Monthly Archives: April 2012

Portsmouth’s WW1 Merchant Seamen

Memorial to the Merchant Seamen in Tower Hill

Memorial to the Merchant Seamen in Tower Hill (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the chapters in my recent book ‘Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes’ concerned Merchant Seamen who were killed in the Second World War. Whilst I did argue that the fate of merchant seamen had been overlooked compared to their counterparts in the three ‘main’ armed forces, merchant seamen in the Second World War have had a relatively high profile compared to their predecessors of the First World War.

Whilst we all know about the U-Boat wolf packs of the Second World War, it is less well known that Germany first attempted what it called ‘unrestricted submarine warfare’ in the First World War, in an attempt to bring Britain to her knees by choking her maritime links with the rest of the world. Just to give some kind of comparison, in the Second World War the British Merchant Navy lost 11.7 million tons of shipping – around 2,828 ships, with the los of around 30,000 men. In the First World War, the total was 7.7 million tons – 14,661 Merchant Seamen were lost. Less than in the Second World War, but clearly not insignificant either.

26 Merchant Seamen from Portsmouth died between 1914 and 1919. The interesting thing is, that three were killed in 1915, then two in 1916, before 8 were killed in 1917 and then 6 in 1918. It was in 1917 that Germany really ramped up it’s U-Boat offensive, and it really shows in the statistics of casualties.

Henry Kinshott, aged 33, was a waiter onboard the liner RMS Lusitania. A Cunard Liner, on 7 May 1915 the Lusitania was torpedoed by U-20, 13miles off of Kinsale in Ireland. She sank in just 18 minutes, with the loss of 1,198 of her complement of 1,959. 128 of those lost were American, and the disaster arguably played a part in encouraging the US to come into the war on the side of Britain and France. Kinshott is remembered on the Tower Hill Memorial in London. Born in Fareham, Kinshott lived at 3 Hampshire Street, Landport. Although thousands of people were killed, the Lusitania is relatively unknown compared to the Titanic.

A number of Hospital Ships were also lost at sea. On board the 12,000 ton HMHS Asturias was Greaser Stanley Cross, aged 2. On 21 March 1917, the Asutrias – formerly a Royal Mail ship – was damaged by U-66, 6 miles off Start Point in Devon. She was running between Avonmouth and Southampton, presumably carrying war casualties. The ship was beached and salvaged, but 35 men were lost, among them Stanley Cross. He is buried in Southampton Cemetery. Although Born in Landport in Portsmouth, he lived in Southampton.

One merchant ship actually had two Portsmouth men onboar. On the  SS Joshua were Master Thomas Jarrett, 48, and from 47 Derby Road in North End; and Mate Arthur Puddick, 40, from 27 Fourth Street in Kingston. The Joshua, a 60 ton coaster carrying china clay between Fowey in Cornwall and Dieppe in France, was stopped on 11 October 1917 by UB-57 west of the Isle of Wight. 3 of her crew were lost. Jarrett is remembered on the Tower Hill Memorial, while Puddick’s body was recovered and buried in Kingston Cemetery in Portsmouth.

A number of Navy Yachts were also lost during the war. The Royal Navy requisitioned a large number of smaller vessels, particuarly for Patrolling coastal waters. In most cases their civilian crews served onboard throughout hostilities. At least seven Portsmouth men were lost crewing Yachts.

The WW1 U-Boat offensive seems to have been a lot more indiscriminate than that of 1939-1945. As an illustration of this, even a Trinity House Pilot vessel was sunk. On 26 September 1915 the Vigilant, a 69 ton wooden ketch built in 1879, was sunk by UC-7 off the South Shipwash Buoy off Harwich. 14 of her crew were lost, uncluding Steward William Barley, 41, who lived at 42 Darlington Road in Southsea. He is remembered on the Tower Hill Memorial.

 

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Thinking about the site

I’ve been doing a bit of thinking about how things are going here at Daly History. It’s almost three years since I began, and how things have snowballed has far exceeded my expectations.

With that in mind, I’ve been thinking about how I move forwards with it all. The site remains, essentially, the same design wise as it did when I launched in July 2009, a few additions and modifications aside. I’ve been wondering if it’s time to think about a bit of an overhaul. When I started I was just a bloke interested in history who blogged in his spare time. Now, three years later, I’m a published historian.

One option to is to go down the self-hosted route, and actually host the site myself rather than using wordpress. The problem is, wordpress.com does not allow you to place adverts on your blog, whereas if you download the software and host it yourself, you can sell advertising. How would you feel about seeing adverts? It would only be a few, smallish and relevant adverts, from things that I think you my readers would be interested in. The idea is that it would help pay for the hosting costs.

