Tag Archives: World War I

Portsmouth and Jutland: the forgotten battle?

Photograph of British destroyer HMS Spitfire a...

If you had to pick one sea battle with which Portsmouth is irrevocably linked, it would probably be the Battle of Trafalgar. In terms of Portsmouth’s place in the nation’s history, Trafalgar, Nelson and 1805 probably represents the most glorious example of how Portsmouth helped to launch the Royal Navy onto the worlds seas.

Yet 111 years later, thousands of Portsmouth sailors and literally hundreds of ships with Portsmouth connections fought out one of the largest sea battles in history. Almost 9,000 men were killed on both sides, compared to ‘only’ about 1,500 at Trafalgar. Why is it that hardly no-one knows about the Battle of Jutland? Why has Portsmouth’s role in supporting the Royal Navy of 1914-18 been almost completely overshadowed?

HMS Victory at Trafalgar – of her crew of 846, only FIVE men were born in Portsmouth. True, most of the other 841 may well have lived in or at least visited Portsmouth at some point in their lives, but five people still represents only 0.6% of her entire crew. My research has shown that at Jutland, on the capital ships this figure was nearer 10%.

So far, I have found 492 men from Portsmouth who were killed at Jutland. By ‘from Portsmouth’, I mean people who were born here, or were born elsewhere and moved to the town. The true figure of Portsmouth dead at Jutland will in all likelihood be much higher, as many men entered on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission‘s website have no location details, so it would take an awful lot of work to go through each of the 6,000 Royal Navy fatalities to identify if they had any Portsmouth connections. I would guess that the likelihood is that out of a Battlecruisers crew of say 1,000, a large percentage are likely to have either lived in Portsmouth, or been born there. And what about the men who might not have been born here or lived in the town, but spent significant time in the Naval Barracks, or on runs ashore in Portsmouth?

HMS Acasta – Acasta was the lead ship of a class of Destroyers, and was launched in 1912. She was damaged at Jutland, with the loss of six of her crew, one of whom was Chief Stoker George Howe. He is buried in Milton Cemetery, so either he died of wounds or his body was recovered.

HMS Ardent – Ardent was an Acasta Class Destroyer launched in 1913. She was sunk at Jutland on 1 June 1916, by the German Battleship Westaflen. Of her crew of 75, 10 of those killed were from Portsmouth.

HMS Barham – a Queen Elizabeth Class Battleship, Barham has a pretty interesting place in Portsmouth’s history, as possibly the only ship that suffered fatalities of Portsmouth men in both world wars. Commissioned in October 1915, Barham was hit five times at Jutland. 25 of her crew were killed, including her Chaplain, who came from Portsmouth. Reverend Henry Dixon-Wright was born in Wallington in Surrey, but in 1916 was living in Stanley Street in Southsea. He obviously died of wounds, as he is buried in Lyness Naval Cemetery near Scapa Flow.

HMS Black Prince – Black Prince was a Duke of Edinburgh class armoured cruiser launched in 1904. She was sunk at point blank range by five German battleships on the night of 31 May and 1 June 1916. All of her crew of 857 were lost, with 99 of them coming from Portsmouth.

HMS Broke – Broke was a Faulknor class Destroyer Leader launched in August 1914, originally built for the Chilean Navy but taken over by the Royal Navy after the outbreak of WW1. HMS Broke was devestated by fire from the Westfalen, killing 50 of her crew and wounding 30. 2 of the dead came from Portsmouth. After Broke was hit, she went out of control and rammed HMS Sparrowhawk, causing further casualties (see below).

HMS Castor – Castor was a C class light cruiser. She suffered relatively light damage at Jutland, with ten of her crew becoming casualties. One of those killed was from Portsmouth – Chief Yeoman of Signals Daniel MacGregor, aged 38.

HMS Chester – Chester was a Town class light cruiser, launched in 1915 for the Greek Navy, but taken over by the Royal Navy after the outbreak of war. At Jutland she was hit by 17 150mm shells; out of her crew of 402, 29 men were killed and 49 were wounded. Two of the dead were from Portsmouth – Chief Yeoman of Signals William Roy, 38 and from Southsea; and Lieutenant George Walker-Williamson, also from Southsea. Boy John Cornwell won a posthumous Victoria Cross on HMS Chester at Jutland. Photos show that the Chester suffered serious damage, and it is remarkable that so few of her crew became casualties.

HMS Defence – Defence was a Minotaur class armoured cruiser, launched in 1907. At Jutland she was hit by two salvoes from five German battleships, causing her after 9.2in magazine to explode. It is believed that up to 903 men were killed, including 14 from Portsmouth.

HMS Fortune - HMS Fortune was an Acasta class Destroyer, sunk by fire from the Westfalen. 67 men were killed, and only one was rescued. 14 of those killed came from Portsmouth.

HMS Indefatigable – 10. HMS Indefatigable was the lead ship of a class of Battlecruisers, launched in 1909. Shells from the German Battlecruiser Von der Tann caused a catastrophic explosion of her magazines. Of her crew of 1,017, only three survived. Ten of the dead were from Portsmouth, suggesting that she was not, in the main, a Portsmouth-manned ship.

HMS Invincible – Invincible was the lead ship of a class of Battlecruisers, and was launched in 1908. Having fought at the Battle of Heligoland Bight and the Battle of the Falklands, by 1916 she was an experienced ship. At Jutland Invincible was sunk by fire from Lutzow and Derfflinger, a shell from which penetrated the Q turret, and caused a huge explosion of the midships magazine.  1,026 men were killed, including 130 from Portsmouth. There were only six survivors.

