Captain Ernest Shackleton’s gift to the Imperial War Museum

BY RICHARD MADDOX

SEARCHING THROUGH A PILE of Second World War ex-prisoner of war questionnaires at the National Archives in Kew, England, I saw one by a ‘Captain Ernest Shackleton’.

Clearly not the polar explorer (he died in 1922) this Ernest Shackleton had joined the British Army with a Territorial Army commission in 1926.

An engineer by profession, he was  serving  in the Royal Corps of Signals when he was captured on 12 June 1940 at Saint Valorie-en-Caux, around 60 kilometres from Le Havre in France.

After spending three months in hospital – he says on the questionnaire he wasn’t ‘seriously’ injured but he was unwell enough to occupy a hospital bed – he was transferred to the first of four PoW camps, the last being Oflag (Officer’s Camp) IX A/Z at Rotenburg en Fulda in the German state of Hesse.

During this time he wasn’t in a work camp (officers were generally exempt from having to work). He didn’t have any serious illness and any medical attention he did receive (presumably related to his original injuries) was judged to be adequate.

I turned the page.

No escape and evasion lectures before capture, no ‘unusual’ interrogation techniques used.

He knew of no collaboration by his fellow prisoners or of any war crimes.

In fact there were only two comments.

The first, his response to the question about whether he made any escape attempts gets a ‘No’.

Almost as an afterthought is written immediately underneath ‘Was employed from August 1941 (with minor breaks) on radio operations, design and construction of radio apparatus’.

And then on the final page above his signature is the last question;

‘8. Have you any other matter of any kind you wish to bring to notice?’

His response is shown below and reads:

‘I especially request permission to return to OFLAG IX A/Z ROTENBURG to remove radio apparatus locally constructed and other incriminating gear, documents etc & to destroy or remove for Imperial War Museum hides [word unclear] and gear. The Senior British Officer endeavoured to obtain this permission but was unable owing to urgency of evacuation. This OFLAG was identified as intact whilst flying over during the evacuation’.

Scribbled in soft black pencil beside his request at a later date beside is ‘Already redeemed by Shackleton’ with a further note scribbled out.

The final question on Captain Shackleton’s POW questionnaire and his request for permission to return to a former POW camp and retrieve radio apparatus for IWM. Image © R Maddox 2017.

And that is a small part of the story of why an unlikely looking  radio receiver –  a collection of toilet roll tubes dipped in wax, thermometer cases, toothbrush handles, a cotton reel, bits of tin can, a Bakelite ashtray, wire ‘liberated’ from the camp’s occupational department with values and capacitors from a German cine projector – all cobbled together with its own power chassis, hidden under floor boards and operated by knitting needles pushed through the cracks from above – came to be IWM Catalogue Number COM 504, described as ‘Wireless Equipment, Receiver (POW constructed), British’ in the possession of the Imperial War Museums.

Wireless Equipment, Receiver (POW-constructed), British (COM 504). A wireless radio receiver manufactured by Captain Ernest Shackleton at Oflag IXA/Z, Rotenburg during the Second World War, using materials salvaged from the camp. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30005281

The Imperial Camel Corps Memorial – A tribute to the ‘Ship of the Desert’ beside the Thames

BY RICHARD MADDOX

VILLIERS STREET GARDEN (one of four public gardens making up London’s Embankment Gardens) is not far from Charing Cross railway station, Trafalgar Square, various Government offices in Whitehall and numerous other sites of employment in the western part of the capital.

It is a lunchtime oasis for nearby office workers, a pleasant commuter ‘rat run’ for those walking to and from work or a green gem for London visitors or tourists to get their bearings.

History and fame are never far away.

The York Water Gate shows where the waters of the Thames used to extend to, the Gardens being reclaimed land with the much deeper modern Thames being 150 metres or so further south. The Savoy Hotel has its rear entrance very near the Gardens, statues of Robert Burns and composer Arthur Sullivan gaze unseeingly before them.

It’s also the site of the Imperial Camel Corps Memorial, a small Portland stone plinth topped with a beautifully modelled statue of a camel and its uniformed rider, sculpted by Major Cecil Brown who served in the Corps.

Detail of the rider and camel sculpted by Cecil Brown. Image © R Maddox 2017

The Imperial Camel Corps Memorial with the Australian casualties and the engagements of the Corps. Image © R Maddox 2017

The Memorial commemorates by name 346 members of the Corps who died of all causes between when the 1916 (when the Corps was founded just after Gallipoli action) and 1918 while serving in Egypt, Palestine and Sinai together with the actions they took part in.

