Descendants of Irish sailors are flying in to Belfast from Australia, America, Canada, Spain, GB and all four corners of Ireland for the Commemoration of the Irish Sailor during the First World War on Tuesday 31st May. The date was especially chosen as the Centenary of the Battle of Jutland, the most important naval battle of the First World War. "The Commemoration to the Irish Sailor is a significant all-island event, the contemporary relevance of which should not be underestimated. The event is a timely reminder that 1916 is not all about the Easter Rising and the Battles of the Somme. The sacrifice of so many men from these shores who fought at sea, the maritime war and the impact of it on our island tends to be overlooked. The Centenary of the Battle of Jutland and the launch of HMS Caroline is the perfect context to be officially recognising the contribution of all those in maritime roles on the island of Ireland in the 1914-18 period.” Irish sailors were lost on many ships across the course of the First World War including over 350 at the Battle of Jutland itself, 91 at the Battle of Coronel and 62 on HMS HAWKE. As well as Royal Navy ships, Irish men were lost on merchant ships such as MFA WHITE HEAD, a Harland and Wolff built steamship torpedoed in 1917; on HMS SUBMARINE K17 lost in an accidental collision in 1918; and on converted merchant ship HMS BAYANO, torpedoed off Ireland causing bodies to wash up along the Ards Peninsula. In 1918 at least three Irishmen were lost on HMS ASCOT, the last warship lost to enemy action in the First World War, and at least fourteen were lost on the first in 1914, HMS AMPHION. Over 1,500 Irishmen were killed in action serving at sea in the years between. Examples of local men lost at sea include: Stoker Peter Kennedy, Royal Naval Reserve, from Ballymena lost on HMS QUEEN MARY at the Battle of Jutland. Peter, a member of Cavehill Orange Lodge lived at Ritchie Street in Belfast and left behind his wife and 4 children under 11 years old. 15 year old Midshipman Gervase Ronald Bruce from Downhill, Derry, one of ten cadets lost on HMS MONMOUTH. Five more Ulster teenagers were lost; Belfast boys Stoker (2nd) John McAteer, Boy (1st) William Connell, Able Seaman William A. J. Wilson and Ordinary Seaman Herbert Kelly as well as Ordinary Seaman Henry McNally who was from Draperstown. Leading Stoker Joyce Power left young twins and a pregnant wife in Ballymena after the sinking of HMS HAWKE. His daughter Margaret Hawke Power named after the ship he was killed on. Also drowned was Able Seaman Albert Patterson Wilson whose first daughter Frances was born only 4 weeks later on 14 November. Mariette Isabella Donald was born at the end of 1914, her father Martie Donald not returning to Carrickfergus to meet his newborn daughter. The Gorman siblings from Clifton Park in Belfast lost one brother, Charles on HMS PATHFINDER in September only to hear of the death of another brother, Able Seaman James Toland Gorman, only one month later on HMS HAWKE. Sullatober Flute band from Carrickfergus who lost one of their players Henry McMurran on HMS CRESSY, 3 weeks later suffered yet another tragedy with the loss of another member, Stoker (1st class) Andrew McAllister on HMS HAWKE. Notes HMS RAMSEY is a single role Minehunter with a crew of 40 personnel. More information can be seen here http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/ramsey LÉ CIARA is a Coastal Patrol Vessel of the Irish Naval Service with a crew of 42. More information can be seen here http://www.military.ie/naval-service/fleet/coastal-patrol-vessel/le-ciara-p-42/Descendants of sailors both of the Royal Navy and Mercantile Marine will be in attendance at the Commemoration at Alexandra Dock with HMS Caroline as the backdrop for the event. During the proceedings HMS Caroline will be officially opened. The Royal Navy and Irish Naval Service will stand side by side to mark all from the Island of Ireland who served at sea and wreaths will be laid on behalf of both. Senior political and military representatives from the UK and Ireland will be attendance alongside a German Naval Admiral. The