We sailed from Marseilles on the “H.M.S Porto” en-route for Constantinople via Malta & Koudros (Greece) at 2pm on Thursday 6th Nov. 1919. We passed the coast of Corsica & Sardinia at 10pm on Friday 7th Nov. 1919. Corsica is an island near Italy where Napoleon was born. We saw a whale spouting at 12-noon on Sat. 8th Nov. 1919. At 9:30pm on the same date we passed the coast of Sicily on which is the volcano “Etna” which destroyed Messina by its tremendous flow of lava in the year 1908.

ITALYI wrote a post on the H.M.S. Porto during the week and you can read about it here.

As I write these blog posts I try to remember that the way I see things now is not necessarily the way they were seen then. I found the mention of Napoleon a striking reminder of the different cultural and historical landscape my grandfather occupied. He did not know of Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin (or at least not the way we know him), Mao Tse Tung or Pol Pot. The scale of the atrocity of the Great War, on a far larger scale than the world was used to may not have had time to sink into the collective consciousness. This is indicated by the mention of Napoleon Bonaparte, who had dominated global affairs for the first decade of the 1800’s yet loomed large in my grandfathers cultural vocabulary (see Messenger(2001) * Roberts (2014)).*

*For those of you who don’t know, some of Bonaparte’s relatives are buried in Waterford city (Waterford Treasures, 2017.)

Fin Whale from a boat off the South East of Ireland by The Author

But it was this entry in the diary that stayed with me when I first read it years ago…

We saw a whale spouting at 12-noon on Sat. 8th Nov. 1919.

The rest I deemed ‘boring’ but the whale…? I saw my first whale about seven years ago off the coast of the south-east of Ireland. My excitement was immense. It was completely by accident that I was walking down to Garrarus beach carrying binoculars when a whale surfaced close to shore. Since then I whale watch every year when they are most inshore, from October to February. There are a number of species of whale in the Mediterranean, most of which occupy the western basin that the H.M.S. Porto sailed through. There are Long Finned-Pilot Whales, Killer Whales, Cuvier’s Beaked Whale and Sperm Whales as well as Fin Whales. Given that the first two travel in groups, the second is deep water and not often seen I think he saw a Sperm Whale or a Fin Whale, the second biggest mammal in the world and the ones I see most often out my door. Back in those days the animals were probably even bigger than they are now (60-90ft) not having been decimated by over fishing. Sadly between 1921 and 1954 many fin whales were captured in a vigorous period of whaling in that area so likely the animal he saw met with a sticky end (Curry, 2016, p.78).

It is always a great thing to see a whale, particularly from a boat. Someone shouts and points, people gather. The force of blow explodes into the air followed by the rolling black back wreathed in rainbows. There are smiles all around, camaraderie with previously ignored ship mates is instant. It must have been a welcome break in a possibly anxious atmosphere.

Knowing my grandfather very (very) little and only then late in life when he lived in Wexford town, I had never considered him as being connected to the sea. I realise now he more than likely will have heard tales about whales and other sea creatures on the Dublin docks where his father, my great-grandfather, worked. That my grandfather mentioned it at all after all his other experiences means it had an impact. His whale sighting would be something he connect him to those back home where he was young and it draws a line that runs from the banks of the Clyde to the port of Dublin to the deck of a ship in the Mediterranean then down through the years to his last home in Wexford town on the sea, to my Dads’ coming to teach in the port town of Waterford and choosing to take us to live beside the the sea, which I could not imagine living far away from. Even when I have lived in cities -Edinburgh and Amsterdam-the sea or water has been visible all around. I guess this should have occurred to me before but what we think is ours alone has its roots alot further back.

Fin Whale back from a boat off the South East of Ireland by The Author

At 9:30pm on the same date we passed the coast of Sicily on which is the volcano “Etna” which destroyed Messina by its tremendous flow of lava in the year 1908.

Moving onto the mention of Etna, it occurred to me that the spouting leviathan and the exploding volcano form a sort of gateway into the unknown, marking the line that my grandfather passed from being a boy to being a man, a magically realistic image which reflects the intended nature of this blog. That, is to take what is written and to expand, extrapolate, surmise and imagine the various functions and meanings that writing this type of account had for my grandfather~and other men of the time~and how this can expand my own understanding of him, my family and historical events. As it turns out my grandiose imagining was rather spoiled when researching the Messina tragedy to find it was an earthquake rather than an eruption that caused it. Etna did erupt in 1908 but in April and not December. here-be-monsters

