during this sea battle but also to commemorate the maritime contribution and the sacrifices that have been and continue to be made by all those from the Royal Navy, Merchant Navy and coastal fleets who serve to ensure the nation’s security.

In 1914, Britain had the biggest and strongest navy in the world. Admiral Alfred von Tirpitz (1849–1930) greatly expanded the size and quality of the Imperial German Navy, until the German Navy grew to become one of the greatest maritime forces in the world, second only to the British Royal Navy.

After the British success at Dogger Bank in holding back the German attack in January 1915, the German Imperial Navy chose not to confront the numerically superior British Royal Navy in a major battle for more than a year, preferring to rely on its lethal U-boat fleet. However, in May 1916, with the majority of the British Grand Fleet anchored far away at Scapa Flow, Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer believed the time was right to resume attacks on the British coastline. Scheer ordered 19 U-boats to position themselves for a raid on the North-East coastal town of Sunderland, using air reconnaissance craft to keep an eye on the British Fleet. Bad weather hampered the airships, however, and Scheer called off the raid, instead ordering his fleet to head north, to the Skagerrak, a waterway located between Norway and Denmark off the Jutland Peninsula, where they could attack the Allied naval interests and with luck, punch a hole in the stringent British blockade.

Unbeknownst to Scheer, however, a newly created intelligence unit in Britain had cracked the German communication codes and warned the British Grand Fleet’s commander, Admiral John Rushworth Jellicoe, of Scheer’s intentions. Consequently, on the night of 30 May, a British fleet of 28 battleships, nine battle cruisers, 34 light cruisers and 80 destroyers set out from Scapa Flow, bound for positions off the Skagerrak.

On 31 May, a British naval force commanded by Vice Admiral David Beatty spotted a German squadron of warships and confronted them some 75 miles off the Danish coast. The two squadrons opened fire on each other simultaneously. This lasted around 55 minutes, during which time two British battle cruisers (HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary) were destroyed with the loss of 2,000 sailors. The remainder of the German fleet then joined, so Beatty was forced to fight a delaying action for the next hour, until Jellicoe arrived with the rest of the Grand Fleet. Both fleets faced off in their entirety, and a great battle of naval strategy commenced. As sections of the two fleets continued to engage each other throughout the late evening and the early morning of 1 June, Jellicoe manoeuvred 96 of the British ships into a V-shape surrounding 59 German ships. The German flagship, Lutzow, was disabled by 24 direct hits but was able, before it sank, to sink the British cruiser Invincible.

Admiral of the Fleet John Rushworth Jellicoe,

Admiral of the Fleet John Jellicoe,

Admiral of the Fleet David Richard Beatty

Admiral of the Fleet David Beatty

The German fleet withdrew under cover of darkness at 18:30 on 1 June, thus ending the battle, and cheating the British of the major naval success they had envisioned.

The Battle of Jutland engaged a total of 100,000 men aboard 250 ships over the course of 72 hours. The Germans claimed it as a victory for their High Seas Fleet. At first the British press agreed, but it was not so clear-cut. The German navy lost 11 ships, including a battleship and a battle cruiser, and suffered 2,500 casualties; the British sustained heavier losses, with 14 ships sunk, including three battle cruisers, and 6,000 casualties. Ten more German ships had suffered heavy damage, however, and by 2nd June 1916 only 10 ships that had been involved in the battle were seaworthy. The Royal Navy could have, however put 23 ships to sea at this point. On 4 July, Vice Admiral Scheer advised the German high command that further fleet action was not an option, and that submarine warfare was Germany’s best hope for victory at sea. Despite the heavy losses, the Battle of Jutland had left British naval superiority on the North Sea intact. 

 

 

Many of the casualties from HMS Queen Mary, HMS Black Prince, and HMS Invincible are remembered on Portsmouth Naval Memorial, where around 10,000 sailors of the First World War are commemorated.

