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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

HMS Glasgow's parrots


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An Independent article, A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part, describes the exploits of parrots that had been taken on board HMS Glasgow as keepsakes/gifts, which, after their release, had refused to leave, and subsequently were still on board during the Battle of Coronel. The article does say 'a naval historian wrote later', but an eyewitness account of the release 'I SAW the TRAGEDY of CORONEL by J. D. Stephenson, Sick Berth Steward, HMS Glasgow' on the Coronel Memorial website gives the following, which indicates it took place pretty much on the outbreak of war (my underline):

...Our commission on the South American station was just ending when the news that war had been declared reached us. Jack always likes to bring some mementoes home of his voyages, and in anticipation of an early return to England our men had been ashore at Rio de Janeiro buying curios. Parrots galore screamed on our mess-deck, all ditty-boxes were packed with gifts for friends at home and the men were light-heartedly talking of the good times they would have in dear old “Pompey,” when the fateful message arrived that swept away those rosy visions and put the grim visage of war before our faces.

Were we disappointed? Not at all! A sailor’s business is to fight, and nothing better fits his humour than a chance of doing so. The knowledge that the long-expected “scrap” with Germany had come at last filled us all on board the Glasgow with pleasurable excitement, and the orders to “clear for action” were joyfully obeyed. The parrots were liberated, all other disposable gear got rid of, and we put to sea ready for anything that might come along.

For two months we had a disappointing time. Although we searched hard we found nothing in the shape of an enemy. Then we captured a prize worth a quarter of a million,* and that sent our spirits up with a bound. About this time we received information that the German cruiser Dresden, having sunk a British merchantman, was making her way from the Moroccan coast towards the south-east coast of America. Off we went after her...

* presumably SS Catherina

I suppose its possible that 'Jack' continued to feed the released birds which might have encouraged them to hang around, but would they have found the conditions on board pleasant enough to have remained on board for two months; Stephenson makes no mention of the birds staying aboard - that, of course, isn't evidence to say they didn't - and possibly he mis-remembered the time of their release.

Naval-History. Net repeats the Independents story (BATTLE OF CORONEL - 1 NOVEMBER 1914):

However, Glasgow did lose about 50 parrots, pets of the crew that were released prior to the battle but refused to leave the ship, only ten survived

but it gives several sources for the information it gives on HMS Glasgow.

Glasgow's logs (also available on Naval-History. Net Click ), as would be expected, make no mention of the parrots being released.

So, is there an authoritative source available for Glasgow going into battle with parrots aboard, and the losses they suffered? There is the improbable but true story of Tirpitz the pig which was rescued from the sea, then adopted, by Glasgow's crew after the Battle of the Falklands having swum of the Dresden, so there's no reason to assume the parrot story isn't equally true.


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