Etna is one of the most active volcanoes in Europe. This is as much to do with lava emissions as eruptions. My grandfather’s reference to ‘the tremendous flow of lava’, though not correct in relation to the Messina disaster, points to some sort of knowledge of Etna’s prodigious lava flow. I saw it myself first hand when I was in Sicily in 1994 when I visited Etna in the midst of a very active period. This is a lot less dramatic than it sounds. I remember standing on a hillside beside some ashy smoking rubble that was apparently creeping down the mountain. I say apparently but I couldn’t see it moving at all. I was more traumatised by a visit to a bar in the area. But that’s another story…

(, 2008)

The earthquake of December 28th 1908 was devastating. It was the biggest disaster in European history. 7.1 on the Richter scale and created a 40 foot high tsunami. In a city whose hotels were packed for a performance of Aida between 70,000 and 100,000 people died while many were buried alive up to a week or more. 90% of buildings in Messina were destroyed. Fifty years on there were still people living in makeshift housing. All the municipal records were destroyed, skewing the history of the island to the favour of the city of Palermo. There was a massive increase in emigration after the quake and the departure of much of the male population contributed to the death of many villages on the island as well as the rise of the Mafia in America (Norwich, p.318-319). When a butterfly flaps its wings as they say….

(, 2008)

My grandfather was only nine years old in 1908 and the news from Messina, which must have been much discussed among adults, would have become entwined with the imagery of other disasters and stories both real and fictional. The combination of the earthquake and Etna reminded me of the account of the eruption of Krakatoa, far away in the Pacific, in 1883. Not eruption was felt around the globe on a number of levels. Initially there was a world wide wave of atmospheric pressure. There were spectacular sunsets over the following eighteen months or more and in fact research has shown that various volcanic eruptions figured in the work of many artists among them William Mallard Turner. Munch’s The Scream is said to have drawn its skies from the sunsets caused by Krakatoa’s eruption. More importantly in the long term, as telegraph cables were recently laid under the sea, media was entering a new phase. The suffering of people far away could be empathized with, something new for those who were not yet overwhelmed by super-charged media (Winchester, 2004). A disaster on this scale would have hit home harder and made deeper marks on the psyche than it does now. More than that, natural phenomenon could be scientifically reported before mythologized versions of events and their causes provided coping mechanisms for the psyche. This is a far bigger subject than can be addressed properly here. Suffice to say the world was changing and people had to develop different ways to cope. Krakatoa, an explosive event was a defining event maybe explaining my grandfather’s mistaken belief that Messinas’ destruction was the result of a volcanic eruption. His cultural landscape was a new combination of historical, mythological and scientific from the rule of Napoleon to the reportage of natural disasters, miraculous inventions and terrible suffering. img467That my grandfather married images of a whale and a volcano on the same page of his account, albeit in supposed error, perhaps vindicates my excited imaginings. The gateway was real. The monsters on the old maps, taken so literally by us now, would have been once understood as not only the creatures that might inhabit unknown realms but also symbolic of all the unimaginable dangers that could be encountered. For my granddad, whose life straddled two ages, maybe the wonder of the whale, the fiery memory of reports of Krakatoa and the terrible disaster at Messina, images formed when he was a boy, combined in response to the excitement, anticipation and dread in the shadow of what lay ahead.

Map of North Africa (Barbariae et Biledulgerid, Nova Descriptio). From the Theatrum Orbis Terrarum (Theatre of the World), by Abraham Ortelius (1527-1598), 1570. Museo Navale, Genoa, Ita

But first…

We arrived at Malta at 2pm on Sunday 9th Nov. 1919.

…the bright colours of Malta. See you next week.

References & Further Reading

Behncke, B., (1996),  A Virtual Voyage to some of the World’s Most Fascinating Volcanoes, [online], available at[accessed 20/09/2017].

Binding, P., (2003), Imagined Corners:Exploring the World’s First Atlas, London:Headline Book Publishing.

Curry, B., (ed.)(2016), Mediterranean Marine Mammal Ecology and Conservation, Academic Press, [online], available at [accessed 20/09/2017].

Hughes, R., (1991), The Shock of the New, 2nd Ed., London:Thames & & Hudson., (2008), Earthquake at Messina, December 28th, 1908, [online], available at

Lean, G., (2007), Art & science: Turner’s message from the skies, in The Independent, October 6th, [online], available at [accessed 23/09/2017].

Messenger, C., ed. (2001). Reader’s Guide to Military History. Routledge. pp. 391–427. ISBN 978-1-135-95970-8

Norwich, J., J., (2016) Sicily:A Short History from the Greeks to the Cosa Nostro, London:Hodder & Staughton/John Murray.

Roberts, A., (2014), Introduction, in Napoleon: A Life, London:Penguin Group.

