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Remembered Today:

The Hythe Disaster


Gibeltarik

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Hi there,

On 8 October 1915 the former cross channel paddle driven ferry Hythe was carry members of the 1/3 Kent Field Company, Royal Engineers in the Dardanelles when she was in collision with another ferry - the Sarnia. Within 10 minutes the Hythe had sunk taking many of the soldiers down with her.

In Soldiers Died in the Great War the losses are shown as amounting to 129. In the Manchester Guardian the death toll is shown as 143 (this may have included members of the crew).

The Sarnia - a much larger vessel - survived, only to be sunk by torpedo on 12 September 1918.

My enquiry is this please - The Manchester Guardian lists at the time of the accident the Hythe as a 'Fleet Auxiliary'. (From elsewhere I have found her Commanding Officer was Lieutenant Commander Arthur H Bird RNR) - plainly she had seen Admiralty Service as a minesweeper at Scapa Flow before being sent to the Dardanelles. When she was sent to the Dardanelles was she operating under the RFA Ensign or did she still fly the White Ensign please?

Yours aye

Chris

a.k.a Gibeltarik

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In the October 1915 Navy List, corrected to 18th September, Hythe is listed under Merchant Vessels Commissioned. She was commissioned on 21st November 1914.

In command is Lieut. R.N.R., Albert V. Kenyon, appointed November 1914.

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This is by far the best report on the disaster I have seen. It is NOT my work. If anyone uses it, please acknowledge the author (Don't nick it) -

The HMS Hythe Disaster

By David Ellis

8th October 1915

On the 28th October 1915 whilst at sea and about to land her troops at Cape Helles, Gallipoli the ferry "HYTHE" was struck by a larger vessel and empty troop carrier called the "SARNIA". The Hythe sank in ten minutes and due to a number of reasons, including the lack of life jackets, some 155 souls perished. The majority of those who died were menbers of the 1st/3rd Kent Field Company, Royal Engineers and men from Kent. Their Captain was David Reginald Hermon Phillip Salomons, he died with his men.I will come back to the tragedy in due course.

My interest began with a simple WW1 Victory medal named to 2543 SPR.T.EDSER R.E. I noticed it on one of the internet auctions whilst looking for medals to a regiment I usually collect. A quick check showed that Reginald Thomas Edser had died as a result of wounds at Alexandria, Egypt on 14th December 1915 following evacuation from Gallipoli. He is buied at Chatby War Cemetery in Alexandria. He was 20 years old and was the son of James and Charlotte Edser from Tunbridge Wells. Having secured the medal I found that Reginald Thomas Edser had resided at 48 Goods Station Yard in Tunbridge Wells, Kent. This address was clearly adjacent to his fathers work place. His father is shown as a Railway Engine keeper. He had an elder brother called Albert and a younger sister called Dorothy. These details were correct in 1901 at the census for that year. On the face of it he was one of the many young men lost at the disasterous Gallipoli campaign. But I noticed that his number was quite low for such a large Corps as the Royal Engineers and decided to look a little further. I saw that his Unit was 1/3rd Kent Fortress Company, Royal Engineers. I wondered if this was a locally raised unit because late 1914 and early 1915 saw the establishment of various "pals" battalions. Indeed my own usual collecting is to the Hull pals. I wondered if equivalent units were formed within the Corps of Royal Engineers and indeed they were.

The 1/3rd Kent were founded by Sir David Lionel Salomons (1851-1925) who resided at "Broomhill", Southborough, Tunbridge Wells, Kent. He was the Honorary Colonel of the Kent Royal Engineers. He was a scientist and had interests in mechanics. He is quite remarkable in that he acquired the second car ever in England. He lectured in Elecricity and had a great interest in transport. He organised the first motor show and was both a Magistrate and Mayor of Tunbridge Wells (1894). The first meal cooked with electricity was prepared at his home. After his son (also) David graduated from Cambridge in 1907, the possibility of establishing a Royal Engineers Territorial Unit was investigated. This was not possible due to the existence of other RE units but it did not stop the formation of a Cadet Unit in Kent and this was raised and established in 1911. It was the fore runner of the 1/3rd Company. David Salomons (Junior) became the officer commanding. Sir David Salomons paid for the conversion of an old gas works in Southborough and this became the drill hall for the new unit. On the 1 May 1914 the 1/3rd Kent Fortress Royal Engineers came into being because the existing No 3 Company in the Medway Area had difficulty recruiting and a decision to disband it was made. Thus was born the 1/3rd Kent (Fortress) Royal Engineers. They were initially responsible for the protection of the coastline, for searchlights and defence. They were mobilised on 4th August 1914 at 8pm. They all went home to return the following day at 8am. The war had begun.

During the initial stage of the first world war the company remained at home and continued to train. They were converted to a Field Company from a Works Unit. In July 1915 they were at least 185 strong. The final stages of their training was in Woodlands Camp, Gillingham. Lt.Salomons was promoted to Captain on 11th June 1915. Most of their number were tradesmen. Sappers used their trades and pay was by far greater than the infantry. The infantry earned between 7 and 10 shillings and six per week (35p to 52p), wheras the Sapper earned 11 and six to 22 shillings and two pence per week (58p - 111p). Captain Salomons was both well liked and respected. He was generous and looked after his command. There is one report of him buying a round of drinks consisting of 161 pints of beer at 4d per pint plus two lemonades at 2d each for his men..Royal Engineers were required in the Dardenelles to fill vacancies no doubt caused by the appalling loss there.

