Diary of the War: January 1918

HMHS Rewa

This week we look at a wreck in the Bristol Channel which was first published in most British newspapers on 10 January 1918, six days after the ship was lost on 4 January.

Rewa was built as a liner in 1906 for the British India Steam Navigation Co., along with her 1905 sister, Rohilla, both vessels named after provinces of India. Their careers paralleled one another: both were converted from passenger service to troop transports, taking part together in the Coronation Fleet Review, 1911, and on exercises in 1913 off the Humber. (1) From transport service it was but a short step on the outbreak of war to conversion to hospital ships. Both would be lost in that service and Rohilla was featured in the War Diary of October 1914.

From 1915 onwards Rewa would become one of the familiar sights of the Gallipoli campaign, transporting men out from Suvla Bay to the depot at Mudros (Greek Moudros) to hospital at Alexandria or Malta, or back home. (2) On her final voyage she was bound from Mudros to Avonmouth via Gibraltar, where she had been inspected by a neutral Spanish observer to ensure her bona fides as a hospital ship. (3) There are some conflicts in the numbers on board, but the usual figures given are 207 crew, 80 medical personnel, and 279 wounded men (making a total of 566), although contemporary newspapers gave the rounded figures of 550 and 560. (4)

On his first patrol of the New Year was Kapitänleutnant Wilhelm Werner of the Kaiserliche Marine (Imperial German Navy) in U-55 off the coast of Cornwall. (5) For almost a year now, Germany had waged unrestricted submarine warfare, torpedoing ships without warning, but, by the terms of the Hague Convention, hospital ships were exempt from attack. They were distinctively painted with a white hull and the internationally recognised symbol of the Red Cross, and were to be lit in the dark for night recognition. The Rewa was accordingly proceeding up the Bristol Channel, ‘brilliantly lighted’ as demanded by the convention. (6) The Captain stated: ‘We had our Red Cross flag up and our lights had been lit at sunset – viz., steaming lights, navigation lights, and Convention lights, and they had remained and were alight at the time of the explosion. All the lights were electric. The ship was hit abreast of the funnel on the port side, as near amidships as possible.’ (7)

Thus when Werner fired the torpedo which caused the explosion off Hartland Point in the Bristol Channel, he must have known that he was contravening the Hague Convention. The captain had seen suspicious lights just before the torpedo struck, and ported his helm, but had not verified the identity of the vessel before the torpedo actually struck. (8)

The explosion is said to have extinguished the lights (many newspapers reported that a fortuitous find of a candle afforded some light, although, less dramatically, emergency candle lamps as a backup system were, in fact, lit) (9) and the ship began to settle. Fortunately for the evacuation, the vessel remained on an even keel before she finally sank, the sea remained calm, and there was time to send a distress call. Within 20 minutes everyone was on board the ship’s boats, even the ‘cot cases’ who were unable to fend for themselves. Given the dark and the imperative for haste, it was impossible for everyone to gather up sufficient clothing to keep warm while exposed to a cold night on the sea.

‘One of the nurses gave all her heavy garments to cover the men who were very ill, and remarking this an officer transferred to her his overcoat’, according to one account that was widely repeated across the press. (10) The number of nurses aboard was put at three, which seems a very small number amongst such a large medical staff with so many patients to look after. (11)

Even as they bobbed about on the sea, the little flotilla of lifeboats kept together on the captain’s orders and burned flares to attract attention – another factor in the survival of so many. (12)

Miraculously, only three men were initially reported missing, believed killed in the explosion in the engine-room, but, in fact, four lascars of the Indian Merchant Service were killed and are commemorated on the Bombay 1914-1918 Memorial, Mumbai: Usman Ghulam Qadir, trimmer, Ali and Said Ahmad Umar, both firemen, and Sultan Shah Azad, paniwallah (water-carrier). (13)

‘Another steamer and three trawlers were speedily on the scene’, although ‘speedy’ might have been a relative term since they were in the water for three hours before being picked up. (14)

The rescue vessels belonged to the Swansea Patrol and survivors were accordingly landed there. (15) The Western Daily Press described the ‘piteous’ sight as survivors came ashore,which moved onlookers to tears: ‘a procession of maimed and limping men, some on the backs of others and all without boots, wended its way under willing hands of helpers to the Coal Exchange . . . all business being suspended, while others were taken to leading hotels . . .’ (16) Some of the survivors were suffering from shock and wounds sustained in the explosion: one of the rescued lascars was reliving the fire in his mind, and another man went about all day without complaint until collapsing in the evening, when he was found to have several broken ribs. (17)

Eighteen survivors were taken to the Dan-y-Coed Red Cross Hospital (18) while others were despatched onwards to Southmead Hospital in Bristol. (19) It seems that Dan-y-Coed was a specialist in prosthetics made by a member of staff, so perhaps that was where some of the ‘maimed’ men ended up. A Dr Harrison was himself a hospital case with dysentery. Another medic, one Dr Lambert, had served since 1915 aboard Rewa at Gallipoli and had found romance and marriage in 1917 with one of her nurses, Alice Lockhart. He was with Rewa to the bitter end, receiving compensation for the medical instruments he had been forced to abandon on the sinking ship, but it is not yet known if his wife was also aboard at the time. (20)

The official German position cast doubt on the possibility of a submarine attack and suggested that a mine had been responsible for sinking the vessel, but the news triggered worldwide condemnation. As it was the Rewa would be cited as a war crime for which Wilhelm Werner was held responsible, although he would ultimately escape prosecution for this and other attacks on shipping.

The lights may have gone out on the Rewa as the torpedo struck, but, a century on, we are able to shine a light on some of those affected, whose stories are not always told in the accounts of shipping losses during the First World War: ordinary men and women, British and Indian, patients and crew, walking wounded and those severely ill and maimed.

Poster with text 'What a Red Rag is to a Bull - the Red Cross is to the Hun', with image of a U-boat and a torpedo track towards an illuminated red cross on a ship.
British propaganda poster of 1918. The striking of the Rewa amidships led to accusations that U-55 had fixed on her painted red cross as a target. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 13547)

 

(1) Online sources frequently state this as the Coronation Review of 1910, but 1910 was the year of George V’s accession, not his coronation. The review took place in June 1911; see, for example, The Times, 26 June 1911, p10. For the Humber exercises, see, for example, The Sphere, 2 August 1913, Vol.LIV, No.706, p11.

