Category Archives: Local History

Ark Royal to open to the public one final time

The Royal Navy’s flagship HMS Ark Royal will be open to the public one final time over the weekend of 22 and 23 January. Her decomissioning will also be marked by a parade and ceremony in Portsmouth Guildhall Square on the Saturday.

About 250 sailors from the Portsmouth-based aircraft carrier – which is being decommissioned in March – will parade through the city on January 22 to celebrate the close affiliation between the warship and its home port. A Royal Marines band will lead the parade which starts at Paradise Street (near the city centre Tesco) at 11.20am. The crew will march to Guildhall Square via Commercial Road, past Portsmouth and Southsea train station and under the civic buildings.

A special service will then take place including speeches from Ark Royal’s Commanding Officer Captain Jerry Kyd, Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr Paula Riches and Leader of the council, Cllr Gerald Vernon-Jackson. Ark Royal’s padre, the Rev Martin Evans, will close the service with prayers. The event will conclude with Captain Kyd presenting the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, Cllr Paula Riches, with a ship’s white ensign. The service is expected to finish around midday when the city council will host a reception for the ship’s company and their families in the Guildhall. The parade leaves Commercial Road at 11.15am, and the ceremony in Guildhall Square lasts until 12 noon.

Ark will be open to visitors at Victory Jetty in Portsmouth Naval Base between midday and 4pm on Saturday 22 January and 10am and 3pm the following day. Areas open on board will include the hangar, flight deck and operations room. I’m not sure what kind of state the ship will be in, as when I went past the Hard the other day I could see Containers on deck – I wonder if they’ve started stripping her out already? Entry to the jetty will be through Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s main entrance at Victory Gate.

Also on Saturday members of the ships crew will parade on the pitch at Fratton Park before the Portsmouth-Leeds United game. Leeds is the Ark’s adoptive city, and the ship also has an affiliation link with Leeds United Football Club.

As much as it is welcome to see the efforts being made to recognise Ark Royal, I hope the same efforts are made to honour HMS Illustrious when she is decomissioned in several years time. For some reason the name ‘Ark Royal’ has a cache of brownie points. As loved as she is, there are plenty of other fantastic ships that have gone off to the breakers yard without a murmur – Fearless and Intrepid, for example, and then we have some of the Falklands veteran Type 42 Destroyers.

It’s a welcome chance to take a last look at a famous ship, however. I’ve never actually been onboard Ark Royal. Whenever theres a Navy Days that I can get to it always seems to be HMS Illustrious on show!

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Time Team at Governors Green

Domus Dei, October 2007.

Domus Dei (Image via Wikipedia)

Well Time Team last night didn’t disappoint. Or rather, it did – but it was so disappointing from a historical point of view, it didnt disappoint my premonitions!

The expressed aim of the programme was to uncover the history of the medieval Hospital at the Governors Green area of old Portsmouth, adjoining what is now known as the Garrison Church, which has its origins as part of the Hospital complex. Known originally as Domus Dei, or God’s House, the Hospital was razed in 1540 during Henry VIII’s disolution of the monasteries. The chapel survived, however, and the adjoining land was used to build the Governors House.

The concept of a medieval hospital is very different from our image of operating theatres, accident and emergency et al. Medieval hospitals did exactly what they said on the tin – provided hospitality in a godly setting and manner. In particular pilgrims would use hospitals during their travels to shrines – such as nearby Winchester of Chichester, and places further afield such as Santiago de Compostela in Spain. They have a very rich and interesting social history, particularly in a port such as Portsmouth, a place that was so important to the defence of the realm too.

The feeling I had from the programme was that the team had not done their research properly at all. They were speculating about things that we already knew about, if only they had bothered to listen to people who tried to tell them! The geophysical survey told us everything that we needed to know, namely that there is an impressive range of buildings under Governors Green, and with some clever use of maps, documents and overlays it shouldnt take too much to interpret them, without the need for digging. I’m also surprised that they thought they could overlay an old tudor map on the current OS map without any errors at all – of course there are going to be anomalies. How you make such a cock-up in the most mapped town in the kingdom is beyond me.

What’s also disappointing, is that Time Team found plenty of interesting 18th Century finds, such as military uniform buttons and clay pipes, but these weren’t shown in the programme – probably because the aim of the programme was to look at the medieval hospital. Yet it would also have been interesting to find out more about Portsmouth’s history as a garrison town. All of the finds, incidentally, have been handed over to Portsmouth City Museums and Records Service, as the local Museum.

Predictably we also had the ubiquitous Portsmouth Grammar School kids turning up in their blazers, as always happens when anything of any significance happens in Portsmouth. You would think there aren’t any other schools in the city. A chance to involve other young people in Portsmouth’s history was missed.

So, essentially, much research, three days digging, much expertise and resources were spent telling us that what we already knew was there, was in fact, actually there all along! I’m really not sure what the programme achieved at all. It seems to be more about the programme than any kind of historical importance. Don’t get me wrong, Time Team have done some fascinating things over the years, and I used to love it when I was younger, but finding out about how the programme works behind the scenes has been kind of like meeting your idols, only to feel let down.

If anyone would like some light entertainment, Time Team at Governors Green can be watched on Channel 4 On Demmand here.

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Portsmouth on Time Team tomorrow night, Channel 4

Domus Dei church.

Garrison Church (Image via Wikipedia)

Tomorrow night’s episode of Time Team on Channel 4 comes from Portsmouth.

