Royal Navy in the First World War Part 1 Paddle Steamers

The battles of the Western Front and Gallipoli are usually foremost in people’s minds when they think of the First World War. When asked to name a battle involving the Royal Navy it is likely only Jutland would feature and that it was not much of a battle. One historian has written that we understand more about the Royal Navy of the Napoleonic era than we do about the Royal Navy of the First World War.

A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project will look at the Royal Navy in the First World War and its connection with Poole in a series of articles. Part 1 highlights a rarely considered part of naval operations – the use of paddle steamers – and will focus on those of Cosens & Co of Weymouth.

Paddle steamers were an intrinsic part of the Dorset coast. Dominated by Cosens, several companies ran numerous excursions between Bournemouth, Swanage and Weymouth as well as to Torquay, the Isle of Wight and Cherbourg. The number of passengers carried is astounding – over 140,000 people were landed at Swanage Pier during 1911. Poole was less suitable as a landing point as it was a working port and lacked a pier but tours around the ‘picturesque harbour of Poole’ were very popular. Other companies did offer excursions from Poole but Cosens’ paddle steamers primarily used it as a place to take on water, get coal from Hamworthy Wharf, and as an overnight and winter stabling point. The crew of Emperor of India were mainly from Poole so they were keen on their steamer being stabled near to home.  

The Royal Navy fleet review and manoeuvres off the South Coast in mid-1914 took on a special significance as tensions rose in Europe following the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. It was decided that the FirstFleet (fully operational), the Second Fleet (small crew to maintain sea-worthiness) and the Third Fleet (Reserve with just a basic maintenance crew) should be fully-manned in a test of mobilisation. Paddle steamers and other small boats, known as ‘Liberty boats’ ferried navy personnel between Weymouth Quay and the warships whenever they were in Portland Harbour. Given that a battleship complement was around 1,000 men the influx of so many extra ships placed a great strain on the resources of Cosens.

The Fleets were at Spithead from 16-20 July 1914 for a review followed by training and exercises. Cosens ran numerous sailings to cope with the huge demand from people wanting to see this remarkable sight. The Majestic sailed every day from Bournemouth and Monarch, Emperor of India, and Victoria sailed from Weymouth. On 18 July, a Royal Fleet Review by the King and Grand Naval Pageant was held which saw over 300 warships paraded with airships and seaplanes in the air. The Fleet exercises ended on 23 July but the situation in Europe was deteriorating and on 28 July the Second Fleet was ordered to stay in Portland while the First Fleet, now renamed the Grand Fleet, (‘eighteen miles of ships’) was ordered to sail to Scapa Flow, Orkney. War was declared on 4 August 1914. 

The August holiday trade suffered as people’s thoughts focussed on other things but Cosens did try to run a normal service while avoiding prohibited areas.  Surprisingly, after a lull, local people started to support the paddle steamers in great numbers. During the week 31 August – 5 September 1914 there were sailings every day from Bournemouth to Lulworth Cove, Swanage (nine each day) and Torquay. Daily excursions on the Empress went from Bournemouth to Poole Quay, via Swanage, leaving Bournemouth at 5.30pm, picking up at Boscombe (5.40pm) and arriving at Poole Quay at 7.30pm. Fare 6d (3p) – but you had to return to Bournemouth by train or tram.

One sailing from Bournemouth to Weymouth was billed as an opportunity to see thousands of infantry who were in the town as well as captured Austrian and German merchant ships lying in the bay. Another excursion was to view the ‘Searchlight display at the Needles’ which was presumably searchlights from the Battery scanning the sea for potential invaders. One noticeable change was that only British nationals were allowed on board the vessels. This twilight of normality did not last long and, after increasing restrictions, excursion sailings were ordered to cease in May 1915.

Thousands of paddle steamers, trawlers and other small vessels were taken over by the Admiralty for roles such as patrolling, examination work and mine-sweeping. The latter was particularly hazardous with one trawler sunk for every two mines cleared before techniques improved. The work was stressful and the vessels were out in all weathers. Collisions were frequent in bad weather as ships struggled to keep together. Severe gales could wash equipment overboard, tear down structures, and break anchors. Crews were often worn out from the long hours and many were absent from home with no respite.

Royal Navy minesweepers operated out of Poole until January 1919. They were converted drifters and led to an unusual court case, under the Defence of the Realm Act, in 1916. It was claimed that an article in the local newspaper was ‘prejudicing recruiting and naval administration’. The article alleged that the minesweepers were fishing while out on patrol and undercutting local fisherman. The Editor pointed out that the piece was intended to be ‘humorous’ and he was surprised anybody took it seriously. The court fined him 25s (£1.10).

Cosens found, like all companies, its vessels being diverted onto war work. For example, paddle steamers Queen and Albert Victor were used by the Admiralty as Examination ships based at Portland. Ships from a neutral country sailing to Europe were made to enter a British Examination Anchorage such as Weymouth Bay. The Examination ship would then put an officer on-board who would confiscate anything that could be for the enemy. While neutral countries disliked this policy it was an important part of the blockade of Germany. It was also intended to stop possible spies being landed. In the early days of the war the system did not always work as planned. In August 1914, the German merchantman Herbert Fischer was stopped in the Channel and then allowed to sail on to Poole to land its cargo of timber for Sydenhams. Realising the mistake the ‘Velox’ torpedo boat was sent to find the vessel which meanwhile had arrived in Poole. Its German crew were detained and the ship was held as ‘a prize of war’.

For a while, paddle steamers Majestic and Emperor of India remained unused and were stationed at their moorings in Poole Harbour. In February 1915, the Mayor of Poole requested that they should be incapacitated in case enemy agents were to get hold of them.

Early June 1915 saw the Majestic and Emperor of India being commandeered as minesweepers. After being outfitted and renamed HMS Majestic II and HMS Emperor of India II they set sail in a convoy for Egypt. HMS Majestic II sank after leaving Gibraltar but luckily the sea was calm and all its crew were picked up. Emperor of India II joined five other paddle steamers clearing mines from around the Suez Canal entrance. Paddle steamers used the technique of ‘Paired Sweeping’ to remove mines. One steamer would pay out a ‘sweep wire’ to be picked up by the second. As the vessels moved in parallel the wire would break the mooring of the mine which would then rise to the surface where it would be sunk by gunfire. 

In March 1917 the Admiralty took over the coal wharf and sheds at Hamworthy Wharf which had been used by Cosens. A few months later, Monarch was requisitioned as a minesweeper and renamed HMS Monarchy. It operated as part of the Bristol Channel Minesweeping Flotilla, minesweeping the Bristol Channel and Irish Sea until the flotilla disbanded in May 1919. Like many similar vessels they were still doing the same job after the war ended because of the huge number of mines that had been laid.