Sturdy, E. W., (1884), The Volcanic Eruption of Krakatoa, in the Atlantic Magazine, September issue, [online], available at

The Sky & Telescope Editors, (2003), Astronomical Sleuths Link Krakatoa to Edvard Munch’s Painting The Scream, [online], in Sky & Telescope, December 9th,  available at [ccessed 23/09/2017].

Waterford Treasures, (2017), Napoleon Mourning Cross, [online], available at [accessed 23/09/2017].

Winchester, S., (2004), Krakatoa:The Day the Earth Exploded, London:Penguin.


Midweek Roundup (3), H.M.S. Porto

We are well under way now so I will probably leave my thoughts on the project for the main posts (or keep them to myself) and use midweek for details, if at all. We left my grandad on Sunday just before he is about to embark for Russia via Malta and Constantinople. The ship he travels to Constantinople (or Stamboul) on is the Porto. I initially had some trouble finding it (I have real trouble referring to ships as ‘she’, which I wasn’t expecting, so you’ll find me a bit erratic on that score until I decide which way to go). I finally found it when I scanned some later entries in my grandads’ account where he mentions that the Porto was once a german ship called the Prinz Heinrich aftre the the crown prince. There are lots of Prinz Heinrichs, including an armoured cruiser of roughly the same vintage, but our one is a steam ship built for cargo and/or passengers.

The Porto. Source: Ships Lisbon on Flickr

Built in Danzig in 1894, rebuilt in 1909 to 6636 tons (Lloyds, 2007)) the Prinz Heinrich, named for the brother of Emperor Wilhem II, was interned at Lisbon at the outbreak of war and seized and renamed Porto by the Portuguese. She was ceded to the British at the end of the war and then sublet to the Hudson Bay Company and employed on the Hamburg, Le Havre, Vigo, Leixões. Lisbon, Madeira, St. Vincent Cape Verde, Rio de Janeiro, Santos, Buenos Aires service. Withdrawn as too old fashioned in 1924 and broken up in Italy in 1925 (Amaro, 2010).
Durig the time period we are dealing with she sailed under Portuguese flag on the North Russia route untraced and the most mention I have found of her online is on forums discussing the North Russian campaign so it would seem the Mediterranean was not the normal a stomping ground (if ships stomp). For instance the Porto had brought the No.1 Middlesex Special company, formed specifically for the North Russia Expeditionary Force, to Murmansk from Tilbury in April 1919 (Wyrall, p.373).

The first picture I found was of a model on a Flickr site. There is no mention of the source of the original image or of the model maker. As you can see its looks fairly like The H.M.S. Maid of Orleans, to me anyway, but this may evoke expressions of disbelief in ships fans. I am not 100% sure of the second image but the dates (1894) and place (Danzig) are right and the original weight (6263 tons) corresponds to the Porto mentioned on the 14-18 forum(Pages 14-18) so…99%.

Next, Passing Sicily en route to Malta. See you Sunday!

Prinz Heinrich, (Dreschel), 1994 via

References and Further Reading

Amaro, R., (2010), Porto,, [online], available at [accessed 20/09/2017].

Dreschel, E., (1994), Norddeutscher Lloyd, Bremen, 1857-1970: History, fleet, ship mailsCorderilla Publishing, at, [online], available at [accessed 20/09/2017].

GreatWarForum, (2010), Looking for informations on SS Porto in 1918, [online], available at [accessed 20/09/2017].

Lloyds Ship List, (2007), Ships List, [online], available at[accessed 20/09/2017].

Pages 14-18 Forum, (2008), Marine:Golden Eagle, Le Tsar, Huntsen, Porto, Glory, [online], available at [accessed 20/09/2017].

Ships, Lisbon, (2011), The Porto, October 2011[online], available at [accessed 20/09/2017]., (2010), Porto, [online], available at [accessed 20/09/2017].

Wyrall, E. (2013), The Die Hards in the Great War:Vol.2, London:Andrews UK, [online], available at  [accessed 20/09/2017].


We left Wendover at 1:30pm on Thursday 30th Oct. 1919 and arrived at Dover at 8:30pm on the same date. We spent that night at N0.2 Rest Camp and embarked at 12 noon on Friday 31st Oct.1919 on “The Maid of Orleans” en-route for France. We arrived at Boulogne at 2pm on the same date. We stopped that night at Column Camp (St. Martin’s) and entrained at 9:30pm on Sat. 1st Nov. 1919 en-route for Marseilles.