Last year the arachaeology programme carried out a dig in Old Portsmouth, on the Governors Green area. The existing Garrison Church used to be part of a larger Governors House, and prior to that it used to be part of a much larger complex – the Domus Dei, or Gods House. Domus Dei acted as a hospital and travel lodge.

I’ve had a bit of secondhand inside knowledge on what happened on the dig, but I’ll let you all watch the programme and make what you will of it before I spoil it with my gossip!

Time Team at Governors Green is on Channel 4 tommorrow night (Sunday 24th October) at 5.30pm

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Saxon event at Portsmouth City Museum this Saturday

No, not the heavy metal band (sadly!), but a Saxon log boat excavated from Langstone Harbour goes on display for the first time this weekend at Portsmouth City Museum. The boat is over 1,500 years old and is the oldest known watercraft to have been retrieved from the Solent!

There will also be a chance to see Saxon artefacts from Portsdown and Horndean, including jewellery, spear heads and shield bosses. Speak to costumed interpreters to discover what a Saxon warrior carried with him on the battlefield and the clothes and jewellery a fashionable Saxon woman would have worn. Members of the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology will be on site with their Maritime Bus, packed with interactive displays, models, games and hands-on activities.

10.30am to 4.30pm, Saturday 23 October. For more info click here

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Wandsworth and Battersea Battalions in the Great War by Paul McCye

After the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, it was quickly realised that the relatively small size of Britain’s regular Army would not be enough to fight a long European War. Even after being reinforced by the Territorial Army, the British Expeditionary Force that left for France in 1914 was woefully small compared to the huge French and German Armies. The Secretary of State for War, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, was under no illusions that the war would be long and bloody. His famous ‘your country needs you’ appeal inspired hundreds of thousands of men to volunteer to fight.

One of the most unique and tragic features of the Great War had its genesis in this recruitment drive. Kitchener promised that men who joined up together would be allowed to fight together, in the same Battalions. This ruling led to many ‘Pals’ Battalions, that were either distinctly in nature, or indeed some which were recruited from whole factories, professions or other social groups. Many towns and cities sponsored their own Battalions, recruited from the local young men. This book by Paul McCue focuses on the Pals Battalions raised by two London Boroughs – Wandsworth and Battersea.

Wandsworth’s Pals Battalion became part of the East Surrey Regiment, and was officially titled the 13th (Service) Battalion East Surrey Regiment (Wandsworth). Battersea’s Pals came under the Queens (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. Their proper title was the 10th (Service) Battalion Queens (Royal West Kent) Regiment (Battersea). After the decimation of the original British Expeditionary Force at the battles of Mons, Le Cateau, the Marne and First Ypres, the demmands of war on the Western Front increasingly fell upon Kitchener’s ‘New Armies’, particularly the Pals Battalions. After a long period of training, most of them reached the front by early 1916, in time for Haig’s planned ‘big push’ on the Somme.

Both the Wandsworth and Battersea Battalions were mercifully spared the bloodshed on 1 July 1916 on the first day of the Somme, but both went on to see active service in the Somme and Ypres sectors, as well as other parts of the front. The Wandsworth Pals fought in several particularly tough battles at Villers-Plouich and Bourlon Wood, and then through the ‘Kaiser Offensive’ in 1918, when most of the Battalion were captured. After this the Battalion was disbanded. The Battersea Pals fought at Devil’s Wood, and in early 1918 were sent to reinforce the Italian Front, returning to Flanders in time for the armistice. The Battalion served in the occupation of Germany, before disbanding.

Paul McCue starts each section with a detailed history of each area in question. This is important, but I would probably give a very bried overview of the early history, with more emphasis on the early twentieth century context of the borough. We then progress onto an interesting history of how each Battalion was formed – in both cases, by the Mayor and Council. There are interesting tales of how the Councils insisted on the Battalion’s being officered completely by local men, and of interesting recruitment drives and fundraising efforts to kit out the units. There are plenty of stories about individual men, particularly Corporal Edward ‘Tiny’ Foster, who won the Victoria Cross. At the end of the book McCue has included a full Roll of Honour for both Battalions, listed by Cemetery and Memorial. This is an excellent resource for researchers.

The ‘Pals’ idea proved to be a dismal failure. If a Pals unit had a particulary tough battle, a whole towns menfolk could be lost in one fell swoop, and the impact on morale, both at home and on active service, was substantial. Whereas if men were dispersed around other units, losses would be more spread out. During the Second World War the Army did not make the same mistake, and dispersed men around Regiments much more.

I applaud Pen and Sword for their Pals series. The Pals units are a uniquely local story – perhaps the most striking example in military history of towns and cities having a shared military heritage, forged through enlistment, training, battle and then losses and casualties. Producing histories of each of the Pals Battalions around the country provides not only something of local importance, but also a rich tapestry of the experience of war for ordinary local men and its impact on communities. It’s seriously got me thinking about the Portsmouth Pals, and what little we know about them.

Wandsworth and Battersea Battalions in the Great War is published by Pen and Sword

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RAF Benevolent Fund Day of Action

British propaganda poster during the Battle of...

Image via Wikipedia

Today marks the RAF Benevolent Fund’s ‘Day of Action’, and also seventy years since the height of the Battle of Britain over the skies of Southern England. To mark the day, I thought I would share a couple more stories about young fliers over Portsmouth in 1940. I’ve already written about Flight Lieutenant John ‘Nine Gun’ Coghlan DFC, a Hurricane Pilot who was killed in a secret mission over France in August 1940. The next two men might not have come from Portsmouth, but they died bravely in the skies over the city in 1940, and both were part of ‘the few’ of the Battle of Britain.

