George Edward Ford – a survivor of Gallipoli

The Gallipoli Campaign took place between February 1915 and January 1916. Winston Churchill’s plan was for a massive naval bombardment of the Turkish guns controlling the Dardanelles and a landing at Gallipoli. The aim was to get Turkey, an ally of Germany, to surrender, open another front and provide a route to assist the Russian forces.

Remarkably, the Poole Museum has a pencil sketch by Poole man, George E. Ford, which he did in 1915 while he was at ANZAC Cove on Gallipoli. The sketch is a view from a dugout looking out to sea with three ships at anchor. One of the ships looks like a pre-dreadnought-type warship, with the distinctive tall wireless masts, while the other two are probably supply ships. Piles of ration boxes and a lighter are on the beach. According to the description accompanying the drawing, the dugout was totally destroyed by a shell not long after the sketch was done.

Sketch. Anzac Cove. Gallipoli 1915. By George E. Ford [Poole Museum]

Sketch. Anzac Cove. Gallipoli 1915. By George E. Ford [Poole Museum]

George Ford attested ‘for the duration of the conflict’ on February 9th 1915 at Bournemouth. He lived in Seldown, Poole and was aged 24 ½ years. He married Elizabeth Muriel Belben in March 1913. They had a young son, Bernard, who was born on October 11th 1914 but sadly died in 1915 and is buried in Longfleet.

George Ford joined the Royal Army Service Corps as a clerk. His trade in Poole was recorded as a draughtsman in the pottery trade although another source says clerk. His service record shows that he:

  • Embarked on HMS Terrible from Portsmouth (September 16th 1915)

HMS Terrible was a Powerful-class cruiser launched in 1895. She was put up for sale in 1914 but the advent of the war brought her back into service. The journey on which Ford travelled was the only one the ship made before it became a depot ship.

  • Disembarked Mudros (October 5th 1915)

Mudros was a small port on the island of Lemnos in the Aegean Sea. It became one of the busiest ports in the world during the Gallipoli campaign and was overwhelmed in the ensuing chaos. Supply ships even returned to England with their cargos intact. Ironically, the system delivered vast quantities of rations to Gallipoli just as the evacuation of the troops was taking place and according to one German general it took nearly two years to remove everything that had been left.

  • Posted to 179, D.U.S. Anzac (October 5th 1915)

Anzac Cove was the official name of Z Beach. When Australian and New Zealand (ANZAC) troops were landed on Z Beach in April 1915 they found that instead of a fairly level hinterland they were under a 200ft cliff. A navigational error meant they had been landed at the wrong place. Chaos ensued and General Birdwood requested permission to withdraw but was overruled by General Hamilton who was in overall command. Any ships off the beachhead were hit by artillery fire from behind the cliff and, therefore, they had to move further away. Wounded were taken out on lighters which should have been bringing in troops and supplies and the last battalion landed 4 hours later than planned. It was said that ‘the whole plan for the landing had fallen to pieces’. The personnel who were supposed to control the beach were landed 6 hours after the original landing.

  • Sailed on the SS Grampian from Mudros to Alexandria (January 4th 1916)

Early December 1915 saw the evacuation of tens of thousands of troops from Gallipoli and the remainder left in early January 1916. In contrast to the landings, the evacuation was remarkably successful.

SS Grampian was built in Scotland in 1907 for the Allan Line Royal Mail Steamers before the company was bought by the Canadian Pacific Steamship company. It was used during the First World War as a troop transport ship.

            –  Promoted to Corporal (April 11th 1916) and then Sergeant (April 1st 1917)       during his time in the Middle East.

The only blemish on his military career was when he was severely reprimanded for delaying military correspondence while in the field on October 10th 1917.   He delayed showing a telegram for 17 1/4hrs.

  • Admitted to 76th CCS Hospital (August 10th 1918)

CCS = Casualty Clearing Station. The 76th was based in Palestine. Ford was discharged about a week later.

  • Promoted to Staff Sergeant (November 1st 1918)
  • Embarked on H.T. Caledonia to UK (May 14th 1919)

This was for a 3 weeks furlough on compassionate grounds – the reason is not known.

  • Taken off strength of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force on expiration of furlough (June 28th 1919)

George Ford’s time in the army was at an end. The 1939 register records him living at 10, Seldown Road, Poole together with his wife, Elizabeth Muriel and son, Reginald, who was born in 1920. George was working as a book-keeper for a wholesale fruiterer while Reginald was a storekeeper.

The involvement of men from the Dorset Regiment in the Gallipoli Campaign will be described in a future post.



What was it like being a POW on the Western Front?

Becoming a prisoner-of-war was a risky business. You had to hope that the enemy, who probably moments before you were trying to kill, would now look kindly on you. One soldier said that ‘chivalry diminished according to a kind of graduated scale’ –soldiers in certain units, because of what they did, were less likely to be taken prisoner than others. You then had to make your way through enemy lines that were probably being shelled and attacked by your own side.

The Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper had a few letters passed on to it by relatives of Poole, or Dorset Regiment, men who were prisoners-of-war on the Western Front. A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World project describes their experiences which varied quite wildly.

In November 1914, Private James, of Pile Court, Poole wrote to say he was a POW in Weser, that he was ‘having a good time’ and recommended not ‘taking notice’ of what was being said in the newspapers. He said that there were quite a few Poole men in the camp. This must have included Private James Houghton who was captured, along with 200 others, on October 13th 1914 and wrote that he was now in Hamelm, Weser. He said he was alright but would welcome cigarettes and cake. His father was Mr J. Houghton of the Brewers Arms, Poole.

Private Charles Beale, Dorset Regiment, had been wounded and, on recovery, had been sent back to the fighting. He was taken prisoner towards the end of 1914. In a letter to his mother, who lived in Nile Row, Poole, he said that she was not to worry – ‘I am quite happy’ but he would welcome chocolates and cakes. He understood that the Poole Working Men’s Club was going to send him a parcel of tobacco and clothes.

 In stark contrast to Private James’ pleasant experience is that of Private H. Ripley of the 1st Dorsets who actually escaped from a POW camp. He described his experience of being a POW to the ‘Hampshire Telegraph and Post’ in August 1916. Ripley went over to France with the British Expeditionary Force and fought at the Battle of Mons. He was taken prisoner near La Bassee on October 22nd 1914. He was then taken to Douai where he was held in barracks for seven days along with many others and the ‘treatment [was] too filthy and disgusting to describe’. They were then sent in railway trucks to Germany with around 70 men in each truck and nothing to eat or drink. The journey took two days. They were then put in a temporary camp where they were given a piece of sausage and a bit of black bread. After a short stay, they were sent on to Dortmund to work in the coal mines. A few days later, they refused to do the work which they felt was contributing to the death of their fellow servicemen. ‘They knocked us about’ but in the end their captors asked if they would be willing to work in the woods near Munster. He worked there for several months before being sent, along with a small group of men, to join several hundred French and Russian prisoners working in the coal mines. The British soldiers refused and were punished by being forced to stand to attention against a wall for 10 hours a day with hardly any food. The effects of starvation and exhaustion meant they had to give in a week later. It was shortly after this that Ripley decided to escape. The newspaper article, as reported in the Poole and East Dorset Herald, unfortunately does not describe how he escaped and made his way back to England.