(2) Casale, F. 2008. “Dr John Lambert on HS Rewa at Gallipoli”, Proceedings of the History of Anaesthesia Society,  Vol.39, 2008, pp20-24

(3) i.e. that she was not being used for any military purpose. Spanish confirmation of their compliance, and of British compliance with the conditions of the Convention, was received from the observer who disembarked at Gibraltar. The Scotsman, 16 January 1918, No.23,284, p5

(4) New York Times, 10 January 1918, p1; The Times, 11 January 1918, No.41,684, p5; Western Daily Press, 10 January 1918, No.18,589, p6

(5) For the dates of U-55‘s patrol on this and other occasions, see https://uboat.net/wwi/boats/successes/u55.html

(6) Daily Telegraph, 10 January 1918, No.19,577, p5

(7) Birmingham Daily Post, 10 January 1918, No.18,602, p2

(8) ibid.

(9) Newcastle Journal, 14 January 1918, No.22,657, p5

(10) Western Daily Press, 10 January 1918, No.18,589, p6

(11) Daily Telegraph, 10 January 1918, No.19,577, p5

(12) Birmingham Daily Post, 10 January 1918, No.18,602, p2

(13) Commonwealth War Graves Commission

(14)  Western Daily Press, 10 January 1918, No.18,589, p6; Birmingham Daily Post, 10 January 1918, No.18,602, p2

(15) Crawford, J. 2014. GGAT 130: First World War Scoping Study: Glamorgan and Gwent: a report for Cadw pp99-100

(16) Western Daily Press, 10 January 1918, No.18,589, p6; Revd R G James, British and Foreign Sailors’ Society https://www.sailors-society.org/about-us/press-room/rewa/

(17) Daily Telegraph, 10 January 1918, No.19,577, p5

(18) Powell, C. nd. Caring within the Community: Mumbles Red Cross Hospitals

(19) Western Daily Press, 10 January 1918, No.18,589, p6

(20) Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 10 January 1918, No.15,682, p4; Casale, F. 2008. “Dr John Lambert on HS Rewa at Gallipoli”, Proceedings of the History of Anaesthesia Society,  Vol.39, 2008, pp20-24

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Diary of the War: December 1917

Shot Down off the Coast

By December 1917 the citizens of London were used to air raids at regular intervals: it was terrifying enough, although nothing like on the scale of the Blitz of the Second World War. The wreck highlighted today in this month’s War Diary is representative of a new form of accident out to sea which would become more prevalent as aerial warfare developed.

On 18 December 1917 another raid was carried out by around 16 to 20 aircraft of Bogohl 3. (Bombengeschwader der Obersten Heeresleitung, High Command Bomber Squadron, also known as the Englandgeschwader, or ‘England Squadron’.) Two groups of Gotha bombers flew in over Kent and Essex around 6.30pm with the aim of bombing London. Some of the bombers got through and inflicted damage on Lincoln’s Inn which can still be seen today.

Nevertheless, after the cumulative experience of several raids, there were now several lines of defence which prevented all the raiders reaching London. Firstly, anti-aircraft guns swung into action and turned at least some of the enemy away. Secondly, barrage balloons were moored to protect London, a response more usually associated with the Second World War. One contemporary headline, ‘Barraged Gothas’ implies that the balloons were a major factor in preventing the majority of the Gothas from reaching London. (1)

Blue sky dominates the upper two-thirds of this painting, with small barrage balloons dotted high up in the sky. Below them are plumes of smoke from the factories hidden in the background. In the foreground a flat green agricultural landscape with trees.
The Balloon Apron, Frank Dobson, 1918. Barrage balloons float high over the flat Essex landscape. Stretching high into the sky are smoke plumes from factories, including Kynoch’s munitions factory. © IWM (Art.IWM ART 2001)

At this point I made an unexpected discovery and this is where I digress briefly. I’d already earmarked Frank Dobson’s image as an illustration to this post, having seen it in an exhibition earlier this year, and saw then the balloons protected Kynoch’s munitions factory. (2) Researching this article, I then discovered that this same factory at Corringham, Essex, was targeted early on in this specific raid. (3) Nor was this the only coincidence. One of the supervisors at that very factory was my grandmother – and I wonder now if she was there at the time or had already gone home for the day! (Here’s a photograph of female workers at Kynoch’s: my grandmother is the girl in the sailor suit.)

The third line of defence was aerial combat. Fighter pilots from the Home Defence Squadrons also took to the air to challenge and intercept the raiders, among them Captain Gilbert Ware Murlis Green of No.44 Squadron, Hainault Farm, Essex, in his Sopwith Camel. (4) Up he went in his single-seater to duel with the three-man Gotha bomber, crewed by Oberleutnant G von Stachelsky (pilot), Leutnant Friedrich Ketelsen, and Gefreiter A Weissman. Three times he went in to attack, and then, blinded by his own muzzle flash, he was forced to pull away, while the searchlights that made the Gotha visible to him also made him a target for its return fire. His fourth attack found its mark.

Green had not immediately downed his opponent, but damaged it enough for it to be doubtful if it could return across the Channel. The press took up the tale: ‘One raider was hit by gunfire and finally came down in the sea off the Kentish coast, two of its crew of three men being captured alive by an armed trawler.’ (5) 

As the aircraft crossed the coast, observers noticed it sounded as if it was flying low, and therefore clearly struggling, and then the sound of its engines was heard to cease suddenly out at sea. The “All Clear” was then sounded, followed by an offshore explosion shortly afterwards. Searches found the stricken aircraft and the trawler picked up von Stachelsky and Weissman, but Ketelsen had perished in the incident.

Ketelsen was a Danish-minority German from Pellworm in Schleswig-Holstein. A very interesting website, mostly in Danish, commemorates the Danish minority reluctantly mobilised into the German forces, with a page dedicated to Ketelsen. His name appears on a hand-painted memorial tablet which is very moving to see (if you follow the line across from the lower left-hand column to the right it leads easily to his name).

