Personal account of HMS Maidstone escape

Personal account of Republican internees escape from HMS Maidstone on 17 Jan 1972

History Hub Ulster recently interviewed Tom, a former Royal Navy Stoker from Bangor, who served on HMS Hartland Point in the early 1970s.  Here’s his account:

HMS Hartland Point

HMS Hartland Point

 “The Hartland Point was brought to Belfast and originally moored ahead of the Maidstone.  Before Harland Point’s arrival, prisoners, sailors and prison officers were all accommodated on the Maidstone which was not ideal.  In 1972 the decision was taken to move Hartland Point around to the stern of Maidstone.  Maidstone was to have her stern cut open, and Hartland Point her bow, to enable a gangway to be connected between the two.  This would afford the prison officers quick access on to the Maidstone when required.”

“As an electrical engineer, my duties were mainly maintenance.  Prisoners bunk lights would often fail.  When they reported it, it was my job to fix it.  I would be escorted by a prison officer onto the Maidstone and in to the prisoners’ accommodation.  It was quite scary at times!”

Tom was serving on board Hartland Point on 17th January 1972 when seven Republican prisoners escaped:

“Hartland Point had mooring cables connected from her stern to the bows of Maidstone.  When she was moved, the cables on Maidstone’s bows were left dangling.  Prisoners spotted the cables dangling outside the scuttles (portholes) and saw the opportunity to escape.  During the night, they managed to pull the ropes in to the scuttles and climb out on to them.  They used the ropes to swing themselves out to a point where they could get through the barbed wire, and descended into the icy cold water to make their escape.”

These men were referred to as ‘The Magnificent Seven’.  Their side of the story can be found at http://www.anphoblacht.com/contents/16314 (copied below):

HMS Maidstone in Belfast

HMS Maidstone in Belfast

The Magnificent Seven

BY ARAN FOLEY

This week 35 years ago, on 17 January 1972, seven republican internees escaped from the British prison ship, HMS Maidstone, moored at the coal wharf in Belfast docks, and swam to freedom. They achieved fame in news headlines across the world as ‘The Magnificent Seven’.

Originally a Royal Navy submarine depot ship, the Maidstone was used as an emergency billet for British troops. After the introduction of internment, though, of the original 226 people detained, 122 were held in the Maidstone in the most cramped and inhumane of conditions where opportunities for even the most basic of needs such as exercise were virtually non-existent. Gerry Adams was held there for a brief time.

Some of the internees had been planning an escape and the transfer of 50 internees to the new internment camp at Magilligan the day before meant they had to urgently push forward their plan.

The men — Jim Bryson, Tommy Tolan, Thomas Kane, Martin Taylor, Tommy Gorman, Peter Rodgers and Seán Convery — had noticed a seal swimming through the ring of barbed wire which surrounded the ship. The prisoners reasoned that the gap was also sufficient to allow a human through. They had also been tossing tin cans overboard to monitor the movements of the tide.

On the night of 16 January, the conditions were judged right and the escape bid was ready to go. The nervous tension was exacerbated by a late head-count of internees by guards, causing an unexpected delay of 20 minutes which was to almost scupper the escape’s success. The head-count over, the escape went ahead behind schedule.

In a scene reminiscent of a Second World War POW movie, the men camouflaged themselves with boot polish and covered themselves in butter to insulate themselves from the cold waters they would have to swim through if they were to make it to freedom. Cutting through a steel bar in a porthole, they clambered down the ship’s steel cable.

It took them 20 minutes to swim through the bitingly cold water. Several of the men who couldn’t swim had to be helped by their comrades. Despite this, and serious injuries inflicted by the barbed wire, all seven men made it ashore otherwise unscathed. The problem was that they had landed 500 yards down from the agreed rendezvous point with units of the IRA’s Belfast Brigade, waiting to take them to safe houses.

By the time the escapees had made it to the original meeting point, their comrades had left, believing that the non-appearance of the Maidstone men meant that the escape had been aborted.

This forced the escapees, cold and dripping wet, to improvise.

They commandeered a bus at Queens Road Terminus and drove across the city themselves. Peter Rodgers (clad only in his underpants!) approached a bus driver and asked him for a loan of his overcoat, explaining to the somewhat startled driver, and in something approaching the truth, that he had fallen in to the water. The driver handed over his coat and then set off on his route. On his return at 6.30pm he left the bus. The seven men clambered aboard. Rodgers, who had been a bus driver himself, took the wheel and off they sped. Reaction from the security men at the main gate was minimal, which is probably explainable by the fact that it was not every day they were confronted by the spectacle of a bus full of semi-naked men speeding out the gates.

During the journey they were spotted by a British Army patrol but upon entering the staunchly republican area of the Markets the patrol refused to follow them any further for fear of an ambush. Before British troops could surround the area, the men had been spirited away to different parts of Belfast and the British search was in vain.