During July 1919, the Emperor of India II was transferred to the Mine Clearance Flotilla, Black Sea and Aegean where it joined other paddle steamers clearing the heavily-mined Bosporus. The vessel became a Kite Balloon Carrier in September 1919. An observer would be sent aloft to around 400ft in a basket suspended from the balloon and look out for mines. Markers were placed when one was detected and the following minesweepers could deal with it. The design of a paddle steamer with a large deck space and shallow draught made them ideal as balloon carriers. The operation came to an end in October 1919.

An unusual use of a paddle steamer occurred when Premier was hired by the Ministry of War Transport to tow the concrete barge PD25 Cretacre after it had been launched from Hamworthy Shipyard in August 1918. The Premier then towed the unpowered Cretacre to Claypits Pier.

For further information on concrete barges and Hamworthy Shipyard see the Concrete barges blog.

The paddle steamers returned to Dorset after the war ended but many required a lot of work to bring them back to ‘excursion standard’. Services resumed as before, however, the end of the war saw the onset of the Depression and, after the Second World War, holidaymakers started travelling by car rather than take a trip by sea. The final excursion by a Cosens’ paddle steamer took place in September 1966.

Proposed ‘Poole Workshop’ at Enham Village Centre

There was a lengthy debate over what was an appropriate First World War memorial for Poole. Some thought it should be something useful such as public baths, housing for ex-servicemen, or even a new fire engine. Some wanted a stone memorial but others believed it would be of no practical benefit. One suggestion was the creation of a ‘Poole Workshop’ at the Enham Village Centre, near Andover. A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project provides some of the background to the proposal.

Enham Village Centre was the first to be set up by the ‘Village Centres for Curative Treatment and Training Council’, a scheme supported by King George V and Queen Mary, to aid the rehabilitation of disabled ex-servicemen. The aim was to help them receive training in farming, gardening, forestry and other rural-type industries that would enable them to get employment. In its first year, it trained around one hundred men but had a waiting list of six hundred.

The Mayor of Poole, G.A. Dolby, and Mr Harry Brooks, JP, proposed to raise £1,000 to build a ‘Poole Workshop’ at the Centre. The Mayor had already written to nearly 200 employers in the Borough encouraging them to employ disabled ex-servicemen. The Poole Trades and Labour Council had discussed what was a suitable memorial and welcomed  the proposal for a ‘Workshop’  as it would ‘give some hope in life’ to men whose future was otherwise bleak.

 ‘The Great Work’, a film about the Centre, and an accompanying lecture were put on at the Amity Hall in Poole during March 1920 but the attendance was poor. To support the fund-raising effort, Mr J. Bravery, the Managing Director of Amity Hall, decided to show the film during an evening of singing and musical entertainment. All money raised would go to the appeal. The date chosen was Sunday April 25 1920 and for the event to occur approval had to be sought from various authorities. In his application at the Poole Police Court, Mr Bravery gave the reasons for the event and said that it would be held ‘after church hours’. The magistrates in Poole agreed to allow the film to be shown. However, the General Purposes Committee of Dorset County Council decided to turn down the application because under the Cinematograph Act of 1909 it was illegal to show films on a Sunday.

 Letters to the local newspaper expressed unhappiness with the decision and pointed out the aim of the film was to raise funds for a charity and similar events had been allowed. One correspondent also noted that soldiers had been expected to go ‘over the top’ into battle any day of the week. The well-attended event did go ahead, but without the film, and Mr Harry Brooks gave a short talk on the work of the village centres.

Only £105 had been donated by late August 1920. It is possible that people were feeling the effects of trying to support the numerous charities needing help in the aftermath of the war – a typical wage was around £5 per week.  The Poole Trades and Labour Council accepted that many people were on inadequate incomes but said that any donation, however small, was always welcome. Interestingly, Bournemouth was also considering funding a ‘Workshop’ at Enham as the town’s war memorial. It is believed that the plans of both Poole and Bournemouth were unsuccessful.

Members of the Poole branch of the ‘Comrades of the Great War’ visited Enham Village Centre in September 1920. They found 130 men were being trained at the Centre and that two were from the Borough of Poole. The names of the two men are so far unknown.

Enham later became known as Enham Alamein because injured from the WW2 Battle of El Alamein were sent there and after fund-raising in Egypt in November 1945 helped secure its future. More recently, ‘The Enham Trust’ has supported people with various conditions helping them become more independent.

Coughs and sneezes spread diseases

The 1918 influenza pandemic was devastating in its impact. A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World project has looked at the history of the pandemic and its effect on Poole and its inhabitants.

Although many places have been put forward no-one knows where the 1918 pandemic started; there are suggestions it may have been present in a less serious form in 1917. The death toll from the pandemic has been estimated upwards of thirty million but the actual figure will never be known. There a few facts which are certain:
– It was global. North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australasia and the Pacific Islands were affected.
– The death toll was high. For example, around 250,000 died in England and Wales, in France 400,000, and over 14 million in India. More American soldiers died from influenza than died in battle during the war.
– It was different. Previous influenza viruses affected the very young and the elderly but this virus was most serious for adults aged 20 to 40. It was most virulent during the summer and autumn of 1918 in Europe whereas normally influenza occurs during winter.
– It was spread by travel. Millions of soldiers moved from country to country, continent to continent as did those displaced by the fighting. Over-crowded troopships, troop trains, hospitals and military camps were ideal for spreading the virus. A seriously ill soldier would be transported to hospital spreading the virus – in normal life they would have stayed at home.

There are believed to have been two phases: the first less serious, the second highly virulent with the second appearing around August 1918. Reported deaths peaked in October and then began to drop significantly and the virus disappeared as rapidly as it had appeared. It was followed by an epidemic of encephalitis lethargica (an inflammation of the brain) and a further influenza epidemic in 1920.

What was the impact on Poole? An advertisement from the Borough of Poole Health Department appeared in the local newspaper in 1919. Its aim was to suggest ways of reducing the impact of influenza and recommendations included:
– Keep fit, eat healthily and regularly. Get plenty of rest, keep warm, and avoid alcoholism.
– Be in well-ventilated rooms and avoid crowds.
– Wear a face-mask if nursing someone who is ill.
– Hold a handkerchief in front of the mouth if coughing or sneezing as it was spread by ‘discharge from mouth and nose’. The handkerchief was to be boil-washed and a paper handkerchief burnt. [It is now believed that around half million particles are released every time someone coughs or sneezes]

The local newspaper had various adverts for medications which allegedly ‘cured’ and ‘prevented’ influenza. Other medications started to include influenza in their list of illnesses that benefitted from whatever they were selling. The advice from William Gosse, the Poole Medical Officer at the time, however, was clear – ‘do not waste money on drugs in the false hope of preventing infection’.

Poole elementary schools and the Schools for Mothers closed in late 1918 because of ’the prevalence of sickness’. The local newspaper reported that some local councillors believed that if schools were closed then so should theatres and cinemas. The Health Authority planned on disinfecting cinemas while the Medical Officer said that children should be stopped from visiting them. A newspaper report recommended glass as the safest and most hygienic container for food and hoped that workers in the glass industry would be demobbed quickly.