Sergeant Hubert Hastings Adair, 23 and from Norwich, was flying a Hurricane of 213 Squadron when he was shot down in the skies over North Portsmouth on 6 November 1940. He has no official grave, and is remembered on the Runnymede Memorial in Surrey.

Adair had joined the RAF in 1936, and flew Fairey Battles over France in 1940. In August he transferred to the Hurricane-equipped 213 Squadron, based at Tangmere in West Sussex. Adair was last seen in Combat over Southampton Water, and when he failed to return it was assumed that he had crashed into the English Channel. After the war, however, it was discovered that his Hurricane had crashed in farmland a mile north of Portsdown Hill, near Pigeonhouse Lane. Locals were aware of the crash, but the RAF neither investigated the site nor recovered Adair’s remains.

In 1979 the Wealden Aviation Archaeological Group excavated the site. They recovered much of the aircraft, including the Browning Machine Guns and the Merlin Engine. Adair’s remains were also recovered. The coroner, however, stated that an inquest would not be held, and that the remains were to be disposed of. Because of this H.H. Adair is still officially Missing in Action.

A memorial plaque has been erected near the Churchillian Pub on Portsdown Hill, which overlooks the crash site roughly a mile to the north.

Flying Officer James Tillett, 22 and from Northamptonshire, was flying a Hurricane of 238 Squadron from Chilbolton, North Hampshire when he was also shot down north of Portsdown Hill later on the same day. He is buried in Ann’s Hill Cemetery, Gosport. Tillett joined the RAF as an officer cadet in 1937. Graduating from Cranwell in 1939 as a Pilot Officer, he was promoted to Flying Officer in 1940.

On 6 November 1940 Tillett’s Squadron was scrambled to intercept a Bomber formation heading for Portsmouth. Tillett was shot down over Fareham by a Messerschmitt 109 fighter. The crash site was recorded as ‘near Whitedell, Fareham’. His Hurricane was seen to crash land with its wheels in the air near White Dell Farm, North Wallington, Portsmouth. According to eyewitness accounts the plane was in flames; two brothers attempted to rescue Tillett who was slumped over the controls, but the fire engulfed their aircraft. A memorial plaque has also been placed near the site where Tillet’s Hurricane crashed, near the junction of Pook Lane and Spurlings Lane.

In a day of high drama over the skies of Portsmouth, it is believed that both men were shot down by Hauptmann (Major) Helmut Wick, the Commander of 2 Jagedschewader of the Luftwaffe. After claiming 56 kills Wick was himself shot down on 28 November 1940. Wick’s logbook for the day states that he had shot down two Hurricanes over the Portsmouth area on 6 November 1940.

What must it have been like to be a young person in Portsmouth on that day in 1940? Its hard to believe, but my Granddad can remember watching dogfights over the channel and over Portsmouth in 1940. One time, he saw a Heinkel flying so over Portsmouth that he could see the pilot’s blonde hair.

We think of war as something that happens to other people, in far-off places, in a bygone age. Yet Adair and Tillett were killed just a couple of miles away from my house, and were younger than me. Adair and Tillett, and indeed John Coghlan, and all of the other young men who fought and died with the Royal Air Force during the Second World War should never be forgotten. Of course today we remember the few of Fighter Command, but as well we must remember those who died in Bombers, in Transport Aircraft, Ground Crew, the WAAF’s, men and women, young and old, who served and died overseas or at home.

To find out more about what happened in 1940, to find out about the RAF Benevolent Fund’s 1940 Chronicle Campaign, or to donate to the RAFBF, click here

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Portsmouth heroes update

Work has been progressing steadily on my Portsmouth Heroes project. At the moment I am researching a handful of some of the most interesting stories in detail, right down to when they were born, what kind of a background they came from, absolutely everything I can find out about them in order to try and understand what makes them tick.

I can remember reading Supreme Courage by Sir Peter de la Billiere, which is a fascinating profile of a number of Victoria Cross winners. DLB doesn’t just state the bare facts, he tries to get into the minds of the men in question, and explains how the came to show such inspiring bravery. That’s what I’m hoping to achieve here, only looking at Portsmouth men. Who stories, I hope, will be more accessible to local people.

Recently I have been researching:

  • Chief Petty Officer Reginald Ellingworth, a First World War veteran who served for years in submarines, transferred to B0mb Disposal and was killed defusing a Parachute Mine during the Blitz. He was awarded one of the first George Crosses posthumously.
  • Sergeant Sidney Cornell, a Paratrooper who won the Distinguished Conduct Medal in Normandy, fought in the Ardennes and the Rhine Crossing and was killed in the final battle for Germany in April 1945.
  • Lance Corporal Leslie Webb, a member of the 1st Hampshire Regiment who was mortally wounded landing in the first wave on D-Day, and was awarded a posthumous Military Medal.
  • Flight Lieutenant John Coghlan, a Battle of Britain pilot who fought in the Battle of France, over Dunkirk and over southern England, claiming at least 6 downed enemy aircraft and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. In August a Westland Lysander he was flying over northern France on a secret operation vanished.
  • Major Robert Easton, a pre-war Lancashire Fusilier who transferred to the Royal Armoured Corps, and won a Distinguished Service Order in the battles around Monte Cassino in Italy in 1944. He was killed while second in command of his Regiment later that year.
  • Wing Commander John Buchanan, a Bomber pilot who flew early missions against Nazi Germany, then transferred to flying Beaufighters in North Africa and from Malta, where he commanded Squadrons. He was killed in the Mediterranean in 1944, after being awarded a Distinguished Service Order, a Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar and a Belgian Croix de Guerre.
  • Lieutenant-Commander William Hussey, a young Destroyer commander who saw action escorting convoys in the North Sea, Channel and Atlantic, took part in evacuating Dutch officials in 1940, and then saw service in the Mediterranean, escorting Convoys to Malta and attacking Axis shipping to North Africa. He was killed when his ship was sunk off Tobruk in May 1942. He was awarded the DSO, a DSC and was mentioned in despatches three times.

