Category Archives: The Great War

In WW1 Victor returns injured to Riduna (Alderney) ~ the island of his birth

In Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home I have tried to tell less well known tales of the Great War. Having said that, each of the Newton family from Woolston, Southampton played plausible roles in WW1 taking them as far as Turkey and even India. Here Victor, an injured soldier, returns to Riduna (Alderney) the island of his birth, to play his part in the ‘home guard.’ In order to support his family he also went fishing ~ for solace as well as sustenance – although it did not always achieve the peace he longed for: 

When Victor first returned to Riduna (Alderney) he could often be seen fishing on the rocky shoreline to the right of Fort Raz on Longy Bay, a lone silhouette of a figure standing statuesque off an outcrop not far from the sweeping sandy bay. In fact, at first glance he almost looked like a dark rock himself, protruding upright from the shore: a reflection of the Hanging Rock nearby.

Unfortunately, this familiar place where he had always loved to fish with his father and grandfather before him gave him no peace. The coast of France was clearly visible to him. Even with the sound of the sea, it was impossible to block out the echo of distant gunfire, fetching the true reality of the war right to the shoreline. There was no real way of escaping the horrors and the memories.

Instead he began to join the many young lads, fishing for mackerel and mullet off the Breakwater. He stood cheek by jowl, with just enough room to cast the twine into the sea from his long heavy pole. His younger brother William stood on the ledge behind him, attaching the bait and retrieving the captured mackerel, which Victor flicked expertly, as near to William as he could. Their catch was certainly adequate to fulfil the bodily needs of his family, although he still yearned to fish in solitude.

One afternoon he could bear it no more and so, instead of heading for the Breakwater, he began to clamber over the rocks by Fort Doyle. With his brother William holding the rod and bait, skipping lithely from rock to rock, Victor was embarrassed as he struggled and slid over the wet rocks, using both hands to steady himself as he coped with his painful shoulder and injured leg. Many times William looked back and wanted to give Victor support but in the end looked onwards, knowing full well that his older brother would be too proud to accept help. Finally they reached a ledge of rocks which jutted right out into the swirling waters and Victor settled there to gain his breath. William prepared the line for him, untangled the twine from the quill and cork float and attached some mackerel flesh to the hook as bait, carefully squeezing it between his thumb and forefinger. He handed the rod to his brother, knowing instinctively that Victor wanted to fish alone and then went to look for shrimps in the rock pools nearby.

                Before Victor cast the line he sat and looked around him. His eyes spanned between Fort Groznez to his right, standing with pride to defend the harbour and breakwater, to the imposing sight of Fort Tourgis to his left, and the long barracks sweeping down from the horizon towards the stony shores of Clonque Bay. Just across the sea from Fort Tourgis lay the deserted island of Burhou, with dangerous waters swirling around outcrops of rocks as far as the eye could see. As Victor’s eyes swept along the bay and out towards the open sea, he sighed with a rare moment of contentment. He cast his line and as he watched the float bob in the waters in front of him he began to relax. He breathed in the salty air, filling his lungs and clearing his mind. His thoughts drifted in and out of a pleasant emptiness.”

Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home is Diana Jackson’s second novel, set between 1910 and 1920 telling the stories of members of the Newton family as they embark on their own role on The Great War.

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Filed under Alderney, Ancasta, Channel Islands, History of Alderney, The Great War, WW1

A WW1 sea plane carrier takes Jack to Port Said

As we have seen in docudramas on TV in recent weeks ‘every letter tells a story’ and as a writer it seemed the most effective way of communicating the tale of the lives of the Newton family as each play their part in The Great War. In this extract of ‘Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home‘ Jack serves on one of the earliest sea plane carriers in the waters off Turkey.

I have used various techniques including letters, story telling, conversation and the arrival of Harry Harper, the air correspondent of The Daily Mail, to describe the changing lives of each of the Newton family.  Here I use the ‘now’ impact of letters, where conversation is impossible:

“As for Harriet’s son, Jack, he was now a competent and skilled mechanic, and having specialised in sea planes he was an asset to the RNAS. He travelled with his twin brother, Tom, to Winchester where Tom was to be transported north east with the rest of his regiment, following a short period of training. They said their short goodbyes and Jack continued on the train to London. His first visit to the capital was a little daunting, even for the brash Jack, but he had no time to dwell on the sights before finding his way to Liverpool Street Station where he caught a train to Harwich, reassured by the sight of many young men like him, nervously setting off into the unknown.

Once at the dock he was sent to a nearby training camp where he was put through drill and other preparations for the dangerous sea voyage that was to come, including basic strategies for defence and attack, to ensure he was prepared for any eventuality.