The company had a farewell dinner on 11 October 1915 and were cheered by crowds including their relatives as they left on Train Number 13. They went onto Devonport and boarded H.M.T. Scotian (built 1898 Harland and Wolff).They sailed to Malta landing on 20th October 1915, remaining for two days taking on coal, before heading for Lemos Island, Mudros Bay. Orders were recieved that they were to proceed to Sulva Bay but this was then changed to Cape Helles. Number 1 company was also travelling with them. There were two ships available, one for each company. These were the HMS Redbreast and the HMS Hythe. The 1/3rd were allocated HMS Hythe. In addition to the company were another 30 army personnel of various regiments and of course the Captain and crew of the Hythe.

HMS Hythe was a former cross channel (Dover-Calais) steamer. She was a cargo carrier owned by South East and Chatham Railways. She had no passenger accomodation. She had been converted to a minesweeper in October 1914 and she had two 12 pounder guns fitted. Her Captain was Lt Commander Arthur H Bird Royal Naval Reserve. The navy was using vessels like her because the German and Turkish submarines had been sinking British/French shipping. By using shallow draught craft it was hoped that torpedos would pass beneath a ship and represent a small target. Hythe was launched in 1905 and cost £19,575 (Admiralty compensated her owners to the amount of £12,500 following the disaster).

Because the Hythe had no passenger accomadation a fabric awning was rigged on her deck to help protect the crowded deck from spray and the weather. Considering her size and construction the ship was very top heavy. The officers would be allowed in the engine room area to keep warm. However before sailing the Company witnessed a public Courts Martial. This took place in Port on her deck. Apparently a sailor had refused orders and was awarded 81 days imprisonment. Some 5 officers and 213 men boarded the Hythe plus 30 other personnel. The Hythe left Mudros at 4pm and had 50 miles to go to Cape Helles. It was travelling in a darkened state to avoid enemy bombardment. They were due to land and some forty minutes remained of their journey. At about 8pm there was a warning that another ship was bearing down on them.

This other ship was HMS Sarnia. She was also a steamer, but larger than the Hythe. She had landed her cargo and troops and was leaving the Penninsula. She was steering a course S67W and the Hythe was steering a course N82E. This was near head on. Both ships were travelling in excess of 12 knots. Several attempts at a change of course by both ships, failed to avoid a collision. The Sarnia struck the Hythe 25 feet from the bow on her Port side. The force was so great that the Hythe stopped dead in the water. THe foremast on the Hythe fell onto the fabric awning. The impact and devastation resulted in many fatalities on the deck of the Hythe. The force of the impact caused the Hythe to swing around by the stern and break free.

The gapping hole in her Port was instantly filled by the cold sea water. She immediately began to sink and would go down in ten minutes flat. On the deck some managed to step onto the Sarnia as she remained alongside for several minutes. Others leapt into the cold sea, no life jackets, only debris to hold onto. Captain Salomons was reported as trying to save his men. He handed over his life jacket to another soldier. THe Captain of the Hythe ordered "everyman for himself". There does not appear to be any co-ordinated attempt to organise the rescue. Sarnia put out a boat and saved some life. She was herself holed and would return back to port, steaming stern first to avoid taking water. Captain Salomons drowned and he was not recovered. A further 128 members of 1/3rd Company were lost plus 15 other Army personnel and 11 crew from the Hythe.Only 103 members of the 1/3rd Company survived. The disaster was compounded by the lack of life

jackets/emergency lifeboats/poor organisation and could have been avoided by shipping following a set route inward and outward bound from Cape Helles.The Court of enquiry recommended that no soldier should travel on a ship without having a life jacket with him.It is hard to imagine the effect that this disaster had on the people of Kent. Several pairs of brother were lost. A father and son drowned together. Some 99 children had no father.

After some further research I discovered that Sapper Edser was on the Hythe and that he had survived. Sapper Reginald Still wrote home and told of their experience on the Hythe. He says "Reg. Edser is quite safe, in fact he is with me now, writing."

The Company had some rest and leave then went onto Gallipoli. On 24th November 1915 two sappers were injured by a bomb thrown by the Turks and were removed to hospital in Egypt. One of these was Reginald Thomas Edser. He is recorded as writing home to his mother. He claimed that his wounds were not serious, however he died in hospital on 14th December 1915.

The Salomons family lost their only male heir. Several memorials followed. In the second world war a mobile canteen served troops in North Africa. On the side was the inscription "David R. Salomons 1885-1915". This was paid for by his sister Vera Bryce Salomons.

Between the wars the people of Southborough held a "Hythe Sunday". In church services they remembered the disaster on or near to 28 October. It is not known when this act of rememberence ended. There are several street names in Southborough with a "Hythe" theme.