The vast majority of casualties were Australian troops – 191 commemorated on the eastern plaque – with soldier from the United Kingdom (106), New Zealand (41) and the Indian sub-continent (9) being named on the western plaque.

The north and south sides have additional bronzes depicting dismounted soldiers running and officers with a camel (1).

At its height the Corps had 4,150 men and 4,800 camels. Three of its four battalions were disbanded in mid-1918, the final (2nd) battalion survived until May 1919 (2).

Unveiled on 22 July 1921, the ceremony was attended by (amongst others) the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand and General Sir Philip Chetwode, the Corps first commander – and later the father-in-law of poet Sir John Betjeman(3) with the memorial being dedicated by the Bishop of London(4).

It stands on the site of… (ironically, given the fact that the Corps operated in the desert and the camel’s ability to store water)… a late 19th century drinking fountain(5).

Sources:

(1) https://www.londonremembers.com/memorials/imperial-camel-corps retrieved 11 July 2017

(2) https://www.londonremembers.com/subjects/imperial-camel-corps?memorial_id=1299 retrieved 11 July 2017

(3) http://www.thefield.co.uk/country-house/the-imperial-camel-corps-31175 retrieved 11 July 2017

(4) http://www.iwm.org.uk/memorials/item/memorial/11347 retrieved 11 July 2017

(5) https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1000844 retrieved 11 July 2017

THE SHIP THAT TORPEDOED HERSELF – THE TRAGIC TALE OF HMS TRINIDAD

BY TIM MANSFIELD

THE TRAGEDY THAT BEFELL HMS TRINIDAD is perhaps made even more poignant by the fact that had the events of 1942 happened a year later it is not inconceivable that HMS Belfast could have shared a similar fate.

Belfast was known to be a happy and lucky ship (notwithstanding November 1939 when she was mined).

Trinidad did not share in that good fortune.

HMS Trinidad from WW2.com

In March 1942 HMS Trinidad, a Royal Navy Colony Class Cruiser was on escort duty with an Arctic Convoy en route to Russia. Progress was slow and dangerous;  100ft waves, constant darkness, incessant and effective attacks from the German Air Force and U-boats posed a constant and deadly threat to the 800 men on board; and all the time the ship was fighting the most incessant enemy of all – the bitter arctic seas.

Trinidad came under attack from three German destroyers. She fired three torpedoes, but two of them froze in the launching tubes; the third misfired, the bitter cold had affected the gyro of the torpedo and it came full circle to strike Trinidad in her port side.

The force of the explosion ripped a 60ft hole in her side.

32 men perished, 9 of whom were members of the Royal Marines working in the Gunnery Transmitting Station, deep in the bowels of the ship.

Trinidad underwent temporary repairs in Murmansk and attempted to return home under her own steam, but following another devastating Luftwaffe attack on 13th May 1942, the crew were taken off under the most horrendous conditions and the order was given for HMS Matchless to sink her with torpedoes.

As Trinidad slipped beneath the waves, she flew the signal ‘I Am Sailing to the Westward’.

large_Trinidad_Greenock

SURVIVORS OF HMS TRINIDAD ARRIVE HOME AT THE SCOTTISH PORT OF GREENOCK. 19 MAY 1942. (A 10321) Survivors from HMS TRINIDAD on arrival at Greenock. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205144038

 

One of only three survivors from the Royal Marines detachment was a young Royal Marines musician by the name of George Lloyd.

Royal Marine Bandsman George Lloyd. Image from exroyalmarinebandsman.net

Following the sinking, George Lloyd suffered terrible mental illness (what we would now call PTSD) but found solace and hope in music. He spent many years in the country growing carnations and mushrooms. Eventually his health improved.

He went on to compose no less than 12 symphonies, 4 piano concertos, 21 violin concertos, 3 operas and a cantata. In 1977 his first eight symphonies were broadcast by the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra under Sir Edward Downes.

His march ‘HMS Trinidad’ which he composed for the ship soon after the outbreak of war was performed at the Last Night of the Proms in September 2013, in the presence of the last remaining survivor of the tragedy; one of the very few military marches ever to be honoured in this way.

Epitaph

“I’m Sailing to Westward now,
Waves wash away my darkest fears,
No-one can hurt me,
Duty has called me,
To celebrate my days.”

Text taken from the narration to ‘Am sailing to Westward’ (Comp: Harvey © Chevron recordings) and from the sleeve notes to ‘Harrison’s Dream’ © Chevron recordings