Tag Archives: War Office

Portsmouth and Southampton: the Geography of Commerce and Defence

Aerial view of Portsmouth

Image via Wikipedia

One of the interesting things about living in South Hampshire, as I did until recently, is noticing that actually, Portsmouth and Southampton are pretty different. And nowhere do you notice this more than sat in the restaurant in IKEA at Southampton! Looking out across Southampton Water you can see some pretty gargantuan container ships and cruise liners. Yet at Portsmouth, naval vessels and passenger ferries dominate. What does history tell us about how this came about?

Portsmouth

Since Medieval times Portsmouth Harbour has been a key strategic port for the nation – first for the Romans and early Medieval kings at Portchester, and then Portsmouth itself at the mouth of the harbour. The basing of the kings ships there led to a growth in docking facilities, employment, supportive infrastructures, and had an impact on the local economy and demography as a whole. Knock on effects went even further – for example, the need to garrison and fortify the town, something that is often overlooked.

Obviously, with such a vested interest in the town, much of what happened in Portsmouth was controlled by the Crown, through the Government, and particularly the Admiralty and the War Office. This affected, in particular, land usage, and indeed ‘sea usage’. For example, Southsea Common was kept clear of development for so long as the War Office wanted to keep clear lines of fire between Southsea Castle and the old town fortifications. The Navy continues to maintain a vast sports complex in Portsmouth, on what would otherwise be prime development land.

This control of activity transgressed onto the sea too. The Admiralty was extremely unwilling to allow anything other than small scale use of the seas around Portsmouth – in particular the Solent and Portsmouth Harbour. There has long been a fear over allowing any activity that might impinge upon naval movements. This covered not only ships coming and going, but also facilities. Apart from the very small harbour at the Camber, the Navy controlled practically all of the shoreline in Portsmouth Harbour that could have been used for docks. Only in the 1970’s, with the decline of the Navy, did the Government relinquish land for Portsmouth’s Commercial Ferry Port.

That is not to say that there was no commercial shipping activity in Portsmouth at all – far from it. There was much small-scale trading taking place, but most of it seems to have been in the shape of goods and materials for use in the Dockyard – such as timber, pitch, hemp and tar from regions such as the Baltic. Coal was shipped in to heat buildings such as barracks. Food, in particular fish, was also landed. But it is noticeable that most of the commercial shipping was either directly connected to armed forces activity, or at least not very far removed from it. By and large, strict governmental controls on local industries rarely provide opportunities for private commerce.

One attempt to diversify Portsmouth’s industry came with the advent of the Airport, shortly after the First World War. Not only did it accomadate flying clubs and passenger services, but it also encouraged associated industries, such as the aircraft manufacturers Airspeed, famous for their Horsa Glider of World War Two fame. Yet the Airport had an ill-fated existence. From early in its lifetime the Admiralty opposed expansions to its activity, not wanting aircraft to overfly the Dockyard. A planned seaplane base in Langstone Harbour never came to fruition, and a planned airport on Farlington Marshes did not happen, thankfully. The final nail in the coffin for the Airport was when two planes crashed off the end of the runway on the same day in the early 1970’s. It was clear that the grass runways were too small, and there was no room for development on such a small site.

Fortunately,  as the Airport was declining, opportunities came up to develop commercial shipping. The draw down of the Royal Navy after the Second World War, hastened by the withdrawl from Empire and successive Defence cuts, losened the Admiralty’s grip on the Harbour area. Land became available near Stamshaw to develop a commercial port, which now handles both freight and passengers. It has become the second busiest passenger port after Dover, and imports a substantial amount of the countries fruit. The loss of the airport was more than offset by the development of commercial seaborne trade, which provides a good example of a local authority being on the ball and switching resources from a faltering investment to a growing one.

Southampton

Southampton, by contrast, had always been free from the controls of the state, and this encouraged more merchant activity than in Portsmouth. The ability to move shipping without interference from naval authorities provided much more freedom than Portsmouth. But, oddly enough, commercial activity in Southampton did not really start to take off until the early Nineteenth Century. Joseph Rankin Stebbing, an instrument maker from Portsmouth, moved to Southampton in the 1820’s. Interestingly, his father George was a very succesful businessman, but his customers were almost solely state bodies and naval and military officers.

Joseph Stebbing was a prominent Freemason and a leading member of the Chamber of Commerce, and it showed in his rapid attempts to pull the people of Southampton together and regenerate the city. The docks were extended, the railway companies were lobbied to make Southampton a key hub, and a succession of shipping companies were attracted to the city. Stebbing was very conscious that the city was stealing a march on cities such as Liverpool and Bristol by luring companies that never could definitely not have operated in Nineteenth Century Portsmouth. Business boomed, with cargo shipping and commercial passengers producing a knock on effect for the whole city. And as the state had no say in what happened in the town, entrepeneurs were free to seize on opportunities much more than their counterparts in Portsmouth.