The Reports of the Medical Officer of Health for Poole make fascinating reading about the general health of the town’s residents. The History Centre has several volumes from which the following data has been extracted and shows a noticeable increase in influenza deaths in 1918 and 1919. The table includes data on diphtheria to put the influenza figures into context. The population of Poole is estimated to have been between 39,000 and 41,000 from 1916 to 1920.


The primary concern for health professionals was not influenza itself but the complications which were extremely serious. The Medical Officer believed the true figure for influenza deaths in 1919 was much greater because it often turned into bronchitis and pneumonia from which there had been 66 deaths.

The raw data does not tell the tragic impact it had on people’s lives. Private Sidney Dolman, whose father lived on Market Street, died of pneumonia in Alexandria on November 7th. His death was especially difficult as he had recently written saying how he was looking forward to coming home. Able Seaman Reginald Vincent had survived the Zeebrugge raid and the First World War but contracted influenza while on home leave and died of pneumonia. The local newspaper also reported on the deaths of people in Poole from influenza – sadly some were couples. Mr and Mrs Charles Worth of Branksome were in their thirties when they died within a week of each other to leave a 5 year old daughter.

The 1918 influenza pandemic has sometimes been referred to as the ‘forgotten pandemic’ because of the reaction to it. It is thought that with so much reporting on the loss of life from the war the distinction between deaths from military action or influenza became blurred. Another possible reason is that there were so many diseases at the time that it was just one amongst many. There were 969 cases of infectious diseases reported in the Borough of Poole in 1918. This included 654 cases of measles or Rubella, 146 of tuberculosis, 49 of diphtheria, 51 of scarlet fever, and 27 of chicken pox.

For more information on health during the First World War go to our earlier blog ‘The Mutual Enemy of WW1’.

Jane Bungay – the story of a mother.

Jane Bungay had not had an easy life even before the First World War started. Widowed twice, she had lost one child in infancy. Her six other sons would all grow up to enlist in the Army or Navy.

Tragically, one of these grown-up boys died before the war even started. And another lost his life thousands of miles from home and just months after it came to an end.

The conflict meant huge changes at home as well as for the soldiers and sailors at war. Life could be very tough for a widowed mother of serving men. Without her sons living with her, Jane Bungay had to move because she could not afford to pay the rent on her Poole home.

Jane, nee Russell, had been born in the Dorset village of Compton Abbas, the daughter of a farm labourer and his wife. But at the age of just 17 she married a Piddletrenthide-born soldier by the name of Richard Thomas Bagg.

Their first son was born the following year but died before he was two years old.

Another boy, however, would soon be born

Four years after their marriage, the national Census shows that Jane was living with her widowed mother, a sister and her 11-month old son, Walter George in a house in Dorchester. There is no mention of husband Richard being there that day. Could he have been the Richard Baggs [sic] who was doing time in Dorchester Prison on the day of the Census? He, too, had been born in Piddletrenthide and was, at 21, the right age. This man would be back up before the bench for stealing two bushes and a padlock in the following year and sentenced to six months’ jail.

Or was that another man? Could Jane’s Richard Bagg have been serving abroad with the Army? After all, he had enlisted as a soldier and was a Driver with the Royal Horse Artillery.

Jane had another son by him, whom they called Henry. But soon she would be widowed and left to bring up the boys alone.

We don’t know what happened to Richard Bagg. Perhaps he had died while serving abroad?

Whatever occurred, widowed Jane would remarry at Weymouth in early 1889. Her second husband was Henry Bungay and the couple would soon have a baby daughter they called Nellie.

In 1891, the family, including the two Bagg boys, were living in Weymouth. Jane’s new husband was recorded as working as a labourer but, like her first husband, he had seen military action. He served with the Gordon Highlanders and had been decorated, receiving a medal and star and four clasps for his engagement in the Anglo-Egyptian War in the early 1880s.

The couple would have five more children – four boys and another girl, Florence Alberta – all born in Weymouth except one who came into the world in Chester. Was Henry back in the Army and stationed there?

If so, Henry Bungay may still have been serving away from home in 1901 for the Census of that year yet again shows Jane Bungay as acting as the head of the family with no mention of Henry. She was 41 and working as a laundress on her own account.

Ten years later, and the Bungay family had moved to Parkstone, Poole, where they lived in Layton Road. Henry was back with the family, working as a road contractor. Their son Charles, 18, was by now working as a labourer and the second oldest boy, James, 16, was a butcher’s errand boy.

Tragedy, however, came knocking again in the following year for before the end of 1912 Henry Bungay passed away.

Her eldest boy, Walter Bagg, who had joined the Royal Navy, and served on board HMS St George, had also died.

When war broke out, it must have been hard to see her sons answer their country’s recruitment call.  Walter’s brother, Henry Bagg, followed him into the Navy where he served on HMP Europa which received battle honours for her part in the Dardanelles Campaign that witnessed the disastrous battle for Gallipoli.

Two of the brothers, Charles and Frederick, had joined up as Drivers in 1915 with the Army Service Corps – one would later be a prisoner-of-war and eventually repatriated. In time, Frederick would transfer to the North Staffs Regiment. Both would receive the British War, Victor and Medals as well as the 1915 Star.

Jane’s youngest boy was John Francis Reginald Bungay, who had got a job as a railway porter. But he, too, was keen to join up when war broke out and enlisted five months after the conflict began. He claimed he was 18 years and a month old. He lied about his age.

Initially a Gunner with the Royal Artillery, he was transferred to the Black Watch in Scotland where he waited to be sent to the Front, despite being under age.

There, the regiment received an urgent telegram from Parkstone. It was from his mum, Jane and read: ‘I forbid my son, Private John Bungay going on service only 17 years old. Certificate follows. Mother.’

Once he turned 18, however, he was posted to France. During his second spell there, he was hit by enemy fire, suffering a gunshot wound in the buttock and had to return home.

Once again, Jane Bungay contacted the Black Watch Regiment. She wrote: ‘To the Officer in Charge.

‘Re my son, Private J.F.R. Bungay., no 10261 Black Watch.

‘Dear Sir, Will you kindly note my correct address as letters from you still go to my former address.

‘Shall be most grateful to hear as to my son’s condition as soon as possible. Thanking you for your kind attention. And hoping to hear better news.’ Signed Jane Bungay.

Private John Bungay survived the war. (He is believed to have later married and lived in Salisbury.) Jane’s other serving sons survived the war, too… including William James,

But, months later, before he was able to leave the Army, he was to die thousands of miles from home.

Soon after war was declared in August 1914, he answered the call and, within days, volunteered to fight. He joined the 5th Dorsets. But within two months he was discharged, considered unfit for service due to his suffering from Phthisis, a form of pulmonary tuberculosis.