I wrote a post about the Maid of Orleans on Wednesday which you can read here. Rest camps come up a couple of times so I thought I would look into them. Doing a quick search one realises that the network of rest camps in the U.K. and beyond were very familiar to the troops, way stations on much travelled routes, mentioned in soldiers’ accounts in a way that presumes a knowledge of them. To young men on their first trip abroad they must have served as recognizable, safe, stepping stones through foreign lands. Probably they shielded the men from seeing the daily nature of different cultures.
The ‘idea’ of them was simply, as you might guess, a camp where units could be housed together while waiting to depart for war or a places of ‘rest’ from battle. They were often situated in large houses or hotels. There were three in the environs of Dover, called, you’ve guessed it, 1, 2, and 3. Rest camp No.2 went up in May of 1916. The camps had beds, canteens and shops where everything from sweetheart brooches to powder to combat trench foot could be bought. At the Great Wars’ peak, 10,000 men a day passed through the camps. By this time the men leaving were a sight less jolly than those who left at the start of the war. Most soldiers were given a Bible or a Book of Psalms on departing. (George, 2008) (, 2012).

Rest Camp No.3 on the Leas in Folkestone and the canteen shop (left). (George, 2008).

The rest camp which is referred to as Column Camp, or St. Martins, is near Boulogne. According to a discussion on the Great War Forum this area is known as Osterhove, once a village now an area to the west of Boulognes’ centre. Incidentally at Osterhove there is, or was, a well that used to serve an ancient leper colony in nearby La Madeline (leprosy was introduced to Europe around the 8th century)  so the site of the camps there-there was at least five, St. Martins’s being No.2 -like many similar sorts of sites in towsn and cities around the world I suppose, overlaid the ghostly foundations of successive institutions stretching back centuries (Clarke, 1835)(, 2015).

We stopped at the following stations on the journey, Amiens, Paris, Di-jon, Avignon & Arles and after 48 hours train journey we finished up at L’Staque and marched from there to N0.10 Rest Camp, Marseilles. We arrived at the Rest Camp at 8:30pm on Monday 3rd Nov. 1919. We spent two days in Marseilles and had a real good time.”

I travelled in France when I was 26. Back then France was still a lot more ‘foreign’ than it is now though the process of homogenization had begun. Still I found a lot to wonder at in the cities, towns and countryside, from the strange beer signs-my first time in Belgium I thought all the pubs were called Stella Artois-the cobblestone streets, the fields of rapeseed, the avenues of trees, the houses with old beams inset into the warm, coloured plaster (familiar in the U.K. perhaps but not in Ireland), the villages on the hills of the Central Massif. I visited Arles, which is one of the towns my granddad passed through, and stayed a night, and then down to Saintes Marie de la Mer in the Camargue. I’ll include a couple of my sketches here as much as to provide you with some pictures to look at as to connect me to the narrative. My rucksack at the time was an army issue duffel bag which you can see in one of the sketches and I sort of like that tiny piece of symmetry.

Arena at Arles, 1992, The Author.
At Saintes Marie de la Mer, 1992, The Author.

Rest Camp No.10 near Marseille was about a mile and a half from the port according to the diary of one William James Cording (typed out by his grandson) who passed through there in July of 1919, travelling in the opposite direction to my grandfather. Cordings’ diary, which I could only find on Google Books and does not seem to be available elsewhere, is a bit more chatty than my grandads’ account-but still quite brief-and his emphasis is slightly different. Cordings’ unit caught a tram into Marseille town one day. He described it merely as ‘very nice’ though, ‘everything was dear’.

“Everything was green and beautiful about and plenty of fruit about which we ‘ad a good feed oft, we ‘ad plenty of pears which we picked from the trees.”

He likes his food does Cording. It appears in all the few sentences I scanned anyway. He writes that the rations were far better than they had at Port Said (where my grandfather would also travel through) and later on leaving Marseille he writes about how green and beautiful everything was with, again, ‘plenty of fruit about’. Cording, one thinks, was writing with his family in mind-or perhaps a sweetheart who liked the countryside-as well as with a particular love for grub.

It is interesting that Cordings’ Marseille sounds like an English country village, a place of bounty (and expensive goods) unlike the Marseille I have heard of, a port town on a sea that for much of history was a highway for armies, pirates, slavers and every sort of human flotsam and jetsam imaginable. A port town is after all a border town, both geographically and politically a place on the edge, a Wild West on the ocean rather than a haven of fruit trees and high-end consumerism. To me then my grandfathers’ brief ‘We had a real good time’, which gives the impression that he wasn’t talking about pears, seems more in keeping with what a unit of soldiers might get up to in a port town. I hasten to add that could be my bad mind more than any particular knowledge of my grandfathers’ conduct, though as we shall see he was as well able to be as much of a ‘boyo’ as the next man. However without any other comparable diaries from the time to hand I will have to leave the rest to your imaginations, for now anyway.