Hours later, sitting in a drinking club, the escapees were much amused – as indeed were most of the country – by the appearance of one Colonel Tony Budd of the Royal Horse Artillery appearing on the TV news to assure them that all was in order. But everything wasn’t in order – the Magnificent Seven were out.

The Magnificent Seven escaped from the British prison ship, HMS Maidstone 35 years ago.

Release of previously unseen vintage aerial photographs of Ulster

Harland & Wolff, Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1947. Oblique aerial photograph taken facing East.

Harland & Wolff, Belfast, Belfast, Northern Ireland, 1947. Oblique aerial photograph taken facing East.

History Hub Ulster welcomes the release of previously unseen vintage aerial photographs of Ulster by the Britain From Above website.

The site has recently published many unseen vintage aerial photographs of Ulster covering the 1920’s through to the 1950’s.

Within the archive are aerial photographs of the Antrim, Ards, Armagh, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Banbridge, Belfast, Carrickfergus, Castlereagh, Cavan , Coleraine, Cookstown, Craigavon, Derry, Donegal, Down, Dungannon, Fermanagh, Lisburn, Larne, Magherafelt, Moyle, Newry and Mourne, Newtownabbey, North Down, Omagh and Strabane areas.

The photographs will interest everyone from local historians, railway enthusiasts and heritage fans to name a few.

Britain from Above is a four year project aimed at conserving 95,000 of the oldest and most valuable photographs in the Aerofilms collection, those dating from 1919 to 1953.  Once conserved, they are scanned into digital format and made available on this website for the public to see. This project has been made possible due to a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and support from The Foyle Foundation and other donors. The website launched with the first 10,000 images and as we currently have little information about the details in the images, the website provides the opportunity to share and record your memories and knowledge about the places shown in the collection.

Britain From Above website – http://www.britainfromabove.org.uk/restofworld-northern-ireland

Gavin Bamford and Catherine Burrell, History Hub Ulster members

 

HMS HAWKE Centenary: Heartbreaking stories of fathers-to-be who would never see their newborn children.

The sinking of HMS HAWKE: One of the greatest single losses of Royal Navy sailors from Ulster with 49 Ulstermen lost to just one U-boat

During the week when the Royal Navy traditionally remembers the Immortal Memory of Admiral Nelson and his final victory at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, it is worth pausing to reflect on the centenary of a naval incident that had a significant impact on so many Ulster families, the sinking of HMS Hawke. One of the greatest single losses of Royal Navy sailors from Ulster, this incident occurred on the 15th October 1914 when the German Submarine U-9 which was patrolling the North Sea came across two British Cruisers HMS Hawke and her sister ship HMS Theseus.

HMS_HawkeUnder the command of German hero Commander Weddigen, U-9 fired on the British ships. This was the same German submarine which had caused the deaths of almost 1500 British seamen only 3 weeks earlier with the torpedoing of the ‘Livebait Squadron’. The submarine’s first torpedo hit HMS Hawke, igniting a magazine and causing a tremendous explosion which ripped much of the ship apart. Hawke sank in a few minutes with the loss of her Commander and 523 men. Only 74 men were saved.

Sailors from Ulster lost on Hawke included the tragic loss of three fathers-to-be, leaving pregnant wives to fend for themselves throughout the difficult war years.

-Leading Stoker Joyce Power left young twins and a pregnant wife in Ballymena. 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 just 3 weeks before, suffered yet another tragedy with the loss of another member, Stoker (1st class) Andrew McAllister.

-Another loss for Ulster was Lieutenant Commander Ruric Henry Waring, the first of the sons of Colonel Thomas Waring JP of Waringstown to be killed. Ruric’s younger brother Major Holt Waring would be killed in 1918 at the Front.

In August 1914, at the outbreak of the First World War, Hawke was part of the 10th Cruiser Squadron, operating on blockade duties between the Shetland Islands and Norway. In October 1914, the 10th Cruiser Squadron was deployed further south in the North Sea as part of efforts to stop German warships from attacking a troop convoy from Canada. On 15 October, the squadron was on patrol off Aberdeen and HMS Hawke stopped at 0930 to pick up mail from her sister ship HMS Endymion. Hawke proceeded to return to her station without zig-zagging to avoid danger, and was out of sight of the rest of the Squadron when a single torpedo from U-9 struck Hawke and she quickly capsized. The remainder of the Squadron only realised something was wrong when, after a further, unsuccessful attack on Theseus, they were ordered to retreat and no response was received from Hawke. The destroyer Swift was dispatched from Scapa Flow to search for Hawke and found a raft carrying 22 men, while a boat with a further 49 survivors was rescued by a Norwegian steamer.