His Battalion’s Adjutant then tried to contact him to confirm the date when he first enlisted, according to his Army Pension records. But, by then, he was no longer in Poole.

His mother Jane, wrote back saying: ‘My son, W.J. Bungay is not at home now so cannot say the date he enlisted.’ She signed it ‘From his mother, a widow’.

Then she added: ‘My address is Fernlea, Pottery Road. I had to move from Bournemouth Road as I could not pay the rent after my sons joined the Army.’

No soldier’s mother grew rich on the Army Separation Allowance.

Bungay home. The terraced homes in Pottery Road. Jane Bungay lived for a time during the First World War at 'Fernlea' (now number 3)_

Bungay home. The terraced homes in Pottery Road. Jane Bungay lived for a time during the First World War at ‘Fernlea’ (now number 3)_

William James Bungay was not at home because, by then, he had re-enlisted, in November, this time with the Hampshire Regiment under the name of Private James Bungay.

He was serving on the other side of the world, in India.

During the war years, it seems Jane Bungay had to move a number of times. We know at different times time her address was given as being at ‘Kersley’, Bournemouth Road, Parkstone; in Pottery Road, Poole; in Sturminster Marshall; Queens Grove, Parkstone; and finally at  Fairholme, 14 Commercial Road, Parkstone. (Now demolished, a day centre today stands on the site.)

During the war, Private James Bungay would also serve with the Bedfordshires before being transferred to the 25th Middlesex Regiment.

While other soldiers celebrated Armistice Day on 11 November 1919, James Bungay was not so lucky. A year before, the Bolsheviks in Russia had come into power following a revolution but a civil war prevailed.

And the Allies decided to intervene to protect their interests. James’ battalion was sent east in support of the White Russians fighting the Bolshevik’s’ Red Army and stationed in Siberia.

At first, he had written cheerful letters saying he was looking forward to coming home. But then his mother received a telegram with grim news. It said he was seriously ill from influenza and pneumonia.

He died on 9 February 1919 at Vladivostok, as a result of a kidney infection, pyelitis, according to his Army record.

Bungay, Poole and Dorset Herald Feb 1919

Bungay, Poole and Dorset Herald Feb 1919

He was buried in the Churkin Russian Naval cemetery, 7,500 miles from home. A war memorial stands close by.

Before the end of the year, the British had pulled out.

And what happened to Jane Bungay, the grieving mother? We don’t know. A Jane Bungay married in Poole in 1927. Was she our Jane? She would have been 67 at the time.

All we know for sure is that a year after James died, Jane Bungay received a parcel from the Army containing her son, James’ possessions.

It had been sent back from Siberia…  and contained just two rings.

Private Thomas Duffy and his experience of the Battle of Mons

In September 1914, the Poole and East Dorset Herald carried a lengthy interview with Private Thomas Duffy under the headline ‘Wounded Hamworthy Reservist relates his experiences at the Battle of Mons’. A Culture Volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project decided to explore further.

According to the newspaper article, Private Thomas Duffy was from Hamworthy and had ‘rejoined’ the Royal Scots Regiment when war began. Hamworthy Parish Church has a memorial board to those who joined up, were wounded, taken prisoner, or were killed in the First World War, but Thomas Duffy is not mentioned.

Family history records show that Thomas Duffy (born 1885) was married in March 1914 to Alice Maud Cobb (born 1889), whose parents were Charles and Annie Cobb of Hamworthy. Other records show that Duffy was born in Edinburgh and enlisted with the Royal Scots while living in Scotland. At some point he left the service and must have travelled to the Poole area where he met, and married, Alice Cobb.

The Dorset Church of England Parish register has a Thomas Powell Duffy being baptised on October 18th 1914 at Hamworthy to Thomas and Alice Maud Duffy. Their son died just a month later and is buried in Hamworthy cemetery. At the time, the family were living at 2, Seaview Terrace, Hamworthy – hence the Hamworthy connection in the newspaper headline.

The Battle of Mons was the first battle involving the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and the German Army. It took place from August 23rd to 26th 1914.  Initially, the regulars of the British Army were very successful against the conscript army of Germany; however, the French were falling back and the German army was considerably larger than the BEF. Although Sir John French, commander of the BEF, wanted to maintain their gains he realised that it was inevitable that the BEF would become isolated and surrounded – there was no option but to withdraw.

Private Duffy gave a wide-ranging impression of the first few weeks of the war when he talked to the local newspaper in September 1914 after being invalided home. On arriving in France, they had marched around 35 miles every day for three days to get to Mons where they arrived on August 22nd ‘very fatigued’. The following day they were told to ‘fall in’ and marched around 2 miles to find themselves in the middle of a battle. Duffy described being near a tree that was hit by German artillery and then by rifle fire. After a while, he decided that ‘he was in an unpleasantly dangerous position’ and moved a short distance away. While Duffy was eating ‘a biscuit with some jam’ he turned to discover a Captain Henderson taking a photograph of him and several others, oblivious to the shells that were flying around. Duffy and his fellow soldiers were under attack from lunchtime to nearly 9pm in the evening when the enemy made sporadic attacks until just after midnight. They had been under fire for 12 hours.

Duffy said that ‘the Germans are absolutely no good with a rifle’ – the Germans themselves commended the quality of British rifle fire finding it at times so rapid they thought they were facing machine guns. However, he found that the German artillery were ‘quick and accurate’ and ‘were good shots’. Duffy is remarkably candid in his interview about the fighting and the loss of men. While the Royal Scots hadn’t lost anybody at Mons, 350 men were lost at Amiens. He claimed that only 120 out of 1,200 men answered at a roll call of the Gordon Highlanders.

 He describes the fighting that occurred and how they were outnumbered by the enemy 4 to 1. They eventually fell back under artillery fire and found themselves so worn out they were allowed an hours rest. At one point they hadn’t eaten anything between Sunday evening and Tuesday morning while having to march over 30 miles. Duffy commented on the welcome the French civilians gave them and that ‘they were exceedingly kind to us on the march’. It was at this point Duffy dislocated his foot and was sent on a long journey back to Le Havre in a railway carriage along with dozens of wounded. Arriving back in England he was sent to Netley Hospital, Southampton, and then was given two weeks sick leave in Poole. He said his wife ‘had wanted for nothing’ while he had been away and he hoped to return to the front very soon and have ‘another cut’ at the enemy.

The WW1 Pensions Ledgers and Index Cards have Private Thomas Duffy being discharged from the Royal Scots on October 4th 1916. His Silver War Badge Record states this was because of ‘sickness’. These badges were given to ex-servicemen who had been discharged because of ill health so that they would not be accused of cowardice when seen wearing civilian clothes. The 1919 Electoral Role has Thomas and his wife living at Suvla Cottage, Hunger Hill. The choice of name of the cottage is interesting as Suvla Bay was part of the tragic Gallipoli campaign and one wonders if it was named after the conflict.