HMS Lion – HMS Lion was the lead ship of another class of Battlecruisers, and was Vice Admiral Beatty’s flagship at Jutland. Lion was hit 14 times, suffering 99 men dead and 51 wounded. 8 of those killed came from Portsmouth She had fired 326 rounds from her main guns.

HMS Malaya – HMS Malaya was a Queen Elizabeth class Battleship, and had only been commissioned in February 1916. At Jutland she was hit eight times, and 65 of her crew were killed. One man came from Portsmouth – Cooks Mate Frederick Watts, aged 23. He is buried in Lyness Naval Cemetery near Scapa Flow, suggesting that either his body was recovered, or he died of wounds.

HMS Nestor -HMS Nestor was an M-class Destroyer, launched in 1915. She was sunk at Jutland. Many of her crew of 80 were lost, including one man from Portsmouth – Petty Officer Stoker George Hawkins, 29 and from Harley Street in Fratton.

HMS Nomad – The Nomad was a sister ship of HMS Nestor, and was only launched in February 1916. She was sunk by fire from the German battlecruisers. Out of her crew of 80 only eight men were killed, but two them were from Portsmouth – Able Seaman Walter Read, 30 and from Norland Street in Southsea; and ERA 2nd Class George Willis.

HMS Princess Royal -Princess Royal was a Lion class Battlecruiser, launched in 1911. Princess Royal was hit eight times at Jutland, by Derfflinger and Markgraf. 22 of her crew were killed, and 81 were injured. Among the dead were Portsmouth men Leading Stoker George Daniels, 34 and from Southsea; and Royal Marine Gunner Ernest Gamblin, 36 and from St Helens Road in Southsea. The sight of a seriously damaged Princess Royal returning to Portsmouth after the battle shocked many.

HMS Queen Mary -Queen Mary was a Battlecruiser, the sole ship in her class, and was launched in 1912. Early in the battle she was hit twice by Derfflinger, causing a catastrophic explosion in her magazines. Out of her crew of 1,284, only eighteen survivors were picked up. 124 of the dead came from Portsmouth.

HMS Shark -Shark was an Acasta class Destroyer, launched in 1912. Attached to the Battlecruisers at Jutland, she led a torpedo attack on the German scouting group. She was heavily damaged, and her Captain lost a leg. The ship was abandoned, and only 30 of her crew survived. Among the dead were 15 Portsmouth sailors.

HMS Southampton – A town class light cruiser, Southampton was damaged at Jutland but survived the battle. Out of her crew of around 440, 31 men were killed. Five of them came from Portsmouth.

HMS Sparrowhawk – Sparrowhawk was another Acasta class Destroyer, sunk after a collision with HMS Broke (above). One Portsmouth man was killed, Petty Officer Stoker Albert Jones.

HMS Tipperary – Tipperary was a Faulknor class Destroyer leader. Launched in 1915, she was originally ordered by Chile, but taken over by the Royal Navy at the start of the war. After contributing to the sinking of the German battleship Frauenlob, Tipperary was sunk by Westfalen. Of her crew of 197, 184 men were lost, including 22 from Portsmouth.

HMS Turbulent – Turbulent was a Talisman class Destroyer, launched in January 1916. She was sunk at Jutland by a German Battlecruiser, with the loss of 90 out of a crew of 102. One man came from Portsmouth – her Engineer Lieutenant Reginald Hines, 32 and from Hereford Road in Southsea, an old boy of Portsmouth Grammar School.

HMS Warrior – Warrior was a Duke of Edinburgh class armoured cruiser, launched in 1905. Heavily damaged at Jutland, she sank the next day. 743 of her crew survived, 67 were killed. Two of the dead came from Portsmouth – Officers Steward 1st Class Harold Parker, 23; and Royal Marine Bugler William Willerton.

Looking at the casualty information, several things appear to be clear. Firstly, the loss sustained by Portsmouth was significant. Secondly, many of the men lost were on battlecruisers – indeed, there was ‘something wrong with our bloody ships’ that day. Sadly, the lack of armoured protection in battlecruisers was not rectified in HMS Hood, leading to even more casualties in 1941. Thirdly, although the German High Seas Fleet had given the Grand Fleet a bloody nose, it was nowhere near bloody enough to wrest supremacy of the North Sea.

Much has been written about Portsmouth and Jutland, albeit not in recent years. There are a number of statements that have been made about Jutland and its effect on Portsmouth, that were never substantiated by evidence, and have been perpetuated throughout time. Apparently one street in Portsmouth lost a huge number of sailors killed, it is believed to be 39. Also, it has been said that ‘virtually’ every street in Portsmouth lost at least one sailor at Jutland. It would be interesting to challenge, and either prove or disprove these potential urban myths.

Having said that, we know for a fact that many of hundreds of Portsmouth men were killed on 31 May and 1 June 1916. It was almost certainly the bloodiest day – or days – in Portsmouth’s history. It almost certainly had a bigger impact on Portsmouth than any of the Pals Battalion‘s losses on the Somme did on their hometowns. Yet whilst we know plenty about the Northern working class towns that suffered on the Somme, we know virtually nothing about the sailors neighbourhoods of Portsmouth that had their menfolk decimated at sea, particularly at Jutland. People just don’t seem to think of the Great War as being a naval war.

Jutland has been almost completely overshadowed by Trafalgar and the Titanic as precursors, the Western Front as a Great War contemporary, and D-Day and ships such as the Hood and the Royal Oak as Second World War successors. Yet Jutland saw much heavier losses  than any of these events.

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Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes awarded 4.5/5 ‘mines’!