Several men were transferred to Switzerland in either a prisoner exchange or because they were seriously wounded. Towards the end of 1914, Private E.G. Langdown sent a postcard to his wife who lived in Garland Road, Longfleet. He was a POW at Sennelager, Paderborn and wanted his wife to send him cake, jam, biscuits, chocolate and similar but that no letter should be included. His wife learnt in January 1917 that he had been in Paderborn since August 23rd 1914 but had then been transferred to Switzerland because he was very ill. He said he was now staying at a very nice hotel in the Swiss Alps. Interestingly, Mrs Langdown’s house was called ‘Mons’, presumably after the battle in which her husband was captured.

Sergeant-Drummer F.J. Bowditch, ‘a native of Poole’, who was an interned POW in Switzerland sent a letter home at the beginning of 1917 requesting that a six-key E Flat piccolo be sent to him at the Hotel Berthod, Chateau-de-Oex. The reason was that he needed it to play in an orchestra that was being created. His injuries meant that he required two sticks to be able to walk and was expecting to have more surgery. Christmas 1916 had been a pleasant time with a Christmas tree, concert, a film show and afternoon tea – ‘we couldn’t have had a better day’s enjoyment’.

The conditions under which POWs were held deteriorated significantly as the war progressed because the Royal Navy blockade was leading to widespread starvation in Germany. The Dorset Guild of Workers had a Prisoners of War Fund which was specifically aimed at providing food and clothing for Dorset Regiment prisoners of war. In June 1917, a view was expressed that if POWs in Germany did not receive food parcels from organisations such as the Dorset Guild ‘these men would starve’.

The Guild supplied parcels for Dorset Regiment men in captivity and subscribers could ‘adopt’ a prisoner at 5s (25p) per week but this increased as the price of materials went up. A special effort was made to send them parcels at Christmas.

A POW wrote in February 1917, after being exchanged and interned in Switzerland, to express his thanks for the parcels from the Dorset Guild which he had received when he was a POW in Germany. ‘Dorset soldiers receiving parcels from the Guild are well satisfied…it is a good parcel to look forward’.

 Comments from other Dorset POWs said the parcels were ‘exceedingly good and I am very grateful’; ‘they come very nice, and regularly, but do want some soap badly’. One man was puzzled he had received no bread but was pleased with his parcels of boots and clothing. Supplies of bread were from a Central Committee and went via Copenhagen and it was believed that the problems were in Germany. Although an improvement was noted in March 1917, a year later it was said that the German postal system was working badly and that Austrian postal system had collapsed which affected parcels for POWs in Bulgaria and Turkey.

It is estimated that nearly 7,000 officers and 170,000 other ranks were either prisoners-of-war or were interned in a country that was neutral. The experience of Captain Esler, R.A.M.C., highlights how their fortunes could change.   He was held in a POW camp near Baden where he slept on straw riddled with lice and subsisted on a starvation diet. He was then transferred to a POW camp on the Baltic Coast. The contrast could not be more startling. Here they had blankets and sheets, cooking facilities, a recreation hut and entertainments. They received so many food parcels via organisations such as the British Red Cross that they began to give food to the camp guards who were starving.

What did Poole schools do in the First World War?

A Culture volunteer on the Poole First World War project has looked at the articles in the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper to discover what schools were doing during the war. This ranged from practical, such as collecting acorns, to financial, through war savings.

Unrestricted submarine warfare led to the introduction of rationing because of the loss of a significant number of merchant ships carrying food. Schools throughout the country were asked to either create, or enlarge existing, gardens to grow food and, interestingly, medicinal plants. Nationally, 806 new school gardens were created.

Teachers were also encouraged to educate children in using food sources from the natural environment. For example, blackberry picking took on a new urgency. During the First World War, Dorset schools are believed to have collected around 91 tons to turn into jam. However, with sugar becoming in short supply from the end of 1917, it became increasingly difficult to obtain enough for jam making.

The natural environment was also used to provide material for commercial use. Scientists had developed a fermentation process that converted grain into acetone for use in cordite manufacture but the pressing need for food meant that an alternative to grain was needed. The Royal Naval Cordite Factory at Holton Heath had built a manufacturing facility for turning acorns into acetone but a huge quantity was needed and adverts were placed in newspapers encouraging people to help. The Ministry of Munitions asked that councils would permit schools to collect acorns and an official from Holton Heath visited Hamworthy School in October 1917 to encourage the schoolchildren.

Other schools in Poole were also active in foraging for acorns. It was reported in November 1917 that schoolchildren at Longfleet School had collected 3 ½ tons of acorns while pupils at Poole Secondary School had amassed 4 tons of acorns. The Mayoress of Poole, who was handing out prizes at the Secondary School’s awards ceremony, said she proposed to give an acorn-shaped item of jewellery to a pupil, Winnie Durant, because of the number of acorns she had collected. Broadstone Council School had gathered 100 bushels of acorns and 20 bushels of horse chestnuts (total weight 3 tons). George Aldridge was the star pupil having collected 2 ½ cwt. (Cwt = hundredweight, an old measure of weight).

As well as acorns, schoolchildren were encouraged to collect horse chestnuts. It was claimed that 200,000 tons of horse chestnuts would be the equivalent of 100,000 tons of grain. It was noted that the nuts were not suitable for eating and only those that had fallen were to be collected. Horse chestnuts could also be turned into cattle cake to feed livestock and the Food Production Department in London announced it would pay £4 per ton of horse chestnuts.

The need for charcoal to be used as an absorbent in gas masks led to an appeal from the National Salvage Council for everyone to collect nut shells and fruits stones. These would then be converted into charcoal. The shortage was so acute, and the demand so great, that the Government considered importing charcoal from abroad. It was accepted that fruit was in short supply but it was hoped that hundreds of tons a week could be collected nationally. Schoolchildren were encouraged to collect as many as they could.

Eggs were in great demand from military hospitals in Britain and on the Western Front. In late 1914, a National Egg Collection was instituted which hoped to collect 200,000 eggs every week. There were around 1,000 depots throughout the country to receive them and transport by rail was free. The vast quantity of eggs donated shows how many people kept chickens at the time. Pupils at Heatherlands Boys School, Upper Parkstone collected around 300 eggs for soldiers who were in the Poole Red Cross Hospital when the school held a special ‘Egg Day’ in 1915.

The financial cost of the war was substantial. The War Budget in November 1914 raised income tax from 9d to 1s (5p) for every earned pound and from 1s 3d to 1s 8d (9p) on unearned income. Beer duty was increased from 7s 9d a barrel to 25s (£2.25p). Surprisingly, the duty on tea was also increased from 5d to 8d (4p) for a pound of tea.  A War Loan of £350,000,000 was to be issued which was only expected to fund the war until July 1915. There followed extensive advertising and encouragement to take up War Bonds and Savings Certificates and the entire community, including schools, was involved in raising funds.

Schools in Poole contributed in many different ways towards the war effort. A newspaper article in May 1917 reported on the activities of Hamworthy Schools. The Schools had sent 192 eggs to the National Egg Collection, collected £1 15s (£1.75p) for gifts for soldiers and sailors, and, since January 1917, the War Savings Association had subscribed nearly £105 from 114 members. At a prize-giving, each child who had a good attendance received six penny War Savings stamps which could be added to their Savings cards.

The Harvest Festival of South Road Girls’ School, Poole, in October 1914 had a war theme. The bunting with the colours of the Allied armies decorated the school and numerous hymns were sung followed by the National Anthems of the Allies. Needlework, fruit, vegetables, and fancy work were on sale with all the money going to the War Fund. Teachers and schoolchildren had already given knitted items for soldiers and the parents had provided clothing for refugees from Belgium.

One way of encouraging people to take up the savings needed to fund the war was to have towns and cities visited by the remarkable British invention – the tank. There was even a competition to see which place could raise the most per head of population who would then receive a tank as a gift.

When the Tank was on Poole Quay

When the Tank was on Poole Quay

Schoolchildren at Poole Secondary School purchased 1,341 war savings certificates raising £1039 5s 6d during the Poole Tank Week. The local newspaper described their efforts as ‘most creditable and gratifying’. The tank visited various places in Poole, such as the Quay, Lower Parkstone, and Constitution Hill, to raise money for National War Bonds and War Savings Certificates – ‘the soundest and safest investment in the world’. The tank was on display in Poole Park on the Wednesday which was designated ‘Children’s Day’ and schoolchildren carried flags as they marched from their respective schools to the tank. Children who had paid their contribution to the School War Savings Association had their certificate stamped with a souvenir stamp. Music was also provided at the event.

For a while, the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper had a ‘Children’s Circle’ to which children were encouraged to send stories, jokes, riddles, and poetry. The following are two examples of poetry from October 1914 and the sentiments expressed are quite surprising given the age of the writers.


Nellie Brett's Poem

Nellie Brett’s Poem

Nellie Brett was 11 when she wrote her poem. She lived at 16, East Street, Poole along with her mother, two brothers and three sisters. Nellie’s father, George Reuben Brett was a seaman most of his life and served in the Royal Naval Reserve.

He survived the war as did her brother, Frederick George, who was a tailor’s errand boy before also serving in the Royal Naval Reserve. Her poem was considered so good that it received a book as a prize.


Alice Elgar's poem

Alice Elgar’s poem


Alice Elgar was also 11 when she submitted her poem. She lived at 1, Perry Gardens Terrace, Poole and her father, Edward, was a fishtrader.

Perhaps a legacy of the First World War is the concept of volunteering. Schools were very involved. Local organisations, such as the Dorset Guild of Workers (see a previous post) did some amazing work. There are also unexpected surprises. For example, a letter from Lady Jellicoe, wife of Admiral Jellicoe, appeared in the Poole and East Dorset Herald. It said that the Royal Navy did not have enough blankets, warm clothing or oilskins for its sailors – please donate. In contrast, Miss Gladys Storey organised a charity that for over 5 years provided ‘hot’ Bovril for the troops on the Western Front from the beginning of the war and into 1919 for the troops in North Russia.

So why not do your bit? Poole Museum needs you! Contact the Museum for details on how to volunteer.


The war grave of Lily Scammell

By Ed Perkins.

In a quiet churchyard in Poole, lies the grave of Lily Emma Scammell, who died in the First World War.

Although commemorated as one of the war dead with her gravestone maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Lily did not lose her life as a result of enemy action. But though she may not have been a heroine, she was certainly a pioneer, who died when comparatively young.

For Lily served in the First World War as one of the earliest members of the Women’s Royal Air Force, joining it in 1918. And she passed away that same year of an abdominal infection at her home in Alder Road, Poole, at the age of just 45.

Lily was born in the village of West Tytherley in Hampshire, the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Scammell. Thomas was a carpenter.

By the time Lily was seven, the Scammell family had moved to Poole, close to the Woodman Tavern in what is now part of Branksome.

Two years later, around the same time as the Scammells’ youngest child, Sidney, was born, the children’s father, Thomas, died, aged 49. He was buried in January 1883 at Branksome Park. His widow, Elizabeth, was left to look after their six children, including the new-born baby.

After she grew up, Lily, the oldest of two daughters, was to have a number of jobs. At 18, she was working as a housemaid at the home of a family, living in Burton Road, Branksome Park.

Ten years later, she is listed as a waitress at a restaurant and was now living back with her family at Firwood, Langley Road, in Parkstone, just off the Bournemouth Road.

Soon afterwards, Elizabeth, her youngest boy, Sidney, and daughter Lily moved to another home called ‘Ranelagh’ in nearby Alder Road. By now, Sidney was working on the corporation trams and Lily was in domestic service.

In 1914, the year the First World War broke out, Lily’s mother died at the age of about 74. Like her husband, she was buried in Branksome Park.

The war saw aircraft being used for the first time in conflict and, as the conflict progressed, more and more military planes were taking to the skies. Before the war ended, in the early spring of 1918, the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service merged to form the RAF, with the Women’s Royal Air Force alongside.

At the time of the merger, 9,000 women – many of whom were already in military service – joined the new WRAF.

Two months later, Lily Scammell, too, enlisted in the WRAF. Her age was recorded as 42, though she was three years older.

She had followed her younger brother into the service for Sidney served as a private in the RAF’s Kite Balloon Section.

Lily worked as a seamstress with the WRAF and was stationed at the Beaulieu airfield at East Boldre in the New Forest. Women in the WRAF had the rank of Member and she was given the service number of 9239.

RAF Beaulieu was a training airfield that expanded greatly during the course of the war. In the year Lily enrolled there it, it had huge aircraft hangars, workshops covering everything from carpentry to welding, and accommodation buildings that included one for specifically for women in the WRAF.

Many squadrons passed through the training airfield, some before going to the Western Front. Pilot training was dangerous in itself and 41 airmen are believed to have died in accidents at East Boldre.

Women carried out many tasks at RAF Beaulieu, according to the East Boldre Parish Council website .

‘By early 1918,’ it says, ‘women were performing several vital roles. Some were lorry drivers, or officers’ chauffeurs while others worked in the workshop, which was also on the north side of the road.

‘This workshop comprised a Sewing Room where the material was stitched onto the wings, and a Doping Room where the material was ‘dipped’ in stiffener. It was a terrible place to work due to the fumes given off by the dope.’

As a seamstress, it is likely that Lily Scammell worked in the Sewing Room.

