Tag Archives: Old Portsmouth

WW1 Dead research – some stats on the Army

A ration party of the Royal Irish Rifles in a ...

Image via Wikipedia

I’ve been busy beavering away with my research into Portsmouth’s Great War Dead. It’s a mammoth task, and one that will probably never be completed in the true sense of the word. There are just so many names to contend with, and the sources are that much more fragmentary than for the Second World War. But having said that, I thought it might be interesting to share some statistics so far.

So far, I have established that 2,574 men were killed serving with British and Empire Forces between 1914 and 1921. That compares to 2,549 men and women from Portsmouth killed in ALL services between 1939 and 1945. Out of those 2,574, some 890 have eluded identification so far, with around 1,600 odd having been traced on the CWGC. The Army casualties are a lot more difficult to research. This is probably down to the fact that most sailors were serving pre-war, so there is a significant paper trail on their existence. Whereas most soldiers volunteered or were conscripted, hence there is minimal documentation compared to sailors.

The vast majority of those men were killed serving with the Infantry. Most fell fighting with the Hampshire Regiment – 747 to be exact. Out of those, 133 with the 1st Battalion, 148 with the 2nd Battalion, 150 with the 14th Battalion (1st Portsmouth), 154 with the 15th Battalion (2nd Portsmouth), and 46 with the 1/4th Battalion (Territorials). These massive losses led to the War Office spreading men around regiments far more in the Second World War to dilute the effect of heavy casualties.

It is interesting that out of 1,600 men I have managed to identify, almost half of them were serving with the local Regiment. This is a much higher proportion than in 1939-1945. Out of the other Infantry Regiments, the next highest membership was of the Rifle Brigade (28 men) and the Kings Royal Rifle Corps (32 men). Both Regiments had no geographical recruiting area, taking men from all over Britain, and of course had their depots nearby in Winchester. Small numbers of men served in virtually every Regiment of the British Army. This attests not only to the mobility of Portsmouth people, but also that Portsmouth was a Garrison town – Battalions were based here as part of the city defences, and some men may have put down roots here, in the same manner as Portsmouth based sailors tended to.

90 men were Royal Engineers, 100 Field Artillery, 86 Garrison Artillery, 36 Machine Gun Corps, 9 RE Signals, 9 Tank Corps, 19 Guardsmen, 19 in Irish Regiments, 36 serving with Commonwealth Forces (5 African, 8 Australia, 19 Canada, 3 India and 1 New Zealand), 18 Cavalrymen, and 35 Army Service Corps. The tiny number of Cavalrymen killed does suggest that they were not particularly active during what was primarily a siege warfare scenario.

89 men are known to have been Regular Soldiers. 4 ex-Regulars re-enlisted. 60 men were Territorials or reservists mobilised on the outbreak of war. 211 men, by contrast, Volunteered between August 1914 and February 1916. 47 volunteered in August 1914 alone, followed by 27 in September. Once conscription was introduced in 1916 103 men were called-up. 2 men had attested under the Lord Derby scheme. So almost as many Portsmouth men were alreading in the Army system as volunteered for King and Country.

887 men were killed in France, 415 in Belgium, 12 in Germany, 22 in Greece (Salonika), 19 in India, 81 in Iraq (Mesopotamia), 27 in Israel (Palestine), 11 in Italy, 77 in Turkey (Gallipoli). Although we know much about France and Belgium, and to a lesser extent Gallipoli, campaigns such as Mesopotamia, Palestine and Salonika still need more research for us to understand their impact locally.

22 men are known to have been younger than 18. The youngest man was 16 year-old Private H Rampton, who died in April 1916. The oldest man was 72-year old Quartermaster Sergeant R.F. Robertson, of the Royal Field Artillerywho died in March 1916.

In terms of ranks, the vast majority – 1,242 – were privates. Only 92 were officers, the majority being 2nd Lieutenants. As my WW2 research suggested, historically Portsmouth does not contribute many Army officers. Is this because it was not such a fashionable place for the officer class to live, or that there were not many men in Portsmouth with officer-type qualities who volunteer?

Most men were killed in the bloody battles on the Western Front in 1916 and 1917, but a large number fell in 1918, which is often overlooked by history. 87 men were killed in 1914, 214 in 1915, 441 in 1916, 495 in 1917 and 495 in 1918 up to the Armistice. 112 men died post-Armistice – many, I suspect, from Influenza.

256 men were killed on the Somme, 148 at Passchendaele, 6 at Loos, 165 during the German offensive in Spring 1918, 189 in the Allied Offensive in 1918, 21 at Cambrai, 59 at Arras, 32 at 2nd Ypres in 1915, and 21 at 1st Ypres in 1914. These numbers would appear to suggest that as many men died in the meatgrinder of day-to-day Trench Warfare as died in set-piece attacks.