Jack’s role on board the tender would be to maintain and assist in the launch of the sea planes: no mean feat, as he discovered when they attempted a mock launch of a Sopwith Schneider sea plane in the harbour a month later. The plane was launched successfully from the ‘flying off’ deck at the front of the ship and made a few graceful circles before alighting on the water, taxiing towards the side of the ship. The hardest and most dangerous part was attaching it to the winch to be brought safely back on deck and he put life and limb in danger at each attempt. Excitedly, he wrote home to Hannah:

15th April, 1915

My dear Hannah,

I have enjoyed the most exhilarating time here in the port. You cannot imagine my joy when we finally embarked on HMS Ben my Chree, what a funny name for a ship. I thought I would be on a grand ship called the Majestic or Princess Elizabeth. Nevertheless it has been good finally to set sail and to leave the claustrophobic training camp. I had thought my training days were never going to end.

Today I was so proud when we launched one of our planes directly from the ship. It was wonderful, just like watching our little Phyllis take her first steps. How is she by the way? In fact the only thing to mar my joy at being here is that I am so far away from you and I cannot see her sweet face.

I know you are angry at me for volunteering so soon, but you’ll see. We’ll be sending out our sea planes on such successful missions that we’ll surprise the enemy, catch them on the hop and soon the war will be over. I’m sure you cannot begrudge me wanting to do my bit for my country.

Please give my love to Mother and Sarah and send news to Tom that I am well. I do believe that he has the hardest task in this war on the ground and my hope is that he too escapes the wet muddy fields of France and is given a chance to see a bit of the world. My part is just fun, mending and maintaining sea planes and sending them on their way. It’s what I do best. I’ll be fine, you’ll see.

Yours,

Jack

Jack was standing on deck, full of excitement when on 3rd May 1915 the Ben my Chree left Harwich to take part in the raid on Norddeich but his heart sank when his unfortunate ship was forced to return to harbour due to fog. When back at Harwich, he was pleased to receive a letter from Hannah:

26th April, 1915

My dear Jack,

Phyllis and I are both well and settled in at your mother’s. She is very kind and good company for us and it means that we have saved so much in rent we could ill afford with you away.

We had a very quiet Christmas but we made the occasion as cheerful as possible for the sake of the children. You should have seen Phyllis open the picture of your ship you sent for her and she has proudly put it up on her wall beside her bed. It is a very strange looking ship, I must say, but I expect it is because of the deck where you launch those sea planes you so love.

After Christmas, Sarah and I made an important decision which I must tell you about. We began training at Supermarine under Ernest’s supervision. The benefits of this are many. Firstly, it means that we are able to make a greater contribution to the household expenses, since there are fewer fee-paying guests in these difficult times. Secondly, and more important, is that we feel we are contributing to the war effort.

I can’t say that we enjoy the dirty dusty tasks, but the girls we work with are such fun that we make the most of it. Now it’s spring time it’s easier to keep our spirits up and believe that war might end soon. I do hope so with all my heart.

Phyllis and Mother send their love to you, as does Sarah. Please keep safe, my dear Jack, and don’t go and do anything heroic.

Yours,

Hannah

 

Jack’s letter in return was less optimistic:

7th May, 1915

My dear Hannah,

Thank you for your letter. It was good to hear that you are well but I am worried that you are working at the factory. That’s no work for a young lady such as yourself and you should be at home looking after our daughter.  I’m not happy with the arrangement at all and cross with Mother for allowing it to happen. I expect it is Ernest putting these ideas into your young head or that headstrong sister of mine.

I am afraid that here we are back in dock for minor repairs to our ship, which was rammed by one of our own, would you believe! We also had no end of trouble with the Schneider and had to abort its launch. That’s one of our best sea planes. You cannot understand how frustrating it is to be back with so little to show for it.

The only fortunate circumstance to come out of this delay is that I received your letter and though some of your news worries me, I will still treasure it close to my heart in the voyage ahead.

I cannot tell you where we are bound shortly, because it is a secret but I do know that it will be a long way away. It is sad that there is not enough time for me to visit you but rest assured that I am thinking of you.

Please send my love to Mother, Ernest, Sarah and Tom if you are able to and to Phyllis as ever.

I do love you, even though I do not tell you very often. By the way, I found out that ‘Ben my Chree’ means ‘Lady of My Heart’! My fondness for this ship grew when I heard of its apt name and I’m sure that it will bring us good luck.

Yours,

Jack

 

Jack felt relief as HMS Ben my Chree finally set off from Harwich towards the Mediterranean and it was a long time before the family at Bourton Villas heard from him again. Once the voyage was underway Jack was uncharacteristically nervous as to what might lay ahead, but as his ship arrived at its first destination, his role of preparing the new Short seaplanes for reconnaissance work became quite routine.