Stitching on a First World War SE5a fighter. Lily Scammell would have been involved in this sort of work at Beaulieu airfield. Picture: East Boldre Village Hall & Geoff Tomlinson

Stitching on a First World War SE5a fighter. Lily Scammell would have been involved in this sort of work at Beaulieu airfield. Picture: East Boldre Village Hall & Geoff Tomlinson

Lily had enrolled for duty with 17th Wing at RAF Beaulieu on 3 June 1918. Just 80 days later, she died back at her Alder Road, Poole, home. Her younger sister, Ida, was at her side.

The cause of death was given as ‘Tubercular Peritonitis’ – an inflammation of the abdominal lining causing severe pain. Her death certificate also included the words ‘Five months’, suggesting she may have been suffering even before she joined up.

Her funeral took place days later with Lily’s brother, Frank, liaising with the War Graves Commission. The service was conducted by the Rev Charles Arthur Strange, a clergyman from St Clement’s Church in Boscombe, whose brother, the Rev Geoffrey Lionel Strange, was a minister at All Saints.

Lily was buried under the shade of trees in the north of All Saints churchyard at Branksome Park, not far from where her mother and father had been laid to rest.

Close-up of Lily Scammell’s grave, maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Close-up of Lily Scammell’s grave, maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

At St Nicholas’s Chapel in York Minster, her name is included in the roll of honour of more than 1,500 women who died in the First World War, recorded on oak panels on a screen.

York Minster memorial

York Minster memorial

The life and death of Gunner Cyril Coles

Cyril Coles was born near Poole on March 9th 1892 to William and Sarah Coles. He was active in the Skinner Street United Reformed Church and worked at his father’s mill in Creekmoor. He did not join up at the start of the war presumably because he was needed in the mill. In February 1916, with conscription in force, he was called up and joined the Machine Gun Corps in early April 1916 and then became part of the Heavy Section Machine Gun Corps. When soldiers joined this Corps they had no idea what they would be involved in. The reason? It was because of the secrecy surrounding the British invention – the tank.

The tank was just an idea on a drawing board in 1915 and the first prototype had only appeared in January 1916 but General Haig was eager to use the tank to support the Somme offensive that had begun so disastrously on July 1st 1916 with British casualties of 57,000 on the first day.

Coles was a member of ‘D’ Company which was one of the first tank units to be created. The rush to get them into action meant that crewmen received only around 10 weeks training. Lieutenant B. Henriques of ‘C’ Company remarked ‘it was obvious… we had not had sufficient training’.

 Coles was a gunner on tank D15 which was also known as ‘Duchess’; the number and name followed on from the tank being in ‘D’ Company. D15 was a Mark I female tank – a female tank was armed with machine guns while a male was armed with machine guns and two 6-pounder cannons. The tank weighed nearly 30 tons and had a crew of eight consisting of an officer, a driver, four gunners and two gearsmen. It was difficult work in unpleasant conditions. The armour was only 10mm thick and while it could stop a rifle or a machine gun bullet, it stood no chance against a hit from an artillery shell. The petrol tank was at the front of the tank and a direct hit resulted in a catastrophic fire. Armouring piercing bullets could go straight through the tank.

The first time a tank was used in conflict was the Battle of Flers-Courcelette which began on September 15th 1916. Forty-nine tanks were to support the infantry by crushing the enemy barbed wire and destroying machine gun emplacements. Unfortunately, only eighteen were able to take part because of mechanical problems or they became stuck in a landscape of trenches and shell holes. One tank took nearly nine hours to get to the British front line from the Starting Point because the crew had to guide it through a maze that could collapse at any minute – a speed of around 0.4mph compared to the maximum of 4mph for a Mark I.

A damaged female Mark I tank. The wheels were supposed to help with steering but were a hindrance. The dark area on the ‘sponson’ near the machine gun was the escape hatch – there was another on the other side and one on top of the tank. By Kind Permission of the Tank Museum [Photograph 10572-113]

A damaged female Mark I tank. The wheels were supposed to help with steering but were a hindrance. The dark area on the ‘sponson’ near the machine gun was the escape hatch – there was another on the other side and one on top of the tank. By Kind Permission of the Tank Museum [Photograph 10572-113]

The infantry of the 41st Division was to be supported on September 15th by 10 tanks, including ‘E’ Group which was formed of D15, D2 and D19. The latter two became stuck in shell holes having not even reached the British front line and only D15 was able to take part in the fighting. D15 was travelling along Tea Lane when the tank suddenly started to erupt ‘clouds of smoke’. Artillery fire had hit the tank and damaged the steering which made movement impossible so that the crew had no choice but to abandon it. Coles and another crewman were killed by the enemy machine gun fire that enveloped the stranded tank; a third later died from his wounds. Cyril Coles is buried in Bulls Road Cemetery, east of Flers in France.

What would it have been like for Coles inside a Mark I tank in battle? He would have felt he was in a nightmare that affected all the senses.

  • Deafened by the noise of the engine (which was in the crew compartment), from the machine guns being fired and from the enemy bullets hitting the tank.
  • Suffered heat exhaustion through the heat from the engine and guns.
  • Found breathing difficult in an atmosphere of oil, petrol and cordite fumes.
  • Felt isolated. Visibility was through narrow slits which were targeted by rifle fire and sometimes 2-3mm holes were drilled through the armour so they could see out.
  • Showered by metal splinters that would fly about the inside of the tank when enemy fire hit the outside. The crewmen could protect themselves by wearing face masks made from leather and metal with chain mail that hung down over the lower part of their face. Although the masks offered some protection the eyepieces often had metal slits which further reduced the visibility.
  • Worked in semi-darkness. There was virtually no lighting inside a Mark 1.
  • Nausea because the movement of a tank over the battlefield was like being on a ship on a stormy sea.
  • Communication inside the tank was by hitting a hammer on metal work to attract attention and then using hand signals because of the noise. Often the tank commanders would struggle to know where they were in a featureless landscape that was ever-changing during an artillery bombardment.

The outcome of the battle was considered a failure by the British while the Germans considered it a British success. Enemy soldiers became panic-stricken when faced with a tank; ‘a crocodile is crawling about in our trenches’ said one. In contrast, the attitude of Allied infantry changed from cheering enthusiasm prior to the battle to one of cynicism and disillusionment.

While there were failures at Flers-Courcelette, the battle showed the potential value of a tank. The conditions were not ideal and those in charge of the tanks in one sector had advised against their use because the terrain was totally unsuitable but were overruled. The British continued to develop the tank and on November 20th 1917 the Battle of Cambrai rewarded this persistence when over 400 tanks went into action. A crewman was now trained over 16 weeks on the heathland around Bovington, Lulworth and Worgret in Dorset followed by more training in France. Also the Mark IV of Cambrai was a superior tank to the Mark I of Flers-Courcelette.

Read Cyril Coles’ profile on the First World War website

‘It’s not at all safe’ – experiences of the war

Passchendaele was described as ‘the battlefield [that] is nothing more than a cemetery’. Mud was everywhere and wounded men simply disappeared as the shell-holes in which they sought shelter filled with water from the incessant rain.  This is a typical impression of the First World War but what did the men who were fighting feel about their experiences?

The Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper occasionally contained extracts from letters that were either sent directly to the newspaper or came via relatives of servicemen. Many men sent letters that were collated in local Parish Magazines, such as for St Michael’s Church, Hamworthy. The Rev. E. Hounslow, Rector of Hamworthy, would sometimes send extracts to the Herald for publication. A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project has explored the local newspaper and from these personal letters we can learn a lot about life at the front as experienced by men from Poole and the Dorset Regiment. Virtually all the writers of the letters survived the war.

Soldiers marching along Poole Quay

Soldiers marching along Poole Quay. From the collection of Poole Museum Service

Sergeant C.T. Southwick, of Parkstone, wrote to his father in late 1914 that he had had a good voyage across the Channel. This was followed by a nights rest and then a long, but ‘interesting’, journey by train. They rested for three days and then had to march for three days. Rain and mud was everywhere but ‘everything is too interesting to be dull’. They had plenty to eat but the food was too salty which made them thirsty and water was scarce and often unfit to drink.

Private G. Allen, 1st Dorsets, was a reservist from Poole and worked at Doulton’s Clay Works, Hamworthy. He was called up on August 5th 1914 and by the 14th he was at Mons on the Western Front. A bullet penetrated his thigh but it was only a couple of days later that he became aware of the injury when he was wounded by shrapnel in one of his lungs. He was transferred to a hospital in Brighton by the beginning of September 1914. When interviewed at his home in Poole in October he was disinclined to talk about his experiences. He mentioned that it had been ‘very trying’, that he didn’t think much of the German soldier’s ability to shoot, and British soldiers were made very welcome in France and Belgium.

In contrast is the experience of Captain Viney of the Dorsets who wrote, in December 1914, that the trenches which his unit occupied were ‘wonderful’. They were 400yds from the German lines and were a myriad of passageways in which it was easy to get lost. He described going to see the Colonel’s dugout which was about 8ft square and carpeted with straw, sacks and carpet. It was heated by a charcoal stove and a sack was used to ensure no light was seen. There was a kitchen and his orderlies had a separate dugout. Interestingly, officer’s dugouts were on the opposite side of the trench to the men’s. One officer had hewn two beds out of the clay and added a large mirror and shelving to his dugout – the officer was reading the newspapers from Britain when Viney visited him. ‘It was really a most extraordinary show’ said Viney.

Many men describe their experiences of being under fire. In a letter from Private A Hynard, of Parkstone, to his cousin he talks about the noise and that ‘it is not at all safe’. He said that the German shells sound as if they are singing when they go through the air. Enemy shells nicknamed ‘coal-boxes’ make ‘a hole big enough to sleep in. If they hit you you don’t need sleep’. He is also remarkably open about the losses they had suffered. Lance-Corporal P.G. Pilbrow, Dorset Regt., felt that being at the front ‘was like being in a glass bottle in a rifle range’. He said that the Dorset Regiment had lost a lot of men and that it was now ‘a mere company’.

Bandsman A.J. Gambier wrote to his brother, Poole Councillor E.E. Gambier, to say that shells were flying everywhere whilst he was writing the letter. Shrapnel ‘fell like rain….only a bit harder and bigger’. Sergeant C.J. Hodge wrote that the mud was very bad, but that the shooting ‘is fine practice for Poole Fair’ and he expected to do very well at the shooting gallery in November. ‘It is quite exciting at times’ and when a shell lands in an enemy trench the ‘fireworks’ are ‘picturesque’ at night.

A frequent theme of the letters is the desire for food and tobacco to be sent to the writers as well as, surprisingly, the local newspaper. Private H.F. Sartin’s letter in October 1914 was the first indication that he was safe after being listed as missing. After commenting how he thought the war could last for years, and about the incessant marching, he ended by saying he would be ‘everlastingly grateful’ if he could be sent some cigarettes.

P Brown, from Poole on HMS Sirius, thanked the Poole and East Dorset Herald in May 1917 for sending him the ‘Herald’. He was full of praise for the munitions workers at Messrs Knight & Co of Hill Street, Poole but not so for conscientious objectors. Rifleman W.H. Mitchener, of Hamworthy, also said he welcomed receiving the newspaper whilst he was on the Western Front. He carried several old issues in his pack which other Poole men were glad to read when he met them. In his letter he said he hadn’t received a newspaper for three weeks which he greatly missed although he did realise that fighting the enemy was probably more important!

In early December 1914, Private P.E. Dyer, Scots Guards, sent a letter to his mother telling her that he was still alive, that it was very cold, and there was plenty of food but it was ‘plain’ and he wanted her to send him ‘something tasty’ such as cake. In another letter, he thanked his mother for the welcome food she had sent him. He said it was cold and rained every day. He then told her he had a bit of luck in that a bullet went through his helmet – a bit lower and he would have been ‘out’. He was killed not long afterwards on December 18th 1914.

In startling contrast is the experience of Private W.J. Franklin from Poole and serving in India with the 2/4th Dorsets. His description of his Christmas Dinner of 1915 – the menu was soup, fish, turkey, potatoes, cabbage, Christmas pudding, mince pies, beer, lemonade, oranges, and nuts – must have left many feeling very envious.

Nurses and convalescent servicemen

Nurses and convalescent servicemen. From the collection of Poole Museum Service

Many men sent letters from hospital to let everyone know how they were. Private Percy W. Buckmaster, 1st Dorset Regt., wrote to the Secretary of Poole Football Club to say he had been wounded five times in the leg but that he was ‘going on famously’ and was in a hospital in Chelsea. He said that the closest he had come to death was when piece of shrapnel went through the top of his helmet but missed his head.

Private W.L.K. Penny wrote to his mother who lived on Old Roman Road, Broadstone. He had been wounded on October 13th 1914 at Le Bassee and was now in a hospital in Brighton. He had to have a leg amputated but was grateful to be alive. He wrote that most of the men in his section had been killed in the action. He had to crawl for around 150 yards and then realised he had to run if he was to survive. He and another man got to a barricade where they thought they would be safe but there was only space for one person to get through. Penny got through first but the man behind him was killed halfway through the gap.

Private J. Baker, of Waterloo, Poole, fought with the 1st Dorsets at Le Bassee and Lille. He was wounded 13 times on the same day as Private Penny. He pretended to be dead when German soldiers moved forward and at night he crept towards what he hoped were the British lines. An officer in the Devon Regiment found him and he was taken to hospital and eventually returned home as an out-patient at Cornelia Hospital, Poole.

A few men described the exhaustion they experienced. E.W. Keech was a Driver in the Army Service Corps and his unit consisted of 75 London buses to carry troops, 3 cars for officers and 6 motor cycles for despatch riders. He commented that the roads were in a bad state and that trying to stay alert after driving 14 hours or more was difficult.  Private H.F. Sartin of the Royal Army Medical Corps said he was very busy and sometimes had to get by on as little as 10 hours sleep in a week.

Not surprisingly, a common topic was about life in the trenches. F.C. Barnes, of Hamworthy, wrote to the Parish Magazine and was one among many that said it always raining. He also reported back on meeting fellow Hamworthy men. Rifleman W. Mitchener described his experiences of rats. He said the best way to get rid of them was to put some cheese on the end of the bayonet and when the rat started eating – pull the trigger. The mud was awful and up to his knees so it was very difficult trying to lie low when the shells started flying.

Trench foot was a common problem. Sergeant C.T. Southwick described his experiences of Neuve Chappelle in May 1915. He said he had not taken his boots off for 11 days so his feet were ‘rather sore’; also he had had only two proper baths in four and a half months. Hamworthy resident, Harold Chaffey was reported in the Parish Magazine as being treated for ‘foot trouble’ after a time in the trenches. A man suffering from trench foot would lose sensation in his foot; it would then swell, feel ‘dead’ and then start to ‘burn’. Men either had to crawl or be carried to the medical facilities. A major problem early on in the war, it became less serious when oil was applied two or three times a day – assuming that was possible.

For many men, unless they had been in the Regular Army serving in the Empire, this was their first experience of being abroad. As well as describing their own experiences they would often comment on the local life of the countries they were either travelling through or were based in. Rifleman William Mitchener wrote in 1916 to say that he had enjoyed travelling through France and ‘would advise’ anybody who enjoyed scenery ‘to join the Army’.

Early in 1915, Private F.A. Sherwood wrote to his parents about the sea voyage to India. He said that it was very hot on the journey. He thought that the Suez Canal was not as wide as between Poole and Hamworthy and that Port Suez had a seafront ‘much prettier than the one at Bournemouth’. After they passed through the Canal a rumour went round the ship that peace had been declared. He ended his letter saying he was looking forward to walking on land.

George Mitchener (brother of William) of Hamworthy sent a photograph to the Parish Magazine of himself on a camel which he found riding ‘bumpy’. He also wrote that he was looking forward to receiving the Hamworthy Parish Magazine for news of his mates. Sidney Short, also from Hamworthy, was in Mesopotamia and said it was very hot during the day and very cold at night. When the ground got wet it became like the Lake clay pits of Hamworthy. He was part of the Royal Flying Corps and died on November 4th 1918. Sidney White, another Hamworthy man, got sunstroke and enteric while in Mesopotamia and was transferred to a convalescent hospital in India. Part of the journey involved a 75 hour train ride.

Private L. Cartwright, Wiltshire Regiment, was based in India. He also comments in his letter on the heat and how it got very cold at nights. Cartwright was part of the guard duty at Kirkee Arsenal, which was one of the largest in India, and its associated ammunition factory. After 2 hours of patrolling around the outside he was glad to get in a bit of shade. They also had to be careful of jackals and cobras. He commented that the grounds of the Arsenal had so many trees and flowers that it was like being in a ‘park’.

In 1915, Private S Perry, from Poole, described, in some detail, a football match played in Ahmednagar by D Company 4th Dorsets against a team of German POWs. The British side was made up of former players from the Poole teams of Longfleet St Mary’s, St Aldhelms, Carters’, Adult School, Tramways, Gasworks, Poole Swifts and Upton. The Dorset team beat the Germans 3-1 after an entertaining match ‘of a most exciting character’. Private E. Rigler also wrote to the newspaper about a series of football matches played by a team from D Company of the 4th Dorsets. Their victories were over the local Kirkee Arsenal teams of Ammunition Factory Rovers (3-1) and Kirkee Rangers (4-0). When the Dorsets transferred to Ahmednagar they beat the Oxford Light Infantry 4-1.

What was unexpected in researching this post was the extent to which soldiers received, and looked forward to receiving, the local newspaper  and the part that, for example, the Hamworthy Parish Magazine played in keeping men in touch with families and other serving men.



Dramatic Rescue of Japanese Crew by Poole Lifeboat

The Treaty of Versailles ordered the surrender of the German U-boat fleet and, in several instances, the submarines were given to the Allies as part of compensation for the war. A Culture volunteer on the Poole History Centre First World War project describes the dramatic rescue off Poole of one such U-boat.

The ex-German U-boat U 143 was on its way from Portland to Japan when it became stuck on Hook Sands, which are near the entrance to Poole Harbour, in the early hours of January 8th 1919. It had a Japanese crew and was being accompanied by the Japanese destroyers ‘Kashiwa’ and ‘Kanran’. The submarine had approached the coast because it was having problems with its engines and found itself driven onto the sandbank during a gale. The destroyers were unable to get to the submarine because of their draught. For the same reason, the ‘White Oak’, a Portland naval drifter, was not able to help and assistance from the Poole lifeboat was requested by the Portland naval authorities.

Around 11 am on the 8th, the ‘White Oak’ went into Poole to tow the RNLI lifeboat ‘Harmar’, to Hook Sands. The ‘Harmar’ was 37 ½ feet long, was a self-righting lifeboat with twelve oars, and was the last sailing lifeboat stationed at Poole. It cost just over £1,000 – a legacy from the late George J. Harmar of Kensington, London.

The 'Harmar' in the Lifeboat slipway, Fishermans Dock. Notice the lack of protection from the weather.

The ‘Harmar’ in the Lifeboat slipway, Fishermans Dock. Notice the lack of protection from the weather.

A high tide was beginning to raise the submarine off the sands but the sea was still running very heavily. In difficult conditions, the lifeboatmen were able to get towing wires onto the submarine and then pass them back to the ‘Commerce’, a tug which was helping in the rescue. However, the high tide passed with the submarine still stuck. The Japanese crew could not leave without orders and so the ‘Harmar’ had to remain on-station using the ‘Kanran’ to provide some protection from the rolling waves. Meanwhile the other destroyer had gone into Poole Harbour to have the hawser, which had been used to tow the U boat, removed from a propeller. The Mayor of Poole and Commander Ward of the Naval Base made an official visit to the destroyer a few days later.

The crew of the lifeboat had been on-station for around twelve hours when distress rockets were seen in the distance. The crew of the ‘Harmar’ raised its anchor and set sail to rescue the crew of the Antwerp schooner ‘Zwaluw’ which was perilously close to the shore. The crew of nine was taken off the schooner in a heavy sea.

The ‘Harmar’ arrived back in Poole at 3.30am on January 9th and the crew had a few hours rest before venturing out again. U 143 was found to be in a stable condition and so the lifeboat returned to base. Later in the day, the Japanese crew were given permission to leave the submarine so the ‘Harmar’ and its crew went out again at 1730. The navy drifter assisted by taking the ‘Harmar’ up to, and then from, the harbour. Twenty-eight crewmen of U 143 were taken off in two journeys to the Japanese destroyer which was in the harbour. It took several days before the submarine was eventually recovered and brought into Poole where it was found to have suffered little damage.

It is estimated that RNLI lifeboats rescued nearly 5,000 people during the First World War of which 1,600 are known to be directly as a result of the conflict. The rescues invariably took place in difficult circumstances and it should be remembered that lifeboats only had radio equipment installed after 1928. Up until then, contact with the shore was made by the firing of rockets which could be easily missed. The crew were, literally, on their own when a lifeboat was launched.