Key Facts

  • The Battle of Jutland was fought over 36 hours – from 31 May to 1 June 1916
  • There were a total of 250 ships in the battle; 151 British Grand Fleet and 99 German High Seas Fleet
  • There were 100,000 sailors overall engaged in the Battle, of which 1 in 10 were wounded
  • More than 8,500 were killed in total; 6,000 British, 2,500 German
  • Death was sudden and on a huge scale – Queen Mary 1,266, Indefatigable 1,017, Invincible 1,026, Defence 903, Black Prince 857 (German: Wiesbaden 589, Fraulenlob 320)
  • One thousand men lost their lives when a magazine exploded on the British battlecruiser Indefatigable
  • The British Grand Fleet was under the command of Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, who after the war became one of the founders of The Royal British Legion
  • There was no clear winner in this battle, but it did convince the Germans never again to challenge the British Navy in the North Sea
  • This was the first time in history that a carrier-based aeroplane (from HMS Engadine) was used for reconnaissance in naval combat
  • There were four Victoria Crosses awarded after the Battle. (Jack Cornwell (HMS Chester), Francis Harvey (HMS Lion), Edward Bingham (HMS Nestor) and Loftus William Jones (HMS Shark)). 
  • HM The Queen’s father – George VI, the then Prince Albert, Duke of York – took part in the battle, and was mentioned in despatches for his action as a turret officer aboard Collingwood
  • The last surviving veteran of the battle, Henry Allingham, a British RAF airman, died on 18 July 2009, aged 113, by which time he was one of the last surviving veterans of the First World War
  • The British losses amounted to 113,300 tons sunk. (Battlecruisers: Indefatigable, Queen Mary, Invincible. Armoured cruisers: Black Prince, Warrior, Defence. Flotilla leaders: Tipperary. Destroyers: Shark, Sparrowhawk, Turbulent, Ardent, Fortune, Nomad, Nestor.)
  • The German losses amounted to 62,300 tons sunk. (Battlecruiser: Lützow. Pre-Dreadnought: Pommern. Light cruisers: Frauenlob, Elbing, Rostock, Wiesbaden. Destroyers (Heavy torpedo-boats): V48, S35, V27, V4, V29

The Battle of Jutland also caused a rethink about the way capital ships were designed and fought, and some of the flaws in the British ships were addressed. Unfortunately the vulnerability of the battlecruiser design would be once again exposed when HMS Hood was lost to KMS Bismarck in 1941

The most famous Battle of Jutland VC recipient was Boy 1st Class Jack Travers Cornwell, aka “Jutland Jack”.  

John Travers Cornwell, Boy 1st Class (RN) was born on 8 January 1900, at Leyton. When the First World War broke out his father promptly joined the Army, and Jack joined the Royal Navy. He went through preliminary training at Devonport from 27 July 1915 and became a Boy 1st Class on the light cruiser HMS Chester for active service in Admiral David Beatty’s 1st Battlecruiser Squadron.

A few months after Jack Cornwell joined his ship, Admiral Beatty came to grips with the German High Seas Fleet near Jutland on 31 May 1916; he was mortally wounded in action, and died two days later in Grimsby hospital. He was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross [London Gazette, 15 September 1916]:

“Mortally wounded early in the action, Boy, First Class, John Travers Cornwell remained standing alone at a most exposed post, quietly awaiting orders, until the end of the action, with the gun’s crew dead and wounded around him. His age was under sixteen and half years.”

The Times’ History of the War records that Cornwell “had been brought ashore, he had died at Grimsby of his wounds, and through one of the stupid blunders which are inseparable from officialdom he had been buried in what was no better than a pauper’s grave. No sooner was the truth known of the lad’s last hours of life and the manner of his death than public opinion demanded a befitting reinternment. Accordingly the body was exhumed, and there was an impressive funeral in Manor Park Cemetery. A picture of the boy, standing by his gun, with Admiral Sir David Beatty’s report of the incident, occupies a position of honour in more than 12,000 schools.”

On 23 March 1917, a large company witnessed at the Mansion House the presentation to the Board of Admiralty of Mr. Frank O. Salisbury’s picture, ‘John Cornwell, V.C., on H.M.S. Chester.’ Sir Edward Carson, the First Lord, received the picture and paid a high tribute to the dead lad’s courage and example. “I ask people who grumble if they ever heard the story of John Travers Cornwell… I feel that this boy, who died at the post of duty, sends this message… to the people of the Empire: ‘Obey your orders, cling to your post, don’t grumble, stick it out”.

The 5.5″ gun from HMS Chester that Jack Cornwell had manned during the Battle of Jutland is on display at the Imperial War Museum.

 

A lot has been written about the mistakes made at Jutland by those in command, but so little has been written about those who manned the magazines or who operated the engines or who fed the crew. When I was young there was a quizz programme on Springbok Radio, and I recall that one of the contestants was being quizzed on the Battle of Jutland. At the time I thought that he was incredibly knowledgable about the battle, but that it was not really a subject that somebody like myself would ever understand. I still do not understand it.