He was just beginning to think that this work was no more exciting than his time at Calshot when on 15th August one of their best pilots, Flight Commander Charles Humphrey Kingsman Edmonds, made the first ever successful aerial torpedo attack on a Turkish ship in the Dardenelles. When this was followed by more success, Jack felt in his element. So proud was he to be part of this mission that he wished he could share his joy with the folks back home.

His wish was to be granted because a few months later they headed to Port Said.

 

20th February, 1916

My darling Hannah,

You would be so proud of your husband now! We have given the Turks what for and our planes have been at the centre of the action. When we rehearsed in England I would never have believed how much good we could do with these beauties. They are truly like my children and as I see them fly into action I feel such a glow in my heart.

How is Phyllis, by the way? She must be quite a little girl now and chattering so much too, I expect. Does she remember her daddy, I wonder?

All our practice for launching sea planes from the deck at home was a complete waste of time because we found out the hard way that it was much too risky. Now we always use a winch, hoisting the aircraft carefully over the side and on to the water. They have fitted long poles at the sides of the ship to fend off the planes and stop them bumping into the ship, or worse still, into one of us. They are a godsend. My job is made all the more difficult by the heat here, which creates havoc with our engines. Having enough spare parts to keep these babies flying causes me a constant headache, but me and Patrick Jones, he’s my right hand man here like he was in Calshot, usually manage it in the end.

After the excitement of our success with the Turks we did a good job in rescuing some Australians from their sunken ship, which I’m sure you will think was worthwhile, and then we headed towards Egypt. It was fortunate that we were near port when the SS Uganda came along side us. You wouldn’t believe it, but we collided! In fact I was amazed when it happened too, and couldn’t in my worst nightmares dream that we might be nearly sunk by our own side a second time. Fortunately, nothing of that nature happened, but nevertheless we are now here at Port Said waiting for repairs to be done.

Being in port has its compensations.  With a bit of ingenuity we cleared the hangers and have been able to have quite a party, putting the piano we already had on board to even better use. What a time we’ve had! Who said there was a war on?

Another good thing to come out of this mess is being able to write to you and at least I can reassure you that I am well and safe. I hope that this confounded war ends soon and that I am able to return to you in one piece. Please give my love to Mother and a big hug to our little Phyllis.

Yours as ever,

Jack

Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home is Diana Jackson’s second novel, set between 1910 and 1920 telling the stories of members of the Newton family as they embark on their own role on The Great War. 

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Filed under Ancasta, Flying Boats and Sea Planes, The Great War, WW1

November 1914 ~ Anthony realises his dream to learn to fly ~Almost!

The following extract from ‘Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home‘ tells the story of Anthony who longs to learn to fly. Here he is sent initially to France as an Observer, taking photographs of the battle below.

I have used various techniques including letters, story telling, conversation and the arrival of Harry Harper, the air correspondent of The Daily Mail, to describe the changing lives of each of the Newton family.  Here I have used letters and good old fashioned descriptive story telling:

“12th November, 1914

My dear Sarah and little Timothy,

I hope that you are comfortable in your mother’s new guest house and that Timothy, you are being good for Mummy and Grandma. I have missed you these last few months and it’s been so quiet without you.

I have some exciting news for you. I have been transferred to Fort Grange and I am going to learn to fly in an aeroplane. It is a dream come true for me and I know that you will be so proud of your daddy.

I start my training tomorrow, but it may be many weeks before I get into the air. I need to learn all about aeroplanes first and as soon as I have more news for you I will write again.

Yours as ever,

Anthony

 

The next morning, Anthony began his training in the makeshift classroom at Fort Grange. Initially he sat fighting off the irritation of irrational impatience, much like the other naive young men in the room. His experienced trainer had such a businesslike manner, but it was tinged with a down to earth sense of humour, which was in fact the best combination for a military instructor. Soon he had Anthony at his ease and had instilled in him a vitality and enthusiasm to excel.

The weeks passed quickly and Anthony passed his examinations, progressing on to the more practical part of his training: that of understanding and maintaining his aircraft. He found this more of a challenge but was surprised how quickly be began to understand the workings of the engine and to recognise irregular noises, suggesting a plausible diagnosis. The instruments inside the cockpit were still an irresistible mystery to him and he longed for the moment when he would one day take control.

The next part of his training was back in the classroom, poring over numerous maps and photographs, for initially Anthony was to be trained as an Observer, to sit behind the pilot on reconnaissance missions. So far Anthony had been at the Grange for several weeks and still he had not been up in an aeroplane but the day when he passed his last examinations was a cause for great celebration in the mess.

The following day he sat behind the pilot, nervously waiting for takeoff. The mechanic stood at the ready for the signal. As soon as contact was confirmed, the mechanic spun the propeller and the engine burst into song. It was certainly a tune familiar to Anthony’s ears by now and it filled him with anticipation in the depths of his stomach. Almost as soon as the chocks were taken away from under her wheels by the attendees, the aircraft started to taxi over the bumpy ground. The vibration of the engine in front of him was as startling as its deafening noise. The throttle was opened and they sped off across the turf. There was no time to take a breath because within seconds they had lifted into the air. He felt exhilarated and was almost distracted from his mission by the amazing sights around him. As they flew over Portsmouth Harbour he tore his gaze from the coastline. As they banked to the left, he began to note key features such as ships off the coast and sea planes readying themselves for takeoff on Haslar Beach and he was proud of himself when he sighted a ‘friendly’ submarine, just submerged below the surface of the water.

After a few more weeks of training, when he suppressed his enthusiasm to be master of the controls rather than seated as an observer in the front cockpit, he was relieved to pass all the tests and achieve a reasonable level of accuracy in target practice. He was given three days’ leave to visit family and caught the train to Woolston. It was an emotional reunion and he spent the precious few days with Sarah and Timothy, jealous of the times they shared with her family in the now overcrowded household. Keeping three rooms for Harriet’s fee paying guests left one room for Sarah and Timothy to share, and another for her sister-in-law Hannah and her child Phyllis. On the following Sunday afternoon, Ernest kindly agreed to take them to Hythe by horse and trap, borrowed from the drayman in Itchen Ferry village, where Anthony felt less claustrophobic and there they were able to spend a civilised few hours taking tea in his parent’s large garden. His mother was so proud of his single wing sign on his uniform with an ‘O’ which signified that he was now a trained Observer, although it was clear that she was unsure as to why her son was not yet a pilot.

All too soon it was time to leave for Southampton, where he would meet up with his new unit before crossing to France. Sarah was overcome as they had one last embrace before he caught the Floating Bridge and it was all she could do to hold Timothy to restrain him from running after his father. This time there was no hiding from this little man that his father was off to war and even in his young intelligent mind he had observed the tears from neighbours as men folk had not returned. Sarah held him firmly by the hand and encouraged him to wave as Anthony disappeared from view on the farthest shore of the River Itchen.

Anthony walked amongst strangers along the busy streets to the docks.  He was drawn towards the Bargate where shoppers were lining the streets to cheer regiment after regiment of infantry, some who had walked all the way from Winchester and were marching proudly to the docks. He also watched some Avro 504s being loaded on to a waiting ship. He was struck by the greyness of the multitude of vessels which was a bleak contrast to the usual colourful sight of ferries and liners in the port.

It was a smooth crossing and they disembarked at Le Havre, where they faced a long journey by train to the airfield at Amiens. He settled in to his makeshift world of Nissen huts, taking time to sort out his few personal belongings with the utmost care, in order to dispel the unease he felt at being near the Western Front at last.

After a fitful night he had no time to dwell on the danger of his position as he was scheduled to make his first sortie over enemy lines that very evening. He and his pilot were encouraged to make several flights that morning in order to regain their confidence in flying, to get to know each other and also to get their bearings so that they would be more familiar with landmarks pointing back to base. It was a bitterly cold November day. The wind was blustery, making flying difficult and the rain was piercing. Despite the inhospitable weather, Anthony was relieved to be back in the air again and the two men soon became an inseparable team, treating each sortie as an adventure, though they cursed the rain as an inconvenience.

It was late one afternoon, when they were sent on their first mission to cross enemy lines and report back the up to date positions of the Hun, that it really struck Anthony psychologically, almost as hard as a real bullet might have hit him physically. At first hand he witnessed the British troops in the muddy trenches below and the close proximity of the enemy. When he realised that a strange heap of muddy rubbish littering the sodden ground beneath him was in truth the remains of bodies, left where they had fallen, he almost vomited out of the cockpit, his instructions forgotten.

It was only the short sharp orders from his pilot which brought Anthony to his senses and he resumed his important task of recording what he had seen. His training came into its own at that moment and he concentrated wholeheartedly on his task, so that when they eventually returned to base, his Commanding Officer was pleased with what he had to report.

It was only late that night, when he longed for the oblivion of sleep in order to erase the vivid pictures still flickering through his mind, that he realised how wise it had been to test his resilience as an observer initially, rather than to waste time training him as a pilot in the first instance. As the idea closed on him like the shutter on his camera, he hardened his resolve and sank into a deep dreamless sleep.”

Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home is Diana Jackson’s second novel, set between 1910 and 1920 telling the stories of members of the Newton family as they embark on their own role on The Great War.

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Filed under Early Flight, The Great War, Woolston, WW1