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Welsh Naval History on Film, Part 1

The recent release onto Youtube of all 85,000 or so Pathe newsreels is proving to be an absolute goldmine. I’m slowly working my through the huge amount of naval material, and am coming across quite a few items filmed in Wales, or which have a Welsh naval connection. Here’s a preliminary selection; I’ll post more on this site in due course.

First of all, HM Submarine Universal limps into Pembroke Dock after encountering a storm in Cardigan Bay in 1946:

Another submarine in trouble in the same seas. Can anyone identify it?

Next, some rare film footage from inside Pembroke dockyard before many of the buildings were cleared: the breaking of the cruiser HMS Birmingham in the dry dock in 1931 –

Another scrapping, this time of one of the most famous ships built at Pembroke Dock, the royal yacht Victoria and Albert:

The Reserve Fleet landing craft at Llanelli being mobilised for the Suez operation in 1956:

Next, a 1967 film of ‘HMS Glamorgan, Computer Ship of the Future’ (!!)

…and the final one for this post – Glamorgan again, firing her Sea Slug missiles (location not given, but quite possibly the Aberporth range in Cardigan Bay):


‘Welsh’ Warship Names in the Inter-War Years

In Britannia’s Dragon, I commented on the curious fact that during both the years immediately preceding the First World War, and then from 1945 onwards, ‘Welsh’ names were well represented on the Navy List – indeed, sometimes arguably over-represented when compared with Scottish names in particular – but during the Inter-War period, hardly any Welsh names were allocated to warships. However, I recently had a look at some files in the National Archives in Kew which suggest that this was definitely a case of accident rather than design: several Welsh names came close to being chosen, but never quite made the final cut.

In 1928, for example, the County class cruisers were under construction, and both Carnarvon and Monmouth were suggested as names for ships of the class; Monmouth was mooted again in 1935. (The name Monmouth‘s record of ‘so near but yet so far’ continued after the war: it was tentatively proposed for a Type 42 destroyer in the 1970s, along with Carnarvon – by then hardly a ‘politically correct’ spelling – and, curiously, Harlech, which had not been borne by a warship before, other than by a base ship during World War I.) Barry, Swansea, Chepstow and Newport were all suggested as potential names for sloops in the 1929 programme, but in the end only Milford actually saw the light of day (from the 1930 programme). At much the same time, one of the R-class submarines was very nearly named Red Dragon, but this was dropped at the last moment, perhaps because of the potential for confusion with the cruiser HMS Dragon. Finally, although no names were ever officially allocated to the huge ‘N3’ class battleships, cancelled following the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty, it is widely believed that they would have been named after the UK’s patron saints, so one of them would have been HMS St David.

At much the same time that I was looking at these files, I also had an email from a correspondent in the USA wondering if there was any definitive information behind the rationale for naming a fast minelayer HMS Welshman in 1939. The files at Kew indicate that the first two ships of this class, Abdiel and Latona, were named after previous minelayers, while the third Manxman, was named following a direct appeal from the Isle of Man government for a warship to honour the island, and especially the contribution it had made during World War I. Although there is no specific evidence, it seems likely that Welshman was named to ‘pair’ with Manxman, especially as the last two ships, Apollo and Ariadne, reverted to Classical names. The name traditionally used to honour the Principality, Cambrian, was available, as the Pembroke-built cruiser of that name had been scrapped in 1934, but this clearly did not fit in with the quite rigid naming policy in force in the 1920s and 1930s. Wales seems to have suffered above all because of its lack of sufficiently large centres of population: when the final two Town class cruisers of the 1930s were named Belfast and Edinburgh, the Controller of the Navy noted that ‘This will make up a two Scottish names, one Irish, and seven English for the ten cruisers of this class. It is a little unfortunate that we cannot bring Wales into it, but they have had the Cardiffalthough she is soon to be scrapped’. In the event, of course, the outbreak of World War II saved HMS Cardiff from the scrapyard until 1946.

The ‘Welshness’ of HMS Carnarvon

The armoured cruiser HMS Carnarvon, launched at the Beardmore yard on the Clyde in 1903, was one of the first warships to be given a name from the ‘Celtic fringe’ as a way of deliberating enhancing the ‘Britishness’ and inclusiveness of the Royal Navy. In Britannia’s Dragon, I recount how, just before war broke out in 1914, she had a ship’s goat which was ceremonially paraded every Sunday, and how significant numbers of her crew spoke Welsh to each other as a matter of course. The National Maritime Museum also holds an interesting source from earlier in her career, a published account of her first commission from 1905 to 1907, which was spent principally in the Mediterranean. This includes an account of the events of 20 May 1906, when Admiral Lord Charles Beresford came aboard and presented the ship with a sliver shield, gong and bell. These were gifts from the county of Caernarfon, which had raised the necessary funds. Beresford then gave a talk on the history of the county (although he was singularly unqualified to do so, being the son of an Irish marquess and MP for Woolwich), before concluding:

he would say to the people of the county of Carnarvon, on behalf of the officers and ship’s company, that HM ship Carnarvon would uphold the glorious traditions of the British Navy, whether in peace or war, or any other duty she might be employed on, and he exhorted the ship’s company to remember their motto, ‘Y ddraigg goch a dary gychwym’ [sic] (The Red Dragon leads the way.)…The following is a description of the shield: at the head is the Prince of Wales’s feathers, with the motto Ich Dien, underneath is the (one time) Prince of Carnarvon’s flag, with the inscription, ‘Eryri, Eryr, Eryrod’ (The Eagle of the Eagles of the Eagles’ land). In the centre is a replica of the ship; at the bottom is shown Carnarvon Castle, the whole being surrounded with leeks, and on either side the Dragon.