ports of Ireland, Irish Lights and maritime emergency services will also gather with families of those who served, and Belfast City Council will host all attendees for a civic lunch on completion of the ceremony. Irish naval ship LÉ CIARA and British Naval Ship HMS RAMSEY will be in port for the preceding weekend and open to the public as part of Belfast’s Maritime Festival. The Battle of Jutland involved 100,000 men over the course of 36 hours in which time Britain lost 14 ships and 6000 sailors and Germany lost 11 ships and 2500 sailors. Over 350 of the men lost were from Ireland. The most significant loss of Irish life happened very early in the battle when HMS Indefatigable suffered from a catastrophic explosion of her cordite. From over 1000 crew members at least 120 were Irish. Stoker John Moriarty who hailed from Bere Island, died aged 23 years old, alongside 50 other Cork men. Gunner Lawrence Browne from Malahide was killed at Jutland on Armoured Cruiser HMS Defence, who under heavy fire from 5 German ships, violently exploded killing all of her 904 crew with no survivors – at least 98 of the men killed were Irish. Battlecruiser HMS Invincible was blown in half and sank in 90 seconds, killing all but 6 of its crew of over 1000 men. At least 34 were Irish, including 2 seventeen year old Belfast boys John McCullough and John Cleland Carlisle. Karen O’Rawe, Chair History Hub Ulster said:
Kabosh presents The Box, a new play by Carlo Gébler, which brings to life the archive of Olive Swanzy, a nurse from Newry who served during WW1. During her time serving in the war Olive kept a series of autograph books which the soldiers in her care contributed to with drawings, sketches, cartoons, stories and poems describing their experiences of and feelings about the war. Along with these contributions Olive also kept a record of her own experiences through a wealth of beautiful watercolours which document her time at war and her love of her native Newry. Together they form an incredible picture of real people during extraordinary times. This fascinating archive was left undisturbed in an attic in Olive’s former home in Rostrevor for decades until it was recently rescued from being destroyed and it’s worth and relevance realised. Kabosh, in partnership with Creative Centenaries, will bring this incredible archive and its stories to life in a multi-artform theatre production. Taking place at the Ulster Museum every Saturday and Sunday, 12pm and 3pm, from June 5th to 19th 2016 this will coincide with original items from the archive being on display as part of the Creative Centenaries exhibition running from June 3rd to September 18th. The Box is written by Carlo Gébler, directed by Paula McFetridge, designed by Elle Kent and features local actors; Gerard Jordan and the award winning Abigail McGibbon. Venue – Ulster Museum Dates – 5th to 19th June 2016 Days – Saturdays and Sundays Times – 12pm and 3pm Durations – 45 minutes Tickets - £5 – available online at www.nmni.com by phone on 028 9044 0000 or in person at the Museum Kabosh Artistic Director, Paula McFetridge says, ‘To uncover an archive like that of Olive Swanzy’s is a once in a lifetime find. To have someone share that with you is emotionally affirming. To be able to create theatre that tells the story of an incredible woman in extraordinary circumstances is an absolute pleasure. The Box gives an insight into the lives of real men and women whose lives were changed utterly’ Playwright of The Box, Carlo Gébler says ‘The Box is a short play about two veterans of the First World War, both Irish, Jeremiah, a British Army soldier and Olive, a nurse. The play explores the unexpected ways both were touched and crushed by the conflict, and the common cause they make post-war to help each other to manage their trauma. Theirs is the solidarity of the maimed: it is far from perfect but in the aftermath of a war, when it is the only kind going, each must take what the other has to offer and make do with that because there is nothing else available. As any veteran will tell you, in the absence of what you want, you take what you are given.’