Cottages at Hunger Hill from the collection of Poole Museum Service

Cottages at Hunger Hill from the collection of Poole Museum Service

Life under the waves

The first British submarine was launched in 1901. At the beginning of the First World War, Britain had around 60 submarines, 168 officers, 1,250 men and limited idea of what to do in a battle as they had never been in conflict. They rapidly became a potent force and during the war sank 54 enemy warships and U-boats and 274 supply vessels. The cost was, however, tremendous with around a third of those who joined the submarine service losing their life. A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project describes what it was like being in a submarine and the fate of a few of the Poole submariners.

All submariners were volunteers and on interview they had to show they were ‘capable of sustaining a considerable amount of bodily strain’. An understatement! The clothes they wore were usually the ones they had on a fortnight earlier – the smell was described as ‘most revolting’. The lack of fresh air meant the crew suffered nausea, headaches and lethargy which could affect decision-making. They also suffered from sleep deprivation relying on, typically, 4hrs a day. Submarine commanders were under special strain as any decision they made could be fatal. Broken bones and concussion were common when a submarine was thrown about in a stormy sea. There were no doctors on board and the only first aid was provided by the crew themselves. If seawater entered the batteries, the submarine would fill with poisonous chlorine gas.

A submarine crew rarely changed members so they became a close knit community. Also the confines of a submarine meant that distinctions of rank meant very little. Despite the high risk and unpleasant working condition, the informality and comradeship, plus the excitement of being involved in something different, made the prospect of being in a submarine attractive to some men.

In contrast to the surface fleet, not many Poole men served in submarines. Hedley Alexander Grant, whose parents lived in Parkstone, died in October 1918 when the L10 submarine was sunk in the North Sea. He was a messenger boy when he joined the navy in January 1913 for 12 years when he was 18. The L10 was commissioned in June 1918 from the Dumbarton shipyard of William Denny and was used to stop German vessels mining the sea. It had a crew of 38 and was armed with four bow and two beam torpedo tubes, as well as a 4in deck gun. On October 3rd 1918, L10 came across a group of German destroyers in the Heligoland Bight and torpedoed the German ship S33. However, the submarine, for some reason, suddenly surfaced and was sunk by the other destroyers. All those on board died.

Charles Trickett, from Branksome, was a coal loader before he joined the navy in March 1912 as a Stoker 2nd Class. He served on several ships and was promoted to Stoker 1st Class in 1913. His service record is unclear but he may have joined the submarine service at the end of 1916 as he was attached to HMS Maidstone, which was a submarine depot ship. There is a record of him serving on HM Submarine E32 towards the end of the First World War. Charles Trickett was on HM Submarine L55 (Lucia) when it failed to surface on June 9th 1919. The submarine was part of the Baltic Battle Squadron and was fighting on the side of the Baltic States during the Russian Civil War. It is believed that after firing on two Bolshevik destroyers it entered into a British minefield. The Soviets claimed it had been sunk by one of its destroyers. They raised the submarine several years later.

Able Seaman George Miles, from Hamworthy, was also attached to the submarine depot ship ‘Maidstone’, and served on HM Submarine E19. HM E19 was part of the Baltic submarine fleet that sank several German merchant ships with the aim of disrupting the trade in iron ore. The 9th September 1915 issue of the local newspaper reported that Miles and the rest of the crew had been awarded the St George’s Cross by the Tsar of Russia. Submarine E19 was destroyed in April 1918, along with six other submarines, by their crews to stop them being captured by German troops who had landed in Finland. George Miles served in the navy during the Second World War.

Able Seaman Frederick Fudge, whose mother lived in Wallisdown, died when HM Submarine D 6 was sunk by the German U-boat UB 73 off the coast of Ireland on 24th June 1918. Two survivors were taken prisoner. Fudge had been a butcher’s boy before he signed on with the navy in February 1914 for 12 years.

Albert Joseph Miller was born in Branksome and joined the Navy in October 1914 when aged 18. He started his naval life as Boy 2nd Class and was promoted several times becoming Leading Telegraphist in April 1916. He was wounded in an action off the Heligoland Bight on August 28th 1914 while on HMS Fearless. He was on HM Submarine E50 when it was lost in the North Sea on January 31st 1918.

There were several classes of British submarine but the K-class submarines had a particularly bad reputation with only 18 being built but were involved in 16 accidents, several collisions, and one sank on trial. They were steam-powered when on the surface to enable them to travel fast in support of the fleet. However, shutting down a boiler and lowering two small funnels increased dive time and the likelihood of leaks. An even more significant problem was that the K-class was 339ft long (compared to the L-class at 239ft) but only had a maximum operating depth of 200ft. If the submarine dived at an angle of 30o the stern would be at the surface and the bow nearly at maximum depth. The reputation of the class was so bad that they were referred as the ‘Kalamity’ class.

The local newspaper reported on the loss of submarine K5 in late January 1921. It was with four other submarines (K8, K10, K15 and K22) while on manoeuvres with the British Atlantic Fleet when it failed to surface. Fifty-seven men lost their lives. It had gone down in 85 fathoms of water but as the salvage vessel could not go more than 30 fathoms a rescue was impossible. There was Poole connection to the loss. Lieutenant B.J. Clarke was an officer on K5 and had been second-in-command on the captured German U-boat U107 when it came to Poole in January 1919 for a charity fund-raising event. He had been accompanied by his wife and son on the visit and ‘much sympathy’ was felt by those in Poole who had met them after hearing about his death. See an earlier blog ‘German U-boats in Poole Harbour’ 

U 107 on Poole Quay

U 107 on Poole Quay


The life of a stoker in the Royal Navy

The focus of many histories of the First World War is on the great land battles of the Western Front. The Royal Navy often gets overlooked because the Battle of Jutland was a seemingly inconclusive sea battle and many other actions did not involve fleets of ships. A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project describes some experiences of Poole men who served as stokers in the Royal Navy.

John Matthews, formerly a goalkeeper of Longfleet St Mary’s FC and stroke with Poole Amateur Rowing Club, was on the HMS Armadale Coast which was off the German South West African coast. His letter of January 1915 said that they ‘have had a very trying time just lately’. He describes ‘coaling’. This involved working continuously day and night until 3,700 tons of coal had been transferred in sacks. His injury came about because he slipped and damaged a knee which he hoped ‘will not affect my knee in future’. His mates brought him oranges and apples while he was in hospital and he noted it was ‘the first rest’ he had had since leaving home. He was now on light duty but still in some pain. He hoped to be able to carry on playing football and rowing when he got back to Poole – so far it is not known whether he did.