As for the rescued men, much was made of their youth and demeanour: one of the prisoners was described as ‘very sullen and dejected’, as well he might have been. (6)

It would have been absolutely freezing exposed at several thousand feet high on a cold December night, and the sea would have been no better. The two rescued crew were very fortunate to live to see another Christmas, even if it wasn’t exactly how they planned to spend it!

Black and white photograph of soliders standing around a crashed aircraft with a prominent black cross on its tailfin.
Last month’s post has a connection with this month’s, as Portuguese and British troops inspect the wreckage of a German Gotha G.IV heavy bomber (similar to the one brought down off Folkestone) downed in the Portuguese sector, France. © IWM (Q 64432)

 

(1) Sheffield Daily Telegraph, No.19,485, Thursday 20 December 1917, p5

(2) Imperial War Museum, catalogue entry for The Balloon Apron, suggests that it depicts balloons over Kynoch’s factory at Canvey Island. However, Kynoch’s presence on the island was in the form of a hotel and powder hulks located just offshore, but no factory. Kynoch’s factory was at Corringham, Essex, and, given the multiple factories depicted in the background of the painting, it appears more likely that the image shows the industrial landscape around Corringham. See also: Penn, J. nd. The Canvey Explosives Scheme of 1875: Dynamite Hulks and the Canvey Hotel

(3) Castle, I. nd Zeppelin Raids, Gothas and Giants: entry for 18 December 1917

(4) Castle, I. 2010 London 1917-18: The Bomber Blitz Oxford: Osprey Publishing; The Aerodrome forum. nd Gilbert Ware Murlis Green

(5) Chelmsford Chronicle, No.7,997, Friday 21 December 1917, p4

(6) Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail, No.12,382, Thursday 20 December 1917, p2

It was a dark and stormy night . . .

The Lizzie Lee and other stories from the night of 18-19 November 1893

It is my pleasure to close the year with another blog from my regular guest Jordan Havell as part of a double bill with today’s War Diary post.  Before we start the blog I’d just like to say that I recommended him in the Best Contribution to a Heritage Project by Young People category in the Historic England Angel Awards this year, for which he has been awarded a certificate of commendation.

Jordan has continued to research shipwrecks in his local area for these blogs and the information he has found in local newspapers and other records has given us extra information for our database records. A well deserved award for Jordan and a lovely note on which to end the year!

So here is his blog:

In the early hours of the morning of 19th November 1893, a coxswain from Mablethorpe lifeboat station saw a flare shown by a brigantine named Lizzie Lee of Goole. The vessel had drifted past the station and went ashore 2 miles south of Mablethorpe.

The weather was that of gales that had sprung up. Some newspaper accounts tell us the severe weather had started on the 16th November and got much worse – having reached hurricane force winds on the 18th. This was to lead to an exhausting weekend for the rescuers of the area which sadly led to confusion and errors.

The Elizabeth Berrey was launched to assist the Lizzie Lee. One report says 07.30am and the other says 08.00am. It was the first time that the Elizabeth Berrey had been launched in service. She rescued the crew consisting of 5 men and it is recorded that she was returned to station by road at 11am.

The Lizzie Lee was a schooner built of wood in 1856, and was a sailing vessel. She was a cargo ship, and on this trip from Seaham in north-east England was carrying coal to Portsmouth, believed destination Spithead.

She was not the only vessel to get into trouble on that fateful night – three others at least were also to join the list of wrecks on this section of the east coast. One was the Annie Florence, another was the Olive Branch as well as the Nixie, and probably more.

All three of these shipwrecks are referred to under the Board of Trade report of the inquiry for the Olive Branch 1894. (1) The inquiry was held at The New Inn, Saltfleet, Lincolnshire, on Dec 5th 1893.

The Nixie is the first ship referred to in the report. She caused the Donna Nook lifeboat to be out of service to others that fateful day.

The Olive Branch was a wooden sailing ship built in Peterhead, Scotland in the 1870s, being referred to as a barkentine. (2) She had set sail from Teignmouth, Devon, destined for Newcastle-upon-Tyne carrying a cargo of pipe clay.

From reading the inquiry notes, it states the survivors of the Annie Florence were landed. Sadly there was one survivor of the Olive Branch – a Mr Robert Rattenbury. It appears that the Olive Branch was the worst wreck that night.

It was a terrible night with numerous wrecks across the country. There were 59 wrecks that night of 18-19 November around the coast of England, only one of which has ever been found since. (3) There were many worse nights but it was a pretty bad one by any standards.

Serena writes again:

Thank you very much, Jordan, for this blog and all your research! We would like to send our best wishes to all our readers and contributors and all involved in maritime archaeology for Christmas and the New Year, and look forward to welcoming you back in 2018.

For a seasonal gallery which gives an idea of what the Olive Branch looked like, why not take a look at one of the most famous barquentines of all time, the Endurance being crushed in the ice of the Weddell Sea?

(1) For the full inquiry please refer to Port Cities Southampton Unique ID 16426. Board of Trade wreck report for Olive Branch,1894, No.58

(2) Editor’s note: The spellings barkentine and barquentine are often interchangeable in British English published in newspapers during the Victorian era, along with many other spelling variants that are now considered to be solely American English usage today. Barquentine is the usual modern British English spelling.

(3) Historic England, National Record of the Historic Environment shipwreck database 2017.

 

 

Sailor stories

This week I am delighted to introduce my guest bloggers Roshni Hirani, Endeavour Community Participation Producer, and Kris Martin, Exhibitions Interpretation Curator at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich. Here they give us an exclusive insight into the work that has gone into selecting objects from the London, a designated wreck which sank in 1665. Thank you both for showing how the story of the London continues!

