Storytellers – World War 1 Stories

Being close to ANZAC day, the theme for the evening was World War 1 stories, and Jackie Bourn had gone to a lot of trouble to decorate the Top Room with a World War 1 timeline and various related artefacts from the BBC Archives. Additionally both Eve Bagnall and Margy Carney had whipped up some very appetising Anzac biscuits which were well appreciated.

Bayne 'Gus' Kelly

Bayne ‘Gus’ Kelly

Bayne ‘Gus’ Kelly began the evening with a most interesting presentation about his
Great-uncle Ignatius Bertram Norris, who was killed at Fromelles on 19.7.1916 whilst commanding the 53rd Battalion KIA.

Bert was a well-known Sydney Barrister when he enlisted in 1915 departing for Egypt in June 1915 as Commanding Officer of the 53rd Battalion in the catastrophic attack at Fromelles, designed as a feint to lure the Germans away from the Somme offensive.
Of the 7000 Australian attackers, 5533 were killed, wounded or captured on the night of the 19th July. From the 53rd Btn alone there were 625 casualties including Bert Norris.
While Norris’ body was never recovered, his name was on the list of dead supplied by the Germans in November 1919 which stated that Australian Soldier Norris died in the vicinity of Fromelles. He may be buried in one of the mass graves near the battlefield. 98 years later through DNA supplied by family members Bert’s remains were positively located and an appropriate headstone installed on the place of his demise.

Bayne’s presentations are always well received as he speaks with true emotion and military insight about war and the poor soldiers’ fate, he can’t help but grab the audience.

David Cay

David Cay

David Cay followed providing details of his Grandfather Captain A. L. Cay, R.N. who was in command of H.M.S. “Invincible,” at the battle of Jutland. The battle was fought from 31 May to 1 June 1916 in the North Sea, near the coast of Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula. It was the largest naval battle and the only full-scale clash of battleships in WW1. The battle cruiser HMS Invincible was hit by a 12” shell from a German salvo which penetrated the ship’s midship magazine. The ship was blown in half and sunk in 90 minutes. Of the crew of 1026 only six were saved. In 2015. David explained the cat and mouse strategic games played by both the Germany High Seas and the British Fleet. Debate over the performance of the officers and the significance of the battle continues to this day.

David finished his presentation off with an amusing family story about how his grandfather served as a midshipman with King George V. The same King asked the Duke of York (later to become King George VI) to sail to Australia to open the first Australian Parliament in 1927. Upon reaching Sydney, the Admiral of the ship visited David’s family (Navy people), delaying David’s father from being punctual at school. He was hauled before the Headmaster and explained that he had been talking with Admiral so and so. Naturally the Headmaster doubted this explanation but the upshot was that later that day a fleet of cars arrived at Cranbrook School and the Duke visited adding much to David’s father’s standing.

The BBC’s own A Cappella Choir then hit their straps singing a medley of war songs. The choir is really very polished now and certainly added to the evening’s entertainment. Amusingly they started with a rendition of “When I’m 94” to recognise long time Storyteller supporter Hilarie Lindsay who had just achieved that milestone birthday.

BBC A Cappella Choir

BBC A Cappella Choir

The second half of the evening began with Hilarie reading one of her poems ‘War Service’ which sees war from a woman’s viewpoint.

Lieutenant Richard Douglas Sandford, Royal Navy, VC

Lieutenant Richard Douglas Sandford, Royal Navy, VC

After a few technical hiccups, resolved by the ever dependable Jackie, Clive spoke about
a relative who was awarded the VC at Zeebrugge, Belgium, on St George’s Day 23 April 1918. As he explained in1917 Allied Merchant ship losses reached the staggering total of nearly four million tons.  Many of the U-boats preying on shipping in the Channel and Western Approaches came from the main U-boat base, at Bruges. occupied Belgium. Rear-Admiral Roger Keyes devised a plan to immobilise this base by blocking it’s access to the sea. This was the famous attack on Zeebrugge. The success of the operation rested on the destruction of a lone, metal viaduct connecting the mole, which housed the harbour defences, with the shore. If this could be destroyed then no re-enforcements could get to the mole and the defences could be put out of action by the assault troops. It was decided that an old submarine, with its front end filled with explosive, would be driven in amongst the support girders of the viaduct and then detonated  In fact two old submarines, C-1 and C-3, were made available but it was C-3 (Lt Richard Douglas Sandford RN) which successfully completed the mission.

Under cover of smoke and darkness Sandford made his approach to the viaduct, but the wind changed suddenly leaving him with a mile and a half to run under full view of the German guns. Sandford made straight for the centre of the mole and ordered his crew on to the casing.  C-3’s bow hit the viaduct and ploughed through the girders, coming to rest with her bows exactly in the right position. Sandford then ordered his crew to lower the skiff, provided for their escape, and lit the 5 minute fuse.

Lieutenant Richard Douglas Sandford, Royal Navy, VC on submarine C-3

Lieutenant Richard Douglas Sandford, Royal Navy, VC on submarine C-3

Two of the crew were hit and Sandford, at the tiller, was hit twice.  Stemming the current, they had only gone a short distance, when there was a tremendous explosion. Debris, falling all around them, miraculously missed the little boat. The crew of six were eventually picked up by Lt Cdr Francis H Sandford RN (elder brother of Lt Sandford) in a rescue picket boat.

Each of the four ratings was decorated with the C.G.M., Lt Howell-Price RN received the D.S.O, and Lt Sandford RN was awarded the Victoria Cross. Lt Sandford was 27 years old and had joined the Navy as a cadet In 1904. He volunteered for service in submarines ten years later and had been in “The Trade” for the whole of the war. A cheerful, faithful and courageous man, his miraculous good fortune of St. George’s Day seemed to desert him when on the 23 November 1918, twelve days after the armistice had been signed, and he died – a victim not of the enemy but of Spanish influenza.

George Franki provided Clive with an Australian related aftermath to the famous raid.
Among the hundreds of Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel involved in this action there was a small group of Royal Australian Navy (RAN) volunteers.

In February 1918 a call went out throughout the RN for volunteers to perform a hazardous service. At this time the battle-cruiser HMAS Australia was serving with the RN in the North Sea and 11 men from her ship’s company were selected from the dozens that volunteered.
The ship’s company had reason for dissatisfaction while on overseas service. There were high rates of illness, several men dying of measles and its complications. There had been limited leave in the United Kingdom and what leave there had been was restricted by lack of cash. British sailors being promoted faster and occupying leading positions on the lower deck.
When the ship reached Fremantle in 1920 representatives of the ship’s company went to Captain Cumberlege and asked if the ship could delay its sailing by a day so that the men could have a full weekend of leave. The response was that the request would not even be considered because of need to comply with a strict timetable of port visits.
Leading Seaman D.J.O. Rudd (awarded a DSM for Zeebrugge and a recommendation for a VC) was considered to be one of the instigators and was tried with four others of mutiny when back in Sydney.
Debate raged in the popular press and in Federal Parliament about the severity of the sentences and the necessity of the Admiralty retaining operational control of the RAN well into 1919. Eventually the Admiralty agreed to reduce the sentences as an acknowledgement of the gallantry and service of the Australian forces during the war.