In a more general sense, what do you like about Daly History? What would you change? Have you got any ideas that might improve things? In terms of content, is there anything that you would like to see more of? Am I covering some subjects in too much detail? Am I missing a trick with something? Please feel free to be brutally honest, I really welcome straight-up feedback as it makes my job so much easier!

As always, thank you for your support

James

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We’re all going on a League One tour

Entrance to Fratton Park (Frogmore Road) - geo...

Entrance to Fratton Park (Frogmore Road) - geograph.org.uk - 1266502 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It probably hasn’t escaped many people’s attention that my beloved Pompey were relegated last week, from the Championship to League One – the third tier of English football, for the first time in my lifetime.

The funny thing is, for many clubs you would expect it to be a heartbreaking event. But where Pompey are concerned, it’s very much the lesser of many evils. Firstly, it does represent a chance to clear the decks after our recent financial problems; it might make us more tempting to potential owners; and it might also enable the Supporters Trust to push forward their plans for a fans buyout.

The sad thing is, that it isn’t such a big deal to many of us long-term Pompey fans, as we are well used to ups and downs. For most of us, in any case, supporting a team is not about how well they are doing. Support is exactly that – you get behind the team come thick or thin – not just in the last ten minutes when they are 3-0 up. Looking at the potential fixture list next season – if Pompey survive the summer – we face games at some pretty interesting places. I’m hoping that Exeter stay up so I can take my Devonian girlfriend to an away game in the West Country! But hopefully it will be an opportunity to remind ourselves, and hopefully other people, what football should be about. Having a good time and getting behind your team, and not having to take out a second mortgage to do it.

The plight of Pompey has re-affirmed, for me, that free market philosophy and football just do not mix. Financial fair play rules are a good start, but are they strict enough? And will the laughable fit and proper persons test be seriously overhauled? In the space of five years, Portsmouth has been owned by the son of a Russian-Israeli arms dealer, the worlds only skint Arab tycoon, another Arab tycoon who did not even exist, a Hong Kong businessman who ‘claims’ to have loaned the club £17m, for which no proof has ever been proferred, and finally another billionaire Russian who was arrested when his Lithuanian bank collapsed. All of these people were found to be fit to own a football club by the FA, the Premier League and the Football League.

The problem is, even if Pompey go down the Trust route, the club would never have the muscle to compete all the time every other club is rolling in it – hardly a fair playing field. And the even bigger problem there is the indifference of most of the British public to football finance. Everyody seems to think that it is somehow our fault that Pompey have gone bust. If it is anybody’s fault, it definitely isn’t the fans. The financial culture of football makes it possible that any club could fall into the wrong hands and go to the wall – it’s almost random as to which. The ‘I’m alright Jack’ thing is endemic amongst other clubs supporters, until it affects them. And even clubs that have had problems in the past – Southampton, Brighton – tend to have short memories as soon as things start to pick up again. It’s naive, it’s narrow-minded, and it’s wrecking football.

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CFK – a latter day Nasser?

Logotype of the former Yacimientos Petrolífero...

It’s struck me that the Argentine President Cristina Fernandez Kirchner has been behaving in a very similar manner to Nasser, the Egyptian leader who nationalised the Suez Canal in 1956.

Earlier today the Argentine Senate backed the nationalisation of the oil company YPF, even though a controlling stake is owned by the spanish company Repsol. Obviously, this has drawn negative reaction from Spain, the European Union and the World Trade Organisation. Unilateral nationalisations don’t tend to go down too well in a free market world. And all this comes just weeks after CFK announced that Argentina would be seeking international support over their Falklands claims,  in particular targeting Spain who it was felt might sympathise due to the Gibraltar issue. Nobody in their right mind will want to invest in Argentina – why would you, if you would always be looking over your shoulder, wondering whether your investment is going to go into CFK’s slush fund? It’s not the kind of thing that the US smiles upon. And whether we like it or not, US influence over what goes on in the world is crucial, in particular when it comes to lending support over disputes such as the Falklands.

Now, you won’t often hear pro-capitalist commentaries on this blog. In fact, in theory I am not a fan of so-called free-trade, which seems more like a banner for freedom to exploit. But, thinking about it from an Argentine point of view, I really don’t get what she is trying to achieve. It’s not very pragmatic at all. You can’t ask a country to support you on the one hand, and then nationalise the interests of a major company on the other. Not only will such actions dent Argentina’s image abroad, but it also gives an impression of an inconsistent and unpragmatic administration, trying to have their cake and eat it. It also reinforces perceptions among some Latin American countries that CFK is taking Argentina too far down a socialist path, in a very Chavez-esque manner.