Coaling at sea was a strenuous, difficult job. Sacks had to be filled on the coaling ship by shovel, winched across and then tipped into the bunkers. Everybody who was not assigned another role had to help. A midshipman would alternate between spending an hour holding sacks open for another rating to shovel coal into and then spending another hour winching across. Often they would work from 5.30 in the morning until 6pm in the evening. The stokers who manned the bunkers were covered in ‘indescribable clouds of dust’ that clogged their skin and lungs with the only light from a few Davy safety lamps. And when coaling was finished the ships had to be cleaned.

The shovelling of coal into the boilers was hard physical labour in very hot and dusty conditions. Stoking the boilers was also a highly skilled job. The ‘firebed’ in the boiler had to be even and any gaps filled with white hot coal. The stokers would wear blue-tinted glasses to protect their eyes from the intense glare whilst they were checking the ‘firebed’. Every time the ship’s gun fired the ship would lift, settle, and clouds of dust would fill the boiler room – the noise would also resound above the noise of the boilers. The men also worked in the knowledge that there was little chance of survival if the ship was hit. Watertight hatches were closed and there was a maze of routes to the upper decks. They rarely had time to do anything; HM Transport Arcadian sank in just three minutes after being torpedoed.

Coal was a serious business and anything that disrupted it could have devastating consequences. Poor quality coal could lead to the ship not maintaining speed at critical times. HMS Pathfinder was sunk because the lack of coal meant it could only maintain a speed of 5 knots. The German SMS Dresden had a rendezvous with a collier off the South American coast. It was spotted by HMS Kent before coaling took place and the Dresden had no option but to enter a river estuary where she was eventually scuttled.

Several Poole men served as stokers in the Royal Navy. Some had joined the navy before the war and were either in the reserve or were still sailors, others enlisted or were conscripted.

Fred G. Trowbridge was a Stoker on the battleship HMS Iron Duke. In December 1914 he sent a letter to his mother, who lived at 19 Market Street, to say he was well and enclosed a photograph of what he called the ‘Dorset Brigade’ who were on board. Trowbridge had joined the Royal Navy in 1912 and served on HMS Iron Duke from February 1914 until 1918. After the war ended, he stayed in the Royal Navy on various vessels and in shore-based installations before retiring in 1934.

Stoker Augustus Albert Ball, of Hamworthy, died when the battlecruiser HMS Invincible was sunk at the Battle of Jutland on May 31st 1916. It is believed that she was hit on one of her turrets and the flash fire went into the magazines. The explosion tore the ship in half and over a thousand men lost their lives. Six men survived – one of them recorded that he ‘remembered nothing about the explosion until he found himself in the water’. Ball’s first ship was the paddle steamer Brodick Castle which was part of a fleet of ships that sailed along the Dorset coast catering for the holiday trade. He joined as a fireman at a weekly wage of £1 8s 2d (£1.41), on July 3rd 1901 at the age of 20. He left on October 5th 1901 when the summer season ended.

Sidney James, of Newtown, Poole, was employed as a golf caddie before he joined the Royal Navy in 1909 as a Stoker 2nd Class. In 1910 he was promoted to Stoker 1st Class when he was on HMS Essex in 1910. He then served on many other ships until he joined the cruiser HMS Black Prince on April 21st 1914 as Stoker 1st Class. He was promoted to Leading Stoker in February 1916. He died when HMS Black Prince was sunk during the Battle of Jutland on May 31st 1916. It is believed that the German fleet was mistaken for the British fleet and they were only half a mile apart when the error was realised – the crew of HMS Black Prince stood no chance.

Thomas Foot of Poole worked in a wood factory before he joined the Royal Navy in 1906 as Stoker 2nd Class when he signed up for 5 years. He left the navy in 1911 as Stoker 1st Class and was transferred to the Royal Fleet Reserve. With the threat of war looming he was recalled to the navy and joined HMS Good Hope on July 31st 1914. He died when the ship was sunk at the Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile on November 1st 1914.

William Bradley of Poole (born 1896) worked as a greengrocer’s porter before joining the Royal Navy in 1914. He worked as a Stoker on several ships during the First World War and continued in the navy serving through the Second World War. In contrast, William Hedgecock, a general labourer from Poole, joined the Royal Navy on December 28th 1916. He was posted as Stoker 2nd Class to HMS Ariadne on March 21st 1917 and was killed only a few months later when the ship was torpedoed on July 26th 1917.

The Poole and East Dorset Herald reported in November 1914 that Mr Alfred Woodland of Hamworthy had five sons involved in the conflict. Albert Edward Woodland was a labourer from Hamworthy and had signed on with the Royal Navy for 12 years, initially as a Stoker 2nd class. He served on several ships and was promoted to Stoker 1st class while he was on HMS Dreadnought. In August 1914 he joined HMS Hermione which he left in March 1915. He had a spell on HMS Excellent before joining HMS Canada on which he served until March 1919 where he rose to first becoming a Leading Stoker and then Stoker Petty Officer. A few months after leaving HMS Canada he married Minnie Cox in Hamworthy. He survived the First World War. He served during the Second World War as Stoker Petty Officer on HMS Claverhouse, but died in August 1942 at the Royal Naval Hospital, South Queensferry from a kidney infection. He is buried in Hamworthy.

The local newspaper also reported that four of his brothers were serving in the Royal Marines. It said that John Woodland was a prisoner of war in October 1914 but says he was a Lance-Corporal – other records have him as a Private. It is believed he also survived the war and stayed in the Royal Marines dying of natural causes during the Second World War. Charles Woodland was a dental assistant at the RM base in Deal and also survived the First World War. Sadly, two other brothers died during the First World War. Sidney served in the Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMLI), but was drowned in a boating accident in Poole Harbour in 1915. Another brother, William, died during the Battle of Jutland while on HMS Southampton. It is possible that another brother, Frederick, also served in the RMLI but this not clear.

William Harold Hammond

By Ed Perkins

There are two heroes in the story of Poole man William Harold Hammond. One was the shell-shocked soldier, rescued unconscious after being buried alive on the Western Front. The other was his wife, Lillie, who would nurse him till he died.

Longfleet St Mary’s churchyard with William Hammond’s grave in the foreground.

Longfleet St Mary’s churchyard with William Hammond’s grave in the foreground.

William Hammond was born in 1878 and brought up in Kingston upon Thames. The son of a cooper and his schoolmistress wife, he would stay in touch with his family and friends in the Surrey town  for the rest of his life.

His father, Charles, would go on to become the manager of a brewery store and, when grown-up, William followed in his footsteps, moving to Poole to manage the Whitbread brewery store in the Dorset town.

It was while living in Poole, boarding at ‘Tivoli’, a young couple’s home in Parkstone Road, that he was to meet the woman who would become devoted to him.

Her name was Lillie Naomi Ince and she was born in 1881 in the City of London, her mother and father both being in the business of manufacturing umbrellas. Even as a child, Lillie would learn the hard facts of life, for her brother, Oliver, passed away when she was three and her father died when she was seven.

