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

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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