Conclusion

It’s interesting how while the Navy and Army presence in Portsmouth has given the city its raison detre, much employment and a boost for the local industries. But it also provided something of a stranglehold on any development beyond that point. Whereas a city like Southampton has been almost completely free to go its own way. Having said that, Portsmouth has been relatively good at seizing opportunities that have come its way since the declined of the Royal Navy since the end of the Second World War. Compare the developments and diversification with the stagnation in Plymouth. Whenever naval base closures are mooted, there are howls of protest in Plymouth about the effect it will have on jobs. Pertinent, as there are few other significant industries there. In fact, one wonders what exactly Plymouth City Council has done since 1945. Whereas the city fathers in Portsmouth have at least developed the Ferry Port, developed land, and attracted new industries so the city is no longer reliant on the Dockyard to the extent that it was.

Often you will see or hear of people boasting about the liners that use Southampton. All very nice, but full of wealthy passengers, and profiting large shipping lines. Whereas Portsmouth is home to run of the mill passenger ferries, fruit carriers, and a sizeable proportion of the Royal Navy. I think it’s a good metaphor. Liners are all very nice, but warships, ferries and fruit cargo ships are a whole lot more useful.

33 Comments

Filed under Local History, Uncategorized

The four Ware Brothers

With work virtually finished on my book, I’ve been ‘moonlighting’ and carrying on with compiling the counterpart WW1 database. And I’ve found something pretty remarkable. The late Walter and Elizabeth Ware, of Havant Road in Cosham, lost four sons during the First World War.

Walter and Elizabeth Ware married in Southsea in 1882. According to the 1891 census, Walter and Elizabeth Ware were living in Knapps Cottages, 1 Havant Road. This was technically outside Portsmouth, in Widley. Walter Ware was born in 1853, and was an employed Labourer, originally born in the village of Southwick north of Portsmouth. His wife Elizabeth was born in Southsea in 1858. As well as Walter, William and Wynn, they also had a daughter Mabel and another son, Wallace.

Private George Ware, 20, was a regular soldier serving with the 1st Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. The 1st DCLI had been station in Ireland, but went to France in August 1914. George Ware was killed on 14 September 1914 during the Battle of the Aisne, and is remembered on the La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial in France.

Sergeant Wynn Ware, 29, was serving with the 5th Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers. The 5th Royal Irish were a Service unit, formed in Armagh in 1914 as part of Kitchener’s New Armies. Sailing to Gallipoli in 1915, the Battalion landed at Suvla Bay on 7 August 1915. Wynn Ware was killed on 17 September 1915, and is remembered by a special memorial in Green Hill Cemetery in Turkey.

Corporal Jack Ware, 21, was a medic serving at 33rd Casualty Clearing Station, part of the Royal Army Medical Corps. He died on 20 December 1916, and is buried in Calais Southern Cemetery in France. The 33rd CCS were based at Bethune for most of the war, so Jack Ware must have been ill himself and transferred away from the front line, possibly explaining why he is buried in Calais.

Gunner Walter Ware, 36, was serving with 136th Heavy Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was killed on 15 June 1918, and is buried in Canada Farm Cemetery in Belgium.

Walter died in 1894 and Elizabeth in 1903, but had they been alive they would have received four telegrams from the War Office informing her that each of her sons had been killed in action. One must have been bad enough, but four? In Saving Private Ryan Tom Hanks’s character went to save James Ryan as three of his brothers has been killed, but Mrs Ware lost four sons in the Great War.

If I’m going to write a book about the men of Portsmouth killed during the First World War, then I think we’re going to be hearing a lot more about the Ware family. If anyone has any information about them at all, fee free to contact me.

16 Comments

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

Kew re-visited

The National Archives

Image by Simon Clayson via Flickr

I’m at the National Archives in Kew for a few days last-minute research for my forthcoming book ‘Portsmouth’s Second World War Heroes’.

I’ve been going to Kew since 2004, when I was working on my undergraduate dissertation. Since then I’ve been back there working on Magazine articles, family history, journal articles and just random self-interest stuff. I’ve looked at Admiralty, War Office, Ministry of Defence, Air Ministry, Board of Trade, Treasury, Foreign Office and other Documents. Theres something pretty enigmatic about anywhere where you can walk in and choose from 11 million records and order one of them to read – many written in the vary hand of luminaries like Winston Churchill, Nelson or Monty.

Kew is an enigma all of its own. Its always had a nasty case of change-itis, and its obviously an insitutional thing. In the time I’ve been going there the registration desk has moved at least four times, the first floor help desk has been revamped three times, the restaurant about three times, the museum once, as well as the cyber cafe. Most Archives and Libraries could only dream about being able to change things so often. Whilst improvement is no doubt a good thing when its genuine, you can’t help but think that a lot of the changes at Kew are classic cases of ‘Emperors new clothes in a governmental setting’. And why oh why do they insist on having such a politically correct menu? The restaurant used to to great roasts, Lasagnes… food like that. Today, however, the most palatable thing I could find was Morrocan spicy meatballs and spaghettti. Which has played havoc with my stomach!