David A Ellis 2008

Here are some links. You will see I have an interest in HMS Hythe myself -

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lt. Cdr. Arthur H. Bird R.N.R. is listed with the battleship Canopus [Oct. 1915 Navy List corrected to 18th Sept.] & had been with her since Aug. 1914. Canopus was also at the Dardanelles, so is there any evidence that Bird relaced Kenyon before the 28th?

David.

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  • 2 months later...
Guest garycarr

Hi there, im researching my dads family and have come to a stop. My dads grandad was called william walker and was on the hms hythe when it collided with the hms sarnia, from stories weve heard, we assume he survived the collision and got to land. He was accompanied by Walter Samuel "Jockey" Hodges who attend my great grandads funeral in Southborough. I believe they were at Gallipoli together. Any further information would be greatly appreciated.

many thanks Gary and his dad (Bob)

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Hi there, im researching my dads family and have come to a stop. My dads grandad was called william walker and was on the hms hythe when it collided with the hms sarnia, from stories weve heard, we assume he survived the collision and got to land. He was accompanied by Walter Samuel "Jockey" Hodges who attend my great grandads funeral in Southborough. I believe they were at Gallipoli together. Any further information would be greatly appreciated.

many thanks Gary and his dad (Bob)

Hi Gary and Hi your Dad. Do you know what regiment your great grandad was in? His service number? These are usually on his medals if you have them. That will give the experts of which there are many on the forum, a start. I am not one of them. The article quoted above is a very good read.

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Hi Gary.

Do you have your dad's grandad's Royal Navy service record? If not, try searching the Registers of Seamen's Services which is second in the following list of indexes (under Navy):

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/documen.../about.asp#navy

I'm guessing there are a fair number of William Walkers, so you will need his place and date of birth (these are listed in the index entries) and his middle name, if he had one, to distinguish your man from the others. Once found, you can download his service record for £3.50. Here's what to expect to find in a service record: click here

regards,

Martin

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Gary.

Oops. I saw HMS Hythe and assumed you meant Royal Navy but, on seeing truthergw's reply, now see you could have meant Army. If you go to the link given in my message above, scroll up and under Army there's Campaign Medal Index Cards. You may find your dad's grandad listed in that index.

regards,

Martin

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Hi Folks

What an excellent account, as I hail from Tunbridge Wells it was of great interest to me. I have used the drill hall in Southborough many times as an overflow at exam times. I will certainly be doing some research next time I go back to Kent.

Many thank Margarette

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  • 2 months later...

While looking for something else came across something else, a photo of the Kent Fortress Company. Sorry it's not brilliant quality but I copied this 15/20 years ago from a 1915 Sussex newspaper while doing some research on something else. Hope it's of interest?

3367564713_cea3b2e016_b.jpg

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  • 5 years later...

Hi,

I've been trying to establish what formation the 1/3 Kent Field Coy was supposed to be joining when landed, but much rummaging on the intertubes has not shed much light. The LLT page on RE field companies say it moved from the 52nd (Lowland) Division to 29th Division in February 1916, but thats about all I can find.

Can anyone confirm the unit was under orders to join the Lowland Division following their intended landing from the Hythe?

cheers

Frank.

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Frank,



The OoB in The History of the Corps of Royal Engineers, Vol.VI places the 1/3rd Kent Field Company with the 52nd (Lowland) Division)


That division's own history by Thompson also refers – see p.158


“During the night of 28-29th October, HMS Hythe, bringing across the 1/3rd Kent Field Company RE as a reinforcement to the 52nd Division, was sunk in collision..........”



regards


Michael


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A somewhat late reply concerning the status of HYTHE. According to the NA database ADM53 (warship logs) this vessel only seems to have been an HMS from 14 Nov 1914 to 31 Jan 1915 as there are only 3 logs on the database,ADM53/44711,44712 and 44713. Could she have ceased to be an HMS on leaving M/S duties at Scapa Flow ?

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Whilst researching the men on the Tonbridge War Memorial, some of whom were casualties of the HYTHE disaster, I came across a publication by a local man which has details on many of the men who lost their lives, as well as others who did not. The book is: "Southborough Sappers of the Kent [Fortress] Royal Engineers" by Frank A. Stevens. It is self published by FAST, 34, Ridgeway Crescent, Tonbridge, TN10 4NR.

I believe that copies are still available.

Dave Swarbrick

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  • 11 months later...

Hello

Please note that there will be a memorial service to commemorate the Centenary of the Sinking of HMS Hythe at St Matthew's Church, High Brooms Road, Tunbridge Wells TN4 9BW

on Saturday 31st October 2015 at 3pm. St Matthew's houses the Hythe Memorial paid for by Sir David Salomons in memory of his son and heir, Capt D Reginald Salomons, and the 150 men who died with him.

There will be refreshments in our Church Centre afterwards plus a display by the Southborough Society about the sinking. If anyone would

like to attend, please can they let me know in advance so we can cater for them? My tel no is 01892 618108 or email is office@stmattschurch.org.uk.

Thank you,

Clare Caless

Administrator/Ops Manager

St Matthew's Church

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  • 3 weeks later...

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