The difference between these two accounts is not only indicative of two different personalities but of the difference between a diary written day-to-day and an account written after the fact. Details like pear trees and green countryside might slip the mind a year and an expedition later. I notice this when I see the roll call of stations that my grandfather passed through. Forty-eight hours on a train through a foreign country for the first time and there is not mention of the landscape, towns or villages or people. They cannot have gone unnoticed even if my grandfather was, for instance, more interested in people, or more introvert than extrovert, or anxious about his first big excursion into the world. Maybe whatever he saw on that trip, whether it captivated him or was a pleasant novelty, was perhaps overwhelmed by the things he saw later and when he came to write about the journey they had faded away completely. Then again, travelling in a group and, as mentioned earlier, stopping off at well established camps with familiar names, must have kept the soldiers in a bubble that protected them from anything strange or different and focussed them on the task at hand.

Paul Cezanne, L’Estaque with Red Roofs, 1885, oil, canvas, 81 x 65 cm Location: Private Collection (Wiki-Art)

To finish I will track back a paragraph or two. L’Estaque-L’Staque as my grandfather wrote it- was where the train journey ended. It is a place familiar to me too though not because I visited but because it was painted many times by the artist Paul Cezanne. His work sprang to mind when I saw L’Staque written in faded ink on the spotted brown paper of my grandfathers’ little notebook. Cezanne died in 1906 so my grandfather was a lot closer in time Cezanne than I am, shared the same world even, yet it is Cezannes’ eyes who I briefly look through on days in Edinburgh, in Ireland, in Africa, rich warm days when the sea is a solid block of the most startling ultramarine. It is quite a jump from speckled brown pages to the shores of a foreign sea but it is this sort of twist, a word that conjours whole landscapes that were perhaps barely noticed at the time, if at all, that first snagged my imagination, that made me realise the possibility of exploring, expanding, connecting and colouring in my grandads’ account of his journey.


Next week: To Malta.

Clarke, J., (1835), Bononia: or, a Topographical and historical description of Boulogne and its vicinity, London:Leigh & Son, [online], available at [accessed 15/09/2017]

Cording, W.J., (c.1919),The Diary of Private W.J. Cording, [online] preview available at,&source=bl&ots=X3eIBN2X8H&sig=3GgDXBIfJd_AlPxFrZ5gqOdA7kg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj0isP2y6XWAhXMLsAKHZOaAS4Q6AEIJTAA#v=onepage&q=The%20Diary%20of%20Private%20W.J.%20Cording%2C&f=false [accessed 14/09/2017]

George, M., George, C. (2008), Dover and Folkestone During the Great War, Barnsley:Pen & Sword Military. War Forum (2015) Boulogne – Rest Camps, [online], available at [accessed 14/09/2017]. (2012), Military & Wartime:Folkestone Then and Now, [online], available at [accessed 14/09/2017]., (2017), Paul Cezanne, [online], available at %5Baccessed 14/09/2017].

Midweek Roundup (2) The Maid of Orleans

The Maid of Orleans,1920, from the Roy Thornton Collection. (Thornton, Goodfellow, 1913)

There are not too many thoughts to round up this week which is some kind of miracle. I am realising that this series of posts will broadly sketch out the journey, filling in details with what I know and some research, but that I will be moving back and forth, adding more colour as I go, the way one might paint a picture. For instance Sundays’ post talked about how my grandfather must have ended up in Wendover (because it was near an RAF training camp) but not the actual mechanics of his journey from Dublin to the UK. Likely he travelled by boat via Dun Laoghaire…but it is a small detail and one I’ll come back to.

The Maid of Orleans,1920’s, from the Roy Thornton Collection. (Thornton, Goodfellow, 1913)

I thought today I would have a stab at looking up the history of the first ship he travelled on, The Maid of Orleans, which brought him from Dover to Boulogne…and I hit pay dirt. A quick Google search tells me it was ordered by Southeast and Chatham Railways, the keel was laid in 1914 in Dumbarton, coincidentally my grandftaher’s birth place. Converted to a troopship with capacity for 1,000 soldiers in 1917 and launched in 1918, the Maid carried Mahatma Gandhi to Britain for government talks in 1919-he refused a cabin and squatted in third class-the same year my grandfather and his unit were ferried across the channel. Winston Churchill was also , briefly, a passenger in 1943. Most of her life was spent carrying civilian passengers across the channel however she was converted once more for use as a troopship at the onset of the Second World War and was sunk north east of Barfleur as she returned from her sixth voyage to Dunkirk  with the loss of five crew. 92 survivors were picked up (Helgason).