My book ‘Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes’ has received a brilliant review from the Mine Clearance Diving Officers Association website, being awarded 4 and a half mines out of a possible 5! This is of course very poignant, given the inclusion of a mine warfare CPO, Reg Ellingworth GC.

I hope the MCDOA do not mind me quoting some of the ‘best bits’ here:

James Daly is a Portsmouth historian who runs the extremely informative and thought-provoking Daly History Blog which contains well-researched articles and analysis of military history and contemporary news events.

Full of fascinating detail, this book is engaging from cover to cover.  The way in which the author manages to bring alive such a wide variety of characters and their deeds makes it eminently readable and a valuable acquisition for anyone with a general interest in naval & military history and with Portsmouth in particular.  I learned about some rarely described aspects of the war and thoroughly recommend it.

 

 

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The officer class of Southsea

Researching Portsmouth’s Great War dead has thrown up some pretty interesting findings. It’s always occured to me, that for a naval and military town, Portsmouth never really seemed to contribute that many officers, to either service – particulary when you consider Pompey’s size and heritage. As I’m nearing the end of compiling my WW1 database, I’m starting to get a pretty good idea of where in Portsmouth the various officers and other ranks came from. And it’s a pretty intersting – albeit predictable – conclusion.

The vast majority of officers from Portsmouth came from Southsea. A leafy, fashionable nineteenth century seaside resort, Southsea had been started by Thomas Croxton earlier in the 1800′s, before being susbstantially developed by Thomas Ellis Owen in the mid-century. Owen built many well-adjusted villas, and shaped Southsea with sweeping, curving terraces, crescents and groves. Unsurprisingly, Southsea become home to wealthy professionals, and a not insignificant number of the officer class. Remember, aside from a premier naval town, Portsmouth was also the most heavily fortified place in Europe in the mid 19th Century, and home to a sizeable military garrison.

70 Officers from Southsea were killed between 1914 and 1921 – 10.5% of all of its 663 war dead. That’s significantly more than the usual officer-other rank ratio in either service. I should stress as well that my research into Southsea’s war dead is ongoing – in all probability, both numbers will be higher.

  • Twenty two were  2nd Lieutenants in the Army. Notably, only 5 were in Hampshire Regiment suggesting that officers did not necessarily join units with regional loyalties in mind. Occupation wise, we know that one was a Solicitor and another a Surveyor. One was the son of a knight of the realm, another was the son of a vicar, and a sizeable number were 0ld boys of either the Southern Grammar School of Portsmouth Grammar School.
  • Eighteen were Lieutenants in the Army. One man held the Distinguished Conduct Medal, suggesting that he had been commissioned from the ranks. Again, several were old boys of the Southern Grammar.
  • Ten men were killed serving as Captains with the Army. Only 1 Hampshire Regiment, and intriguingly, three were sons of Lieutenant Colonels – suggesting that military families did inhabit Southsea.
  • And on a more senior level, two Majors and two Lietenant Colonels came from Southsea.

It would be interesting to know how many of these were pre-war regulars, and how many were hostilities only officers. Also, how many of them were promoted from the ranks? The other thing that we need to bear in mind, is that the 1914-18 definition of Southsea included what we now know of as Somers Town, a predominantly working class area. If we were to limit our research to the area that we now know as Southsea, the officer-men ration would be much higher.

Interestingly, there were actually fewer naval officers than army officers from Southsea:

  •  Four men were administrative officers – one Clerk, and three Paymasters.
  • Four men were serving as Commanders, including three Engineer Commanders.
  • One man was serving as an Engineer Lieutenant Commander
  • Of the three men serving as naval Lieutenants, two of them were Engineers

It’s striking that out of the 12 naval officers, half of them were Engineers. Now, I’m sure that Engineering Officers did not consitute 50% of the Royal Navy’s officer establishment, so does it seem that Southsea was home to something of a naval engineering set, possibly? As a fashionable officer town, but also home to numerous professionals and intelligentsia, did this make Southsea an attractive home for Engineers?

With the Royal Marine Barracks at Eastney nearby, it is probably not surprising that several Royal Marines Officers were killed from Southsea. Two were Lieutenants, and the other was a Brevet Lieutenant Colonel  of the RM Light Infantry, who was killed commanding a naval Battalion of the RN Division on the Somme in December 1916. Southsea was probably a more palatable home for an RM officer than the more working class streets in Eastney.

By Comparison, only ONE man out of 450 who were killed from Landport was serving as an officer, an Army Captain. This represents a microscopic 0.2% out of the areas total war dead. It is not hard to escape the conclusion that Landport – an infamous, poor, working class neighbourhood, was exremely unlikely to produce naval or military officers, when compared with the well-off, educated folk of Southsea. It’s surprising the difference that a mile in geography can make, and I can’t think of many places where the difference is more pronounced between fashionable officers resorts on the one hand, and sailors slums on the other.

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Signing at Waterstones Portsmouth tomorrowng

I’ll be signing copies of ‘Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes’ at Waterstones in Portsmouth tomorrow, from 11am until 3pm.

If you want to buy a copy and get a special dedication – either for yourself, or as a gift for a relative or friend maybe – or you would like to talk to me about the book, fee free pop by and say hello.

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Portsmouth’s Great War Emigrants and Immigrants

I’ve always found the transient nature of Portsmouth society pretty interesting. As a port people have been coming and going from the place for hundreds of years. In fact, Portsmouth probably knew more about Immigants and Emigrants than any other place before the Empire Windrush.