Its amazing how much you can find out. Navy, Army and Air Force lists are a godsend for tracing the careers of officers. Other ranks are slightly more tricky. Medal winners are easier too, as awards were announced in the London Gazette and you can obtain citations from the National Archives. The Portsmouth Evening News is very useful, but on microfilm it can take an age to trawl through! You can also get long-serving sailors and marines records from TNA too. A lengthy trip to the National Archives is in the offing, and probably the Imperial War Museum as well. And I can feel a few interlibrary loans in the offing too!

There are some other men I am keen to research too – such as Colour Sergeant Willie Bird of the Royal Marines,  Petty Officer Frank Collison and Electrical Artificer Arthur Biggleston of HM Submarine Triumph, Battery Quartermaster Sergeant Stanley Thayer and Major Maurice Budd. Then there are the interesting stories such as the Venables brothers who were killed in the same plane crash, Private Bobby Johns the underage Para, the massive losses on the Battleships Royal Oak, Hood and Barham, the POW’s in Europe and South East Asia, the brothers who died during the war, the Boy Seamen, the men who were killed on the SS Portsdown, the Merchant Seamen and NAAFI personnel, WAAFs, Wrens and ATS girls…

If there any stories that I have forgotten, or if anyone has any information about any of these men, or would like to chip in on anything about the whole project, I’m all ears. It’s hard knowing who to focus on, as with the best will in the world it would take me forever to research all 2,000+ men in such detail, and I’m hoping to take a representative sample of men and women who could have been anyone from Portsmouth.

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Tracing the Rifle Volunteers: A Guide for Military and Family Historians by Ray Westlake

It would probably be best to start off with describing what this book is not. Its definitely not a cover-to-cover bedtime read. Its more something for the military historian to keep on the shelf for reference, and that the family historian may wish to have a look at if they find a Rifle Volunteer ancestor.

The Rifle Volunteers were formed in 1859 as a form of part-time defence force for the United Kingdom. Although the Government was not overly keen on the concept of amateur soldiering, the War Office finally acquiesced on the grounds of national defence in the event of an invasion of British soil. They were, along with the older Militias, the forerunners of the modern Territorial Army.

From the start the Rifle Volunteers took on a strong local tone – they were originally raised by Lord Lieutenants of counties, and were formed around local companies and battalions. There was a degree of central organisation and direction, in the form of certain stipulations and directives from central Government, but on the whole the Volunteers were very much a local force. And only later in the 19th century did the Volunteers begin the long and drawn out process of building links with the regular army. The 1881 Army reforms saw the introduction of Country Regiments, which made local links with volunteer units much more likely.

Volunteer battalions were originally only to be mobilised for home defence. However in 1900 a Special Army Order called upon volunteer companies to fight in South Africa. The Volunteer Force finally ceased to exist in 1908, when it was subsumed into the new Territorial Force. Apparently this change was not popular with the volunteers themselves, as it involved a degree of re-organisation, and some disbandments.

Unfortunately, this book does not really show the reader how to research a volunteer. To do that you would expect to see some examples of documents, how and where to find them, and advice to set you on the road to find out more. However this information is limited to one page at the end of the book, covering Army Lists, Muster Rolls, Published Unit Records, Local Newspapers and the National Archives. The upshot is, sadly, that if you want to research a Rifles volunteer, there isn’t a whole lot to go on – and especially not it if they were not an officer.

Where this book does shine, however, is in the exhaustive list of every Volunteer Rifles Unit in Britain. For example, I can see that the 5th (Portsmouth) Corps of the Hampshire Rifles Volunteer Rifles formed on 16 August 1860. The Commandant was Captain George P. Vallaney, formerly of the Indian Army. In 1880 the 5th (Portsmouth) joined the new 3rd Corps, providing five companies from A to E. In September 1885 the 3rd Hampshire Corps was designated as the 3rd (The Duke of Connaught’s Own) Volunteer Battalion, and in 1908 the Battalion transferred to the Territorial Force as the 6th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. Interestingly, we also find out that their uniform was scarlet and yellow, later changing to scarlet and white.

More locally, the 23rd Corps of the Hampshire Rifles Volunteers formed at Cosham on 29 November 1860, with Lieutenant Edward Goble and Ensign Henry Monk as the first officers. The 23rd moved its Headquarters several miles west to Portchester in 1869, and became L Company of the new 3rd Corps in 1880.

Tracing the Rifle Volunteers: A Guide for Military and Family Historians is published by Pen and Sword

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Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead – The Hampshire Regiment in focus

The Hampshire Regiment in focus

114 men from Portsmouth died serving with the Hampshire Regiment during the Second World War, more than any other infantry Regiment. Between 1939 and 1945 six Hampshire Battalions fought overseas – the 1st, 2nd, 1/4th, 2/4th, 5th and 7th.

11 men died in England, 1 in Algeria, 1 in Burma, 1 in Egypt, 21 in France, 1 in Germany, 1 in Greece, 5 in Holland, 41 in Italy, 2 in Malta, 1 in Singapore, 1 in Syria, and 27 in Tunisia.