Lillie’s widowed mother moved to Winchester with her daughters and carried on making umbrellas for a living. Lillie grew up there and took a job working as a Post Office telegraphist.

By 1911, like her future husband, she had moved to Poole, boarding with a widow and her daughter in Wimborne Road and working as a clerk at the post office.

Lillie Ince and William Hammond met and fell in love and in that year of 1911, Lillie now 30, and William, 32, married.

The ceremony took place in London’s Hampstead where their marriage certificate shows she was then living, just around the corner from Swiss Cottage.

The newly-weds set up home in Poole in a semi-detached called The Creek in Sterte Esplanade, that had been built around 1906, just a few years before. In those days the Esplanade homes looked out directly over the waters of Holes Bay.

A Russian cannon, said to date back to the Crimean War, looking out over Holes Bay and positioned at Sterte Esplanade, where William and Lillie Hammond lived. Picture: Poole Museum

A Russian cannon, said to date back to the Crimean War, looking out over Holes Bay and positioned at Sterte Esplanade, where William and Lillie Hammond lived. Picture: Poole Museum

Within three years their family grew, for Lillie, on 18 March 1914, gave birth to their only child, a boy they named Harold Brooke Hammond. He was baptised in Parkstone that June.

William carried working as the brewery store manager and, when war broke out in 1914, became a member of what was to become the Dorset Volunteer Regiment. It was a defence unit for volunteers who trained at drill halls in Heckford Park and Weymouth Road, Parkstone,  and who guarded the coast and strategic places at Sandbanks, Hamworthy and other sites across the county, freeing artillery soldiers to be sent to the Front.

Conscription, introduced in January 1916, however, meant that men up to the age of 40 were liable to be called up. In the June of that year, William now 38, married and the father of a boy of just two, enlisted.

His Army record shows that he stood at 5ft 5ins, weighed 9st 4lbs had a 36ins chest and was classed fit for general service, despite his vision in both eyes being 6/9.

It would be more than a year before William was called up for active service with the Royal Field Artillery in June 1917. He was given the rank of Driver and the regimental number 239666.

Driver Hammond was to spend the rest of that year serving in Britain, qualifying as an Army telephonist, before being posted to France two days after Christmas. He disembarked at Le Havre and then went on to the Western Front.

He was in the field in France for the next five or so months. Then, in April 1918, something happened.

‘As a dispatch rider in France he was buried by a shell explosion,’ a note on his medical record explains.

‘Unconscious for a fortnight.’

We know that after being dug out from the shell-hole he was taken to a field hospital, probably in Rouen, suffering from shell shock.

‘He was in ‘a highly-confused state,’ a medical report stated. ‘He talks incessantly. Says his wife must be given £500.’ He was delusional but with ‘no grandiose ideas’.

Tragically, the horrific experience would trigger the re-activation of a disease that he had probably contracted as a much younger man before he married. It had been latent, probably for many years. Common at the time, before the invention of penicillin its final stage would lead to madness and death.

Driver Hammond’s case was ‘aggravated’ by his service, the Army admitted.

He was posted back to Britain for treatment, first to the Army clearing hospital, the Royal Victoria at Netley, near Southampton, where he arrived on 25 May. His Army Pension record shows that he was suffering from ‘confusional insanity’,

Hammond stayed at Netley for a single day before being sent up to Perth in Scotland for treatment at Murthly Military Hospital. He would remain there under treatment for the next five months.

‘On admission he was very confused. Since then there has been a gradual advance of physical symptoms,’ the record reveals.

Eventually, the Army decided he was ‘permanently unfit for was service of any kind’, granted him a weekly pension of 27 shillings and sixpence (£1.38p – worth about £40 a week today) and discharged him.

Before his discharge, his medical report states that the origin of his disability had occurred on 29 April that year in France – around the time he was buried alive.

Diseased, deeply confused and now discharged from the Army, who would look after the shell-shock victim now?

On 25 October 1918, Lillie Hammond took him home.

‘His wife brought him home, hoping that home influences would improve his condition,’ a hand-written note from his Poole doctor, Dr George Smith Small, records.

There, while bringing up their little son alone, Lillie lovingly nursed him through the coming months, over Christmas and deep into the new year.

Poor William’s condition, though, was terminal. Lillie had tenderly nursed him single-handed for 137 days.

As his life neared its end, however, he was finally sectioned and taken off the County Asylum near Dorchester as a ‘person of unsound mind’. Harry Brooks, a Poole JP, signed the admittance form.

He based his judgement on a certificate provided by Dr Small who wrote: ‘He lies in bed with eyes staring, refusing to speak or take notice of anything, hands twitching; keeps muttering to himself.

‘I have had him under supervision since October 1918. He has had three attacks of an epilepsiform nature and, since the last attack, his moods are uncertain and he is difficult to control.’

William’s wife, Lillie, added other facts: ‘He says he is full of disease and in consequence requests to be moved to an isolation hospital. He refuses to shake hands for fear of spreading the disease.

‘When offered food he says: ‘’What is the use ­– I have no mouth’’.

‘Lately he has threatened to lose himself on the sandbank in front of house. At times he has been violent, attempting to get to window.’

His very brief time at the Dorset County Asylum was paid for by the Poole Union, whose Relieving Officer, Harrie [sic] E. Shave understood that William would be placed there ‘with other service men.’

He added in his letter to the hospital: ‘It is a very sad case as they are very respectable people indeed.’

We know from the Dorchester asylum hospital records that, by then, dark-haired William was thin and in poor physical condition. He was not speaking and in a ‘stupitose’ state. It was ‘very difficult to arouse his attention which then ‘wandered’ and was ‘evanescent’.

The evening of the day after his admission, he had a major seizure followed by several other attacks. The next day, semi-conscious, the fits became more frequent and severe and he turned blueish.

In the early hours of 14 March 1919, he grew weaker and died. He was 40 years old.

William Harold Hammond, despite his disease and confusion – his death certificate confirms that the cause of death was what known in those days as General Paralysis of the Insane – had evidently tried his best during his deteriorating condition not to be a nuisance to his caring wife.

She had taken him home that previous October, though ‘it was unwise of her to do so,’ according to Poole Union officer Mr Shave.

‘She has been a faithful nurse and has done everything possible for her husband,’ the local medical man, Dr Small, wrote in his report.

Lillie would remain in the Poole area for the rest of her life. By 1939, she had moved away from The Creek, the house where she had nursed her suffering husband The Creek and now lived in Sheringham Road in Branksome, where she lived with her sister Rhoda, a private nurse, and her son, Harold, now working as an estate agent’s clerk and also an auxiliary fire officer. Harold would later marry and work, for a time at least, as a commercial driver.

Sterte Esplanade today.

Sterte Esplanade today.

Lillie Naomi Hammond passed away in Redhill Park, Bournemouth, in 1963 at the age of 79. The shell-shock that triggered the condition that led to her husband, William’s death, had changed her life.