An uncanny dream and the sad story of a WW1 nurse

A researcher in Poole History Centre uncovered the beginnings of this story when searching the 1935 newspaper and a Culture Volunteer followed the lead.

In 1935 the Evening News published a letter from a woman who had been VAD nurse working at the Naval Base Hospital in Poole during the First World War. In a series headlined “Tales of the Uncanny”, she told of her dream about a bad case of burns being admitted to the hospital, waking up with Picric Acid at the forefront of her mind. (Picric acid is an explosive but was also used to treat burns.)

She took her dream seriously and acted on it, asking a doctor to ensure a supply of burns dressings was added to their stores. While on duty the following night at 3am, a young airman was admitted with terrible burns acquired while dealing with a fire at the airship station at Upton. She wrote that her dream had undoubtedly saved his life because the hospital was prepared.

The letter writer was a Mrs SFR Hulbert. At the time she wrote about she was actually Mrs Eveleen Maude Wilson, a member of the Poole Voluntary Aid Detachment 66. She had joined the Red Cross as a VAD nursing member in March 1917, and was living at Heathfield, Bingham Road, Lilliput. Her first posting was at the Grata Quies Military Hospital in Branksome Park, then briefly at a hospital in Hindhead, before taking up her position at the Naval Base Hospital in Poole. This was rather a strange hospital, barely more than a sick bay in some respects. It was set up with just 18 beds in the boardroom of the Poole Workhouse in St Mary’s Road. This had the benefit of being close to the Cornelia Hospital, the main military hospital in Poole, with its backup resources of doctors, nurses and stores. Did the burns dressings come from there?

Perhaps Eveleen deliberately sought the posting at the naval hospital, as she had been married twice to naval officers. Her private life before this had been an unhappy one and even been the subject of much public scrutiny.

Eveleen was born in 1885, daughter of Thomas and Louisa Hooman, living in Sevenoaks, Kent. In 1908 she had married Arthur Gardiner Muller, a Royal Navy Lieutenant based in Portland. However the marriage seems not to have been a success, because during 1913 both husband and wife petitioned each other for divorce. Divorce in those days being more unusual and often scandalous. In this case it made headlines in newspapers across the country as the Naval Divorce Case. The press at the time was far more restrained, and the thought of how today’s tabloids would have affected Eveleen doesn’t bear thinking about. Her husband cited another naval officer as conducting an affair with his wife – not only a brother officer, but a friend – Lieutenant Douglas Henry Vernon Wilson. Eveleen sought divorce on the grounds of cruelty and adultery. The 1911 census actually shows Eveleen and Douglas staying at the same boarding house, without Arthur, but she denied any relationship with him. Many witnesses were called to give evidence, which included an anonymous letter and spying through keyholes on board ship. The jury found for the husband and the divorce was granted, with Douglas Wilson made to pay compensation. Eveleen was therefore branded by the court to be a liar, a perjuror and an adulterer. This must have been an appalling position to be in for any woman at the time. Presumably Arthur and Douglas were also badly scarred by the very public humiliation, not least for the effect on their naval careers.

Eveleen Maude Wilson, from the Daily Mirror 1914

Eveleen Maude Wilson, from the Daily Mirror 1914

However one outcome was that in October 1914 Eveleen married Douglas Wilson in Weymouth. But this is still no happy story for them. Just over a month later, on 26th November, Douglas died at sea. He was one of over 700 sailors who died when HMS Bulwark blew up, anchored off Sheerness in one of the worst naval losses for Britain in the whole war. Eveleen was now a widow. Whether she was further upset we can’t tell, but Arthur also died just 9 months later – from illness while serving in the Dardanelles campaign.

At some stage she moved to Poole, probably along with her parents, as just over 2 years later she was living in Lilliput and a volunteer nurse. Her dramatic dream about burns must have been during 1918, the year she was at the Naval Base Hospital and perhaps it was there that she met another naval officer, Lieutenant Stanley Frank Ravenhill Hulbert. He became her third husband when they married at St Peter’s Church, Parkstone on 1st February 1919. He was by then in the newly-formed RAF. In 1921 they had a son, Charles and hopefully there was a period of happy family life as he grew up. But in 1940 Eveleen and Stanley were divorced. And worse, in 1942 Charles was killed flying a Lancaster bomber over occupied Europe. Another war, another tragedy for Eveleen.

Eveleen did keep her husband’s name – perhaps as a link to her lost son. She went on to run a small hotel in Hythe, Kent. Hopefully there she had happy dreams, whether uncanny or not!

A Poole man’s experience of being at sea

Local men would occasionally write to the Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper about their experiences of being in the First World War. A Culture volunteer working on the First World Project has looked at one man’s experience of being on HMS Grafton.

HMS Grafton was an Edgar-class cruiser and was launched in London on January 30 1892. She was commissioned in 1895 and operated off China until 1899. Following this tour of duty she became the flagship in the Pacific. At the beginning of the First World War, HMS Grafton was part of the 10th Cruiser Squadron whose role was to blockade German ports. This type of ship was quickly found to be unsuited for this work and, following a withdrawal from service, Grafton was later transformed into a bombardment ship and was used in the Gallipoli campaign.

The Poole and East Dorset Herald reported in its November 26 1914 edition on an interview with Mr H.G. Lucas who was on HMS Grafton at the time it was involved in blockade work in the North Sea. Mr Lucas lived at ‘Dreadnought’, Longfleet Road, Poole and was a member of the Poole Board of Guardians. He was part of the Royal Navy Fleet Reserve and was called-up on August 2 1914. The newspaper interviewed him when he was home on leave for a couple of weeks. He said that there were nearly 70 men from Dorset on the Grafton including Messrs Short and Baker from Poole and Mr Brown of Broadstone. Lucas was on the Grafton from August 3 to November 15 and he reckoned he must have sailed nearly 30,000 miles as the Grafton searched shipping and hunted for submarines. He said that they stopped all types of merchant shipping from numerous different countries. This happened day and night which he said was “terribly trying”.

In the interview he said that the Grafton was the first British vessel to take down a German ensign after the declaration of war when it captured a German ship. He said they also had some luck. The cruiser Hawke came on station at 4am to allow the Grafton to take on coal – not long afterwards the Hawke was torpedoed. He comments in his interview that various ruses were used by the enemy to entice the ship to investigate, such as throwing debris in the sea, but the sailors soon realised that if they were not careful they would be sunk by a torpedo from a waiting submarine. While life on the ship was ‘very strict’ the men were ready for anything and were eager to protect the coast of Britain. Lucas also talks about other aspects of ship life. A sprig of white heather was kept on-board for ‘good luck’ and the ship’s elderly cat, called ‘Jack Johnson’s pupil’, would chase about the deck while the fife and drum played a tune each morning.