The Maid of Orleans, c.1940, from the Roy Thornton Collection. (Thornton, Goodfellow, 1913)

Barfleur, incidentally, as we gallop off briefly in another direction entirely (get used to it, it will no doubt happen again, after all, everythings’ connected) will be a name familiar to history lovers as the port of departure and arrival for ships in the middle ages and particularly as the site of the sinking of the White Ship in 1120 with the loss of many English nobles along with the kings’ son and heir, Prince William, an event which catapulted England into a long and brutal civil war which had a massive impact on English, and French, history. Nowadays when we sail to France it is Cherbourg, near Barfleur, where ships dock.

There is a more detailed list of specifications and timeline of history of The Maid of Orleans on the Dover Ferry Photos site, one of the best and clearest sites I have come across for information on any subject I have seen. Would that all research was so easy. The link is below. See you on Sunday.

References & Reading

Barfleur, (2017), Histoire de Barfleur, [online], available at [accessed 11/09/2017]. (Use Google Translate).

Helgason, G., (2017), Ships Hit by U-Boats:Maid of Orleans, [online], available at %5Baccessed 11/09/2017].

Penman, S., (2000), When Christ and his Saints Slept, London:Penguin.

Salaman, N, (2016), The White Ship, London:Accent.

Thornton, N., Goodfellow, R., (2013), TS Maid of Orleans, [online], available at [accessed 11/09/2017].





Midweek Roundup (1)

ANNIE SCOTTAlready, after two posts, this blog is taking shape…a big pointy shape. So I have decided to impose a little order so you can follow as much or as little of the journey as you want.

Sunday will be the day for the main post. Each of those posts will take us further on our journey to South Russia. Then there will be other posts written by myself and other family members researching various elements of the journey and its backdrop. These posts will be incredibly interesting (really…) in their own right, but as they might interrupt the flow of the journey they will appear on another days, probably Fridays.

I have also decided do an occasional short midweek post, The Midweek Roundup, to collate the things that are coming to mind as I write the main posts:thoughts, questions that arise, snippets of information and possible avenues of exploration that may or may not be followed up but which may stimulate you, the reader into exploring or contributing.

This week, as I wrote the post about my grandfathers’ youth in Dublin, a number of thoughts occurred.

1.Why was he an apprentice watchmaker?Why not work on the thriving docks of Dublin as his father had?Did his mother want to protect him from the type of accident that had killed his father?

Police baton charge on striker, 1913. DCLA, Dixon Slides, 9.14 (National Archives of Ireland)

2.The East Wall where they lived, and where Walter and Annie were shot, was quite a hot bed for the rebels as well-being affected by the lock-out so the Scotts’ every day life would have been affected by these things (aside from the tragedy of Walters’ death of course) but to what extent?*

3.The Dublin Docks has quite an interesting history too. Captain Bligh of The Bounty fame even plays a part as he surveyed it back in 1800, recommending the construction of the North Bull Wall which would eventually cause the creation of Bull Island (Dublin Port Company) and massive changes were made to it from 1836 onward. The Alexandra basin was christened by Princess of Wales, Alexandra in 1885 with further wharves being opened prior to World War 1 (Bunbury, 2014). This is a whole area which looks very interesting to delve into.

Alexandra Basin~probably the early 20th century when my grandfather would have been familiar with it(Dublin Port Archive)

4. There was royal visit by Queen Victoria to Dublin in April of 1900, which, if I remember correctly, is described at the opening of James Plunketts’ book, Strumpet City. It was a massive affair and she stayed for three weeks but I do not know if the Scotts were in Dublin then or what it meant to them.

Queen Victoria in Dublin, 1900, (Moving Image Archive News, 2014).

5. Probably the biggest thing I have noticed is the shadowiness of the women in the story. This is nothing new but when its your own family it really brings it home how little we know of the women of the past, barring the more famous or wealthy ones. My great-grandmother worked for Royal Liver Assurance and I imagine a working woman may have been unusual for the time despite the changes the War had wrought. It meant she had confidence and intelligence as well as a life outside the home or street where she lived. The job, though taken out of necessity, may have introduced her to parts of herself she otherwise would not have come to know. She may have had friends, maybe she ‘walked out’ with someone before she died of a brain haemorrhage in 1939- coincidentally the same year as the untimely death of my maternal grandmother of whom I know little also. It is in the nature of things I suppose to know more anecdotes about grandfathers than grandmothers:women were tied to the home and the children while the men got to go out and about (how I would have hated that!). This was not always the case of course and they contributing plenty during the World Wars and became more independent because of the lack of men those wars caused but to a large extent many women were tied down. The relationships they had were of necessity probably with people who lived next door or down the street. There was probably little time for the type of friendships we women have now. All of this has started to make me look more closely at the contrast between my life (where I get to hang out with people I like, have opinions all over the place and not have anyone boss me around) and their lives…