Sailor Stories: a National Maritime Museum co-curation project themed around the wreck of the London

2018 is an exciting year for the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich. In the autumn we will open our new Exploration Wing, a Heritage Lottery funded project consisting of four new permanent galleries which will bring the theme of exploration alive for people of all ages. One of these new galleries will be Tudor and Stuart Seafarers, which will tell a compelling story of exploration, encounter, adventure, power, wealth and conflict during the 16th and 17th centuries. Among the 100 objects from the Museum’s collection, we are delighted to be displaying a small assemblage of artefacts recently recovered from the wreck of the Stuart warship London which sank in the Thames estuary in 1665.

While the Museum has a rich and significant collection of objects from this period, one of the challenges we identified from an early stage was how to represent the lives of ordinary sailors in the Tudor and Stuart navies in the gallery. Members of the project team were already avidly following the progress of the excavation of the London wreck and were fascinated by finds that were being brought to the surface by Steve Ellis and his team. With this in mind, in 2016 we approached Historic England and Southend Museums, the receiving custodian of the excavated material, about the possibility of collaborating on a co-curation project themed around the London, with the outcome being the selection and display of 5 or 6 objects from the wreck in our new gallery.

We were aware of the importance of the London to the Southend community and from the outset, wanted to work with them to help us explore, select and interpret objects from their ‘local wreck’. Through Southend Museums we approached Jessica Russell, Community Outreach, and Patricia North, Head of Art, at Southend Adult Community College and invited them to take part in our Sailor Stories co-curation project. The response from their students was fantastic: 12 adult learners, with different skills, abilities and backgrounds, but with a common interest in heritage and the London wreck, signed up to take part. Encouragingly most of the group stayed with us until the end of the project and we were also delighted to later welcome 2 A-Level students interested in history and museums from nearby Chase High School.

Pencil and wash portrait of a wooden warship in broadside view, bows to the left, stern to the right. From the stern a naval ensign flutters, and the lower portions of three masts are drawn. At top left is a separate drawing of a Union Jack.
Portrait of the London by Willem van de Velde the Elder, circa 1660. © National Maritime Museum

Historic England’s involvement in the excavation, temporary storage and conservation of the London finds meant that it was wonderful that the team at Fort Cumberland, with HE Archaeological Conservator Angela Middleton leading, agreed to come on board as a project partner. A fruitful kick-off meeting there between Southend Museums, Southend Adult Community College, Historic England and the National Maritime Museum laid the foundations for a rich and varied 5-week programme at various sites over the summer of 2017.

The Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth was the destination for our first Sailor Stories session. Here, Mary Kinoulty, Head of Learning, and Curator and diver Chris Dobbs introduced the Mary Rose, the museum and its new displays. This was the ideal place to give the group a taster of the processes, techniques, challenges and opportunities associated with the selection, interpretation and display of shipwreck material. Moreover this was a chance to enthuse and engage the Southend team with the subject matter and encourage further participation through a well-known wreck and the spectacular interactive displays at the museum.

Group of people clustered from bottom right to centre listening to guided talk in museum. At centre is a glass display case with a ship model inside, paintings occupy the walls in the upper register of the image.
Nick Ball talks to Sailor Stories participants about 17th century ships (author’s photograph)

The second session took place at the National Maritime Museum where our co-curators learnt about the museum, its collection and displays, and the planned new galleries. They were given time to explore the museum with Curator Aaron Jaffer, and together considered the different ways objects can be displayed and interpreted. We introduced the London through an original drawing of the ship by Willem van de Velde, the Elder, in the museum’s collection and looked at ships of the time through paintings and models in the company of Nick Ball, the Museum’s Assistant Curator of Ship Models.

The following week at Southend Museum’s store, participants went ‘behind the scenes’ for a session that considered the excavation, storage, handling and conservation of wreck material. Led by Conservator Claire Reed and Curator Ciara Phipps, this included a hands-on session where the team relished the opportunity to work in small groups to assess and repack waterlogged organic objects excavated from the local area.

Group of people standing in a semi-circle and all wearing blue conservation gloves,watching conservators working with object on table at right. Background is shelves of museum storage boxes.
Participants learning about the safe storage of waterlogged organic objects with Claire Reed and Ciara Phipps (author’s photograph)

Back in Portsmouth for the fourth session, we joined Angela Middleton and the Archaeological Conservation team at Fort Cumberland. This was the first opportunity for the group to see actual objects from the London wreck. As the objects were at various stages of conservation, the participants gained an understanding of the processes and challenges involved, and learnt more about what the work at Fort Cumberland is revealing about the objects and the London.

Participants standing around table in museum store listening to conservator speaking at right, with her arm stretched out across the table, which is covered with boxes and objects sitting on white conservation tissue.
Angela Middleton gives participants an insight into the conservation of objects from the London (author’s photograph)

The group was then split into two and was presented with a preselected assemblage of 25 London objects, taken from over 750 that had been recovered. Without any interpretation they looked at the objects closely thinking about what they could have been used for, what they were made from, what questions they would want to ask about them and what they could tell us, before presenting to the other group a selection of five objects that they would initially pick for public display. After learning more about each object, participants created their ‘final’ selection which had invariably changed from their first choice. Choosing the final selection was challenging given the short amount of time and it was important for participants to have some time to reflect on their choice.

For the final session all participants returned to the National Maritime Museum where the four new galleries will open next year. This session concentrated on museum audiences and interpretation. We asked participants to write their own museum label about something that belonged to them or a piece of clothing they were wearing. They learnt about the importance of ordering information and the difficult decision-making involved in choosing material relevant to their target audience. These were then discussed as a group. The session ended with a review of the London artefacts selected, which includes a leather shoe, a clay pipe, a pewter pot and a broken candle, and a discussion of how they would be interpreted at the National Maritime Museum. We then celebrated the success of the project with a preview of our brand new temporary exhibition, and tea and cake!

The Sailor Stories co-curation project was a great triumph and a mutually enriching and inspiring experience for all involved. Feedback from the participants was universally positive: the group enjoyed ‘seeing and handling artefacts – feeling involved and working in a group’ and ‘meeting the team behind the scenes’. They also loved seeing how museums work, engaging with heritage and conservation professionals and creatively contributing and responding to the project. Southend Adult Community College has produced a short film to commemorate their experience:

 

(This video has no voiceover)

it appears that the project has inspired at least one participant to seriously consider a career in museums or heritage. The experience opened our eyes to the different perspectives, discussions and debates surrounding the wreck and how members of Southend’s community felt it should be displayed and represented in a national museum. This co-curation model is one that we are keen to follow in future gallery development. We look forward to seeing the outcome of Sailor Stories on display next year.