The ongoing commemoration of the Great War reveals just how much this episode of our history continues to interest and influence our understanding of the past. However, the Great War continues to be studied primarily as a land-based conflict despite the Royal Navy’s crucial role. Ask someone about Jutland and they will probably look perplexed. Much remains to be done to put the navy back into the public memory of the war, and my own research is working towards this. It considers the personal experience of British sailors during the war as expressed in their diaries, particularly the collection held by the National Museum Royal Navy Portsmouth. This blog will give a brief insight into my findings so far. The poignant image of the Great War is of young men rushing to the colours full of patriotic fervour. Surprisingly, little research has been done on sailors’ displays of war enthusiasm. This is especially interesting as many sailors were not volunteers: the navy was a career in those days where men joined at a young age. Yet sailors’ diaries reveal excitement and celebrations amongst seamen when war was declared. Ships left port cheered by other vessels, and men proudly recorded their first encounters with German ships. Further, diaries repeatedly refer to the “long awaited scrap” with the enemy. When they did meet, British sailors boasted of the Germans’ poor gunnery in comparison to their own and clearly there was a distinct belief in the Royal Navy’s superiority, which reflects the latent imperialistic sentiment in British society at the time. Yet, not all were caught up with war fever; Walter Dennis recorded that he knew of a number of sailors who were relieved to get posted overseas away from any real action. However, prolonged warfare, understandably, had a noticeable effect upon sailors. Despite the distancing effect of technology, sailors remained part of the killing machine which some enthusiastically embraced, becoming numb to the brutalities of war.  Interestingly few historians have considered this. One sailor - known as Wood - recorded shelling Turkish forts at Gallipoli as “amusing”. This is further demonstrated by the practice of collecting war souvenirs. Seamen often served in support of the army which allowed them ready access to items such as helmets, rifles and bullets. The impact of curios has been widely considered amongst soldiers but, again, sailors have so far been overlooked. Their obvious engagement in this practice suggests a desire for immediacy, which was not an option for soldiers. It would be interesting to compare the diaries of artillerymen serving at the front, and see whether they encountered similar experiences. Yet, despite sailors’ interaction with killing, not all became numb to the brutalities. Witnessing the sinking of ships or even hearing about losses was traumatic. For example Walter Dennis recorded being ‘rather concerned’ as to the fate of one of his friends lost at sea. Sailors were acutely aware that if their ships were sunk then death was likely, which made moments such as these particularly sobering. It is not surprising that some succumbed to psychological stresses, or in their words had ‘a tile loose’. Sailors had to develop their own coping mechanisms to deal with the stress of everyday life; these were similar to those developed by soldiers, such as humour. Reflecting on battles many became flippant about the dangers experienced. One diarist, Henry Welch, recalled: ‘One shell burst on the water’s edge… Ye gods! it was lovely – only a trifle further and there would have been a few gaps among us.’ Coping with pressure was essential. It is clear that personal histories of the Great War continue to find a receptive audience as more people become interested in their own history. The opportunity is there for the navy to make up lost ground. The NMRNP’s on-going project, Hear My Story, is a step in the right direction and forms a new twentieth century exhibition collating personal memories and public interaction.  Another interesting project is the AHRC funded Gateways project which provides centres to encourage public interest through organised lectures and study days. These projects show that there was much more to the Great War than mud, blood and the trenches. It is time to put the navy back in the picture and, as the diaries of Dennis, Fletcher, Welch and Wood show, each diary tells its own unique story, and there are many more to be uncovered. Simon Smith read History at the University of Portsmouth followed by an MA in The History of War, Culture and Society. He is currently doing a PhD on Sailors and the Royal Navy c.1870-1939 as part of the University of Portsmouth's Port Towns and Urban Cultures project. Originally published for the NACBS here: http://www.nacbs.org/blog/never-mind-the-trenches-experiences-of-british-sailors-during-the-first-world-war-by-simon-smith/ The NMRNP holds approximately 200 diaries in its collection. Other comprehensive diary collections include the Imperial War Museum which has just re-opened with a new WW1 exhibition. For more information see Christopher McKee, Sober Men and True: Sailor Lives in the Royal Navy, 1900-1945, (London: Harvard University Press, 2002) and Brian Lavery, Able Seamen: the lower deck of the Royal Navy, 1850-1939, (London: Conway, 2011). RNM 1984/467: Diary of Wood. RNM 1980/115: Diary of Edwin Fletcher; RNM 1984/467: Diary of Wood; RNM 1980/82: Diary of W Dawson; Diary of Walter Dennis. RNM 1984/467: Diary of Wood. Diary of Walter Dennis. Diary digitized by McMaster University, Ontario Canada and available at http://pw20c.mcmaster.ca. See Edgar Jones, “The Psychology of Killing: The Combat Experience of British Soldiers during the First World War”, Journal of Contemporary History, 41, 2, (2006), 233; Joanna Bourke, An intimate history of killing: face to face killing in twentieth-century warfare, (London: Granta Books, 1999), 7. RNM 1984/467: Diary of Wood. Diary of Walter Dennis; RNM 1984/467: Diary of Wood. See Jones, “Psychology”, and Bourke, An intimate history, for further information of the study of soldiers. The Imperial War Museum does hold artillerymen’s diaries but these have not yet been considered. Diary of Walter Dennis. Diary of Walter Dennis. DOC: Diary of Henry Welch. See http://www.nmrn.org.uk/explore/hms-hear-my-story for further information on this project. The Arts and Humanities Research Council – see www.kent.ac.uk/ww1 for further information on this project.