My research into Portsmouth’s World War One dead is throwing up some pretty interesting findings with regard to people either leaving Portsmouth or coming here. A number of Portsmouth men were killed serving with foreign military units. 5 men were killed with African units. 12  were with the Australian Army, as well 6 men who were loaned to the Royal Australian Navy. 29 men were serving with Canadian units, 3 with Indian units, and 2 New Zealand. For many of these – in particular Australian and Canadian – their service records survive, so it should be possible to research their careers and lives in a fair bit of detail – how did they come to leave Portsmouth?I suspect that some may never have set foot in their ‘adopted’ country, but might have been transferred in theatre as manpower needs dictated. All the same, the majority of them probably emigrated in search of a better life, and im many cases, were killed serving closer to their homeland than they could have ever imagined.

Looking down the list of surnames of war dead, it is possible to find quite a few foreign sounding surnames. Some of them sound distinctly German, French, Spanish, Italian, Polish and possible Jewish. Some of them I have picked out are as follows:

Gunner Alfred Baulf (RFA), Gunner Henry Berger (RFA), Private Henry Bosonnet (15th Hampshires), Private Cyril Brunnen (2nd Hampshires), Lieutenant George Cosser (6th Hampshires), Private Walter De Caen (2nd Hampshires), Lance Corporal Joseph Hassalt (South Wales Borderers), Private John Hedicker (2nd Hampshires), Lance Corporal Harold Heffren (1st Hampshires), Private H.W. Heinman (2nd Hampshires), Lance Corporal R.J. Pamphilon (London Regiment), Sergreant Albert Petracca (Army Service Corps), M. Weiner (not yet identified, Ships Cook William Boggia (HMS Victory),PO Frederick De Barr (HMS Natal), PO Walter De Ste Croix (HMS Hampshire), AB Charles Farlou (HMS Ardent), Telegraphist John Hefferman (HMS Princess Irene), Chief Engine Room Artificer William Lucia (HMS Queen Mary), Sick Berth Attendant Arthur Mazonowicz (HMS Victory), Gunner Albert Mehennet (RMA Siege Guns), Signal Bosun Arthur Mortieau (HMS Hampshire), Officers Cook 1st Class Herbert Weitzel (HM Yacht Zarefah), Musician John Whichello (RM Band Service), Alexander Zeithing (unidentified), Gunner Albert Rosser (RMA, HMS Vanguard), Officers Cook Alfred Santillo (HMS Goliath), PO William Koerner (HMS Niobe).

There are also quite a few men who came from ‘foreign’ places with links to the British Empiure – 17 men from the Channel Islands, and five from Malta. Many of these men may have fled strife at home – possibly some French-descended men of Hugenot origin? – or perhaps Eastern Europeans of Jews fleeing pogroms in Central and Eastern Europe. Sadly for many of them service records are not available, but it might be an interesting exercise to try and chart their lives.

When it comes to Royal Naval and Royal Marine Servicemen, for the vast majority their service records still survive. And better still, in the search function on the National Archives Documents Online website, you can see their date and place of birth without having to pay! The following were born in foreign climes:

PO George Temple (Bermuda), PO Samuel Greenway (Ceylon), AB William Morrison (Ceylon), Lieutenant George Walker-Williamson (India), Cooks Mate William Opie (India), Cooks Mate Frederick Shephard (India), Warrant Mechanician Thomas King (New Zealand), Leading Seaman Edward Williams (Campos Gabrielle, South America, possibly Chile), Chief Engine Room Artificer Stamper Wade (Boston US).

They all have distinctly British names, so it would seem that they were born to British parents who for whatever reason were living or working abroad. Interesting that many of their places of birth – India, Ceylon and New Zealand for example – were part of the British Empire. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but Stamper Wade sounds like a typical American name! It would also be interesting to find out about Edward Williams – as far as I can tell, Campos Gabrielle could be in Chile.

We don’t know quite as much about the provenance of men who served in the Army, but on his Commonwealth War Graves Commission entry we see that Private Henry Hodge was born in Barbados, but was living in Cosham at the time that he was killed. Again, it would be very interesting to find out why!

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Accidents and illness in war time

Something that I don’t think military history has ever quite convinced in portraying is the extent to which people are vulnerable to accidents and illness war time. In particular during the periods of mass mobilisation during both world wars. The National Roll of the Great War gives unparalleled information about how people died, which sheds new light on the experiences that affected the people of Portsmouth.

During war time, the usual health and safety and economy measures go out of the window. On a Dreadnought, or on the front line, for that matter, there are all manner of things that can go wrong. Several men were washed overboard warships. There were accidental explosions. Men fell into dry docks, or even Canals. One man drowned whilst attempting to rescue a man who fell overboard. One man was seriously injured when he fell under his horse. All manner of dangers could befall individuals during war. And we need to remember as well that in general life was more dangerous than it is now. Danger was an accepted part of life, and there was no such thing as health and safety. Personal Protection Equipment did not exist, and neither did risk assessments. But neither did litigation.

During wartime people seem to have been far more susceptible to illnesses that might be less than fatal in peacetime. Men died of illnesses as varied as Meningitis, Heart disease, Rheumatism, Brights Disease (nowadays called Nephritis), Blood Poisoning, appendicitis, post-operation illnesses and Malaria. If you think about it, a young man with an underlying heart weakness or defect is going to be susceptible to becoming ill during stressful circumstances. And that goes for pretty much any kind of illness. And in situations where there was a lack of sanitation, medical care or supplies, and poor diets, it is not surprising that so many people succumed to illness. Cuts and grazes or even insect bites could cause blood poisoning, and of course men in tropical climates were susceptible to Malaria.