HMS Carnarvon took part in the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December 1914 (a fact which is surely worthy of commemoration in her home county at the time of the centenary). She then served on the relatively quiet North American and West Indies station for the remainder of the war, being broken up in 1921. The name has never been used again, however, the Bay-class frigate Carnarvon Bay served from 1945 to 1961, although only six months of that time was spent in actual commission at sea.

The Last Voyages to Wales of HMS Colossus [1908] and Cornwall [2013]

HMS Cornwall laid up at Portsmouth, 5 September 2013

HMS Cornwall laid up at Portsmouth, 5 September 2013

With the imminent arrival of the Type 22 frigate HMS Cornwall in Swansea, where she will be broken up, naval shipbreaking resumes in Wales after a gap of some thirty years. This newspaper account, from the Cardiff Times of 28 November 1908, recounts the fate of one of the earliest warships to be scrapped in the Principality, namely HMS Colossus, which had served as the port guardship at Holyhead from 1893 to 1901. A second-class battleship, rather than a cruiser as stated in the report, her design was innovative in some ways but seriously flawed in others. She was the sister ship of HMS Edinburgh, launched at Pembroke Dock in 1882 by the Duchess of Edinburgh, daughter-in-law of Queen Victoria and sister of Tsar Alexander III of Russia.

HMS Edinburgh completing at Hobbs Point, Pembroke Dock [photo credit – Tenby Museum]


The cruiser Colossus, built over 20 years ago, and sold by the Admiralty recently to Mr Ward, of Briton Ferry, to be broken up, has been towed to Barry, where she arrived yesterday. The vessel was stationed off Holyhead for many years, guarding the Welsh port and cruising about the Irish Sea. Twice previously the Colossus formed one of the Metiterranean squadron, and was considered of good fighting strength before the days of the Dreadnoughts. A turret cruiser with a single funnel and guns fore and aft, the vessel looked well in Barry Roads on Sunday, where she rode for some time waiting a favourable wind to dock, a strong westerly gale blowing throughout the morning. The two tugs towing the vessel experienced great difficulty in manoeuvring her. It was impossible for the cruiser to have entered any other port in the Bristol Channel, owing to the fact that she has a draught of 25ft. 6in, In charge of Mr S. Davies, one of the leading Barry pilots, the warship was brought in at the height of the tide in a manner that was highly creditable, considering that almost a gale was blowing and that the cruiser had awkward projections above the deck level. With a beam of 70ft. she could not enter the Lady Windsor lock, and was taken in through the gates leading to the basin. The Colossus has a displacement of 10,000 tons, and after being lightened to the draught of 20ft, by the removal of guns and other materials, she will be towed to Briton Ferry. About 60 men will be employed in the task of breaking up the vessel.

HMS Colossus [1882]

HMS Colossus [1882]

HMS Monmouth Exercises her Freedom of the Town

Members of the crew of the Type 23 frigate HMS Monmouth have renewed the ship’s links with its namesake town by marching through the streets – full story here. Monmouth is one of the oldest ‘Welsh’ warship names, dating back to 1666-7, and originally bestowed in honour of Charles II’s eldest illegitimate son, the Duke of Monmouth. As recounted in Britannia’s Dragon, the loss of the previous Monmouth, a cruiser, during the Battle of Coronel in 1914, made a powerful impact on the town: the west doors of the priory church, installed just after World War I, serve as a permanent memorial to her sinking, and a book of remembrance for the crew is on display just inside the church.

The Ninth HMS Milford and One of Her Captains

One of the ‘Welsh-named’ warships that I managed to omit from Britannia’s Dragon was the navy’s ninth and last HMS Milford, a Falmouthclass sloop built by Devonport Dockyard and Yarrow of Scotstoun. She was launched on 11 June 1932, and in 1938 claimed Gough Island in the South Atlantic for Britain. On 8 November 1940 she was torpedoed by the Vichy French submarine Poncelet off Port Gentil in west Africa, but the torpedo did not explode. Milford retaliated by depth charging and sinking the enemy vessel. The Milford served through the war and was eventually scrapped at Hayle, Cornwall, in 1949; a very detailed account of her operational career can be found here. Some excellent photographs of her can be found online, for example here and here.

One of Milford‘s wartime captains, commanding her for two years from February 1941, was Cdr (retired) Valentine Maurice Wyndham-Quin, born in 1890. He was the second son of the fifth Earl of Dunraven, of Dunraven Castle, Glamorgan, who was an active figure in south Glamorgan society. Wyndham-Quin became a sub-lieutenant in 1910 and a lieutenant-commander in 1920 before retiring in 1933, but he returned to the colours when World War II began. After the war, he served as naval attache in Argentina and Uruguay before retiring to Chieveley House, Berkshire. He died in 1983; one of his daughters married the sixth Marquess of Salisbury. His family home, Dunraven Castle, was demolished in 1962, and the family title became extinct on the death of his nephew, the seventh Earl, in 2011.

Admiral William Lloyd (1725-96)

The memorial to Admiral William Lloyd of Dan-yr-Allt, Carmarthenshire, in Llangadog church. Born in 1725, Lloyd became a lieutenant in 1744. He commanded the Chesterfield at the Battle of Minorca in 1756 and the Conqueror at the Battle of Lagos in 1759, but held no further commands after the end of the Seven Years War. He retired to the family estate in Carmarthenshire and rose by seniority through the various flag ranks, eventually becoming Admiral of the White on 1 June 1795. He died on 19 July 1796 and was buried in Llangadog church, where this monument was erected; however, it is now rather hidden away behind the organ and difficult to access. He was a cousin of Elizabeth, Lady Stepney, of Llanelly House, and on his death without direct heirs he bequeathed his estate to her son, the future Sir Thomas Stepney, 9th and last baronet, groom of the bedchamber to ‘the Grand Old Duke of York’.

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