Where casualties came from tells us a lot about how the population of Portsmouth was made up in 1914, and how it changed by 1939. 76 men came from Buckland, 55 from Copnor, 30 from Cosham, 11 from East Southsea, 39 from Eastney, 69 from Fratton, 41 from Kingston, 216 from Landport, 38 from Mile End, 41 from Milton, 94 from North End, 6 from Old Portsmouth, 74 from Portsea, 119 from ‘Portsmouth’, 333 from Southsea and 61 from Stamshaw. In 1914 the vast majority of people in Portsmouth were concentrated in the city centre and Southsea, with fewer people in outlying areas such as Milton, Copnor, Cosham and Eastney. Paulsgrove did not even exist as we know it, and Cosham covered the whole area of the mainland part of the city.

This is all very interesting, but there are still 890 men I need to identify, which is going to take more work than researching the other 1,600!

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Filed under Army, Uncategorized, western front, World War One

The Portsmouth Blitz: 70 years on

70 years ago today the people of Portsmouth were coming to terms with the aftermath of the most devastating bombing raid on the city during the Second World War. The anniversary was marked yesterday by a service at the city’s Anglican Cathederal, a ceremony in the Guildhall Square, and the unveiling of a placque to victims in Old Portsmouth.

Even before the Second World War the Luftwaffe had identified Portsmouth as an important target. Luftwaffe target maps in Portsmouth Central Library show that aircrew were shown the location of the dockyard (including the various buildings and docks), the railway stations, the power station, Gosport, local barracks, Vospers Shipbuilders in the Camber, and also the Airspeed Factory at the Airport.

171 people were killed on the night of 10 and 11 January 1941. Portsmouth was chosen as a target that night as the rest of Britain was covered by thick cloud, and Portsmouth – on the coast – was the only readily identifiable target. German records show that 153 Bombers targeted Portsmouth. This compares drastically with the ’1,000 Bomber’ raids launched by Bomber Command on Germany later in the war.

Many victims were unidentified due to their terrible injuries, and im some cases virtually nothing remained of their bodies. Hundreds of victims were buried in a mass funeral in Kingston Cemetery in the city. A memorial stands near to the site of their mass grave. Over 1,000 people died in Portsmouth as a result of Bombing during the Second World War. Many records state that 930 civilians were killed, but a number of servicemen were also killed whilst on leave or while on duty in the city. Just under 10% of the cities 63,000 houses were destroyed, and a similar number seriously damaged.

German records state that 40,000 4lb incendiary bombs were dropped on the city on that one night alone, as well as 140 tons of High Explosive. Many bombs did land in the sea – the Solent, and Portsmouth and Langstone Harbours. In 1940 Bombing from the air was not an exact science. The Bombers followed radio beams that interescted over Southsea Common. The incendicaries caused over 2,314 fires – far too many for beleagured emergency services to deal with at any one time, especially given that 60 water mains had been destroyed. The tide was also low, which prevented the Fire Brigade from pumping water from the sea.

47 people were died when an air raid shelter at Arundel Street School suffered a direct hit. The power station was hit, and the main shopping centres at Commercial Road, Palmerston Road and Kings Road were all decimated. Also damaged were the Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital, the Hippodrome, Clarence Pier, three cinemas, the dockyard school, the Royal Sailors Rest Home, the Salvation Army Citadel, the Central Hotel and the Connaught Drill Hall. The FA Cup – won by Pompey in 1939 – was dug out of a Bank in Commercial Road, where it had been placed for safekeeping.

The most visible and symbolic material loss was the destruction of the Guildhall. ARP and emergency services battled fires in the building all night, but one 4lb incendiary bomb fell down a ventilation shaft and lodged itself in an inacessible place, proving impossible to extinguish. The Guildhall burnt all night and into the next day, the melting copper from the ornate dome dripping down to the ground. When the fires finally subsided only the outer walls remained. When the basement was dug out however the Lord Mayor’s chain and civic plate were found to be intact.

I’ve always found it a mystery why the Luftwaffe didn’t target Portsmouth more during the War. Situated on the coast and with the Isle of Wight to the south harbours to either side it should have been relatively easy to locate from the air, certainly easier than many of the inland cities that were targeted. Granted, most of the large naval ships didn’t use Portsmouth during the war for fear of air attack, but there was still a sizeable dockyard and a plethora of naval training establishments. Portsmouth was strongly defended by Anti-Aircraft Guns however - on Hayling Island, along the crest of Portsdown Hill, and on Southsea Common, where there were also rocket batteries. There were also many barrage balloons. Naval ships in harbour would also open up their AA guns. ARP precautions in Portsmouth were also advanced, as the authorities expected the city to be heavily targeted.