My first visit to Kew was to a rather sedate government archive repository, attended by professional researchers and the more serious family history enthusiasts. But since the Family Records Office at Islington closed and was merged with Kew, the TNA has become a mecca for family historians. Even more so with programmes like Who do you think you are?. Whilst I think its great that so many people are interested in history of any kind, it must be frustrating for the staff at Kew. From what I’ve seen more people seem to turn up at Kew without a clue than those who do. And then of course there are those who think they can just turn up and someone else will do all the donkey work for them… A lot of friends and family have mentioned going to Kew, but its the kind of place where you need to know exactly what you’re looking for before you go. And thanks to their online catalogue and research guides, its pretty easy to do so.

So wh0’s been getting the Kew treatment today? None other than Wing Commander John Buchanan, Flight Lieutenant Patrick McCarthy and the Venables Brothers – all of whose places in history should now be that much more in context thanks to the relevant RAF Operational records. Tomorrow I plan to finish off with Buchanan’s time leading a Squadron during the Siege of Malta, and then looking at Sapper Ernest Bailey and Operation Freshman, War Office casualties on the SS Portsdown, the Royal Navy’s policy on the sending of Boy Seamen to sea after the Royal Oak Disaster, and the Royal Marines Mobile Naval Base Defence Organisations.

18 Comments

Filed under Royal Air Force, World War Two, out and about, portsmouth heroes, site news

‘A very fine Commander': the memoirs of Sir Horatius Murray (edited by John Donovan)

‘your memoirs, Nap? Who on earth do you think would want to read them?’

So said Field Marshal Montgomery, when General Horatius Murray suggested writing his recollections of a lifetimes service. Indeed, military memoirs can be very hit or miss, usually the latter. Especially when written by a family member or close friend. I’ve got to be honest, I wasn’t too excited about reading this book – the memoirs of a General I had never heard of. But in actual fact, Horatius Murray’s memoirs made for a very interesting read, giving a great insight into the career of a pre-war officer, mid-level command in the Second World War, and then post-war command in Korea, Scottish Command and NATO’s Northern Command in Scandinavia.

You would expect somebody called Horatius to have served in the Guards, a dashing Cavalry Regiment or perhaps the Rifles. In fact Murray came from a relatively modest family, and only just manged to afford to go to Sandhurst. Although he performed well there, without sufficient private means he was forced to join a relatively unglamorous unit, the Cameronian Rifles. It shows the differing pace of soldiering in peace and war that from when he was commissioned in 1923 it took Murray until 1938 to become a Major, yet by 1944 he was an acting Major-General. Some of his early years as an officer were spent serving in Egypt, India and China. Interestingly, he also spent several months on attachment with the Germany Army only a couple of years before the Second World War broke out.

Horatius Murray commanded a Gordon Highlanders Battalion at El Alamein, where he was seriously wounded, then recovered in time to resume command in the final days of the Tunisian Campaign. He was then given command of a Brigade in the invasion of Sicily. In late 1943 the 51st Highland Division returned to Britain to take part in Operation Overlord. A follow up Division, the Highlanders landed in Normandy on 7 June 1944. In Normandy the Division performed rather poorly, in Murray’s opinion due to poor leadership and a lack of serious training. At one point Murray refused an order from the Divisional Commander, Major General Bullen-Smith, that he thought was needless and would waste mens lives. The Corps Commander ruled in Murray’s favour, recommended Bullen-Smith’s sacking, which Monty confirmed soon after. This undoubtedly showed great moral courage on Murray’s part. Shortly after landing in Normandy Murray was transferred to Italy to take command of 6th Armoured Division, which he led until the end of the war.

After the war he served as commander of the 1st Division, Director of Personnel at the War Office and commanded the 50th (Northumbrian) Division, a territorial unit based in Catterick. After leaving that post he was selected to command the Commonwealth Division in Korea. Although this came in 1953 after the ceasefire, Murray still commanded British, Australian, Canadian and New Zealand troops in peacekeeping. Murray seems to have been a very modest General, to the point of not even mentioning in his memoirs his DSO and other brave acts – his Nephew added notes in when editing. He seems to have had no airs nor graces. Indeed, when he left command of the 50th Division based at Catterick, the local newspaper reported that he had given the camp a soldiers touch.

Also included are some very revealing ancedotes about King George VI, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, Monty, Eisenhower, Bernard Freyberg VC and Maxwell Taylor. I cannot recall many other books that I picked up with such disinterest, yet finished with such an insight. I enjoyed reading them immsensely.

‘A very fine Commander’ is published by Pen and Sword

8 Comments

Filed under Army, Book of the Week, Uncategorized, World War Two