The Battle of the Somme was famous for the carnage that was inflicted during the campaign, but at sea it was a different story altogether. Once the ships had passed and the wreckage was dispersed there was nothing left to see, it was as if nothing had ever happened, but those who were there will tell you that it was a battle like none seen before, or since, and those who were in it would never forget it.

© DRW 2016-2018. Created 30/05/2016. Most of the information on this page comes from the Royal British Legion Information Pack on the battle of Jutland. I have also used links to Wikipedia and of course Victoriacrossonline  

 

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:15

The February Sea Disasters II

On 21 February 1917, South Africa lost some of its finest: Black African volunteers en route to the battlefields of France. They were not going there because they were conscripted to go there, neither were they going there to fight; they were going because they volunteered, and because they would be supporting those in the front. These men were going to make history, but not in the way that you would expect. Their lives would be taken when their troopship; HMT Mendi, was in a collision with another vessel, the SS Darro off St Catherine’s Point on the Isle of Wight.

 

It has been 99 years since they sailed into history, and their story was shunted aside by successive governments for too many years. However, since the advent of the internet and the opening of eyes to history, many old soldiers now recognise that we owe a debt to these men, to keep their memory alive and to pass that memory onto others. Sadly the desecration of a war memorial by students at the University of Cape Town (UCT) has left me saddened. It is not just a piece of stone that was desecrated, what was done was just as bad as those in power who rubber stamped the Mendi disaster out of the history books.

I expect those soldiers would have been shocked at the unruly behaviour of those students because those men stood on the deck of their ship and stared death in the face, the Reverend Isaac Dyobha. calling them together and admonishing them:

“Be quiet and calm, my countrymen, for what is taking place is exactly what you came to do. You are going to die… but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we drilling the death drill. I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers. Swazi’s, Pondo’s, Basuto’s, we die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegaais in the kraal, our voices are left with our bodies.“

“Be quiet and calm…” those words resonate through the ages and should be the watchword for those who rampage and desecrate and demand. Unfortunately they do not.

The Mendi, once forgotten is now remembered, in memorials, literature, on a warship, on a medal, and by the South African Legion and the South African branch of the Royal British Legion, The imperative is to keep their memory alive, and to make sure that when we pass onwards that others will take up our call: “Remember the Mendi”

Hamba Kahle South African Soldiers.

Resources:

There is a lot of material about the Mendi out there, and I am proud to say my own efforts contributed in a small way to it.

The Loss of HMT Mendi

The Mendi Memorial at Avalon Cemetery

The Mendi Memorial at Hollybrook Cemetery in Southampton

The Wreck of the SS Mendi by Wessex Archaeology

Follow the internal links within those pages to access some of the other Mendi related material.

Updated: 15/12/2016 — 07:29

Remembering the Lusitania

Today, 7 May, is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Cunard liner RMS Lusitania during World War One. She is not as famous a shipwreck as the Titanic, in fact her sinking during the war was really just a blip in the casualty numbers, and yet almost 1200 people lost their lives.

lusitania_ships086

Her loss really meant that her sister, the Mauretania, would become famous and she would slip quietly into obscurity, just like the Olympic and Britannic which were overshadowed by the Titanic for all the wrong reasons.  The ship, torpedoed by U-20, sank in less than 20 minutes and within sight of the old Head of Kinsale. It was a sunny day, and not the sort of day for seeing a passenger liner dieing within sight of land. 

 
Controversy has always surrounded the ship and her sinking. For some reason it is always thought that her sinking brought America into the war, but that is not true. And, there have always been theories about a second explosion that ended the ship, supposedly set off by the munitions that she was carrying.  
The truth is, that when the wreck was explored by Dr Robert Ballard in 1993 it did not show any signs of a massive internal explosion, however, the wreck is resting on the side that was damaged by the torpedo. Many theories have been put forward for the speed which she sank, however, the location of the torpedo damage, the construction of the ship, and the forward motion of the vessel all contributed to her sinking so quickly. Unlike Titanic which had bulkheads that ran from beam to beam, Lusitania (and Mauretania) were both designed with extensive watertight compartmentation because of their possible role as armed merchant cruisers, that meant that localised flooding on one side would cause the ship to list excessively. Titanic went down on a relatively even keel. Lusitania started listing almost immediately, making lifeboat launching extremely difficult. 
 