Traditionally British county infantry Regiments consisted of two regular Battalions and several territorial Battalions. In wartime these might be joined by a number of war-raised Battalions, and also Depot Battalions. Unlike in the Great War no ‘pals’ Battalions were formed, after concerns that too many men from the same communities were being killed together, which was bad for morale at home and for the men concerned.

For many years the Hampshire Regiment Depot had been at Winchester, but during the Second World War it was evacuated to the Isle of Wight. Almost all wartime recruits would have undertaken their basic training there.

Regular Battalions:

1st Battalion – 20
2nd Battalion – 22

Most line infantry Regiments began the Second World War with two regular Battalions. In peacetime normally one Battalion would be serving overseas – such as in India, or Egypt – while the other would be at home.

The 1st Hants began the war in Egypt. After pecekeeping duties in Palestine and guarding Italian prisoners in Egypt, they spent some time in Malta in 1941, suffering two casualties there, before joining the Malta Brigade and fighting in Sicily and Italy. At the end of 1943 they were withdrawn to England, after Montgomery requested experienced troops to take part in the D-Day operations. When the Battalion laned in England in 1943 it was the first time it had set foot in the UK after 23 years overseas. The 1st Hants landed on D-Day, with four Portsmouth soldiers being killed among total losses of 182 men, including the CO and second in command. After fighting at Hottot, Villers-Bocage, Belgium and Holland, along with the rest of the 50th Division the Battalion was disbanded in November 1944 and the men dispersed to other units.

The 2nd Battalion was based in Aldershot when war began. They landed in France in September 1939, serving on the Maginot Line and the Franco-Belgian Border, but were evacuated through Dunkirk with its equipment intact and without suffering any casualties. The 2nd Hants then went to North Africa in November 1942, fighting in Algeria and Tunisia. The Battalion suffered very heavy casualties between 1 and 3 December 1942, with 7 Portsmouth men killed. After the fall of Tunis they joined the 128th ‘Hampshire’ Brigade.

Territorial Battalions:

1/4th Battalion – 15
2/4th Battalion – 16
5th Battalion – 14
7th Battalion – 17

On the outbreak of war in 1939 most Regiments also possessed two Battallions of the Territorial Army. To provide a firm basis for new recruits, the 4th Battalion were split in two to provide an extra Battalion, of the first and second line, ie 1/4th and 2/4th. The 5/7th Battalion, meanwhile, was split up into the 5th and 7th Battalions. Therefore these Battalions were made up roughly half of territorials and half of conscripts, although they would have taken on conscripts during the war to make up losses.

The 1/4th, 2/4th and 5th Hants were formed into the 128th ‘Hampshire’ Brigade, part of the 43rd (Wessex) Division. In January 1943 the Brigade left the 43rd Division and joined the 46th (West Riding) Division for North Africa. After the end of the war in North Africa the Brigade landed at Salerno in September 1943, suffering very heavy casualties, with 8 Portsmouth Hampshires killed. After fighting up trough Italy the Brigade was taken out of the line in February 1944, and taken to Egypt where reinforcements were taken on. In August 1944 the Hampshire Brigade was back in action in Italy. In December 1944 they were relieved once again, and in January 1945 were sent to Greece to disarm communist guerillas. One man of the 5th Battalion was killed in Greece. Although the Brigade moved back to Italy in April 1945 the war was over before they could go into action again.

The 7th Hants was part of the 43rd (Wessex) Division, and were grouped with the 4th and 5th Dorsets in 130th Brigade. They landed in France on 22 June, and were initially in reserve. In July the 7th Hants went into action in the bitter bocage fighting, culminating in the capture of Mont Pincon. The Battalion was then involved in the breakout and the great swan across France, before being involved in the latter stages of Operation Market Garden. After rest the 7th Hants took part in the battle of the Reichswald in February 1945. After crossing the Rhine on 24 March 1945 they ended the war at Barkhausen in Germany, between Bremen and Hamburg.

Home Service/Depot Battalions

12th Battalion – 3
13th Battalion – 2

Home Service and Depot Battalions were formed to act as holding units for recruits, or for older men who were maybe not suitable for service overseas. Younger men could in turn be posted overseas. Four of the five men who died while serving in Depot Battalions died in the UK. The other man died in Burma, perhaps while he was travelling to another unit or while he was serving as a Staff Officer.

Of the Portsmouth Hampshires killed during the Second World War, only Lance Corporal Leslie Webb of the 1st Battalion was decorated for bravery. He won the Military Medal for his part in D-Day, but after being evacuated wounded to England died on 14 June 1944. He was 27 and from North End, and is buried in Milton Cemetery.

Information taken from ‘The Royal Hampshire Regiment 1918 – 1954′ by David Scott Daniell.

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Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead: the Royal Navy part 2

Medals

93 Royal Navy officers and ratings from Portsmouth were either decorated during the Second World War, or had won medals previously – 7.2% of all Portsmouth sailors who were killed. Its noticeable immediately that most of the men who were decorated were older servicemen, and were either leading rates, Petty Officers or Officers. This is not surprising, as their leadership role gave more potential for performing bravely. And, arguably, older more experienced men were likely to be calmer in action.

Two Portsmouth sailors were awarded Britain’s highest award for bravery not in the face of the enemy – the George Cross. Chief Petty Officer Reginald Ellingworth was killed while defusing a bomb in 1940, and Able Seaman Henry Miller was lost in the sinking of a Submarine in 1940.