524 men drowned, including the ship’s Captain, Hugh P. E. T. Williams, and 49 Ulstermen. Only 74 men were saved, of which 6 were from Ulster.

A surviving Stoker explained:
‘Those on deck for an instant immediately after the explosion saw the periscope of a submarine which showed above the water like a broomstick. The Hawke was holed above the engine room and commenced to cant over to starboard with alarming rapidity. Her plates were twisted and torn and a huge gap was rent in her side. An attempt to man the guns was made but owing to the extra acute list of the vessel it was found impossible to train them on the submerged craft. The horror of the situation was added to when a tank of oil fuel caught fire and the flames advanced with fatal rapidity. Seeing there was not the ghost of a chance of doing any good by remaining in what was obviously a death trap I determined to make a dash for it. I scrambled precipitately up the iron ladder to the main deck. All this had happened in less time than it takes to tell.’

He continued:
‘But such is British pluck and coolness of nerve even in the face of such a situation that already after the initial shock the Captain, Commander and a midshipman were on the bridge and calmly on the fleet manoeuvre in the Solent, orders were given out and calmly obeyed. The bugler sounded the ‘Still’ call which called upon every man to remain at the post in which the call reached him. Apparently during the first minute or two, the belief was entertained that all that was wrong was the boiler explosion, but the rapidity with which the cruiser was making water on her starboard side rudely and quickly disputed all minds of this belief.’

Another survivor explained that:
‘The Captain, Commander and the midshipman had stuck bravely to their posts on the bridge to the last, and were seen to disappear and the ship finally plunged bow first amidst a maelstrom of cruel, swirling waters’

One survivor when interviewed pointed out that:
‘the crew for the most part were Irishmen, the reason being that at the outbreak of war the Hawke which was one of the oldest ships of the British Navy, was stationed at Queenstown… there were only around 24 active servicemen on board, the remainder being fleet reservists’

None of these men’s bodies was recovered for burial, most remaining where they drowned. The centenary of the sinking of HMS Hawke and the tragic loss of so many men of Ulster will be remembered at the Royal Navy’s annual Trafalgar Day Service in Belfast on 19th October 2014.

Ulstermen known to have died on HMS Hawke are:

Stoker (1st class) Nathaniel Agnew, born Belfast

Able Seaman Robert Algie, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) David Bell, born Ballymena

Stoker (1st class) George Jackson Campbell, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) John Chisim, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) Hugh Patrick Cormican, born Belfast

Able Seaman Hugh Crawford, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) Robert Creighton, born Larne

Stoker (1st class) James Dickey, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) Mariott (Martie) Robert D Donald, born Carrickfergus

Petty Officer (1st class) William James Elkin, born Coleraine

Stoker (1st class) Samuel Fee, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) William John Gillespie, born Lisburn

Able Seaman James Toland Gorman, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) William Greer, born Ballybay, Monaghan

Stoker (1st class) Robert John Hamilton, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) William James Harper, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) Robert Hunter, born Belfast

Able Seaman William Johnston, born Carrickfergus

Stoker (1st class) Isaac Lewis, lived Belfast

Stoker (1st class) Andrew McAllister, born Carrickfergus

Able Seaman David McCaugherty, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) Hugh McComb, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) William McFarlane

Stoker (1st class) James McNally, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) John Mills, born Belfast

Chief Petty Officer Charles Molloy, born Drumragh, Tyrone

Stoker (1st class) Edward Mullen, born Belfast

Able Seaman William James Ross, born Belfast

Leading Stoker Joyce Power, born Ballymena

Stoker (1st class) Thomas Henry Sefton, lived Belfast

Stoker (1st class) John Smyth, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) Archer Thompson, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) David Tully

Stoker (1st class) Charles Edward Uprichard, born Lurgan

Stoker (1st class) Henry Wasson, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) James Wilson, born Newry

Able Seaman Albert Patterson Wilson, lived Belfast

Stoker (1st class) John Yates, born Belfast

Boy (1st class) Clare Robert Adams, born Enniskillen

Stoker (1st class) William Clarke, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) Edward Crossin, born Belfast

Able Seaman John Thomas Gibson Dawson, born Belfast

Able Seaman James Charles Gamble, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) Daniel Laverty, born Belfast

Stoker (1st class) Alexander Mairs, born Ballymena

Leading Stoker Patrick McEvoy, born Dechomet, Banbridge

Stoker (1st class) Hugh McGinley, born Inch Island, Donegal

Lieutenant Commander Ruric Henry Waring, born Waringstown

*Research by Karen O’Rawe, Chair History Hub Ulster and William Hull, Research Assistant, Now Project.

*Three years before, on 20 September 1911, Hawke, under command of Commander W. F. Blunt, collided in the Solent with the White Star liner RMS Olympic. In the course of the collision, Hawke lost her bow. The subsequent trial pronounced Hawke to be free from any blame. During the trial, a theory was advanced that the large amount of water displaced by the Olympic had generated a suction that had drawn Hawke off course. The decision of the first court to try the case provoked a series of legal appeals.