Lusitania Life Preserver, Imperial War Museum

There is also the conspiracy that Winston Churchill deliberately “set her up” to be sunk, and that Captain Turner was negligent. The official enquiry   did not find him guilty of negligence, but neither did it provide satisfactory answers about the sinking. There are still too many questions about the Lusitania that were left unanswered, and even today some of the files are classified. 
 
The important questions from the enquiry are as follows:
17. Was any loss of life due to any neglect by the master of the “Lusitania” to take proper precautions or give proper orders with regard to swinging out of boats, or getting them ready for use, clearing away the portable skids from the pontoon-decked lifeboats, releasing the gripes of such boats, closing of watertight bulkheads or portholes, or otherwise before of after the “Lusitania” was attacked?
Answer:  No. 
 
20. Was the loss of the ” Lusitania ” and/or the loss of life caused by the wrongful act or default of the master of the ” Lusitania ” or does any blame attach to him for such loss?
Answer:  No. 
 
21. Does any blame attach to the owners of the steamship ” Lusitania “?
Answer: No. 
 
What is certain is the human element in the disaster, and the terrible loss of life. 18 Minutes is not a lot of time to evacuate a large ship, and there was definitely an element of chaos on board, as well as ill discipline and a lack of command guidance. But given the circumstances I expect that the best had been done, but that too many other factors played a role in the sinking.
 
Lusitania sank 100 years ago, but her story still interests maritime historians because it is still a mystery. And will remain so long after the wreck has finally disintegrated. 
 
In the days following the disaster, efforts were made to recover bodies floating in the Irish Sea and washed up on the coast. The dead – both passengers and crew – may be found in several cemeteries and churchyards in Ireland and the United Kingdom. Killed by enemy action, the crew of Lusitania are considered war dead and therefore commemorated by the CWGC.
The bodies of 49 of her merchant marine personnel were recovered from the sea or the shore. The largest group, 34 men and women, are buried in Old Church Cemetery in Cobh.
 
Those Lusitania crew members missing at sea – some 353 people – are commemorated by name on the Tower Hill Memorial in London.

There are a number of books about the Lusitania, and of course the usual crop of documentaries and TV specials. These are all beyond the scope of this blogpost, and once again the old adage applies, if all the hot air spouted about the Lusitania could be utilised to raise her, she would have been bobbing like a cork already.

Acknowledgements: 

Image of the Lusitania Memorial in the old church cemetery in Cobh by Bjørn Christian Tørrissen – Own work by uploader, http://bjornfree.com/galleries.html. Used under license CC BY-SA 3.0
Postcard images from own collection. 
 
© DRW 2015-2018. Created 07/05/2015, images migrated 30/04/2016
Updated: 31/12/2017 — 15:47

Happy New Year

It is now 21H42, and in South Africa it is 23H42, almost 2015. I have had an interesting, if somewhat odd year, and up to a point it was going reasonably well. However that has since changed.

The year saw many highlights and lowlights too, these are a few of them.

January.

I started my year with a bit of shipwatching, the Maiden arrival of Norwegian Getaway in Southampton.

And I made a trip to Bristol to photograph Arnos Vale Cemetery, and managed to squeeze in a visit to the SS Great Britain.  It was a great trip, and on my way to Bristol I passed Bath Spa, and decided to make that a destination for a road trip. 

 
February.
 
My first exploration of that month was to Old Sarum in Salisbury, and it was one of those strange places that leave you thinking. And, there was a lot of thinking that month as we gathered in Southampton to commemorate the memory of those members of the SANLC who perished in the Mendi Disaster 
 
 
March.
 
The 1st of March is also the first anniversary of my arrival in the UK. Time has passed, and I have seen much since I stepped off the plane into the unknown.  I also managed to get to Bath Spa and it was a very pretty city.  
 
April

In this month  I moved into my own little pad in Salisbury. Bliss, no flatmates, no shared facilities, privacy!! YES! But what a lot of hoops I had to jump through to get there. Unfortunately it was a longish walk to work and often I would start out in the morning and be worn out by the time I got there. 

May

My birthday month. And in mid May I took a trip down to South Africa to settle some of my affairs. To be honest I do not really miss the place.

 
June.