The most highly decorated naval officer from Portsmouth to die during the Second World War was Lieutenant-Commander William Hussey. Hussey was awarded a Distinguished Service Order, a Distinguished Service Cross, and was twice mentioned in despatches. 4 officers were awarded the Distingished Service Cross, and one officer – Lieutenant Charles Lambert – was awarded a bar to his DSC.

39 Sailors were awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. Three of these men were also awarded a mention in despatches, and one man – Able Seaman William Laing – was mentioned in despatches twice along with his DSM. Two men – Petty Officer Frank Collison and Electrical Artificer 1st Class Arthur Biggleston – were awarded a Bar to their DSM.

Five men were awarded the British Empire Medal, One man was awarded a CBE, and two men OBE’s. One man was awarded a BEM and a mention in despatches. 33 Sailors were mentioned in despatches. One man was awarded a Reserve Decoration for long service with the Royal Naval Reserve, and another the Royal Vctorian Medal for long service on the Royal Yacht pre-war. Another sailor had been awarded the Royal Humane Society’s Bronze Medal during the First World War. Another man had been awarded a George Medal earlier in his career.

Areas of Portsmouth

Portsmouth sailors who were killed in the Second World War came from the following areas:

282 – Southsea (21.84%)
145 – Copnor (11.23%)
133 – North End (10.3%)
110 – Cosham (8.52%)
56 – Milton (4.34%)
50 – Fratton (3.87%)
43 – Stamshaw (3.33%)
33 – Buckland (2.56%)
26 – Eastney (2.01%)
26 – Mile End (2.01%)
23 – Hilsea (1.78%)
20 – Landport (1.55%)
14 – Drayton (1.08%)
13 – Farlington (1%)
13 – Portsea (1%)
11 – Kingston (0.85%)
7 – East Cosham (0.54%)
7 – Tipner (0.54%)
6 – Paulsgrove (0.46%)
2 – East Southsea (0.15%)
2 – Wymering (0.15%)

171 men – 13.25% – are listed as from ‘Portsmouth’.

What can we say about these figures? Southsea was at the time the largest and most populous part of Portsmouth, and although Southsea is best known as a seaside resort, ‘Southsea’ also describes the area as far north as Goldsmith Avenue, and what is now known as Somers Town. Hence it was the home not only to wealthy officers, but also many ordinary sailors, and working class men called up during the war. It seems that sailors came overwhelmingly from the southern Part of Portsea Island, near the Dockyard, and the laterr 19th Century suburbs such as Copnor and North End. Outlying, less populated areas such as Paulsgrove, Drayton and Wymering provided few sailors.

It will be interesting to compare these statistics with those for the other Armed Services, and also to take a closer look at each area itself to see if we can learn anything about their social composition.

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Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead – the Royal Navy (part 1)

HMS Hood

Given that for hundreds of years Portsmouth has been the historic home of the Royal Navy, and the largest Naval Base in Britain, its not surprising that by far the most men from Portsmouth who died in the Second World War were serving with the Royal Navy.

1,291 naval officers and ratings from Portsmouth were killed between September 1939 and December 1947. This represents just over 50% of all Portsmouth servicemen who were killed during the war.

The nature of the Royal Navy in the Second World War warrants a mention. Particular naval ships were manned by men from one of the three manning ports – either Portsmouth, Plymouth or Chatham. Hence specific ships contained men mainly from one of these ports, although there were small exceptions. Terms of service were also relatively long, so men who joined the Navy who originally came from elsewhere in the country were likely to move to Portsmouth – particularly men who might rise up the ranks.

Due to the nature of naval warfare, many sailors who were killed in the war were lost at sea – almost 76% of them, in fact. 806 of the men are remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, 86 on the Plymouth Naval Memorial, and 65 on the Chatham Memorial. In addition 24 men of the Fleet Air Arm are remembered on the naval memorial at Lee-on-the-Solent.

The biggest single losses were sustained when the Battleships HMS Royal Oak, HMS Hood and HMS Barham were sunk. 66 Portsmouth sailors were killed when HMS Royal Oak was sunk on 14 October 1939. A total of 833 men were killed, and 386 survived. 98 men were lost when HMS Hood was sunk by the Bismarck on 24 May 1941. Out of a crew of 1,418 only three men survived. And 54 men were killed when HMS Barham was sunk in the Mediterranean on 25 November 1941. 861 men were lost on the Barham.

Other significant losses were suffered with the sinkings of HMS Acheron (Destroyer), HMS Cossack (Destroyer), HMS Culver (lend-lease coastguard cutter), HMS Daring (Destroyer), HMS Dunedin (Cruiser), HMS Eagle (Aircraft Carrier), HMS Fidelity (Special Service vessel), HMS Fiji (Cruiser), HMS Glorious (Aircraft Carrier), HMS Glowworm (Destroyer) and HMS Penelope (Cruiser).

112 men (8.68%) died whilst serving in Submarines, 28 (2.17%) in the Fleet Air Arm, 15 men (1.16%) were serving with the Royal Naval Patrol Service, 12 men (0.93%) in Coastal Forces, and 5 men died (0.39%) whilst crewing Landing Craft. 9 women also died during the war whilst serving with the Womens Royal Naval Service, 0.7% of all Portsmouth’s naval fatalities.

98 men (7.6%) died whilst serving at shore bases local to Portsmouth – HMS Victory, HMS Vernon and HMS Excellent. Many of these were older men serving in administration and support services, and seem to have died of natural causes -this suggests just how many men were required to keep the Royal Navy running. Although they did not die in action, their contribution to the war effort should be remembered.