Of course many men died during the Spanish Influenza epidemic during 1918 and 1919. Again, with so many men moving around the world, it is not surprising that the flu virus spread so virulently. Men who were tired and malnourished may not have had the immune system to fight off the flu. It is interesting also that a few men died of pneumonia during 1918 and 1919 – was this misdiagnosed influenza, or caused by it?

More obviously, several men died of the lingering effects of being gassed, some almost a couple of years after they had come home. Theirs must have been a horrific demise. A couple of men died from the effects of exposure – one the master of a Tug who had probably been at sea in cold weather, and suffered the consequences. Men also died of the effects of Trench Fever, and one man even died of frostbite in the Ypres sector in 1917.

Several men died soon after being invalided home with shell shock. Whilst it is hard with the information available to prove that shell shock killed them, it is not impossible – particularly considering the way in which shell shock was treated in the Great War.

One painter actually died from the effects of lead poisoning – almost certainly down to the lead content in paint. He was only 27 and had joined the Navy at the age of 18. Clearly nine years of working with lead paint on a daily basis was deadly. How many other men died of what we now know as industrial diseases? We all know nowadays about asbestos, but a hundred years ago so many hazards were not known. I also wonder how many stokers died of respiratory disease, or of illness linked to their job.

One man died from the effects of what was termed, at the time, acute nervous prostration. Nowadays, this would be termed a serious nervous breakdown. I’m loath to mention the gentlemans name, but he was a seaman who had been invalided out to hospital in 1916, and died the next year. If you think about it, many of us suffer from mental health issues, so for one man among almost 5,000 to experience a breakdown is not that surprising. Especially when you consider what he might have been through. Also, in 1916 treatment for mental illness was a lot more harrowing, as the condition was not nearly so well understood.

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Ancestry or Find My Past? A dilemma

For a while I have been pondering subscribing to one of the online family history websites. By far the most prominent are Ancestry and Find my Past. I’ve found myself doing more and more social history, which uses things such as the censuses and registers. And of course, both websites also have military records that are quite useful.

My problem is, which one to go for. Each has some records that the other does not have.

Find my Past has all of the censuses from 1841 to 1911, Merchant Navy crewlists and Seamans records, some miscellaneous occupational records, Parish Registers from 1538 to 2005, Birth Marriage and Death indexes from 1837 onwards, divorce indexes, some probates and wills, and some travel and migration records, such as East India Company records, Passenger lists and Registers of Passport applications.

It is in the military area that I am most interested. FMP has armed forces births, marriages and deaths 1796-2005; Army Roll of Honour 1939-45; British Army Service Records 1760-1915; De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour 1914-1918; DCM Citations 1914-1920; Irish Great War Records; National Roll of the Great War 1914-1918; Naval Casualties 1914-1919; New Zealand WW1 Soldiers; RA Honours 1939-46; RA MM’s 1916-93; RM Medal Roll 1914-1920; RN Division 1914-19; RN Officers 1914-20; Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-19; WW2 POW’s; and the Waterloo Medal Roll of 1815.

Ancestry has all of the censuses, plus some foreign; and even some electoral rolls and slave registers; the usual BMD Registers, plus Parish Registers; British wills and probate and some foreign too; an extensive range of Passenger Lists and alien entry books. In terms of the military, Ancestry has British Army WW1 Service Records 1914-1920; British Army Medal Index Cards 1914-1920; British Army Pension Records 1914-1920; ‘Soldiers Died’; Military Campaign Medal and Award Rolls 1793-1949; Army Roll of Honour 1939-45; WW1 Silver War Badge Records; POW’s 1939-45; Navy Lists 1908 and 1914; De Ruvigny’s R of H; DCM Citations and RN Division Records.

How the hell am I, as a WW1 historian, supposed to choose between the two of them? Whichever website I subscribe to, I am missing out on something vital on the other. If I join FMP I get RN Officers 1914-1920, and the RM Medal Roll; but if I join Ancestry I get Medal Index Cards and Silver Badge Records.

I have a feeling that this dichotomy in record digitisation is caused by the National Archives policy. Lacking the resources to digitise things themselves – they tend to charge by the item, in any case – TNA outsource each particular project to the highest bidder, either FMP or Ancestry. As a result, records are scattered between the two. As a result commercial interests are seriously hampering historical research.

Has anyone else in the field had this problem?

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The Twynam family of Soberton, Hampshire

For the most part, I have confined my WW1 research to people who either lived, were born or had strong connections with the area bounded by Portsmouth city. But my brother has tipped me off on an interesting little subject from a small village just to the north of Pompey.

My brother is a middle distance runner, and on one of his recent training runs he passed through the small village of Soberton, near Droxford and Bishops Waltham. It’s on the back road from Portsmouth to Winchester. Anyway, near the centre of the village is a Great War Memorial, as in many villages, consisting of a hewn stone cross and a plaque of names. And it’s that plaque of names that grabbed Scott’s attention, there being four men of the same surname. This is remarkable, and in such a small village too.

After a little research, I can confirm that the men are:

TWYNAM John

Staff Sergeant 131 1st South African Mounted Rifles. Died on 30/11/1914 Age unknown. Commemorated at Barnea Siding Burial Ground, Bethlehem, Free State, Africa. Apparently John Twynam was killed accidentally by a lightning strike.

TWYNAM Godfrey

Second Lieutenant 11th Bn. Border Regiment. Died on 18/11/1916 Age 25. Son of the late John and Mary Twynam, of Soberton House, Droxford, Bishop’s Waltham, Hants. Waggon Road Cemetery, Beaumount-Hamel, Somme, France, A. 24.  Born Droxford Apr/May/Jun 1891. The 11th Borders were a Kitchener Battalion, so it is probable that Godfrey was a wartime volunteer.