I returned to Salisbury in June, and it was interesting to be able to consider the UK as my end destination, and not the place I was leaving from. I also paid my first visit to Brookwood Cemetery and the military cemetery there was huge. The largest congregation of military graves I have ever seen in one place. 

 
July. 

This was quite a busy month, my first trip destination was Portsmouth and Gosport, and a visit to HMS Alliance and the Royal Navy Submarine Museum which was really fascinating. 

 
I also visited Haslar Naval Cemetery and photographed most of the World War II graves there. Unfortunately I was not able to complete the First World War Graves so would have to revisit at a later date.

I  took a trip on Shieldhall down to Ryde, which is the longest trip I had taken on this preserved vessel. I was also keen on doing a trip on her to Poole, but I just did not do it. It was also my last trip on her for the year. On a shipwatching note, I was able to photograph Emerald Princess.  

August
 
On the 4th of August we remembered the start of the horror of the First World War.
 
The biggest highlight of August (and probably the whole year) was definitely the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red Memorial at the Tower of London.
 

 

It was a very memorable thing to see, and it was only probably a quarter of the way done. The images that I have seen of the end result have really been breathtaking, and I know it was probably the most effective memorial and tribute I have ever seen to those who never came back from the First World War.

I also made a visit to Tower Hamlets Cemetery, which was number 6 of the magnificent seven  Victorian Garden Cemeteries, and of course finally got to see the Imperial War Museum which had been on my bucket list since I was a a boy.

It was also the month when the Maritime Festival was held in Southampton, and to be frank it was not as good as the previous years one. 

 
September

Somewhere along the line in August I probably injured my ankle, and was not able to do much in the way of day trips. In fact September was a very quiet time altogether. The only major expedition I made was a return to Gosport to complete the World War One graves I had not done earlier in the year. The rest of that month I seemed to spend in a state of advanced vegging.

October. 

In October I started job hunting as I was concerned about the situation where I was. Fortunately (or with hindsight, unfortunately) I was able to find a job almost immediately in Basingstoke, and I made plans to pack up and leave Salisbury. Packing and arranging my move and finding new accommodation took up a lot of my time, and the only real highlight I had was on the shipwatching front when the worlds second largest cruise ship: Oasis of the Seas called in Southampton. 

 
  
November.

In November I closed the book on Salisbury and at the end of the first week of November I moved to Basingstoke. It was also Remembrance Day in Salisbury.

 

And while on the shipwatching front I went down to Southampton to see Quantum of the Seas. This was the maiden arrival of this new ship too, and she was interesting to see.

 

 

That was the last bit of shipwatching I will do for awhile, or at least until next year, although that does depend on where I am.

 December. 

December was a quiet one. Winter has set in and the weather has gone pear shaped along with it, although we have had some really beautiful days. Christmas Day being especially nice. I did three lots of gravehunting over December, the two local trips being especially memorable. I also revisited Brookwood, although I did not really have any specific grave that I was looking for. I do however have a new appreciation for it. 

And that was my year. I also had some finality on the job front, and from next week I am in the market (as they say). Whether I will remain in Basingstoke remains to be seen. My heart really wants me to go back to Southampton, but I have made no real plans. It all depends on the job market. On the gravehunting scene I will probably be returning to Brookwood, and I have a few churchyards on my list, I will also probably go to London one of these days to look up a few graves there, and of course to visit Norwood Cem. But until then the only thing I can say is…..

 
© DRW 2014-2018. Images and links recreated 21/05/2016.  
Updated: 22/06/2018 — 12:48

04/11/1914 – 04/11/2014

On the 4th of August 1914 the so called “War to End all Wars” became the world obsession until 11 November 1918.  It was not a healthy obsession, in fact it was a disaster of global proportions, and would bring forth an even greater carnage in 1939.

On this date, 100 years ago, Britain declared war on Germany. The carnage was about to commence.

“The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life-time”.

A lantern from Delville Wood.

The problem is, there are no more living soldiers from that war who can remind us of what they went through, and  we are 100 years divorced from this day in history. We concern ourselves with mundane things like bandwidth, mobile devices, nail art, vapid celebrities, fashion, and materialism. The men in the trenches were probably more concerned that those who sent them into battle were seemingly so divorced from the battlefield that they threw away lives in a seemingly concerted effort to rack up the most casualties in one day.
 