We would like to thank everyone from Southend Adult Community College, Chase High School, Southend Museums, Historic England, the Mary Rose Trust and Royal Museums Greenwich who took part in the Sailor Stories co-curation project.

Glossary: Co-curation describes community participation and collaboration in creating exhibitions together with professional museum curators.

@RMGreenwich

@SouthendMuseums

@SouthendACC

@HE_Archaeology

@HE_Maritime

#SailorStories

#LondonWreck1665

Roshni Hirani, Endeavour Community Participation Producer (@RoshHirani) and

Kris Martin, Exhibitions Interpretation Curator at the National Maritime Museum (@kristianjmartin)

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For previous blogs on the London:

The London blows up, 7 March 1665 on the 350th anniversary of the wreck

The London wreck today on the wreck site as she now lies

The London: A conservator’s tool-kit, by Angela Middleton, on the challenges of conserving objects from the wreck site

Conservation of artefacts from the wreck of the London, by Eric Nordgren, continuing the theme of conserving further objects from the London

 

Diary of the War: November 1917

SS Belém

I am pleased to welcome as my guest blogger for this month my colleague Stuart Churchley, Marine Planning Archaeological Officer at Historic England. Although this month’s wreck was not lost to war causes, she nevertheless illustrates a little-known aspect of the First World War in the English-speaking world, that of Portugal’s involvement in the war. Stuart writes:

The name of a wrecked vessel can often hold clues not only to its origin, but also the historical context in which it served: today’s wreck, lost 100 years ago on 20th November 1917, is just such a wreck with the potential for a far larger story.

At around the same time as the British Army famously used their tanks on the western front at Cambrai on 20th November 1917, a little-known merchant vessel, the SS Belém, was wrecked at Menachurch Point, just north of Northcott Mouth, Bude.

When I first started researching the SS Belém, my first thought was that this vessel must have been inadvertently lost: an isolated wrecking case on the very periphery of the war action, participating in no known convoy for the area, miscalculating a notorious stretch of coastline like so many others had previously, whilst avoiding the threats of unrestricted U-boat attacks and mines alike.

Locally it is well known and has captured the imagination of visitors and artists, becoming a recognisable feature of the landscape. The wreck itself was photographed at the time of its loss oriented facing south, running parallel to the coastline overlooking to the east.

Black and white photograph of stranded ship, seen in profile broadside on to the beach, with rocks and stones visible in the lower half of the image. The ship is dry with the tide at the top of the image just lapping at the bottom of the vessel.
Contemporary photograph of the Belém ashore, 1917, seen from the overlooking cliffs.

A brilliant eyewitness account of the ship’s stranding from the perspective of Arthur Madge, can be found within an online pdf produced by a local historian, Audrey Aylmer, which also includes photographs of the site in 1997, 80 years after the Belém came ashore. (1) As an eight year old boy in 1917, Arthur had been awoken at his boarding school by the sound of the distress signals in fog from the stranded Belém (so she had certainly not been lost to war causes).

Today, when tides and wind work in tandem, a mixture of metal features can be revealed on the beach. It’s easy to see that the coastline of shale and sandstone known as the ‘Bude Formation’ and heavy westerly winds has caused the ship to become severely disarticulated, mangled and a little bit hazardous underfoot. The intertidal sand has formed a protective layer over what remains of the wreck, comprising a long subtly curved hull structure, a boiler cracked open like a an eggshell, large elements with rivet patterns and flanges, and the propeller itself sitting serenely within a bowl of scoured sand. The site is very clearly seen from above by drone in some excellent 2015 images published by Martin Busby online. (2)

 

Three groups of dark metal elements of a wreck sitting in pools of water on a sandy beach, against a backdrop of grey mist.
Boiler and propeller shaft of wreck, Menachurch Point in mist, 2007. CC-BY-SA/2.0 – © David Hawgood – geograph.org.uk/p/411088

Tracing back why a vessel owned by the Portuguese government came to be here is not easy. However, looking at the wider historical background can be a fruitful and interesting undertaking.

Portugal was pretty much neutral for the first half of the war, but was faced with a challenging period due to the limiting – and almost total loss – of trade with its pre-war European neighbours to the Atlantic north and within the Mediterranean. As relations gradually soured, Imperial Germany declared war on Portugal on 9th March 1916, as a result of a multitude of factors, most notably the capture and confiscation on 23rd February 1916 of the 72 German ships interned in Portuguese ports on or since the outbreak of war. (3)

These seized vessels comprised roughly 10% of all German vessels holding out in neutral ports at this time, and equated to a tonnage double the Portuguese merchant navy before the war. (4) Such a scenario therefore would have proved tempting to both the Portuguese and British authorities, during an ever-growing shipping crisis, with the potential for some form of agreement along the lines of those made with other nations as the ripples of the war spread ever outwards. (5)

What is all the more interesting is that the British had made just such a secret agreement with the Portuguese high command in Belém Palace, Lisbon, on 5th February 1916, leading up to the capture of the 23rd. In doing so the captured vessels would be divided between Britain and Portugal, with 80% of these ships sent to British war effort, and 20% being retained by the Portuguese. (6) (In previous posts we have looked at the fate of interned German vessels in British service; German shipping company property in England, and the secret Tonnage Agreements with Scandinavian countries.)

This decision to seize the German ships in Lisbon would also have far-reaching consequences for Portugal, with the German Navy laying mines in and around the mouth of the Tagus, and the subsequent arrangements for the Portuguese army to be transported to Brest, whence they would advance to the Flanders fields to support the British army. (7)

Could it then be that the SS Belém was one of the 14 vessels transferred to Portugal out of the original 72 internees?