TWYNAM Hugh

Lieutenant H.M. Submarine E.36. Royal Naval Reserve. Died on 19/01/1917 Age 29. Son of John and Mary Twynam, of Soberton House, Soberton Hants.. Commemorated at Portsmouth Naval Memeorial, Hampshire, United Kingdom, 27. Born Droxford Apr/May/Jun 1888. Earlier censuses suggest that he had served as a cadet in a training ship on the Thames, and was then a Mate in the Merchant Service. Like many Merchant Seamen, he seems to have also been a member of the Naval Reserve.

TWYNAM William Hugh

Corporal 16391 7th Bn. Canadian Infantry (British Columbia Regiment). Died on 24/04/1915 Age 33. Son of the late John and Mary Rachel Twynam, late of Soberton House, Soberton, Hampshire. Commemorated at Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium, Panel 18 – 28 – 30. Born Droxford Jan/Feb/Mar 1883. William was in Canada at the time that war was declared working as a clerk, and seems to have volunteered straight away for Canadian forces. An earlier census states that he was a bank clerk. His attestation papers state that he had served with South African forces for five years.

After a little more research, it transpires that the Twynams were an ancient family with a long connection to the Soberton area, as might be expected of a family living in what appears to be the Manor House. In the 1891 census the family had four domestic servants, including a governess, a nurse and a cook. In an earlier census it is suggested that the family were involved in farming, employing a considerable number of people locally. Hampshire Records Office holds title deeds relating to land and property owned by the family, and also wills of several of the family members.

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ERA 2nd Class William Shaw DSM

As a general rule, Great War sailors from Portsmouth don’t seem to have won as many medals as their counterparts in the Second World War. I’m intruiged as to why this might be. But in the meantime, I have found one sailor who had a pretty interesting career.

William Fleetwood Shaw was born in Portsmouth on 8 July 1889.He was the son of Mr W.F. and Mrs. E. Shaw, of 46 Cleveland Road, Southsea. Shaw was an Engine Room Artificer 2nd Class when he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal on 28 September 1917, for ‘service with the Royal Naval Air Service on patrol duties and submarine searching in Home Waters’. Quite what an Engine Room Artificer was doing serving with the RNAS is anybody’s guess.

William Shaw was killed on HM Submarine L55 when she was sunk in the Baltic on 4 June 1919. L55 had been targeting two Soviet warships – the Gavril and the Azard. It is unclear whether the submarine was sunk by soviet gunfire, or from straying into a British-laid minefield.

The wreck remained on the Batlic seabed for eight years, until L55 was raised from the seabed by the Soviets on 11 August 1928. The remains of her 34 crewmembers were transferred from a British trawler to HMS Champion – a Light Cruiser. Their remains were buried in Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery in Gosport in a joint grave. My grandad’s birth certificate states that his father – my grandfather, Stoker Thomas Daly – was on HMS Champion at the time, so its quite possible that one of my ancestors played a small part in bringing William Shaw home! The photograph above shows some of the 34 coffins on the foredeck of HMS Champion, and her sailors and marines maintaining an honour guard. Interestingly, after being raised L55 was repaired by the Soviets, and used until the Second World War.

Interesting how a young man from Portsmouth – an Engine Room ‘tiffy’ – wins a DSM for service with the RN Air Service, is then killed serving in a submarine during the Russian Civil War, and finally finds his way home to Portsmouth almost a decade later.

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Thinking about Great War communities

My first book has only been on the shelves for a matter of days, but I guess its never too early to start thinking about lessons learnt, and how I might be able to do things differently next time around.

So far, everyone who has read the book has seemed to really enjoy reading the individual stories that I was able to tell. For some of the casualties I researched, especially officers and medal winners, there certainly was a lot of information out there. But the interesting thing is, for, say, a Private who was died of illness and didn’t win a medal, its next to impossible to find out much about him. As a result, I virtually had to write about what I could, based on the sources that were available.

One of the big differences between researching World War Two dead and World War One dead is the vastly different amount of information available. For Second World War Dead, the CWGC only tells us what area somebody came from. And not in all cases either. By contrast, for the Great War, for many we not only have the area that they came from, but also their street name and even house number. This enables us to build a unique picture of Portsmouth, that would impossible for the Second World War.

But the information does not end there. For sailors and Royal Marines, we can obtain their service records. Even though to download a few thousand of them would cost me megabucks, the National Archive’s search entries give us a date and place of birth for sailors. For Royal Marines, we can see their date of birth, but also their date of enlistment. Hence for sailors we can chart immigration into Portsmouth from elsewhere, which could lead to some groundbreaking research.

Also, we have a wealth of information available from the censuses of 1901 and 1911. Already, these have helped me to gain an insight into casualties previous careers, their households, their neighbourhoods, and their families. Something that is impossible for the period 1939-1945. And this gets me thinking : while there is a dearth of information about individuals, such as medal citations, there is a treasure trove of sources available for broader social history.

Maybe it would be interesting to look at Portsmouth in 1914, through the historical microscope that the Great War provides us with? Nobody has really looked at the late victorian and Edwardian working class communities of Portsmouth – these, inevitably, are the communities from which the vast majority of war dead came. Lets think about an area such as Landport. Straddling the Dockyard, it was home to thousands of sailors and Dockyard workers. If ever a community was a Navy community, it was somewhere like Landport. Using the CWGC entries and the census, it should be possible to look at a multitude of facets of life – occupations, families, leisure, recreation, housing, and even sanitation and healthcare. How many naval pensioners resided in the area? How many worked in the Dockyard? How many pubs were there? What were the levels of crime like?