…but this blog is primarily my grandfathers’ story so that’s’ enough thinking for now. See you again on Sunday…

*There is an East Wall History Group on Facebook which I intend to look at more closely. If anyones interested it’s here

Further Reading and References

Bunbury, T., (2005-2014),The Docklands~Bindon Blood Stoney (1828 – 1909), [online], available at [accessed 05/09/2017]

Dublin Port Company (2017) , Brief History of Dublin Port, [online], available at ref=br_rs [accessed 05/09/2017]

Moving Image Archive news (2014), British Pathé Throws its Archive Up, [online] available at [accessed 05/09/2017]

National Archives of Ireland (2017), Law and Order, [online] available at [accessed 05/09/2017]



Before we leave Wendover to travel to Dover and there embark on our journey across Europe to Asia I thought I would give you a potted history of my grandfathers’ life up to that point. William Gerald Forbes Scott was born 118 years ago today, September 3rd, 1899, in the Parish of Old Kilpatrick in the county of Dumbarton north-west of Glasgow in Scotland to William and Anna (or Annie) Scott (née Bryce). Old Kilpatrick is a village, now a satellite of Glasgow, on the banks of the Clyde and roughly midway between Glasgow and the south shore of Loch Lomond. William and Annie had, according to Joe Duffys’ book, Children of the Rising, grown up in neighbouring villages, Balloch and Alexandria, on the river Leven which empties from Loch Lomond into the Clyde. I have so far found no particular evidence that they were born in those villages-the whole country after all is riddled with Bryce’s and Scotts-but my grandfathers’ birth at least is registered as being in Old Kilpatrick.


Around Loch Lomond is beautiful. It straddles the Highland Boundary Fault which is considered the border between the lowlands and highlands of Scotland (Jones, 2008). It is within easy reach of Glasgow. Discovering the landscape my great-grandparents lived in, if not while growing up then for at least part of their lives, makes them come alive for me, maybe because it is the sort of landscape that is familiar to me.

Before cartography changed the way we thought about space (Carr, 2010), people would internalize familiar landmarks to aid navigation and to some extent this stays with us. We are all familiar with the the rush of recognition we get when returning from a long trip as the shifting line of the horizon finally locks into a shape recognisable as home. If a family had lived in an area for generations before dispersing, its reasonable to think that their descendants might recognise, on some level, the landscape their ancestors had inhabited.

geograph-438760-by-Eddie-Mackinnon (1)
Old Pier Balloch Loch Lomond cc-by-sa/2.0 – © Eddie Mackinnon –

The view from Balloch that I hauled up on Google maps then, apart from the rows of cruisers, yachts and pontoon docks, is not unfamiliar. Both the mountains and the sea that were part of the landscape of my great-grandparents lives have been elements in all the places that I have lived, especially the sea. Both are easily visible from where I sit now. But I am wandering off…

1911 Census, National Archive, [online], available at [accessed 02/09/2017]

William and Annie moved to Dublin in the year after my grandfather’s birth and William was appointed skipper of a bucket dredger or, more correctly I think, a bucket ladder dredger. I’ve briefly looked up bucket dredgers and they are serious looking bits of equipment that were in common use but have been superceded by other forms of dredging something I will investigate further in another post. By 1911 William was  a dredging master in charge of three dredgers and the family were living in East Wall, around the corner from playwright Sean O’Casey, and doing well (Duffy, 2015).

19th Century Steam Bucket Dredger (Pisor, 2017)

They were turbulent times. In 1913 there was the Dublin lock-out, a general strike which lasted seven months and would become a watershed moment in Irish labour history. Though it does not seem to have impacted the Scotts it cannot have passed unnoticed. It caused hardship to thousands in the city and eventually the workers were forced to leave the unions to avoid starvation. Many of the black-listed workers joined the British Army in time for First World War. My grandfather, then a boy of fifteen, cannot have been unaware of men leaving the city to go to war in Europe. Before the full tragedy and brutality of that war had struck home the idea of war may have seemed to be an exciting adventure.