It is difficult to really picture the monstrous battles with the sunny skies and trees and red blood spilling on the shell ravaged battlefield, it is impossible to imagine waiting for the whistle to blow and mounting the parapet of the trench to die a few steps later. I cannot imagine the courage of those men who walked across no mans land because some ass of a staff officer decreed it so. Of course our view of the war is not from the German point of view either, in fact I suspect that there is very little written about the German troops who waited in their dugouts for the barrage to lift so that they could start to massacre the oncoming Tommy regiments.
 
I have found a few books that deal with the casualty clearing stations, but I cannot quite get my head around the thought of the pain and suffering that happened there. Or the doctors and staff that had to make some sort of sense out of the carnage. It is all surreal, it doesn’t exist in our 24 million colour LED monitors, instead it is in 256 shades of grey. 
 
The commemoration is gearing up in a large way here in the UK, and I expect that by the time Remembrance Day arrives on 11 November many people will be thinking of that day in a new light. Tonight all around Britain people will be turning off their lights at 10pm, my own lights are going out shortly after I publish this blogpost. it is a small way to recognise that this was a momentous event in history, and one that will be remembered all around the globe, albeit in a globe that still fights wars, still kills innocents, and still does not realise that it is all really senseless.
 
 

Tonight we remember the soldiers, sailors, airmen, nurses, and all service personnel and their loved ones, we remember them because we dare not forget!

 

© DRW 2014-2018. Created 04/08/2014. Images recreated 19/04/2016, Candle gif by http://www.sevenoaksart.co.uk/animated-candles.htm

 
Updated: 30/12/2017 — 20:35

Remembering the Mendi. Hollybrook Cemetery

Every year about this time I try to write something about the Mendi disaster, it is one of those tragedies that is becoming even more known now compared to when it happened in 1917. Last year I was fortunate enough to confront the Mendi legacy at Hollybrook Cemetery in Southampton, and at Milton Cemetery in Portsmouth.
Today, 23 February 2014, the South African Legion of Military Veterans in the UK held a commemorative service at Hollybrook Cemetery, to Honour and Remember those men from the South African Native Labour Corps who lost their lives in this tragic disaster so many years ago. The Isle of Wight is not too far from Southampton, and this is really the main centre in the UK where they are remembered on a memorial. Unfortunately it was a cold and grey day in Southampton, and I kept on thinking that it was probably a cold and grey day when they died. I do not recall reading what the weather was like on that day, but it was foggy on that morning when the Mendi was lost. The occasion was well attended, not only by foreign dignitaries, but also by South Africans that have made the United Kingdom their home. 
We were fortunate enough to have wreaths from a number of service, veterans and military organisations, and the Mayor of Southampton was there to lay a wreath on behalf of the city from where so many South Africans have sailed from or to.
  
The point was made that the men who sailed on the Mendi were not conscripted into service, they were volunteers, their status was as non-combatants, and they were involved in a war far removed from their homes and villages back in Africa. Sadly very little information exists on the men themselves, they do not have record cards, and there is no service or medical file for them. Often their names were incorrectly captured, and CWGC has recently replaced the panels of the memorial to reflect the names of these men and to correct grammatical and spelling errors. Yet, when I was validating records for the South African War Graves Project I could not help but wonder who was Saucepan Maake or Canteen Mahutu? Their real names are lost forever, we know nothing about them. 
 
The Roll of Honour of the Mendi is a long one, each must have had a mother and a father, or siblings, maybe a wife and children to whom they never returned. Over the years their immediate family would die out too, and they would be only a distant memory of somebody that never returned from what was in effect a “White Mans War”. Today we helped to keep that memory alive of these men, and I hope that one day when we too are gone somebody will continue with the Remembrance of those who did not return.
 
“Be quiet and calm, my countrymen, for what is taking place is exactly what you came to do. You are going to die… but that is what you came to do. Brothers, we drilling the death drill. I, a Xhosa, say you are my brothers. Swazi’s, Pondo’s, Basuto’s, we die like brothers. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegaais in the kraal, our voices are left with our bodies. “

Those inspiring words are words that need to reach out to a younger generation, so that they too can show the courage that the men on that sinking ship had, so many years ago and so far from home.

The playing of the Last Post, and the act of Remembrance always seem so minor, but those few minutes leave you time to reflect on those who have made the final sacrifice. The Centenary of World War One is months away, and all of the participants in it have their own part in the tragedy and waste. The Sinking of the Mendi and the Battle of Delville Wood are significant to South Africa, and we must never forget them, and those who fell in those moments of madness almost a century ago.