To know this conclusively would take much greater research than has been undertaken here, but from what we know about the Belém, it would seem likely that she was one of that group. Previously named Rhodos, the ship was built in Flensburg in 1890 by Flensburger Schiffsbau Gesellschaft. The Rhodos was possibly very familiar with Portuguese ports, given her original owner, the Deutsche Levante Linie A.G.

However, records document that she came into the ownership of the Transportes Maritimos Do Estado (Portuguese State Steamship Line), in 1916, consistent with the events leading up to the famous prize capture, while other vessels similarly seized by Portugal are known to have ended up in the same ownership, suggesting that the company was formed to account for these ships. (8)

This certainly tallies with the source from Audrey Aylmer which details that the Rhodos, which she suggests was seized in Lisbon in 1916, and later loaned to Italy to bring coal from England, while her return cargo would generally be sulphur from Sicily to England for munitions. In other words, she would work a reasonably familiar route.

Furthermore Audrey Aylmer’s narrativegoes on to say that there was no sulphur ready on the Belém’s final voyage so the vessel came back to Benjaffa, Oran, North Africa, to load 2500 tons of iron ore for Cardiff.

After she was wrecked, holes were cut in her sides to throw out the cargo, and the swell caused large holes in the ballast tanks. The Belém is believed to have been later sold to the shipbreakers, with what remained of the cargo salvaged. (9) This would suggest that the remains represent possibly a combination of natural and human factors, but are no less fascinating for that.

The Belém is a rare archaeological witness in English waters to this pivotal event in Portugal’s involvement in the First World War. Strangely, there is another not far away, another ship also belonging to the Transportes Maritimos do Estados, the Brava (ex-German Togo) torpedoed off Trevose Head in 1918, while inbound to Cardiff with pit props.

What became of some of the other 71 vessels is unclear: many are thought to have been destroyed by German submarines in route to British ports, certainly the fate of Tungue (ex German Zieten), which was torpedoed by UB-51, another Transportes Maritimos do Estado vessel, which was chartered by Britain on her final voyage.  (10) Given the Belém‘s destination of Cardiff with iron ore, chartering to Britain might well explain why she was said to have had two Royal Navy gunners aboard, who were rescued along with the other crew. (11)

However, it has been pointed out that one of the minor successes of this decision to bring about formal entry into the conflict was the agreed return of the surviving captured German ships from Britain and France, which would form the basis of Portugal’s post-war merchant fleet in the 1920s. (12) The Belém is an excellent illustration of how profoundly the First World War changed shipping around the globe, and with what long-term effects.

Aerial view of a brown seashore with items of wreckage showing as darker areas standing proud of the sand, particularly towards the lower right of the image.
Aerial photograph of the Belém site in 2013, by kind permission of the Coastal Offshore and Archaeological Research Services (COARS), University of Southampton. The site is dynamic: previous views in 2006 and 2010 have shown less wreckage.

Thank you very much to Stuart for writing this fascinating post!

 

(1) Aylmer, A. date unknown (after 2011); The Demise of the SS Belém

(2) Busby, M. 2015 http://budeandbeyond.co.uk/ss-Belém-by-drone/

(3) de Oliveira Marques, A. H. 1986, História de Portugal. Lisboa: Palas Editora, p.235.

(4) Brandão, M. C., 2016. German Submarine war in Portuguese Waters: Esposende – a Smuggling Network. University of Oporto, Portugal

(5) Marder, A. J., 2014, From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow: Volume IV 1917, Year of Crisis. Barnsley: Seaforth Publishing.

(6) Brandão, M. C., 2016. German Submarine war in Portuguese Waters: Esposende – a Smuggling Network. University of Oporto, Portugal.

(7) Salgado, A. 2016. “British Naval Aid to Portugal During the First World War”, The Mariner’s Mirror, 102:2, 191-202.

(8) National Record of the Historic Environment, Mon No: 1585637, https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=1585637; http://www.theshipslist.com/ships/lines/portstate.shtml

(9) Aylmer, A. date unknown, (after 2011), The Demise of the SS Belém

(10) https://uboat.net/wwi/ships_hit/6158.html; http://www.theshipslist.com/ships/lines/portstate.shtml

(11) Aylmer, A. date unknown (after 2011), The Demise of the SS Belém

(12) Brandão, M. C., 2016. German Submarine war in Portuguese Waters: Esposende – a Smuggling Network. University of Oporto, Portugal.

 

A mysterious cargo

With this week (31 October 2017) seeing the commemoration of #Reformation500 I decided to have a look at records of German vessels wrecked in England around the time that Martin Luther published his 95 Theses that led to the Protestant Reformation, a legacy which still resonates today.

Black and white print of man with dark hair and dressed in black, facing left and holding a hat in one hand. A badge is in the background beside his head to the right, text to the left, stating his age in Latin, and further text below the image.
Martin Luther, after Lucas Cranach the Elder, etching (1525). NPG D47378. © National Portrait Gallery, London. Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND

Records for this period tend to be rather vague. We don’t actually have any wrecks we can firmly date to 1517 itself, although there is a series of records for wrecks 1516-18 in Cornwall, based on eyewitness evidence given to officials, mostly by very old men, which conjures up a wonderful picture and says a great deal about their powers of recollection.

There are many gaps in the record, which is nothing to do with the seas being safer or the weather being calmer in those years, and everything to do with the lack of record survival. The Reformation unleashed by Martin Luther had much to do with that from the English point of view, as records were destroyed in the Dissolution of the Monasteries which characterised the English Reformation – while the passage of time is another factor.

However, we do have a German vessel wrecked on these shores in 1524, so not too long after the 95 Theses that shook Europe. It’s a single standalone reference, lacking the ‘before’ and ‘after’, the background and the ‘what happened next?’, and key details of the ship and her voyage: all of which is completely typical of wreck records until well into the early modern period. It is actually a letter of complaint from Hamburg officials on behalf of certain merchants of that city to Henry VIII himself.

‘The Burgomasters of Hamburg to Henry VIII.