The ‘myth of the blitz’ that I have written about previously has also pervaded over Portsmouth’s experience. There were incidents of looting, recorded in the local court records. Many people also left the city each night and ‘trekked’ out of the city, over Portsdown Hill. They were criticised for leaving their homes vulnerable to incendiary bombs. But on the whole morale held surprisingly well. The Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Denis Daley (no relation) wrote:

“We are bruised but we are not daunted, and we are still as determined as ever to stand side by side with other cities who have felt the blast of the enemy, and we shall, with them, persevere with an unflagging spirit towards a conclusive and decisive victory”

Whilst Portsmouth and many other cities in Britain were hit extremely hard during the war, it is important that we keep the impact of strategic bombing in context. More people were killed in one night in Dresden in 1945 than were killed in the whole of Britain during the war years. Cities such as Hamburg, Cologne and Berlin were also devastated. Further afield Tokyo was virtually obliterated. This is not to belittle the suffering of people in Portsmouth, but only to say that other cities in the world suffered even more. Colleagues of mine have in the past come in for a lot of criticism for stating that Portsmouth got off quite lightly compared to Hamburg and Dresden.

The Blitz also hardened the attitudes of many. Later in the war hundreds of young men from Portsmouth were killed bombing cities in the Third Reich and occupied Europe. A number of them died on missions to bomb Duisburg in the Ruhr, which would later become Portsmouth’s twin city. In the famous words of ‘Bomber’ Harris ‘The Germans entered this war with the rather childish delusion that they were going to bomb everyone else, and that nobody was going to bomb them. They sowed the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind’. Such an attitude is probably indicative of public opinion on the home front during the war. People who had endured the blitz were unlikely to be too concerned about the fate of German cities when their turn came.

My Grandad can remember a lot from the time of the Blitz. One night he saw a Heinkel fly over so low he could see the pilots blonde hair. On another occasion, he and his sister decided to go the Park instead of the cinema. The cinema was destroyed by a bomb that afternoon. He can also remember having to cut short his paper round as the cemetery had been bombed, and also collecting shrapnel from ack-ack guns. And my favourite memory of his, has to be when a barrage balloon got tangled round the school’s belltower, pulling it down!

It was only really in the 1970′s that Portsmouth was fully reconstructed after the war. It was not even until the 1950′s that the Guildhall was rebuilt. During the war grand plans were made to redesign Portsmouth – in terms of urban planning, roads and whole neighbourhoods – but these had to be curtailed in the Austerity that marked post-war Britain. Never the less, many people were re-homed from the shattered inner-city areas to new estates at Paulsgrove and Leigh Park, or new high rise blocks in Somers Town, Buckland, Portsea and Landport.

I have been disappointed with the media coverage of the anniversary. BBC1′s Inside Out gave a measly 10 minutes to the subject (mind you if it had been about Southampton we could have expected an hour long special). Inside Out even featured a local ‘historian’ I’ve never heard of – Portsmouth isn’t a massive place, and there arent too many historians here!

For more information about the Portsmouth Blitz, have a look at John Stedman’s excellent Portsmouth Paper ‘Portsmouth Reborn: Destruction and Reconstruction 1941-1974′, Andrew Whitmarsh’s ‘Portsmouth at War’, and also ‘City at War’ by Nigel Peake. ‘Smitten City’ by the Portsmouth News is also a fantastic publication full of images of Portsmouth during the war.

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Ark Royal to enter Portsmouth for the last time

HMS Ark Royal (R07)

HMS Ark Royal (Image via Wikipedia)

HMS Ark Royal is due to enter Portsmouth Harbour for the last time on Friday morning.

The Royal Navy’s flagship, due to be decommissioned as part of coalition budget cuts, will arrive in the Solent tomorrow morning, unusually entering via the Needles and sailing past Yarmouth, Lepe, Cowes, and Lee-on-Solent before anchoring up overnight for the usual assorted top brass, flunkies and hangers on to visit.

She’s due to pass the Round Tower at around 0940 on Friday morning. The best spots are likely to be along the hot walls in Old Portsmouth (the Round Tower will be packed), although Gosport will be a good spot due to the layout of the Aircraft Carriers deck, which means that the view from port is better as she enters harbour.

Weather permitting there will be a Harrier flypast, in what is likely to be one of the last public flights by the soon to be decommissioned jump jet.

It will be a sad sight indeed, after Portsmouth has become used to seeing brand new warships arriving, and throughout seeing flagships returning from war, almost always victorious. My parents were onboard a tug when HMS Hermes came back from the Falklands. How times change.

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Filed under defence, Dockyard, Falklands War, Navy

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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Filed under Archaeology, Local History, Medieval history, On TV, Uncategorized

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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Filed under Ancient History, Local History, On TV