  1. The British blockade of German North Sea ports began on August 12 1914 with the aim of stopping merchant ships reaching Germany. By 1916, over 300 deaths a day were being attributed to starvation, there were food riots in many German cities and on June 28 1916 around 55,000 German workers went on strike because of the conditions. It has been argued that the naval blockade was a significant factor in Germany’s surrender.
  2. Lucas makes no mention if ‘prize money’ was received for the captured German vessel. It was not uncommon for captured shipping to have the original crew taken off and replaced by a ‘prize crew’.
  3. The North Sea was extensively mined by both sides. In contrast to the German policy in which shipping had to take their chances, the British policy was if a merchant ship put into a British port it would be searched, any illegal cargo confiscated and then the ship would be escorted through the coastal minefields.
  4. Jack Johnson was a famous American boxer of the time.


Gardiner Shipbuilding and Engineering Company – a hope for the future?

Post-First World War was a time to look to the future and given the large numbers of returning men there was a pressing need for jobs. A Culture volunteer working on the Poole History Centre First World War project explores the short history of one attempt to develop a shipbuilding industry in Poole.

As early as November 1917 there was talk of creating a massive shipbuilding industry in Poole. Iron ore would be imported from Spain, after which it would be smelted, turned into steel and then engine components manufactured – all in Poole. It was claimed that orders for more than 40 ships would follow when the company was up and running. Captain Gardiner, who lived at ‘The Birches’, Parkstone, and was behind the scheme, hoped to have the first ship finished by August 1918. He claimed that this would be aided by special ‘secret’ machines from America which would mean the company could build ships much cheaper than in traditional shipyards. At the time, there was a heavy loss of shipping because of submarine warfare and there was a great need for new ships. The project went into abeyance because it was nearly two years before anything further happened.

A letter dated 8 August 1919 was received by Poole Harbour Commissioners announcing that Gardiner Shipbuilding and Engineering Company had purchased the Admiralty Shipyard Extensions No 62 (formerly the Hill, Richards and Co Ltd shipyard) at Hamworthy. The company had been contracted to build twelve 7,600 ton ships. The keels for the initial two were to be laid shortly and February 1920 was the expected launch date. They expected to utilise the existing six berths and had plans for two 10,500 ton ships and two liners for the Atlantic trade. The letter expressed a hope that Poole Bar, just outside the entrance to the harbour, would be dredged as quickly as possible to aid the project.

The prospectus for the Gardiner Shipbuilding and Engineering Company was published on 15 December 1919. The Poole and East Dorset Herald newspaper reported that the value of the twelve ships to be built by the company was £2.25 million. It was also hoped to carry out repair work. The advantage of the project was that the Lake Shipyard was already fitted out and had an existing workforce on the 151 acre site. It was anticipated that it would be ‘one of the largest’ shipbuilding companies in the country.

The shipyard had the benefit of a rail link to the London & South Western Railway mainline and this would allow materials to be easily delivered. It was anticipated that it would employ, when fully operational, 2,500 to 3,000 men. It was also expected to attract other businesses to Hamworthy and its branch line would become highly important to the area. The housing shortage in Poole would be alleviated as Captain Gardiner proposed using some of the 300 acres of his own land for the construction of a ‘garden city’ of 500 houses in Hamworthy. Gardiner had purchased Lake House in 1919.

Who was Captain Gardiner? According to a newspaper article, he was born in Manchester, was 52 years of age in 1920 and was in the Royal Navy during the First World War. Apparently, he was in command of a ‘Q’ boat, used in combatting submarine warfare, which sailed out of Poole.

It was reported on November 20 1919 that the first ship would be finished by May 1920 and the remainder would be completed ‘every six weeks’. The company hoped to start work on two liners in February 1920. Oddly, it was also announced that nearly 2,000 men would be transferred from the Clyde shipyards.

A newspaper article of January 15 1920 said that 3 keels had been laid. A few months later, it was reported that the ships would have their engines and boilers added at Glasgow which meant they would have to be towed to the Clyde. A concern with shipping movements in and out of Poole Harbour was the restriction placed by the bar of sand just outside the harbour entrance. However, it was said that no dredging was needed as the vessels would only have a draft of 9ft while the Poole Harbour Bar had a draft of 16ft at high water spring tides.

The prospect for Poole, the harbour and jobs was considered very bright. However, just a few months later, a compulsory winding-up order against Gardiner Shipbuilding was announced. Spanish companies wanted the return of £400,000 that had been paid for ships which had not been delivered – although there was disagreement over whether the money had been paid. A merchant banker was prepared to give £200,000 based on the value of the company’s assets but would require more time to raise the funds.

Another debt of £430 was claimed by a Birmingham company. Captain Gardiner alleged he was owed £50,000 by Gardiner Shipbuilding but it was also claimed he owed the company £21,000. It was stated that the financial problems had arisen because the company was paid in instalments for work in progress and these payments had not been made. Captain Gardiner believed that the company would be able to continue to function as he was in the process of raising £250,000 of capital.

In December 1920, an article in the local newspaper said that a compulsory order was being sought for the liquidation of the company because of unpaid debts. The company claimed it had ‘bills of exchange for £10,000’ in a foreign currency and these could be used to pay the debts when converted into British pounds. It was agreed that the order would be dismissed if the money was paid.

However, in March 1921 there were two winding-up petitions against Gardiner Shipbuilding – the Campania Naviera Mundaca Sociedad Anonima and W.G. Armstrong Whitworth & Co. claimed they were owed a total of £293,000. The Gardiner Company wanted further time as they were awaiting the result of the international War Reparations Committee concerning a loan of 42 million francs for major shipbuilding projects that had been requested by the company. The case was adjourned for a week but the newspaper article noted that the shipyard had not done any work since July 1920.

There is a strange ending to this story. Clara, his first wife, died when bailiffs were about to take over Lake House. A law forbade bailiffs from going into a dwelling if a body was ‘at rest’ and Gardiner had his wife’s body kept in the house for around two years. She was eventually buried in Hamworthy Parish Cemetery in 1921. A large crypt was built and can still be seen in the cemetery; strangely, there appears to be no inscription.

Hamworthy Cemetery

Hamworthy Cemetery

And what happened to Captain Gardiner? In 1925, he was on trial at the Old Bailey, London accused of a £200,000 fraud relating to when he was managing director of Gardiner Shipbuilding in Poole. It was alleged he had published false information to encourage people to take out shares in the company. The seriousness of the case meant that the startling amount of £60,000 was the reward for his capture. The case and his life story captured the public imagination. An Australian newspaper article had the headline ‘Picturesque Hero of Astonishing Adventure’. The article outlined his remarkable life which involved taking part in a revolution in Chile, being on the side of the Chinese in the Chino-Japanese War, commanding Australian troops during the Boer War, and being on a minelayer during the Russo-Japanese War. During the First World War, he carried out salvage work on the ‘Oceanic’, invented several anti-submarine devices, commanded a ‘Q’ boat, and claimed he was involved in the planning of the Zeebrugge blockade. Part way through the trial the jury concluded there was no case to be answered and Gardiner was released.

He died at the Seaman’s Hospital, Greenwich, in 1930 and is believed to be buried alongside Clara in Hamworthy Parish Cemetery.