Tag Archives: RNAS Calshot

Virtual Tour of the Solent and Beyond ~No 14~WW1 in the Med and Port Said

If this is the first of my virtual tour posts that you’ve stumbles upon, since Christmas I’ve been on a journey around the Solent from Fort Gilkicker, along Southampton Water, back out to Calshot, over to The Channel Islands and France and today we travel in our mind’s eye to Turkey and the Mediterranean. This is the journey of Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home, my second novel, and the destination of Harriet’s most adventurous son as he played his part in WW1.

It is the stories of Jack and his brother Tom which makes Ancasta such a unique story of WW1, but without giving too much away in today’s post I will explain the background to Jack’s tale. Jack was the lively son, full of a sense of humour and a need for adventure. (Tom was the quite, thoughtful one and Ernest the serious young man who took role as head of the family since his father died in earnest!) Mechanically minded Jack was never more at home than when he was working on engines. Apprenticed at White’s Boatyard as an engineer on the banks of the River Itchen, it was the most natural progression in the world for him to transfer to Calshot, where he maintained flying boats at the new RNAS station in 1913.

As war broke out he joined up and his story, told by letters back home to his loving wife Hannah, were of his excitement, joys and frustrations of working on one of the earliest sea plane carriers in WW1, The Ben my Chree, meaning ‘Lady of my Heart,’  which I thought such an apt double entendre. Was it his wife or his ship and the sea planes he so lovingly worked on who stole his heart? You, the reader, must decide.

Turkey was where the Ben my Chree contributed most to the war effort and this is where my novel describes real events through theSolent Google Maps Turkey Port Said eyes of Jack. My research, carried out mainly at the Shuttleworth Archives, of the Ben my Chree led me to visit The Fleet Air Arm Museum at RNAS  Yeovilton, where I was excited to see scale models of early sea plane carriers like the one Jack served on. (In fact, I was more enthusiastic than my husband, who was keen to see jets and planes of a more modern era which meant nothing to me!) Before doing this research I was unaware of the part sea plane carriers played in WW1 and I hope that my novel will prove to be informative as well as a good read.

On a couple of occasions Jack’s ship docked in Port Said for repairs and supplies. I had vivid pictures of the port in my mind from early postcards my grandfather had collected of the area when he was in the Navy. I cannot share them with you today but hope to in the future.  Since reading Ancasta my father has told me a story of my family history of which I was totally unaware before writing the novel. I am bursting to tell you this but can’t, and if you’ve been following my journey into writing from the beginning it is certainly not the first strange coincidence to take place. What I can say is that my grandfather actually met his brother quite by chance in Post Said back in WW1, but I’m afraid I’ll just have to let you read the book before I tell you what really happened.

Back to my novel Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home, what Hannah makes of these adventures as she is left at home with their young daughter waiting for news is the other side to my story of course. How did Jack and the pilot of his planes contribute to the war effort? Did the Ben my Chree survive the war? Did Jack return home?

All these questions I cannot answer. You’ll just have to wait and see, but if you’ve read Ancasta and want to know the true coincidence then drop me an email and I’d be happy to tell you!


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Filed under Ancasta, Early Flight, Family History, Flying Boats and Sea Planes, Research, Virtual Tour of the Solent and Beyond, WW1

Virtual Tour of the Solent ~ The Story so far and where to next?

Solent map googleCalshot

I began this virtual tour to show that a sense of place is important in my writing. I need to describe the areas in my novel enough to help the reader to feel that ‘sense of place,’ but I thought it might be helpful to give a little more background information and description. I have written ten posts around the Solent area so far, but before I leave the shores of mainland England I thought a summary would be helpful:

1 ~ At the beginning of this year I began my virtual tour at Gilkicker Fort on the strategic peninsula guarding the entrance to Portsmouth Harbour. It was there that one of my main characters, Harriet’s daughter Sarah, was stationed  with the husband, at the newly refurbished married quarters, back in 1910. It was a life that Sarah found hard to come to terms with but then came the war which changed everything.

