Friday 26 May 2017

HMHS “Dover Castle” sunk by German U-Boat on 26th May 1917

he Steam Ship “Dover Castle” was built by Barclay Curie and Company of Glasgow and launched in 1904.  She was a cargo and passenger liner built for the shipping line Union Castle.  In WW1 the ship was requisitioned by the British Admiralty for refitting and use as a Hospital Ship. 

On 4th October 1916, HMHS “Dover Castle” was able to go to the assistance of the “Franconia” another hospital ship, when she was torpedoed and sunk near Malta on her way to Salonika.   “Dover Castle” was able to save the lives of 302 of the 314 crew members of “Franconia”.

HMHS “Dover Castle” was on her way from Malta to Gibraltar when she was torpedoed and 7 stokers were killed.  The crew managed to evacuate most of the wounded to HMS “Cameleon”.  A skeleton crew stayed on board with the Captain to try and save the “Dover Castle” but she was hit by a further torpedo and sank.


Tuesday 23 May 2017

Book Review: “1001 Fantastic First World War Facts” by Scott Addington, published by Scott on Amazon –

I first heard about Scott Addington when we interviewed him about his book “Heroes of the Line” which is about Scott’s cycle pilgrimage along the Western Front from the coast to Switzerland.  (If you haven’t read that we strongly recommend you do…)

So I was very pleased to see that Scott has recently brought out another WW1 book - “1001 Fantastic First World War Facts”, which is so full of interesting facts it is hard to know which to pick for the purposes of the review. The book is divided into sections which are listed on page 11 – from Prelude to War to Remembrance and Aftermath. The facts are set out in short sentences, easy to read sentences and the book is a paperback and therefore easy to put in your pocket if you are visiting any of the graves and/or battlefields in the theatres of the war.

Scott starts by explaining how the First World War began – fact No. 14 tells us about the German Schlieffen Plan.  As my Grandfather was an Old Contemptible with the Royal Field Artillery, I was particularly interested in No. 401 on page 53, which explains that a Captain John Patrick Denny of the Royal Field Artillery formed the Old Contemptibles Association for Veterans of the British Expeditionary Force in 1925.   

On page 57, No. 445 explains Field Ambulances and Casualty Clearing Stations, while 454 reminds us that there were replica trenches dug in parks, etc. in various towns in Britain designed to show members of the public what the trench system was like.  Visitors were shown round for a small entrance fee which raised money for the wounded.

Fact 715 mentions American nurses and on page 85, Fact 753 tells us of the first use of planes for bombing.  No. 884 answers the question so many people ask as to why War Memorials say “1914 – 1919” and not “1914 – 1918”.

As an introduction to the history of the First World War this is an extremely handy and interesting book.

“1001 Fantastic First World War Facts” by Scott Addington, published by Scott on Amazon –
Follow Scott on Twitter:  @scott_addington and on Facebook:  @ScottAddingtonHistory

A follow-up book is now available as a down-load from Scott’s website - 500 Fantastic First World War Facts and you can get to it via my website -

Thursday 4 May 2017

Book Review “A Taste of Success. The First Battle of the Scarpe, 9 – 14 April 1917”

In loving memory of my Great Uncle James, who was killed on the first day of the Battle of Arras, Easter Monday, 9th April 1917, I have recently completed an exhibition about some of the soldier poets who were killed on that day. Great Uncle James, from Northfleet, Kent, UK, has no known grave but is commemorated on the Arras Memorial in France, so anything I can find out about the initial stages of the Battle of Arras is of great interest to me. 

I was, therefore, particularly interested in reading Jim Smithson’s book “A Taste of Success. The First Battle of the Scarpe, The Opening Phase of the Battle of Arras, 9  – 14 April 1917”, which has recently been published by Helion & Company of Solihull, West Midlands, UK. 

From first sight this book is wonderful and it is not easy to do justice to it in a brief review. No expense has been spared in the production of the book which compliments the time, meticulous research and dedication of the author. It is beautifully presented with copies of original photos, maps, colour photographs and a hard, coloured cover with a photograph of a tank.  I had no idea tanks were in use in WW1 before the Battle of Cambrai but now have a greater understanding of the first use of these weapons.

The Foreword has been contributed by a writer who has already written about the Battle of Arras, Jonathan Nicholls.  Written on Remembrance Sunday 2016, the Foreword sets the tone of the book.  Nicholls’ book was published during the 1980s when many of the WW1 survivors from both sides were still alive and he was able to interview then and walk the battlefields with them.

The Preface of “A Taste of Success” begins with a quotation from a poem by Siegfried Sassoon. Chapters 1 to 9 begin with quotations from poems by Edward Thomas, who was one of the poets killed on 9th April 1917 during the Battle of Arras.  Jim Smithson starts by explaining in detail the background to the Battle of Arras in 1917, going right back to the early stages of the conflict before the trenches were dug.  Detailed maps are included, as well as photographs of some of those who took part.   I was particularly interested to read the accounts of the German and French regiments involved, for instance the Moroccans in May 1915 and the New Zealand Tunnelling Company who were involved in the preparation of the tunnels made when the Allies built upon the quarries and caves underneath Arras.

I was also interested to read about the German use of bobby traps when withdrawing from areas.

On page 95 is a very comprehensive guide to the different first aid posts and hospitals to which the wounded were taken.

Smithson also goes into detail about the difficulties encountered by the British due to the sharing of the command with the French and the logistical problems of transporting and supplying the British Army’s 1.4 million troops who were based in France by 1917.  Also explained are the political arguments behind the army commanders, such as the Rome Conference in early 1917. The final chapter, “Epilogue and Conclusions” is particularly revealing.

In the Appendices you will find copies of official documents, reports and memoranda, copious notes on Sources, Bibliography and detailed lists of all the units involved in the preparations beforehand and in the Battle itself.

This compelling book is essential reading for anyone seriously interested in the history of the First World War.

“A Taste of Success - The First Battle of the Scarpe, The Opening Phase of the Battle of Arras, 9  – 14 April 1917” by Jim Smithson is published by Helion & Company of Solihull, West Midlands, UK. On sale at £29.95, the book is available from Amazon, from Foyles Bookshop in London and from Thiepval Visitor Centre, and Arras Tourist Centre.

"Commemorating 1917" is an exhibition on display at The Wilfred Owen Story, Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH41 6AE, UK in 2017.  Opening times are 11 am till 2 pm Tuesdays - Fridays and entry is free.  If you plan to go please check with the website first so as there is someone to welcome you: