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Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War

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Watch this space for an online gallery of Forgotten Wrecks paintings by volunteer artist Mike Greaves.


Download: PowerPoints

We have a number of PowerPoints on case study wrecks and topics related to the Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War available for download. You can preview them here, or click on the link below each preview to download and see accompanying notes.

The War at Sea

The maritime war was what made the First World War truly global conflict. Despite the range of nations from every continent involved in the war, actual extent of conflict was quite narrow, mostly in Europe. 

Please view full screen to see accompanying notes.

Southampton at War

Since the 1860s Southampton had been the principal military port and had worked effectively during the Boer Wars. With the London to Southampton railway line opening in 1840 and the Docks opening in 1842, Southampton had excellent transport links and by 1846 was known as “The Gateway to the Empire”.  It was no surprise, therefore, that Southampton would play the lead role in supplying the First World War as Number 1 Port.

It must be remembered however, that Southampton’s contribution to the war was not solely maritime. Throughout the city, people were engaged in other essential war work.  The people of Southampton kept the city functioning, with many women employed in traditionally male roles. The many memorials around the town commemorate the City’s losses.

Please view full screen to see accompanying notes.

HMHS Lanfranc

The subject of this PowerPoint is the Lanfranc. Built in 1906 in Dundee as a Passenger/cargo vessel, Lanfranc was requisitioned in 1915 for war duty and converted to a hospital ship. Having assisted in the evacuation of troops from Gallipoli, HMHS Lanfranc transported the wounded back from Le Havre to Southampton. Lanfrac was torpedoed and sank on the 17th April 1917.

Please view full screen to see accompanying notes.

Airship SSZ15

The subject of this PowerPoint is Airship SSZ15, assembled at the Royal Navy Airship Station (RNAS) at Mullion, Cornwall and trialled on 10th August 1917. Historical records show that the airship flew for 215 hours during 1917 and 195 hours in 1918 before being lost at sea, with the loss of all 3 people on-board on 13th April 1918.


Please view full screen to see accompanying notes.

HMT Warilda

The subject of this PowerPoint is HMT Warilda, built in 1912 as a passenger/cargo vessel, used as a troop transporter in 1914 and a hospital ship in 1916 and torpedoed in the middle of the English Channel, between Le Harve and Southampton, with tragic loss of life in August 1918.

Please view full screen to see accompanying notes.


The Lost Village of Hallsands

Hallsands village, located in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty on the South Devon coast at Start Bay, about I mile north of Start Point, was until the last few years of the 19th century associated with fishing. From 1897 for the next 20 years, it suffered hardship, with its community progressively losing their means of fishing, culminating in losing their houses and belongings to the sea. This was brought about by removal of vast quantities of sand and shingle which had protected the precarious community for many, many decades. The result was that most inhabitants were forced to abandon their houses before they collapsed, but today the village has international renown within the Coastal Engineering fraternity, an example of the effect of coastal dredging when processes are not fully understood.

Hallsands in 1885
Hallsands in 1885

The early history of Hallsands is unknown, but a chapel has existed there since at least 1506. The village was at a cave known as Poke Hole, and probably was not inhabited before 1600. The village[1]grew in size during the 18th and 19th centuries, and by the 1891 census, it was thriving with 37 houses, a spring, a public house called the London Inn dating from 1784 with stables, a bakery, a greengrocer, and a population of 159. The nearest school was a 2 mile walk. Many of the men of Hallsands had other trades to supplement the living they made through fishing, such as tailor, carpenter and blacksmith.

Village from south
The village before major damage occurred. View from the south.

Most residents of Hallsands depended on fishing for a living: crab fishing on the nearby Skerries Bank and seine fishing for mackerel and pilchards. The Leicester Chronicle reported in October 1842 that the “seins belonging to Hallsands secured the immense number of about 800,000 pilchards, which were rather small, fetching from 9d. to 18d. per hundred”. (Approx. £4 to £8 in 2017).

Hallsands Fishing
Hallsands was the home to 128 residents. Fishing was the main way of making a living

The environment of the village was sometimes harsh. Exposed to the weather and storms, but built on a rocky ledge above sea level and protected by the sand and shingle banks in front of it, the hardship was a way of life. The Devon Sea Fisheries Committee added to the difficulties, by passing bylaws[2] in the mid-1890s curtailing certain kinds of fishing, much to the annoyance of fishermen from Hallsands and the nearby communities of Slapton, Torcross and Beesands. Despite trawl nets being banned, some fishermen continued to use them. The Rev.Conrad Finzell of Stokenham wrote to the Dartmouth and South Hams Chronicle to report that continued trawl fishing had entirely crippled the crab fishermen of Hallsands and Beesands, where over 100 crab pots had been destroyed by nets in a three week period [3].

The Admiralty decided in 1895 that the Royal Navy dockyard at Keyham, Plymouth should be extended to accommodate the increasing size of modern warships. By 1907, Keyham, itself renamed as North Yard and now part of HMNB Devonport, had expanded greatly, requiring vast quantities of sand and gravel for its construction. Sir John Jackson, an established contractor for large scale civil engineering works including docks and harbours won the contract, and turned to a 1,100m stretch of coast off Hallsands for the materials needed, having secured a licence from the Board of Trade for removal of sand, shingle and gravel from below the low water mark in a designated area, without the villagers’ knowledge. The licence contained a clause that if the operation should damage the foreshore defences of the adjacent land, then the licence would be cancelled. Dredging started in April 1897, initially with a bucket-ladder dredger, later replaced by two suction-pump dredgers discharging into 1,100-ton capacity hopper barges for transport to Devonport. Soon afterwards, Sir John Jackson obtained a similar licence from the Office of Woods that permitted the removal of sand and shingle from the foreshore between high and low water marks, again without the knowledge of the villagers. A clause in this agreement stated that the work should be done in such a way that the land above the high-water mark should not be exposed to the encroachment of the sea.

By the end of May 1897, the removal of shingle at an average of 1,600 tons per day had altered the shape and angle of the beach, so much so that the low water mark moved until it was actually further inland than the old high-water mark. A Board of Trade Inquiry[4] was held on 10 June 1897 with reference to a complaint against the dredging made by the local MP, Mr F.B. Midmay, on behalf of the fishermen and villagers who feared that the dredging might destabilise the beach and thereby threaten the village. The inquiry[5] found that the activity was not likely to pose a significant threat to the village, so dredging continued, as the licence was not withdrawn, but Sir John Jackson undertook to pay the fishermen of Hallsands £125 a year while the dredging continued, together with a Christmas gratuity of £20. The payments were intended to compensate for the interference with fishing, not for any damage to the shoreline.

Disquiet continued. Over the next few years, there were more pleas for help, enquiries and damage. In November 1900, the villagers petitioned their MP about damage to the houses. At spring high tide, the sea now came within 1m (3ft.) of the village rather than the 21-24m (70-80ft.) it had been before dredging started. Cracks started to appear in houses at the south end of the village and the sea wall was undermined. Following another Board of Trade inspection, Jackson was ordered to provide new concrete footings to the sea wall and a concrete slipway for the boats, to compensate for the lack of beach.

London Inn
The London Inn after the storms of 1903

There followed more damage to the sea walls which were built to protect the houses, and to the houses themselves. After much campaigning and protesting[6] by the villagers and their supporters, on 8 January 1902, the licence[7] to dredge was revoked. After nearly 5 years of dredging, around 650,000 tonnes of shingle were removed from the beach. In the years that followed, especially 1903, some houses suffered further damage, including the London Inn, which lost the kitchen, a bedroom and the cellars. In 1903, John Masefield wrote prophetically about the eventual demise of Hallsands in a poem[8].

After 1917 storm
Hallsands after the storm of January 1917

A new stronger sea wall was put in place in 1906 to protect the remaining 25 cottages and their 93 inhabitants. Although these numbers fell to 79, the sea wall contributed to the villagers’ feeling of security but this was shattered in a violent storm[9] which started on 26 January 1917. The fishermen, expecting worsening gales, storms and a high tide, hauled the boats high up in to the village street and battened them down. The children were evacuated to the Mildmay Cottages. At 8pm spring tides brought huge waves which crashed into the houses at roof height and destroyed the buildings behind the sea walls from above. The houses built on the empty chasms in the ledge collapsed and those on the rocks were battered by wind, waves and stones. The villagers feared for their lives.

Occupied house
Ruins on the seafront at Hallsands

By midnight, four houses were totally demolished and none survived intact. Amazingly, all 79 villagers survived and scrambled to safety during a lull in the storm at low tide. Dawn on 27th January revealed a devastating picture, and the sea was strewn with timber and broken furniture. The sea walls had held, otherwise many more houses, and possibly lives, would have been lost. It was likely that the next high tide would destroy all that remained so with the wind still raging, villagers worked to salvage what they could. On 28th January 1917, with the next high tide, the walls broke and the village was destroyed. Only one house remained in any way habitable, the highest in the village, that of the Prettyjohn family.

The Kingsbridge Gazette that day led with the headline ‘The beach went to Devonport and the cottages went to the sea’.

On 25 September 1917, The Board of Trade held an enquiry[10][11] at Hallsands, on the order of the Devon Sea Fisheries Committee, on behalf of the inhabitants of Hallsands, for compensation in respect to the damage recently sustained by the village from the sea. The Committee urged that compensation should be made to the sufferers out of national funds, and adequate protection afforded, but it would be impossible to construct the houses where they once were. A civil engineer, R Handsford Worth, conducted extensive survey of the coastline with respect to the dredging, and his work was often quoted at this and other Public Inquiries of the day for Hallsands.


Close-up of ruined buildings on the coast of Hallsands


Many families, having lost everything, relocated to neighbouring villages North Hallsands and Beesands to fight the long battle for compensation[12] which took seven years! This delay is encompassed in an article “The day the Sea came down the Chimney”[13] which relates the following:

In 1918 the Government appointed an inspector for a local inquiry.  His conclusions were unequivocal: the dredging had caused the collapse.  He recommended compensation of £10,500 (approx. £0.55m in 2017) to rebuild the village on safer ground.  The civil servants were not impressed.  The Assistant Secretary to the Treasury wrote:

“If we offer [a grant] at once we shall only be pressed for more – the Hallsands fishermen, as past history shows, are past masters in squeezing.  One sympathises with them in the disaster which has overtaken them but a year or more has now elapsed and it is probable that by now they have managed to get homes and a livelihood.”

In fact, most of them were still living nearby, renting rooms, overcrowding the homes of their neighbours or even sleeping in the ruins. 

Embarrassed by its findings, the Government refused to release the report until, sometime after the Second World War, it was passed with other documents to the Public Records Office, where it has remained unnoticed for half a century.


In May 1918, a lower payment of £6,000 (approx. £0.3m in 2017) was made as a “full and final settlement” of all claims.  As inflation reduced its value, the committee administering the grant tried in vain to access the new funds allocated for council housing.   In August 1922, they were forced to admit defeat, and work began on a development of just ten houses, which still stand today in the ‘new’ village of North Hallsands.  The remaining money was insufficient even to pay for these, so the former homeowners were forced to borrow and pay rent for the rest of their lives.

last house
Last house remaining - now a summer holiday home

Only one house was left standing on 27 January 1917, on the road leading down to the village. It was owned by Elizabeth Prettyjohn who stubbornly refused to leave, and lived there with her chickens until her death in 1964, aged about 80 years. She acted as a guide to visitors who came over the years, curious to see the remains of the village. Today her house is used as a summer holiday home.

Another famous Hallsands resident was Ella Trout and her sisters Patience, Clara and Edith. When their fisherman father, William, became sick, Patience and then Ella gave up school and operated his boat which was the only source of income for the family. William died in 1910 when Ella was 15 years old. On the 8th of September 1917, after the Hallsands disaster, Ella was out in the boat crab fishing with her 10-year-old cousin William, when they saw the SS Newholm struck by a naval mine one mile south of Start Point. Along with William Stone, another fisherman in the vicinity, they rowed to the scene and helped rescue nine men. In recognition of her bravery, she received the Order of the British Empire. The sisters, with compensation for the destruction of their cottage at Hallsands and their own earnings, built Trout's Hotel on the cliff above the deserted village. The Trouts ran the hotel successfully until 1959.

Another poem[14], by Susan Wicks, was written about Hallsands and published in 2003.

In 2006, the world premiere of an opera[15], Whirlwinds, based on Hallsands was presented at Gateshead.

View over the ruins at Hallsands

 A viewing platform[16] overlooking Hallsands, was erected by South Hams District Council and signage is incorporated into the South West Coast Path.  In May 2012, it was reported that a 200 tonne, 10 m-long section of coastal cliff had collapsed damaging a stone barn and threatening the stability of the popular cliff-top viewing platform. Whilst this was a relatively small failure by national standards, the inhabitants of the two remaining houses in the village were evacuated amid fears that the access route to these houses would be undermined. As a result of the damage to property, the need for evacuation measures and a well-documented history of coastal erosion in the area, the BGS Landslide Response Team visited the site to assess the landslide. The viewing platform was subsequently reopened, declared safe.

In 2015 the campaign for commemoration of Hallsands at 100 years received the backing of Blur frontman Damon Albarn[1], who had owned a property in Hallsands for 15 years and who credited the village with inspiring his successful Gorillaz album Plastic Beach, which was released in 2010.

In January 2017, a 100-year memorial[17][18][19][20] was held and a plaque was erected.

Centenary memorial plaque at Hallsands, erected in January 2017

Geology and Coastal Engineering

During the dredging and after, a civil engineer, R Handsford Worth, conducted extensive survey of the coastline with respect to the dredging, and his work was often quoted at Public Inquiries of the day. Hallsands has become internationally one of the world’s best known coastal erosion sites due to the circumstances of the loss of the village, and is an exemplar of the effect of coastal dredging when processes are not fully understood.

It should be noted that the storm of 1917 was particularly destructive due to the gale direction, north easterly, and the offshore Skerries Bank during north easterly winds was of primary importance creating wave energy impacting on Hallsands stretch of coast.

Sir John Jackson.

Throughout the saga, Sir John Jackson had apparently provided funds under the terms of his contract, but these were regarded as insufficient based on the damage created by the dredging. He owned, apart from his contracting operation, Westminster Shipping Company. In 1918, Sir John Jackson’s luck finally ran out.  A parliamentary inquiry[22] found him guilty of overcharging the nation on war contracts. He resigned from parliament in disgrace and died a year later.


Researched and written by Maritime Archaeology Trust Volunteer Roger Burns.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hallsands


[2] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 15 August 1898.

[3] Dartmouth & South Hams Chronicle, 30 November 1900.

[4] Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, 11 June 1897.

[5] https://sites.google.com/site/insearchofalbion/hallsands

[6] http://www.stevemelia.co.uk/seadownthechimney.htm

[7] http://www.southdevonaonb.org.uk/explore/start-bay/hallsands

[8] http://www.goldendays.org.uk/out-and-about/lines-on-the-landscape-poets/

[9] http://www.southdevonaonb.org.uk/explore/start-bay/hallsands    

[10] Western Times 26 September 1917

[11] Western Morning News 26 September 1917

[12] https://www.discoverdartmouth.com/explore/hallsands-p701613

[13] http://www.stevemelia.co.uk/seadownthechimney.htm

[14] http://www.abandonedcommunities.co.uk/susanwicks.html

[15] http://www.streetwiseopera.org/whirlwind  AND http://www.streetwiseopera.org/photos-whirlwind

[16] https://www.southwestcoastpath.org.uk/media/rdpe/Strand_1_22_Hallsands_SP.pdf

[17] http://www.devonlive.com/100-years-since-devon-village-was-washed-into-the-sea/story-30052160-detail/story.html

[18] http://www.devonlive.com/100-years-since-devon-village-was-washed-into-the-sea/story-30052160-detail/story.html   

[19] http://www.dartmouth-today.co.uk/article.cfm?id=108604&headline=The%20beach%20went%20to%20Devonport%20and%20the%20cottages%20went%20to%20the%20sea&sectionIs=news&searchyear=2017

[20] http://www.southhams-today.co.uk/article.cfm?id=108674&headline=A%20day%20to%20remember%20the%20loss%20of%20Hallsands&sectionIs=news&searchyear=2017

[21] http://www.kingsbridge-today.co.uk/article.cfm?id=108659&headline=Hallsands%20event%20was%20apposite&sectionIs=letters&searchyear=2017&_ga=2.157940794.1897517658.1502887019-1208913073.1502636118

[22] http://www.stevemelia.co.uk/seadownthechimney.htm









Handling Collections

We have developed six Handling Collection boxes, which are available to hire so you can get really hands-on with heritage!

Each box contains:

  • A selection of real First World War artefacts
  • A set of information cards
  • A set of artefact image cards
  • Teacher's notes
  • A PowerPoint on the Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War
  • Artefact recording forms 

If you are interested in hiring one of the Collections, please email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Example PowerPoint included with the Handling Collections (each slide is accompanied by detailed notes):

Example contents cards included in the Handling Collections:

Dover Straits - misfortune or misjudgement? The loss of 4 ships, 31st October 1915 

SS Eidvisa, SS Toward, HMY Aries, HMT Othello II

The 31st October 1915 marks a tragic day for the British Royal Navy and the Mercantile Marine within the history of the Great War at sea in the Dover Straits.  On this day four ships were mined and sunk at the hands of Oberleutnant Matthias Graf von Schmettow commander of the German U-boat submarine UC-6 of the Flanders Flotilla.  This was a disaster that could have been avoided if the correct protocol regarding the naval control of shipping had been observed.  A combination of errors and misjudgements condemned two merchant vessels, one trawler converted for minesweeping and the command vessel His Majesty`s Yacht Aries. 

Ships that wished to transit the passage between the Goodwin Sands and the coast of Kent were required to obtain Admiralty authorization before proceeding.  A holding area at the Downs off Deal was used for awaiting merchant and other ships wishing to make the passage.  The passage used was designated as the `A` channel and this channel was swept on a daily basis weather permitting. Towards the end of October 1915 on the 28th and 29th a severe gale blew up the English Channel and through the Straits of Dover from a south south east direction.  The conditions were such that the minesweepers, HMT (His Majesty`s Trawler) Othello II and HMT Jacamar could not perform their sweeping duties.  However, on the 30th October the weather abated somewhat and the minesweepers were ordered to continue with their work.  HMT Jacamar was having difficulty deploying her sweep wire kite. The kite is a device on the tow wire for maintaining the sweep wire at a specified distance above the sea bed.  HMT Jacamar returned to Dover for repairs to the kite and as the two minesweepers worked in tandem the minesweeping had to be suspended once again.

Meanwhile, unbeknown to the Admiralty the U-boat UC-6 had stealthily navigated its way into the deepest part of the `A` channel under  cover of the poor weather conditions that had prevailed during the previous forty-eight hours. Seven mines out of a total pay load of fourteen mines were laid in a close knit pattern designed not only to scupper unsuspecting ships in transit but also those ships that would be inevitably be involved in the rescue of any survivors. After laying the mines UC-6 departed quickly onto its next mission. SS Toward a British steam cargo vessel and SS Eidsiva a Norwegian steam cargo vessel were amongst those vessels waiting in the Downs area for transit permission. The Captains of these vessels were growing increasing impatient and they complained bitterly to the Admiralty about the unacceptable delay.

At this point it is unclear whether or not the merchant vessels had received authorization to proceed, but proceed they did and just before 8 am the collier SS Eidsiva was the first to pay the price.  Following was the Clyde Shipping Companies vessel SS Toward and she too became a victim when she struck a mine and began to sink bow first just a few hundred yards from her predecessor. The command vessel HMY Aries was on station in the area under the command of Lieutenant Commander H. Caulder RNR RD. The RD decoration implied many years of service and experience. HMY Aries was a fine vessel of 268 tons, built to the highest Lloyds classification of 100A1 as a gentleman`s ocean going leisure yacht. She had been owned by the 10th Duke of Leeds since 1890 and at the outbreak of war, the Duke immediately offered his vessel for war service.  The Aries was alerted to the mined vessels fate and proceeded towards the area of carnage escorting three divisions of drifters which had been in mid channel tending to anti-submarine nets. The Aries signalled to the drifters to pick up survivors from the stricken ships and take them ashore. There were other armed trawlers in the vicinity and some were trying to stop any more merchant ships from entering the restricted zone. Signal flags from another trawler alerted the Aries to another mine seen floating nearby and the Aries went to investigate. The Captain of Aries ordered Sub Lieutenant Cranfield to go forward to the gunner`s position and watch out for the mine. Looking out forward he failed to see a mine that was floating abeam of Aries. The mine struck amidships and exploded under the bridge of the vessel almost causing the yacht to break in two.



The Royal Yacht squadron's steam yacht Aries in waters off Naples by Antonio de Simone.


The engineers would have known little as the mine destroyed the engine room completely.  The upward thrust of the explosion caused the bridge to be demolished. The Captain and other crew members on the bridge were torn to shreds by the flying debris causing traumatic injuries and shattered bones. Almost immediately both halves of the vessel began to sink.  Through the smoke and debris Sub Lieutenant Cranfield caught sight of the paymaster and a fellow officer struggling in the water but before he could call out to them they disappeared into the filthy, gale swept sea. Aries sank in 15 fathoms of water less than one mile off the South Foreland light vessel as escaping air and steam pronounced her death throes.  Sub Lieutenant Cranfield and the two forward gunners were blown into the sea and were uninjured apart from the traumatic shock of the experience. Also, about a hundred feet away the aft gunner, the wireless operator and an able seaman were floating in the sea, the gunner having sustained broken ribs and a bad injury to his head and the wireless operator with broken ribs. The survivors positions at the extreme fore and aft parts of the vessel had been their salvation. These were the only survivors from a total compliment of 28.  Out of the gloom the surviving men were met by a rescue trawler who hauled them aboard. 

In the melée the naval ships had realised they had been caught in a trap and that the mines had been sown in such a way that the rescue vessels would be similarly victimized. The Othello II had been ordered to continue North towards Deal at the beginning of the `A` channel. She battled her way out to the site against a strong gale from the SSE and at 1155 hours she hit a mine laid by UC-6 which exploded and caused Othello II to sink. The mine detonated amidships and caused extensive damage to her port side amidships.  Broken in two, she sank almost immediately. The wheelhouse was so badly shaken by the explosion that neither the doors nor the window would open. Inside were the skipper, second hand, helmsman, and a deck boy. The skipper, second hand and helmsman managed to push the lad out through a half-open window, and he was the only one saved of the whole ship's company.  After the Othello II incident, orders were given to remove all the sliding doors of the trawlers' wheelhouses, and to substitute light canvas doors which could easily be pushed or kicked out in a sudden emergency.



HMT OTHELLO II (http://www.coastalheritage.org.uk/)


On the 2nd November 1915 an Admiralty Court of Enquiry into the loss of HMY Aries was completed. The concluding paragraph of this report read  ”We regret in our opinion her Commanding Officer committed an error in proceeding for the purposes of endeavouring to locate and sink a mine, into an area which was under suspicion of being mined and which had been closed to traffic for some days, more especially as two steamers had been sunk in close proximity only an hour or two before”  However the Vice Admiral of the Dover Patrol had appended the document in ink, a note stating that “No disciplinary action is possible against the Commanding Officer of Aries, as he has unfortunately lost his life,  otherwise concur.”  Throughout the report officers witnessed accounts were recorded not only of the HMY Aries but also SS Eidsiva, SS Toward and HMT Othello II. Despite these conclusions the courage of the Captain and crew was admired. In trying times and in poor weather it is difficult to follow orders to the letter when trying to save sailors and ships. These men excelled themselves and showed much bravery and this was recognised secretly by their Lordships sitting at the Court of Enquiry. A total of 23 lives and 2,784 tons of shipping had been lost in a couple of hours. Fittingly the Dover Patrol obelisk, high above on the white cliffs overlooks the wreck of the Aries.


Memorial at Leathercote

The memorial obelisk at Leathercote Point near St Margaret's Bay was unveiled by HRH the Prince of Wales on 27 July 1921.  A Book of Remembrance, containing the names of nearly 2,000 members of the Dover Patrol who lost their lives, is held in St Margaret’s church.


Researched and written by Robert J. Steer. MAT Volunteer.



“Saga of the Goodwins” and “Tales from Around the Goodwin Sands” written by David Chamberlain.