2 ~ Close by was Fort Grange, still enclosed in the Naval Station today, where early pilots were trained for combat and reconnaissance missions in WW1 including Anthony, Sarah’s husband.

3 ~ A short distance along the coast is Lee on Solent, not strictly speaking in Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home, but it may be in the no, 3 in the series. Lee was important at that time though, since it was one of the earliest Flying Boat Stations on the south coast.

4 ~ Just up the estuary takes you to the sheltered inlet into Hamble, which is an unspoilt haven for sailing boats. Anthony’s family lived there, with its cobbled streets and a small ferry over to Warsash, much the same today as it was at the turn of the last century, I should imagine.

5 ~ Further up Southampton Water is The Royal Victoria Park, once the Royal Victoria Hospital at Netley, with only the tall chapel remaining as a signal to the grandeur of the original building which had corridors a quarter of a mile long. It is still a lovely place to visit, go for a stroll, have a picnic and find out about its interesting history. Jane, one of my characters, well known to those who have read Riduna, was stationed there, close enough to Harriet for them to remain friends although Jane had little time to spare for social calls, especially during the war.

6 ~ Visiting the ghostly remains of Netley Abbey en-route, popular with the Victorians, we reach Weston Shore, important in both of my novels as a place to feel the sea and watch those on their journeys too and from Southampton Docks. It could be a place you might overlook, but if you make the efffort and stop and have a walk along its shores, it’s a haven for wildlife and it’s a wonderful place to watch the world go by. It’s here that the name of my novel seemed so apt. ‘Ancasta’ ~ ‘The Swift One.’ Many folks have stood, as Harriet did, on these shores and prayed for the swift and safe return of their loved ones, but for Harriet it was more than that. It was here she watched the Channel Island Ferries as they journeyed to the place of her birth. It was a direct channel to Guernsey (Sarnia in my novel) and Alderney (Riduna in my novel) which she loved but had left behind so long ago.

7 ~ Woolston. The Newton family grew up in the heart of Woolston, working in the local industry, initially as boat builders but subsequently early flying boats. (Supermarine) Harriet ran a popular guest house mainly for travellers. One of her son’s worked in a bicycle shop too. Each of her family played their part in WW1, Sarah returning home for the duration of the war with her little son Timothy.

8~ Southampton. Across the Floating Bridge is Southampton itself, still a thriving port and the window to the world to many of my characters including Edward, also well known to many of you from Riduna, Harriet’s childhood sweetheart from the island of Riduna. Their lives took very different paths but they continue to cross at times and Edward’s occasional visits still have a positive impact on the lives of the Newton family, especially Timothy and Sarah.

9~ Over the Hotspur to Hythe is where Edward lives, when he’s on land, with his more than housekeeper Marie. She’s a larger than life character and I’m quite fond of her, even though I feel a bit disloyal to Harriet for doing so.

10 ~ Just a few miles up to the peninsula we reach Cashot, at the mouth of Southampton Water, and if you want a place to ‘ship watch’ this is it. One of Harriet’s son’s Jack was stationed here before and at the start of WW1, where he was an engineer at the new RNAS flying boat station back in 1913.  He continued to travel home to his young family in Woolston, that was until he joined up and travelled to join the HMS Ben my Chree, one of the earliest sea plane carriers which went out to Turkey.

So, where does my virtual tour go to next? We reach the point when we now travel beyond the Solent, and we’re heading across the sea to The Channel Islands as from Monday. In fact that’s where the original story  of Riduna began.

Meanwhile I’m continuing my real centenary tour

at Waterstones in St Neots this Saturday on 23rd March from 11am.

I look forward to meeting some more of you then.


Filed under Alderney, Ancasta, Early Flight, Events, Flying Boats and Sea Planes, Riduna, Southampton, Virtual Tour of the Solent and Beyond, Weston Shore, Woolston