There is an interesting element to the Landport story. Inspired by the den of iniquity for which the area was infamous, in 1885 an Anglo-Catholic Priest, Father Robert Dolling, set up a mission in Landport, funded by Winchester College. For ten years he ministered in the area, leading to the opening of the church of St Agathas in 1895. Shortly after Dolling resigned, when the Bishop of Winchester refused to sanction Dolling’s preference for what were virtually Catholic worship rites. The year after his resignation Dolling published Ten Years in a Portsmouth Slum, based on his experiences in Landport. I haven’t read it, but I’m hoping that it will be one of those rare, invaluable social investigations, a la Charles Booth in the Victorian period, and Mass Observation in World War Two.

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Naval Weapons of World War One by Norman Friedman

Norman Friedman gives us an incredibly comprehensive view of the weapons used by the Great War navies of… ready for this…? Britain, Germany, France, the United States, Italy, Russia, Japan, Austria, Spain, Sweden, and other navies. Here, naval weapons include guns, torpedoes, mines and anti-submarine weapons. There must have been a risk that main guns would overshadow mines and torpedoes.

This is quite some book, and I can only marvel at the amount of research that must have gone into it. Perhaps I found some of the technological stuff a bit perplexing – there were so many different calibres of gun, for example, it is hard to keep track of them all! But Friedman doesn’t just offer a technological narrative, he also gives a very good background in the historical developments that led to the early twentieth century naval arms race, and how the manufacture and development of weapons progressed. Names such as Armstrong figure prominently. And that is refreshing, as so often we get a – dare I say it – geeky analysis of why a 4.99inch gun is different to a 5inch gun, without any regard for the ships that they were fitted to, the men who operated them, and the admirals who fought them. I have found quite commonly when analysing modern naval warfare, than some correspondents tend to get too bogged down with the technology – ie, the make up or resistors in a sea wolf launcher – with no regard at all for the human aspect of things.

One thing that surprised me is just how many different types of guns were in use. In these days of commonality and procurement-led equipment policies, it is hard to fathom that the Royal Navy used to operate all manner of different calibre and type of guns. It must have been a supply chain nightmare. Imagine all of the spare parts, maintenance know how, operating experience and ammunition complexities. I guess it was as a result of the rapid change in technology in the nineteenth century. After all, the Royal Navy fought at Trafalgar with smootbore muzzle loaders, and went into action at Jutland with huge, rifled breech loaders. And then when you take into account the massive innovations in explosives, then its little wonder that the navies changed so dramatically. After all, guns and rounds are the raison d’etre of any Dreadnought. And then we have the vastly complex issues of naval tactics in the Dreadnought age, the Battlecruiser conundrum et al. And then when you compare these issues among the various navies, you have a very interesting picture.

But here Friedman does place the technology well within the wider context. There is a lot of compare and contrast, which is of course vital when considering why and how certain navies fared differently to others. It is excellently illustrated with some first class photographs, which are well interpreted. I found it very illuminating indeed. As somebody who does tend to concentrate on the social history side of things, it would be all too easy to ignore technology as ‘cold’ history. But to understand the story of men who served at sea in the Great War, then we should be prepared to be engrossed in the weapons that they worked with.

Not only that, but it looks pretty snazzy on my bookshelf!

Naval Weapons of World War One is published by Pen and Sword

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Forgotten Victory by Gary Sheffield

Cover of "Forgotten Victory: The First Wo...

Cover via Amazon

Going against a commonly-held perception is perhaps the greatest challenge that faces any historian. Some things in history are just so taken for granted that they are held as unassailable truths. As one of the fell0w-students on my degree course stated once, memorably, ‘Henry VIII was just a fat bloke who ate chicken’. Run against such a ‘historical truth’, and you runk the risk of being desricbed as a revisionist as best, and at worst a charlatan. In this book Gary Sheffield treads a very careful and well-reasoned path. Our understanding of the First World War is choc full of myths and misconceptions. Sheffield sequentially and convincingly deals with many of the inaccuracies that have become ingrained in national consciousness. National Consciousness, as Sheffield enlightens us, does tend to pull historical events out of their context.

Perhaps the biggest myth that Sheffield deals with is that of the ‘Lions led by Donkeys‘. Haig et al are filed neatly under ‘butcher’, and they sacrificed the lives of millions of brave men. Sheffield argues – convincingly, in my mind – that not only could Haig and his generals have not done much different, but also that progressively from 1916 onwards the BEF – and its generals – learnt rather quickly how to fight a modern war, and didn’t do too bad in the circumstances. On the Somme in 1916 the BEF relieved the pressure from the French at Verdun, and almost caused the German Army to crack. It almost did the same once again in 1917 at Ypres. It has become all too easy for any of us, in hindsight, to judge that the First World War was a a barbaric waste of life for no good reason. In fact, the BEF, by its actions, did result in the defeat of the German Army in the field, which ended the war. Haig was not a complete technophobe, as has been alleged. He understood air power, and embraced innovations such as the Tank – giving them his full support.

Trench Warfare, and the demands that it placed upon the British Army, was a complete abboration in British military history. Never before had Britain fielded a vast citizen army on the continent; for a small, elite, imperial police force, this resulted in a waterfall of change in a matter of weeks and months, let alone years. Once Kitcheners Armies took to the field and the BEF gained some valuable lessons, the British Army began to acquit itself quite well. Plumer, in particular, comes in for much praise. Perhaps the most important innovation of the Great War was the importance of the set-piece attack – detailed planning of an all arms battle, with all arms communicating as far as possible. Interesting, is it not,  that Montgomery served on Plumers staff? Crucually, Sheffield does not doubt that the BEF suffered horrific casualties, but he does argue – thougtfully – that a high butchers bill does not necessarily mean that those thousands of lives were lost in vain.