After his death she had received a widow’s pension from the Army and her late husband was awarded the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the Silver Badge for his service on the Western Front.

His funeral service, on 20 March 1919, took place at St Mary’s, Longfleet, conducted by the vicar, the Rev Canon Okes Parish. The mourners included his brother Mr F. Hammond, his sister Mrs White, sister-in-law Miss Ince and two friends who came down from Kingston upon Thames where he had grown up.

They heard of how well-known William had been in Poole and the esteem in which he was held.

Poignantly, Lillie was unable to be at the funeral. She was unable to attend ‘through a sudden indisposition,’ the local paper, the Bournemouth Guardian reported.

‘The music included Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory, which was the piece Mr Hammond had asked his wife to play shortly before his death.’

The Poole and East Dorset Herald reported that week that he ‘died following shell shock in France’.

William was buried in the churchyard outside. He was one of 80,000 men in the war to suffer from shell shock. For them, the trauma did not end when the guns ceased firing.

Today his grave is fittingly tended by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, ensuring the soldier’s service for his country will not be forgotten.

The grave of Driver William Harold Hammond of the Royal Field Artillery.

The grave of Driver William Harold Hammond of the Royal Field Artillery.

Christmas Cards and Postcards

A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project highlights some Christmas cards and postcards from the Poole History Centre. The volume of letters and cards that went between Britain and the various battle fronts throughout the world was huge and especially at Christmas-time.

‘Windy Corner’ (Poole History Centre)

‘Windy Corner’ (Poole History Centre)

This rather unusual Christmas card, ‘Windy Corner’ with ‘Xmas Greetings from 5th B.S’, is believed to have been sent from someone who served on the Queen Elizabeth battleship HMS Barham. This was the flagship of the 5th Battlecruiser Squadron, commanded by Rear Admiral H. Evan-Thomas, which took part in the Battle of Jutland. The second Christmas card is also apparently of HMS Barham but all that can be seen of the ship is the foremast and control platform. The recipient must have mixed feelings on receiving it!

Christmas Greetings from the North Sea (Poole History Centre)

Greetings from the North Sea (Poole History Centre)

Your King and Country Thank You (Poole History Centre)

Your King and Country Thank You (Poole History Centre)

The ‘Your King and Country Thank You’ Christmas card was sent by the Rev. E. Hounslow, Rector of Hamworthy Church, to Rifleman George Stokes in November 1917. Included was a two page letter describing what the Rector knew about the fortunes of his various parishioners who were in the army and navy.  Many Hamworthy men sent letters to the Rev. Hounslow which he then included in the ‘St Michael’s Parish Magazine’ and this enabled the men to keep in touch with each other and those at home. The Parish magazine notes were often reported in the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper. For example, the February 22nd 1917 issue included a short piece from George Stokes who had written from Falmouth saying he was on a Musketry Course. Other Hamworthy men mentioned in the same issue were Sidney Short (who was in Mesopotamia), Sidney White (in a hospital in India), Mr Goff (promoted to a Sergeant), W. Kearley (was in the trenches), D. Wadham (also in the trenches), R.Trace (on a ship), Albert Woodland, F.C. Barnes, H.G. Jeffery, A. Gillingham and Charlie Mitchener. E. Gurd, who was stationed in Salonika, looked forward to receiving the Parish Magazine every month because of the news it contained.

Christmas card from 25th Battalion Rifle Brigade

Christmas card from 25th Battalion Rifle Brigade

This plain Christmas card was sent home by George Stokes while on service with the 25th Battalion Rifle Brigade. Inside is a simple printed greeting and then a very brief history of the 25th and a colour illustration of the 1808 Christmas during the Peninsular War.

Postcards of the era often conveyed the feelings of absence and longing that many felt.

Greetings from Hamworthy (Poole History Centre)

Greetings from Hamworthy (Poole History Centre)

I’m thinking of you at Bournemouth (Poole History Centre)

I’m thinking of you at Bournemouth (Poole History Centre)

The postcard ‘thinking of you’ was sent to Rifleman George Stokes while he was in ‘B’ Company, 13th Rifle Brigade in France and is postmarked 12 August 1918.


Can you help identify the people in this First World War photograph?

A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project has explored the background to a photograph from the Poole History Centre.

16 Women and 6 sailors from Hamworthy Base (G9_0001 Poole History Centre)

16 Women and 6 sailors from Hamworthy Base (G9_0001 Poole History Centre)

This wonderful formal photograph shows 16 women and 6 sailors – plus one dog. The hat band of three of the sailors shows that they served on HMS White Oak. Rather confusingly, White Oak was the name of the Poole depot ship for mine net drifters and also that of a drifter that was hired for the duration of the war which sailed from Poole. The other rating’s hat band is unclear but could be HMS Panther? All the women are wearing a distinctive triangular badge which has been identified as the women’s ‘On War Service’ badge. This was introduced in 1916 for women munition workers to show that they were on war work. But who are the women?

They could be members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS) from the Hamworthy base. However, the Poole History Centre has a photograph of Winifred Newman, who served with the WRNS, and the cap is very different to those in the main photograph.

Winifred Newman (G9_0003 Poole History Centre)

Winifred Newman (G9_0003 Poole History Centre)

Winifred Newman was born in Hamworthy and enlisted in the WRNS on August 22nd 1918. She was assigned to White Oak as a ‘Net Mine Worker’, ie someone who worked on the nets used against mines. Net mine workers were part of what was known as the Miscellaneous Branch of the WRNS which included diverse roles, such as bakers, gardeners, and pigeon women. The Imperial War Museum has two photographs of WRNS Net Mine Workers who are wiring glass floats onto nets. They all are wearing a white cap with a black brim and a black hat band with ‘W.R.N.S.’, and the very distinctive dark collar with the dark flap with white stripes associated with the Royal Navy.

Poole History Centre has a photograph of Elsie Stokes who worked at the Royal Naval Ordnance Factory at Holton Heath. The uniform is the same as that in the main photograph – the only difference is that she is not wearing the ‘On War Service’ badge.

Elsie Stokes with munition shell (Poole History Centre)

Aged in her mid 20’s, Elsie Stokes During the 1914-18 War Holding a Munition Shell, she worked at Holton Heath. (Poole History Centre)

So who are the women in the main photograph? Are they:

  • munition workers from the Royal Naval Cordite Factory. It was quite common for munition workers to be in photographed in formal pictures as it was felt to be inspiring.
  • WRNS from the Hamworthy base. The formality of the photograph suggests that they were they would be wearing a WRNS cap and all except one have white collars.
  • Or, which is more likely, they are munition workers from the Hamworthy naval base and the photograph predates the formation of the WRNS, which officially came into being in November 1917.

Can you help identify any of the women and men in the photograph? It would make the image more than just a wonderful photograph.