The funny thing is, the nationalisation of YPF seems to have gone down a storm in Argentina. Does it not occur to the Argentina populace that they are being played like fools? One has to look beyond the flag-waving, nationalist aspect, and look at the longer term impact, which can only be harmful to Argentina in the long run. The YPF issue shows just how fickle and populist Argentine politics can be. Substitute ‘YPF’ for ‘Falklands’, and you can see a pattern – President plays for the popular vote, everyone comes out waving flags, but in the long run it doesn’t work out.

I suspect that if Britain can ride out this current Falklands hysteria that CFK is whipping up – almost in a ‘Keep Calm and Carry On‘ style – then sooner or later she will be gone, and a slightly more sensible and mature leadership in Buenos Aires might realise that the same populist agitation that gets them elected also isloates Argentina, quite needlessly.

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Sergeant James Stevenson DCM MM

I’ve found another interesting Portsmouth man who died during the First World War – officially, just after it had ended. And like Sergeant Frederick Godfrey, he was well decorated too. His story also illustrates how Portsmouth servicemen came from vastly different parts of the world.

James Stevenson was born in Tannadice, a small village near Forfar, Scotland in 1890. The son of James Stevenson, in the 1891 census he is living with his grandparents at the Regristrars House in Tannadice. Thomas Stevenson, aged 50 in 1891, was the Inspector of Poor and Registrar. Where James Stevenson’s parents are is not recorded, in this census or in any other records.

In 1901 James is still living with his grandparents in Tannadice. By this time he was 11, and a scholar. Interestingly, a visitor was staying with the Stevensons on census night – an Alfred E. Waterman, aged 28, who gave his occupation as a ‘Military Land Surveyor RE’. This is particularly interesting, given the career path that Stevenson would follow.

In the 1911 census, James Stevenson was stationed at the Royal Engineers Brompton and St  Marys Barracks, as a Lance Corporal Clerk. At this point he was still single. Based on his birth date he would have to have served at least a couple of years to be promoted to Lance Corporal.

In late 1915 Stevenson married Isabel M. Lever, in Southampton. Isabel had been born in Portsmouth in early 1888. She does not appear in the 1891 census, but in the 1901 census she was living in St Mary’s Street in Southampton, where her parents ran a Pub. In the 1911 census was working as an Infirmary Nurse Southampton Union Infirmary. Did James and Isabel meet while he was being treated in hospital, perhaps?

His medal index cards at the National Archives state the was successively a Sapper, Corporal, Acting Sergeant, Temporary Sergeant with the Royal Engineers. And, interestingly enough, a Staff Sergeant attached to the Nigeria Regiment. Hence it is very possible that he fought in German West Africa.

In 1917 James Stevenson was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The citation appeared in the London Gazette on 17 September 1917, stating the he was from Southampton:

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in surveying battery positions under shell fire. He completed his work with accuracy and success, notably on one occasion when he was in the midst of heavy hostile shelling.

There is nothing in the citation to suggest when the acts of bravery took place, nor indeed where. He was serving with thr 5th Field Survey Battalion of the Royal Engineers, a specialist unit that worked on finding the location of German guns from their noise signatures. This could often take them

Sergeant James Stevenson died on 11 December 1918. He was 29, and is buried in Busigny in France. I haven’t been able to find out how he died, but as it was after the Armistice it was probably either due to wounds or illness. After his death Stevenson was awarded a posthumous Military Medal, announced in the London Gazette of 14 May 1919.

His entry on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission states that his widow, Mrs Isabel M. Stevenson, was living at 37 Kimberley Road in Southsea. She isn’t there in the 1911 census, so whether they moved there shortly after, or indeed Mrs Stevenson moved their independently after the war, I have yet to find out. I think it is quite possible that James Stevenson was stationed in Portsmouth at some point.

Tragically, It looks possible that they had a son – Ian R. Stevenson, who was born in Southampton in either July, August or September of 1918. Whether James Stevenson ever saw his son, seems pretty unlikely given the scarcity of leave during the Great War.

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ANZAC Day service in Portsmouth

Earlier today Sarah and myself went to the annual ANZAC service at Milton Cemetery in Portsmouth, in remembrance of the 13 Great War Australian soldiers buried in Portsmouth. Regular readers might remember that I ran a series earlier in the year about the men and their experiences.