War would come to Dublin too with the Easter Rebellion but even before that, tragedy arrived in the form of an accident. In February 1916 my great-grandfather William Scott was thrown into the River Liffey between a dredger and the dock when a hawser broke. He died days later in hospital from pneumonia. Then, during the Rising, Annie Scott, who was single parent to six children, took the second youngest child out to look for food. They were both caught in gun fire. Annie was shot in the leg and Walter, who was eight years old, in the head. Walter died two months later in hospital. Annie Scott would get a small grant as a victim of the Rebellion (a grant that was cut from £25 to £10 by a civil servant) and to support herself she became an agent for the Royal Liver Assurance Company (Duffy, 2015). *

My grandfather as the eldest child would have, I imagine, felt somewhat responsible for providing for the family. By 1919, the year he would sign up for Churchill’s’ campaign at the age of 19, William Gerald was serving an apprenticeship to a watchmaker in Dublin. Perhaps the intricate, indoor work seemed stultifying to a young man whose life had already been darkened by tragedy. Certainly from his subsequent career I cannot imagine this profession would have suited him and my own genes would concur. Within my family some of us may have the pernicketyness for such work but I am not aware of anyone on that side (or the other for that matter) with the necessary patience for it.

Perhaps he had memories of seeing the black-listed men of the 1913 lock-out heading off to war in order to send money back to their families. Maybe too, now Annie was employed by Royal Liver, young William Gerald Scott felt he could finally shake off the darkness of the previous years, up sticks and have a look at the world.

Next Week:Joining up and Setting Off.

*Most of these details in Joe Duffys’ book, Children of the Rising published by Hachette books in 2015 were taken from interviews with my uncle Michael Scott and cousin Andrew Ryan as well as from family papers.

Further Reading

Carr, N, (2010), The Shallows, London:Atlantic Books

Connell Jr., E.A., (2013), The Great Lockout of 1913, in History Ireland magazine [online}, Issue 4, July/August 2013, available at [accessed 02/09/2017].

Duffy, J., (2015), Children of the Rising, Dublin:Hachette.

Jones, S., (2008), The Highland Boundary Fault of Scotland, [online] available at [accessed 02/09/2017]

Pisor, E., (2017), Dredging Equipment Guide, in Pile Buck magazine,[online}, Issue 33, Vol. 3, May/June, 2017, available at, [accessed 02/09/2017].

Plunkett, J., (1969), Strumpet City, London:Hutchinson





WGF Scott
William Gerald Forbes Scott (L), Kerry, 1922, Scott Family Archives.

My intention in beginning this blog is to explore a personal account written by my grandfather, William Gerald Forbes Scott (1899-1977), who was Scots born but Irish reared, on his return from South Russia in 1920. He was an apprentice in Dublin when he joined the British army specifically for this campaign which was mobilized by Churchill to assist in the civil war against the Bolsheviks between 1919 and 1920. His account maps the trip by boat from Wendover to France then down to Marseille by train, across the Mediterranean via Malta and Greece to Istanbul and on across the Black Sea to Novorossiysk where the unit stayed for a number of months assisting in evacuations before returning to England via Egypt.

Europe political divisions in 1919 (after the treaties of Brest-Litovsk and Versailles and before the treaties of Trianon, Riga, Kars and the establishment of en:Soviet Union and the republics of Ireland and Turkey) published by London Geographical Institute. Available at

The account in question is written in longhand in an old notebook after his return. This sounds a lot more interesting than it first appeared to me. It is short, forty-eight small pages, (about 5×4 inches), and seems to be little more than a roll call of ships’ names, times and dates of departures with a few snippets of scenes of other cultures and the war, seen as if out of the corner of the eye. But the more I looked at it the more I caught glimpses of what my grandfather was trying to process in setting down his words in a time when men, or anyone, did not talk of their feelings. Like the flicker of a silvery fish caught in a net below the murky surface I began to see the richness that lay beneath.

In a series of bite sized blog posts I will be tracing his journey, the places he passed through and the things he saw. To put the account in context I will also touch on Ireland during this period, my grandfather’s life prior to the journey, which had, like many lives of the time, its share of tragedy, including losing a brother in the 1916 Rising, as well as his life afterwards as a member of the Free State Army and later the Garda Siochana, throughout the south-east of Ireland.

Some of the things you can expect to read about will include ships names and histories, the players in the Russian a civil war, a Russian Princess, duck hunting, diving in Malta, Churchill’s motives, whales, rest camps, kit, dervishes, Mount Etna, The Hagia Sophia, the 1916 Rising, The Irish Civil War, plague, quarantine, a funeral and a wedding, sharks and the Bay of Biscay. A little bit of everything.

I plan to publish a book for the centenary of this expedition, using the posts on this blog to provide a structure on which to hang a more emotional interpretation which might include any personal connections I have, in the shape of experiences or stories, to his journey as well as some thoughts on the possible psychological role of such an account could play for a young man in a young country. You could say then that this blog is the loom on which I will weave my interpretation of my Grandfathers’ experience but I envisage the posts will be engaging and colourful in themselves and I will be learning along side you, the reader.

I will be posting once a week, at the weekend, with additional posts as research continues.  I hope you enjoy it. Feel free to comment or point out any errors or supply additional information and stories.




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