The amount of men who died in each year reflect the wider activities and losses of the Royal Navy during the war:

74 men were killed in 1939 (5.73%)
319 in 1940 (24.71%)
329 in 1941 (25.48%)
205 in 1942 (15.88%)
149 in 1943 (11.54%)
112 in 1944 (8.68%)
65 in 1945 (5.03%)
45 in 1946 (3.49%)
35 in 1947 (2.71%)

The heavy losses in 1941 – and to a lesser extent 1942 – reflect the sinkings of not only HMS Hood and HMS Barham, but the Battle of the Atlantic. That 80 men (6.2%) died after the end of the war is significant, and suggests how many men were still in uniform for several years after the war ended.

The ages of Naval servicemen are also interesting to look at. 5 were Boy Seamen aged 16. 6 were aged 17,
23 aged 18, and 36 were 19. 422 men were in their 20′s, 407 in their 30′s, 211 in their 40′s, 72 in their 50′s and 17 were 60 or over. 83 men’s ages are as yet unknown. Their age groups are interesting. While most sailors were in their 20′s, a significant proportion of men were in their 30′s and 40′s. This shows how many Portsmouth sailors had served for a long-time, and also how long serving sailors very often ended up living in Portsmouth. Whilst we tend to think of men who died in the war as ‘young’, many of these older men would have left young families behind them.

In part 2 of my look at Royal Navy losses, I will examine ranks, areas of Portsmouth that they came from, and medals.

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Portsmouth WW2 Dead Project: completed!

This afternoon I finished inputting the last of the 2,548 names of Portsmouth men an women who died whilst serving in the Armed Forces, between 1939 and 1947. Of course, this kind of project is never truly ‘finished’, as you can be sure that new names will crop up from time to time. And now the work shift towards finding out as much about each of the names in my database, in order to be able to tell their stories.

The names primarily come from the Portsmouth City Council list, compiled for the planned Portsmouth WW2 memorial. I am very grateful to Tim Backhouse of memorials for providing me with a list of names that appear on local war memorials but not on te PCC list (126 names). I have also used Geoff’s WW2 search engine to find more names that do not appear on the PCC list (355 names). Some of the names on the PCC list also appear to have come from Portsmouth in Lancashire, and these names have been omitted frm my database.

In the coming weeks I will be looking in detail at the statistics that come from the list. But to begin with, here are a few facts:

  • 1291 Royal Navy (50.67%)
  • 674 Army (26.45%)
  • 410 Royal Air Force (16.09%)
  • 115 Royal Marines (4.51%)
  • 42 Merchant Navy (1.65%)
  • 13 NAAFI (0.51%)
  • 5 ATS (0.19%)
  • 1 Red Cross (0.04%)

They came from all over Portsmouth:

  • 588 from Southsea (23.08%)
  • 242 from North End (9.5%)
  • 231 from Copnor (9.07%)
  • 203 from Cosham (7.97%)
  • 113 from Fratton (4.43%)
  • 105 from Milton (4.12%)
  • 85 from Stamshaw (3.34%)
  • 71 from Buckland (2.79%)
  • 66 from Eastney (2.59%)
  • 44 from Hilsea (1.73%)
  • 36 from Landport (1.41%)
  • 33 from Drayton (1.3%)
  • 33 from Mile End (1.3%)
  • 24 from Farlington (0.94%)
  • 22 from Paulsgrove (0.86%)
  • 21 from Portsea (0.82%)
  • 17 from East Cosham (0.67%)
  • 11 from Wymering (0.43%)
  • 8 from Kingston (0.31%)
  • 2 from East Southsea (0.08%)

318 men – 12.48% – are listed as from simply ‘Portsmouth’, the rest are either unknown or appear to come from somewhere else in the country.  However, unless we know otherwise it is best to assume that they had some kind of Portsmouth connection for their names to be put forward to the memorial.

The first men from Portsmouth to die in the Second World War were killed on 10 September 1939 – Able Seaman John Banks and Leading Seaman Percy Farbrace of HM Submarine Oxley, and Able Seaman William Holt of HMS Hyperion.

Private George Rowntree, of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps, died on 24 December 1947. Aged 43 and from Wymering, he was the last man from Portsmouth to die during the period regarded as the Second World War for war grave purposes.

The oldest Portsmouth serviceman to die between 1939 and 1947 was Admiral of the Fleet Sir Roger Keyes GCB KCVO CMG DSO, who died of natural causes on 26 December 1945. He is buried in Dover. Keyes had been commander in chief at Portsmouth and also a local MP, as well as a former First Sea Lord and Chief of combined operations.

The youngest Portsmouth serviceman to die were Private Robert Johns of the Parachute Regiment, Boys 1st Class Gordon Ogden, Robert Spalding and Cecil Edwards of HMS Royal Oak, Ordinary Seaman Colin Duke of SS Irishman, Apprentice Tradesman L.H. Ward of the Army Technical School, Boy 1st Class Jack Lamb of HMS Dunedin, and Apprentice Electrical Artificer Raymond Whitehorn of HMS Raleigh. They were all 16.

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The Dennis Family

With the help of the Portsmouth section of the National Roll of the Great War, I have identified another Portsmouth family – the Dennis family from 53 Amelia Street, Landport – who lost three men between 1914 and 1917.

Sergeant John Dennis, aged 24 and of the 2nd Battalion of the Rifle Brigade, was a regular soldier who according to the National Roll had joined the Army in 1906. He was killed on 25 August 1916. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Loos Memorial.

Corporal Arthur Dennis, of the 15th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, volunteered in 1914. He served at Galipoli with the 2nd Hampshires, and then in France. He was killed on 5 August 1917. He has no known grave, and is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres. Neither the Commonweath War Graves nor the National roll record his age. However records show that an Arthur Dennis was born in Portsmouth between January and March 1895, which would make him 22 at the time of his death.

Private J. Dennis, of the 1st Battalion of the Dorsetshire Regiment, joined the Army in July 1917. Aged 19, he was killed on 28 August 1918. He is buried in Assevilliers New British Cemetery, France.

Their ages certainly suggest that all three men were brothers, and that John and Sarah Dennis of Amelia Street, Landport lost three sons between 1916 and 1918.

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Chief Yeoman of Signals George Pankhurst BEM

More than a few Portsmouth men served in both the first and second world wars. As Britains premier naval port, its not surprising that Portsmouth became home to many of the men who had long careers in the senior service.

Chief Yeoman of Signals George Pankhurst was one of these men. Born in Fulham in London on 30 October 1886, he was a Barman before enlisting in the Royal Navy on 30 October 1904, at the age of 18 – he had obviously been waiting until he was old enough! His service records tell us that he was 5 foot 2 and a half inches tall, with Brown hair and Brown eyes, and a fresh complexion. By 1919 he had a tattoo of a bird on his right arm.

He initially served onboard ships such as HMS Northampton (training ship), HMS Hercules (ironclad battleship), HMS Revenge (battleship), HMS Barfleur (battleship), HMS Brilliant (cruiser), HMS Dryad (torpedo gunboat), HMS Bonaventure (Submarine depot ship), HMS Imperious (repair ship), HMS Blenheim (destroyer depot ship) and HMS Venus (cruiser). He also spent stints ashore at HMS Victory, the main shore base in Portsmouth.

The beginning of the First World War found George Pankhurst serving as a Leading Signalman on HMS Venus. In April 1916 he joined HMS Nomad (destroyer). On 31 May Nomad was present at the Battle of Jutland, where she was sunk by gunfire from Admiral Hipper’s Battlecruiser Squadron. 72 survivors were rescued by the Germans, including George Pankhurst. He was held as a Prisoner of War until 13 November 1918, when he was repatriated.

He was richly rewarded for his war service. On 17 March 1919 he was awarded the Cross of Military Virtue 2nd Class, a Romanian Decoration. He was then Mentioned in Despatches on 5 October 1919. At some point during his career he was also awarded the British Empire Medal.

After returning home Pankhurst was promoted to Yeoman of Signals and based at HMS Victory in Portsmouth until June 1919. He then served on HMS Dido (depot ship), HMS Greenwich (depot ship), HMS Columbine (base ship) and HMS Centuar (light cruise). In June 1925 Pankhurst was promoted to Chief Yeoman of Signals.

In 1926 he was pensioned ashore. It is unclear what exactly he did between 1926 and 1946, but at the time of his death at the age of 59 on 21 March 1946 he was serving as a Chief Yeoman of Signals at HMS Shrapnel, a shore base or ‘stone frigate’, which was actually none other than the Great Western Hotel in Southampton, near the main train station. He is buried in Milton Cemetery, Portsmouth. At the time of his death he was recorded as living in North End.

George Pankhurst is a fine example of the kind of man who came to Portsmouth with the Royal Navy, and having had a long career afloat and ashore, fighting and being captured at Jutland, also died here in Portsmouth.

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Love Albert Road Day: a 19th Century parallel

Its sad to see that Love Albert Road Day is under threat of not taking place, due to spiralling costs. I guess its very much a victim of its own success – according to a lot of people’s its now turned into an excuse to ge drunk. I’ve never been myself, but I’ve been to plenty of gigs in the Wedgewood rooms and had curries in several of the many curry houses. Its a big shame, as the aims of the event are very noble indeed – if only more places had such a community spirit.

For me Albert Road is the most interesting street in modern Portsmouth – where else could you get a curry, a kebab or fish and chips, see a show or a gig, buy some antiques or books, and have a drink in one of several pubs? I think its more interesting than the Lanes in Brighton.

Funnily enough, there is an example in history of another similar event that started with good intentions but sadly got out of hand. One of the rights given to Portsmouth in its first charter was the right to hold an annual fair – something that many towns did. For several weeks a year traders could pitch up in the High Street and sell their wares. Money came into the town, as well as people. Once a gloved hand was hung over the door of the Town Hall, the festivities could commence.

However, over the years the Fair evolved into a different kind of beast. By the Nineteenth Century the stalls remained, but they also sprang up unoficially in the side streets, and the event turned into more of a show. Visitors could see Lions and Tigers, Elelphants, and what were described at the time as ‘freaks’, such as pygmys, giants and bearded ladies. Many people used to fair as an excuse to get drunk and behave riotously, until the point where the cost of putting on the fair and the impact that it had outweighted its benefits.

By the 1840′s many in Portsmouth were calling for the fair to be abolished. This was part of wider Victorian society’s desire to ‘clean-up’ the towns, and prevent what we now call anti-social behaviour. After much debating locally the Town Council petitioned the Government for an Act of Parliament to abolish the Fair – this was required as the right to hold a fair was enshrined in the town’s charter. The 1847 Free Mart Fair was the last.

I think the Free Mart Fair is a lesson that unfortunately, sometimes the well-meant aims of an event can get swamped by the lowest common denominator of people wanting to get pissed. But at the same time, maybe that is just a signal to go back to the drawing board?

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