The service was attended by the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Councillor Cheryl Buggy, Royal British Legion Standard Bearers, Royal Marines Cadets and members of the public. After a few words and prayers from the Chaplain, the last post was sounded and a minutes silence observed. After the reveille wreaths were laid, along with Poppy crosses.

It was great to see such a turn out, especially for some very young men who died over 95 years ago, so far from home. Hopefully they would be pleased that they have not been forgotten.

As you can see the graves are in a beautiful condition, and are tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. All of the 11 in this particular row were buried separately, but then exhumed and re-interred after the war in the same row. Hence their graves look very much like war graves in some of the big foreign war cemeteries in France and Belgium. Also buried next to them is Edward Sanderson, who voluntarily tended the Australian graves, and his wife Harriet.

I also have pictures of each of the men’s graves, and I will be updating their biographies on my blog with their pictures. If anybody from Australia would like to take copies of these pictures, then please do. I am also hoping to write an article about Portsmouth’s adopted ANZAC’s for th Australian War Memorial Journal in the near future.

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Lieutenant Nowall Oxland – Portsmouth’s War Poet

Interestingly, I’ve found a young officer with Portsmouth connections who was a war poet- and a little known one at that.

Lieutenant Nowall Oxland was born in 1890. The son of a Cumbrian vicar, he entered Durham School as a Kings Scholar in September 1903. He seems to have performed very well there, becoming monitor and head of school between 1908 and 1910, rowing in the third crew in 1908 and the second crew in 1909, and playing in the Rugby XV in 1907-1909.

In 1909 Oxland left Durham for Worcester College at Oxford University, where he was studying History, showing great promise as a writer of Prose. Whilst at Oxford he played Rugby for Rosslyn Park, Richmond, Middlesex and Cumberland.

Gazetted as a 2nd Lieutenant in September 1914, he joined the 6th Battalion, Border Regiment, a first-line Kitchener Battalion. With that unit he sailed from Liverpool for Gallipoli in July 1915. Oxland took part in the landings at Suvla Bay on 7 August 1915, and was killed there two days later. He was 24. He is buried in Green Hill Cemetery at Suvla. By the time of his death his parents had retired to Outram Road in Southsea.

Apparently one of Oxland’s poems – Outward Bound – was written on the otward voyage, and published inAugust 1915 after his death:

There’s a waterfall I’m leaving
Running down the rocks in foam,
There’s a pool for which I’m grieving
Near the water-ouzel’s home,
And it’s there that I’d be lying
With the heather close at hand,
And the Curlew’s faintly crying
‘Mid the wastes of Cumberland.

While the midnight watch is winging
Thoughts of other days arise.
I can hear the river singing
Like the Saints in Paradise;
I can see the water winking
Like the merry eyes of Pan,
And the slow half-pounders sinking
By the bridges’ granite span.

Ah! To win them back and clamber
Braced anew with winds I love,
From the rivers’ stainless amber
To the morning mist above,
See through clouds-rifts rent asunder
Like a painted scroll unfurled,
Ridge and hollow rolling under
To the fringes of the world.

Now the weary guard are sleeping,
Now the great propellers churn,
Now the harbour lights are creeping
Into emptiness astern,
While the sentry wakes and watches
Plunging triangles of light
Where the water leaps and catches
At our escort in the night.

Great their happiness who seeing
Still with unbenighted eyes
Kin of theirs who gave them being,
Sun and earth that made them wise,
Die and feel their embers quicken
Year by year in summer time,
When the cotton grasses thicken
On the hills they used to climb.

Shall we also be as they be,
Mingled with our mother clay,
Or return no more it may be?
Who has knowledge, who shall say?
Yet we hope that from the bosom
Of our shaggy father Pan,
When the earth breaks into blossom
Richer from the dust of man,

Though the high Gods smith and slay us,
Though we come not whence we go,
As the host of Menelaus
Came there many years ago;
Yet the self-same wind shall bear us
From the same departing place
Out across the Gulf of Saros
And the peaks of Samothrace;

We shall pass in summer weather,
We shall come at eventide,
When the fells stand up together
And all quiet things abide;
Mixed with cloud and wind and river,
Sun-distilled in dew and rain,
One with Cumberland for ever
We shall go not forth again.

It remains the only well- known poem by Oxland which survives.

Apparently there is a very touching memorial to Nowell Oxland, at St Augustine’s Parish Church at Alston in Cumbria, where his father had been the vicar. Painted panels on the reredos memorial screen depict Oxland’s face, in representations of St Michael and St George. Click here for more information.

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