Ask for the restitution of a ship laden with resin, “oszemundt”, wax, ale etc., belonging to Fred. Ostra, Peter Rode, John Hesterberch, Conrad Meyricke, Hen. Statius and Joachim Schernewkouw, citizens of Hamburg, which went on shore on the coast of Norfolk, on the way to London. Hamburg, 16 May 1524.’ (1)

We don’t know the name of the ship, but we can tell that she must have been wrecked some time before 16 May 1524, allowing time at least for the news to reach Hamburg and for the letter to go out again. Communications at the time were, of course, ship-borne, with none of the media or information technology at our fingertips today, nor had newspapers yet been invented.

The vessel came ashore on the North Sea coast short of her destination of London, so it is reasonable to suppose that her voyage was from the eastward, which appears to be corroborated by the involvement of Hamburg merchants.

Ale is a fairly standard product which could originate anywhere. Wax was also widely imported into England, but the cargoes and voyage details of wrecked vessels tend to mirror the ebb and flow of trade routes pretty well. In the Elizabethan period the Baltic was a key source of wax for English buyers, while another wreck of 1582 laden with deals, wax, and copper, also suggests a common Baltic origin for all three cargoes, since deals and copper were characteristic Swedish exports. This suggests that the Baltic may well also have been the origin of the wax aboard the 1524 wreck. (2) Resin may similarly refer to Baltic amber.

This suggests that Baltic goods are in question, either transhipped via Hamburg as an entrepôt, or originating directly from the Baltic, almost certainly from Sweden. It is in this context that we must set the mysterious oszemundt which is not otherwise attested in the wreck record in England, and which the original editor of the Letters and Papers Foreign and Domestic had not explained in a footnote (presumably he was unable to do so!) We find references to this under various spellings in documents from mercantile contexts: one of 1494 (in Swedish) and another of 1532 (in German), suggesting that it was possible, for example, to settle payment of debt for an inbound cargo with osemund as an exchange or return cargo. (3)

A number of sources suggested that it was some form of iron, specifically ‘Swedish iron’, which is certainly consistent with known Swedish exports at that time and with the wrecks in our database laden with Swedish iron. (4) But what form did that iron take? Was it ore, bar, cast or wrought, or pyrites? I finally tracked down a reference explaining that osemund referred to iron cast in balls or spheres, for which Scotland was apparently the principal export market in the Elizabethan period: it was a relatively unusual import for England. (5) No wonder, therefore, it was very difficult to find out what it actually was!

Lump of grey iron on a stand in a museum display, against a brown wooden background.
Lump of osemund, Burg Altena museum. Photographed by Frank Vincentz. Creative Commons CC-BY-SA 3.0

This one mysterious word has illuminated a rare cargo from the past. It also illustrates the reach of the shipping networks of the North Sea, including the Hanseatic League, which at this time traded across the Baltic and North Sea with King’s Lynn and London, and which had a key port at Hamburg. (To this day Hamburg is Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg.) I suspect, therefore, that it is very likely the complainants in the letter were Hanse merchants. So this wreck record is the rarest of the rare: surviving documentation for medieval wrecks in England is sparse, and of these there are only a dozen records with clearly demonstrable links to the Hanse over the period 1377-1546. (6)

Bust-length portrait of a bearded man dressed in black, with white collar and cuffs, facing left, with his hands crossed in the lower register of the image. He is set against a dark green background.
Portrait of a Hanseatic Merchant, Hans Holbein, 1538. Yale University Art Gallery. The German artist Holbein, who spent two extended periods in England, was commissioned to paint portraits of Hanseatic merchants at their London Steelyard guildhall (and indeed also painted the iconic portraits of Henry VIII, with whom the English Reformation is indelibly associated). The artist and subject together suggest the rich cultural and economic connections at this time between England and Germany, a milieu receptive to the exchange of new religious ideas.

It is also a reminder that ideas and texts, as well as cargo and people, were circulated by ship.

One of the most far-reaching changes of the Reformation was the idea that any Christian should be able to access the Bible in their own language, rather than filtered through the traditional language of Latin, which had been the common language of the Christian Roman Empire but had long been accessible only to the educated elite. Vernacular translations were not a new idea, but previous examples, such as the late 14th century Wycliffite Bible, were suppressed and banned. It was in that same year as our wreck from Germany, 1524, that the latest scholar to espouse an English translation, William Tyndale, was forced to set sail for Germany, and produced a translation of the New Testament within the orbit of Martin Luther. Copies of Tyndale’s translation were smuggled into England on board ship, in casks of wine and bales of wool. (7) 

These clandestine consignments must have added the fear of discovery to the constant dread of shipwreck. Did any ever miscarry on their way to England, I wonder? There’s a contemporary parallel for this: it is traditionally held that the rarity of the Complutensian Polyglot Bible is partly owing to many copies perishing in a shipwreck while en route to Pope Leo X in Italy in 1521. (8) So a single wreck in England can be set against the backdrop of an entire cultural, economic, and religious milieu, and its record enhanced, and all because I was intrigued by an unidentified cargo.

I would like to thank my colleagues at Historic England for their help with this article: Angela Middleton, Conservator, and Tanja Watson, Knowledge Organisation Specialist.

Painted image of seated man in black against a dark background. His name, in Latin, is painted in gold to the right of his arm, which holds a Bible. His left hand points to the Bible above a white text. Below the portrait is an inscription in gold lettering, also in Latin..
Called William Tyndale, by unknown artist, late 17th or early 18th century. NPG 1592. © National Portrait Gallery, London Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0

(1) Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 4, 1524-1530, ed. J S Brewer (London, 1875), pp. 139, No.339. British History Online [accessed 1 November 2017].

(2)  Zins, H (translated Stevens, H). 1972 England and the Baltic in the Elizabethan Era. Manchester: University Press

(3) Swedish: Styffe, C. 1875 Bidrag till Skandinaviens Historia ur utländska arkiver. Stockholm: P A Norstedt & Söner. German: Ebel, W (ed.) 1968 Lübecker Ratsurteile, Band III, 1526-1550. Göttingen: Musterschmid Verlag

(4) Heß, C, Link, C, and Sarnowsky, J, 2008. Schüldbücher und Rechnungen der Großschäffer und Lieger des Deutschen Ordens in Preussen. Köln: Böhlau Verlag. For the wrecks in the database: National Record of the Historic Environment, Historic England, as accessed on 1 November 2017.