*There were 6 known Ulster men who survived the tragedy. These were: Charles Trainer from Derry, JA Allen from Belfast, Thomas H Doyle from Belfast, Thomas Hoy from Larne, John Aitken, from Belfast and James O’Neill, from Belfast.

*Newspaper photographs courtesy of History Hub Ulster member, Nigel Henderson at http://www.greatwarbelfastclippings.com

History Hub Ulster is a research group based in Belfast, but working on projects across Ulster.

 

 

More Than A Flag at #BelFest

 

East Belfast answered the call to arms in World War One. Dan Gordon and Garth McConaghie work with a group of young East Belfast Bandsmen to find out why and create a special performance with songs, poetry, music and drama to commemorate this vital part of the city’s heritage.

Running from Thurs 23 – Sat 25 Oct at Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s.

Click to book here.
More than a flag

Ireland 1912-1923 An Island in Turmoil and Transition

Ireland 1912-1923 An Island in Turmoil and Transition: A series of talks and debates about the Irish Revolutionary period and it’s political and social aftermath.

Philip Orr and Tom Hartley talk, debate and discuss each of 7 themes as below.

Every Thursday from 25th September – 6th November at various locations across Belfast.

For more info contact Séanna Walsh at Coiste na nlarchimí by emailing seanna@coiste.com

 

coiste

Lights out for a shared moment of reflection

Garrison Church, Thiepval Barracks, Lisburn

Stained glass window at Garrison Church, Thiepval Barracks, Lisburn

Troops across Northern Ireland will be attending Garrison Church services and vigils this evening (Monday 4th August) to remember the outbreak of World War One 100 years ago today.

At the headquarters of 38 (Irish) Brigade in Lisburn final preparations have been made at the Garrison Church where members of the Armed Forces and their families will gather at 10pm for a service during which the lights will go out one by one until only a candle will remain to light the stained glass window.

Similar services are being held at Palace Barracks in Holywood and at Aldergrove.

The Armed Forces in NI are supporting civic commemorative events being held across Ireland to commemorate the service and sacrifices made by men and women across the services.

 

One such event is being held in St. Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, led by Dean of Belfast John Mann.

A candlelit vigil and act of remembrance will be held later tonight at the Cenotaph at Belfast City Hall.

Organiser Jeffrey Donaldson said: “We face a decade of significant centenaries in Northern Ireland and on the island of Ireland and I feel it is important that these should not become divisive.

“The global events that took place during 1914-1918 involved people from across the island and the political divide and had a profound effect on the history of Ireland in the 20th century.

“We owe it to those who sacrificed their lives with such valour to ensure that the centenary is used to promote better understanding between our various traditions on this island.

“The centennial commemorations of the war provide an opportunity to enhance our shared understanding of this history and to promote reconciliation.”

A member of the Royal Family and First Minister Peter Robinson will be present at the commemorative service along with a senior member of the Irish government and other community leaders from across Ireland.

Representatives of the Royal British Legion and regimental associations of the army will also attend.

The candlelit vigil will coincide with a similar event at Westminster Abbey and in other regional capitals across the UK.

It will be open to the public and those planning to attend are encouraged to bring a candle. The ceremony will include a short act of remembrance and wreath laying, with “lights out” in City Hall for a period during the vigil.

For other Lights Out events visit: http://www.1418now.org.uk/lights-out/

Lights Out

 

PRONI Guide to First World War Sources

PRPRONI WW1 SourcesONI has published its Guide to the Manuscript Sources for the Study of the First World War in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland.

This comprehensive document will help guide users to the wealth of papers, volumes, letters, images, and scrapbooks relating to the First World War which are held within the collections at PRONI.

The guide can be accessed by clicking here

Irish Voices from the First World War a blog based on PRONI sources:

Post One August – Read here

Candlelight Vigil Belfast

The WW1 Centenary Committee of Northern Ireland are holding a Candlelight Vigil at Belfast City Hall on 4th August at 10pm to commemorate the outbreak of World War One. The evening begins at 10pm and will include a collective moment of reflection, including a short Act of Remembrance and the laying of wreaths. 

As part of the UK-wide Lights Out event, Bob and Roberta Smith take over the East Lawn of the City Hall grounds in Belfast to create an illuminating installation of the statement, using letters designed and constructed together with local artists and community groups. These groups, with diverse age ranges and backgrounds, respond to their understanding of the statement and to the commemoration of WW1.

Each letter of the statement accommodates a set of candles and at 10pm on Monday 4 August, Bob and Roberta Smith invite the city of Belfast to ignite the candles in a moment of shared reflection.

Lights out