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 we were finished,  our wreaths were laid and group photographs were taken. The fact that so many had braved the chilly weather was a good sign. Seven services had been held for the Mendi this year, and I cannot help but feel that this one was the closest to the place where the sinking had occurred. 

  
Soon Hollybrook would grow quiet again, and people would pause at the Cross of Sacrifice, and see the many names that are remembered here, and just maybe somebody will reach out and touch the names, making a tactile connection to one who has long entered into the other realm. Maybe they too came from South Africa and came to discover our proud military heritage that is remembered here. And I know that somewhere, many years ago, families in African homes remembered their lost family member, and that they too hoped that somebody would reach out and take the flame of Remembrance from them when they were gone, that flame has passed to us now, the next generation of servicemen from the SADF, and one day we too will pass it onwards. 

Rest in peace Men of the Mendi, 
 

“……. We are the sons of Africa. Raise your war cries, brothers, for though they made us leave our assegaais in the kraal, our voices are left with our bodies. ” 

© DRW 2014-2018. Images recreated 17/04/2016
Updated: 30/12/2017 — 20:15

Visiting the Men of the Mendi

Many years ago I was  fortunate enough to read “Black Valour” by Norman Clothier. At the time it was the definitive book about the Africans and Coloureds that served with the South Africans during the wars. It also spurred my interest in the Mendi, and the men who lost their lives in the sinking. It took many years to finally be able to visit the Mendi Memorial at Avalon Cemetery and from then on things just happened. My Mendi Webpage is still a work in progress even after so many years, and deep in my heart I always wanted to visit some tangible relic to the Mendi in the United Kingdom. 
 
My chance came on 10 April 2013, while I was in Southampton and I decided to visit the old Cemetery here. But when I arrived at it I decided to carry on going and find Hollybrook. I was not going to loose the chance of a visit while I had time or weather on my side. Hollybrook in itself is not a great cemetery, it is however an OK cemetery, and it does have a World War 2 CWGC plot as well as a number of CWGC headstones inside the cemetery
World War 2 Plot at Hollybrook

World War 2 Plot at Hollybrook

The plot I was after was at the opposite side where I had come in and I soon found it on a slight rise. Up till this point the weather had been poor: overcast, misty and generally not great for photography, but suddenly the sun came out as if it knew I was there.

The Men of the Mendi have a small corner of their own, and it had recently been visited by HRH Prince Michael of Kent, and wreaths had been laid at the site. When I saw that first plaque I broke out in tears. It was one of those truly seminal points in my life.

I ran my fingers over the names, names that I have on my Roll of Honour, and that I had read record cards of, or who I had read about. They became real, and yet they were long gone. Like them I was far from South Africa at that moment, and I felt humble that I was representing their home on this day. I wish I had had something from there to leave behind for them, but all I really had was my own sadness at seeing these men who went willingly off to war, and who never returned,
 
I noticed that the wreaths were from other Commonwealth nations, but saw that there was nothing from our own government. What would these men say about the South Africa of 2013? It matters not, what matters is that they never get forgotten. And that seeing those names up close and personal was a moment in my life that won’t leave me.
 
This particular memorial at Hollybrook commemorates by name almost 1900 servicemen and women of the Commonwealth land and air forces whose graves are not known, many of whom were lost in transports, torpedoed or mined in home waters. The memorial also bears the names of those who were lost or buried at sea or who died at home but whose bodies could not be recovered for burial.  
 
Not too long ago the CWGC was able to correct a lot of the errors in the names on this memorial, and I hope to be able to correct my own list as well. Sadly, all that is left of their lives is this name on a plaque. And I think that in this case, there is a small piece of England that is uniquely South African. They were men that came from the tip of Africa, to fight in a war that they knew nothing about, and they died far from their homes, never reaching their destination, but remaining here, far from the sunshine that was now fading as I took my last few photographs. But if I do think about it , these men were never really forgotten, their families remembered them, and their comrades, but they too have passed on, and  that duty has been passed on to us, a generation of ex-servicemen who also served their country. 
 
Hamba Kahle  Men of the Mendi. May You Rest In Peace.
 
© DRW 2013-2018. Images recreated and links repaired 29/03/2016
Updated: 28/12/2017 — 07:18
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