(5) Zins, H. 1967 “Znaczenie Strefy Bałtyckiej dla angielskiego budownictwa okrętowego w drugiej połowie XVI wieku“, Rocznik Lubelski 10, 125-137; Zins, H. (trans Stevens H) 1972 England and the Baltic in the Elizabethan Era. Manchester: University Press

(6) Source: National Record of the Historic Environment, Historic England, as accessed on 1 November 2017.

(7) There were other, partial, English translations earlier than Wycliffe, including the 10th century Old English interlinear gloss in the Latin of the Lindisfarne Gospels, but its purpose was to assist the reader in their understanding of the Latin text, not act as a substitute for it. For more on Tyndale and his smuggled Bibles: “Melvyn Bragg on William Tyndale: his genius matched that of Shakespeare”, Daily Telegraph, 6 June 2013

(8) García Pinilla, I. n.d. “Reconsidering the relationship between the Complutensian Polyglot Bible and Erasmus’ Novum Testamentum” in Basel 1516: Erasmus’ Edition of the New Testament

Diary of the War: October 1917

The Annie F Conlon

This war diary has almost taken on a life of its own: all the events selected for the diary have been chosen for their intrinsic interest, but when it comes to writing each post, a theme linking consecutive posts sometimes reveals itself.

So it is this month: last month I wrote of how the First World War contributed to the demise of the schooner as Merseyside and Deeside schooners took on the task of running coal to France for the war effort. This month’s wreck is also a schooner, the Annie F Conlon of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. She left New York on August 27, also for France:  her cargo of lubricating oil suggests that it too might have been destined for the front.

Black and white photograph of two ships in harbour, with water and reflections on the ripples in the foreground, and the black shapes of two ships and their masts without sails in the centre of the image: the one in the foreground is two-masted, with a three-masted ship in the background. The masts are silhouetted against the sky.
Two schooners in harbour: the Jesse Hart lies in the foreground, while in the centre background is the Annie F Conlon. PK5195, courtesy of the Mariners’ Museum, Newport News, VA

It had therefore taken her just over a month to reach a point 12 to 15 miles south-east of St. Mary’s, Isles of Scilly, by 3 October 1917. On that day she was stopped and shelled by UC-47, under the command of Paul Hundius, a prolific U-boat commander who sank many vessels in English waters in UB-16, UC-47 and UB-103.

The Annie F. Conlon was attacked by Hundius on  his last patrol in command of UC-47, since Guenther Wigankow assumed command on 9 October. (Wigankow and his crew would all be lost when UC-47 was rammed by a patrol vessel on 18 November 1917 off Flamborough Head.)

From Hundius’ point of view, that was the end of the matter, and he left Annie F Conlon to sink. She did not sink immediately, however, but was towed a couple of days later into Crow Sound, between St. Mary’s and the Eastern Isles of Scilly. She collapsed onto her beam ends near Guther’s Island, where she was salvaged, then moved to Lower Town, St. Martin’s, then was finally beached where she now lies, 130 metres west of West Broad Ledge, on the western side of St. Martin’s, where further salvage took place. She was then abandoned as a constructive total loss.

It is probably partly for this reason, as well as wartime censorship, that the Annie F Conlon did not make any ripples in British newspapers of the time – because she did not meet a dramatic end as such. Perhaps, too, another American schooner had stolen the limelight – British newspapers were making much of the dramatic arrival in an open boat at Samoa of the master of another American schooner, the C Slade. His ship had been sunk by the commerce raider Seeadler, but he brought the no doubt welcome news to the Allies that the Seeadler had herself been wrecked (although her crew simply seized other vessels to carry out further attacks on shipping).

The first account of the Annie F Conlon in a regional British newspaper actually appears some 20 years after the event, giving details of a lecture at Plymouth by the then American consul at Falmouth on the work of his predecessors. The wartime incumbent was a Cornish-born naturalised American citizen, Joseph G Stephens, who was ‘kept busy repatriating shipwrecked sailors, attending to the burials of sailors, and administering relief to “stranded” Americans’, including those of the Annie F Conlon. (2)

The Annie F Conlon also turns up in a legal journal of 1926, detailing the successful claim of shipowners against the German government. The owners of the Annie F Conlon were awarded $41,514.29. (3)

However, the American press in 1917 did offer some sparse details over the wreck: confirming the general location of the Isles of Scilly, the name of the master and number of the crew, and that all hands had been safely landed – so at least on this occasion Consul Stephens had not had to bury anyone!

Each schooner which was attacked hastened the demise not only of the sailing vessel in general and of a way of life, but also of the schooner particular vessel type. Yet each sinking also reveals another story of the profound social change triggered worldwide by the First World War.

The news of the Annie F Conlon shared the front page of Der Deutsche Correspondent of Baltimore, Maryland, with a banner above its masthead proclaiming: “THIS IS AN AMERICAN NEWSPAPER PUBLISHED IN THE GERMAN LANGUAGE: Its function is to acquaint the immigrated Germans with the social and political conditions in the United States, and to familiarize them with their duties toward their adopted country and with the rights conferred upon them by the Constitution.” (4)

In this case the long heritage of German-language newspapers in the United States was also under threat: by the end of the war the Deutsche Correspondent had folded, after 77 years of publication. I never know where this blog will end up – not only do I find links between wrecks which I had chosen months earlier for the blog, but I also discover something new about the global effects of the war through the prism of a single shipwreck in English waters.

Black and white photograph of ships with masts and furled sails in harbour. three vessels are discernible in the lower centre of the photograph, with their masts standing talll against the roofs of two buildings, with a grey sky over.
Albert S Stearns, Charles E Balch, and Annie F Conlon in 1892. PK1950, courtesy of the Mariners Museum, Newport News, VA.

 

(1) Manchester Evening News, 5 October 1917, No.15,138, p2

(2) Western Morning News, 5 March 1937, No.24,082, p6

(3) American Journal of International LawVol. 20, Issue 4, October 1926, p794

(4) Der Deutsche Correspondent, 5 October 1917, Vol. 77, No.278, p1