World War One did, in some respects, end unsatisfactorily for all sides. The German Army had been defeated – or, in many ways, had defeated itself. Yet the German nation and people did not suffer the full consequences of defeat, and hence the myth of the stab in the back took hold. The US under Wilson imposed ideals of liberal democracy on the rest of the world, then promptly retreated to isolationism once more. The vast loss of life led to policies of appeasement, particularly for Britain and France. And hence, perhaps, perceptions of the Great War have been shaped by its consequent events that took place years afterwards. The Allies won the war, but did not win the peace.

In terms of British military history, Gary Sheffield is perhaps the most prominent voice in the field today. Forgotten Victory has considerably aided my broader understanding of the First World War, from the international rivalries and complex web of alliances that made it happen, to the hopelessly compromised peace settlement after, which all but condemmed Europe to war less than a generation later. But sadly, calm, collected histories do not tend to change popular consciousness. Which is a pity, as I cannot help but feel that Sheffield treads a very well reasoned path here.

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Birdsong – Part 2 Reviewed

On reflection, although I enjoyed the first instalment of Birdsong, I did find that it was very heavy on moody silences, and wistful glances into the distance. Historically, it seemed accurate, and compared to other adaptations, it seemed pretty faithful to the book.

I felt that the battle scenes were very well handled. In all fairness, I think we are setting our stalls out too much to expect battle scenes to be 100% accurate – how can they be? no one actually dies in a war film. I personally feel that the best we can hope for is that battle scenes are thoughtful and respectful to history, and that was what was achieved here. I was very moved especially by the ‘big push’ on the Somme, in particular the scene where the Sergeant-Major is taking a roll call of endless absent names. The final tunnel scene really did justice to the story, and must have taken quite some work in terms of the set and props.

One aspect where I felt that the TV dramtisation really let itself down, was the manner in which the screenwriters, for whatever reason, ommitted any reference to the fact that the events of the book are actually seen through the eyes of a descendant, researching in the 1970′s. This gave the story added longitudinal meaning, that was perhaps absent on screen. Also, maybe I missed it, but there was no reference in either part as to where the title of the book originates from.

There were also a few aspects of the plot that I felt were light – little explanation of why Isabelle left Stephen, and why Stephen was in France in the first place. But then again, I guess translating such a monumental book into three hours of TV was always going to be a challenge. It’s always the same with TV adaptations – they’re never going to hit every note that the book does, but as long as they’re faithful and in keeping, then you have to give credit where credit is due.

What with the phenomenal success of War Horse, and the impending Great War Centenary in 2014, we are probably well into a period of renaissance of interest in the events of 1914-1918. It’s quite an exciting time to be a modern military historian.

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Filed under fiction, On TV, Uncategorized, western front, World War One

Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes – out in mid-February

I just wanted let you all know some exciting news about my new book.

My publishers have informed me that the books will be released from the distributors on 14 February, so hopefully they will start to appear soon after that. Thank you to everyone who has pre-ordered, if you haven’t purchased a copy yet but would like to do so it is available from the outlets linked to the right.

I am hoping to confirm a couple of signing events soon at local venues – you’ll hear it here first!

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The Somme by Gary Sheffield

It’s nice to actually read a book about the Somme that actually makes me feel like I have learnt something. Too many books on the battle indulge in what has become rather cliched poetry. Most of us are well aware that the first day of the Somme was the bloodiest day in the British Army’s history. Most of us are equally as aware that the Somme was ultimately futile.

What Sheffield does so well here is threefold. Firstly, he does not allow the narrative to become embroiled in cliche or hyperbole. The events of 1916 are examined and explained in a clinical, methodical manner. Secondly, he looks beyond the first day of the Battle. So many histories of the Somme look only at 1 July 1916. Yet the battle raged on for almost five months after that before the offensive ceased. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, it is eminently readable.

Each phase of the offensive is examined in a manner which makes it clear to the reader. 1 July obviously comes in for special attention, and Sheffield looks at the Divisions all along the front, from Gommecourt in the north to the anglo-french boundary in the south, and relates their objectives and their experiences. As the late great Richard Holmes so rightly stresses in his foreword, Martin Middlebrook gave so much to our understanding of the first say of the Somme, but perhaps out attention in the past has been too focussed on this one day, out of a much longer battle.

Sheffield does not allow himself to get too bogged down in considering whether the battle was a waste of lives or not. The general assumption amongst most people is that the Somme was a horrific waste of lives, a by-word for futility. Or was it? As Sheffield reminds us, the French Army had its back to the wall at Verdun, and the Somme was vital in diverting German resources from that battle. Politically, to do nothing was not an option. In addition, the British Army learnt an awful lot on the Somme, that it put into practice in 1917 and 1918. Could Haig, Rawlinson and Gough have done much different on the Somme. Like Sheffield, I suspect not. The strategic thinking and even most of the tactics were sound, but the Army had not developed its technology and expertise – particularly around communications – enough to really take the offensive to the Germans.

I cannot stress enough how much this book has helped – and will help me – in my research into Portsmouth men killed on the Somme. In particular, the 1st Hampshires on the 1st day near Beaumont Hamel, and then the 15th Hampshires (2nd Portsmouth) at Flers in September – incidentally, one of the most succesful days on the Somme.

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