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GrenPen

RN Experimental Station at Stratford

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GrenPen

I have been looking into some Royal Marine casualties at Zeebrugge, and as a consequence I have come across the involvement of the RNAS's personnel from Stratford, commanded by Wing Commander Brock. First I thought it was an error that they were showing as still being in the RNAS, and not in the nascent RAF.

Cross led a party of 2 RNAS officers and 1 army officer, with 34 ratings. (Source: London Gazette dated 19 February 1919.)

I have come across an e-bay ad on here, long since expired, for 1918 ZEEBRUGGE RAID MEMORIAL SCROLL, ADMIRALTY EXPERIMENTAL STATION STRATFORD, ROLL OF HONOUR.

Can anybody point me in the direction of where I may be able to find the names of those RNAS men that participated? I think I have identified about 50% of the men.

If I understand correctly, given that the RN Experimental Station was both on land and small in size, this was an accounting code, with others, that fell under the umbrella of HMS President V.

I came across an account from a former rating, Sidney Hesse, that was published online by an Australian magazine (The ’14 -’18 Journal), and found the following to be of interest:

'When I joined up first of all, we did drilling as we had to get an idea of some discipline. In those days we formed fours but of course nowadays it’s form threes. They had a depot in the East End of London, at Stratford, with a parade ground. It was run by Wing Commander Brock....

There was also a big dump there, with hundreds of these things [smoke floats] that we used to guard all night. We all had a turn at that. Part of the dump was on top of a big sewer, so that had to be guarded, in case it was blown up. We had rifles with a bayonet, but we didn’t have any ammunition.....

After the raid we didn’t work on the smoke screens. Evidently they knew the war was nearly finished and before the Armistice we were drafted from Dover back to Stratford in London. After they disbanded the Royal Naval Air Service, we were transferred to the Navy rather than the Royal Air Force. They never changed my rank though, and I was still a second class Air Mechanic when they discharged me in 1919. As far as flying goes, I never did any, or had anything to do with it!'

There is a sewer works in Stratford, Abbey Mills, just off Abbey Lane, so I am wondering if the Experimental Station was near there. I believe there used to be an Army Drill Hall at Grove Cresent Road, but think the two would be separate.

Regards,

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Guest John Stuart

My father Leslie Stuart was stationed in Stratford as an AM2 and as a chemical engineer was engaged with the smoke generators used in the Zeebrugge raid. I don't think he deployed on the raid itself ( he was too young) but his friend Max Battle  ( later his best man) did go. They all wore a strange insignia which was a aria listed red poppy outline - unfortunately I cannot find this badge. My father went on to be commissioned in the RNAS  at Roehampton and joined the airship programme. He was posted to East Firtune in Scotland as Hydrogen Officer. He transferred to the RAF when it was formed in 1917 and remained with the programme until 1921 when it was abandoned.

I am interested to find out more about the experimental section at Stratford, the Zeebrugge roll and of course the RNAS airship activity

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Philip Smith

My father, Robert Samuel Smith, was also stationed at Stratford as a chemical engineer and took part in the Zeebrugge raid.  With the centenary approaching I have revisited his small collection of memorabilia.  Amongst the items is an epaulette with the "strange insignia" you refer to (see attached).  This symbol also appears on the menu cards for several reunion dinners in the years that followed - it seems to be the insignia of the RN Experimental Base, Dover.  The menu cards were autographed by many of the attendees at these events though I have not spotted signatures for Leslie Stuart or Max Battle.  My father was an amateur violinist and entertained the guests at several of these dinners.  He was demobbed shortly after the Zebrugge raid and spent the rest of his life as a science teacher (and helping to raise his five children!).   

Epaulette RNEB Dover.jpg

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horatio2

It is not an "epaulette" but a Royal Navy trade badge worn on the right uniform sleeve by Stratford craftsman and mechanic ratings (RN, late RNAS). The badges were ordered in August 1918.

Edited by horatio2

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Philip Smith

Thanks!  I have no military background so didn't know how else to describe it. Will try to do better in future.

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Philip Smith

With regard to GrenPen's post (above) I have just re-discovered The Times obituary notice for Sid Hesse dated 29/11/2002 (attached).   It was stored in an a small wooden  cabinet made, according to it's brass  plaque, of wood recovered from HMS Vindictive on it's return from action on 23rd April 1918.  I must have put it in there years ago (my father died in 1972) along with a lump of concrete which I believe came from the mole at Zeebrugge!  Sid Hesse Obituary.pdf

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Philip Smith

Whilst I'm in posting mood I attach a photo from my father's memorabilia. Uncaptioned but it could be members of the Stratford team after the raid. Someone may recognise the arm badges.  Are those  smoke guns and canisters in the background?  My father (back row second from left) carried a flame thrower on to the mole. 

 

 

Group Photo 1918.jpg

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Ralph Currell

Philip,

 

The cylinders in the background appear to be smoke floats for use on ships.

091126_uk_natl_arch_1154_smoke_float_illustr.jpg.58cca9d95c3b8fb2cd6bf74b28c642ce.jpg

 

Regards,

   Ralph

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Terry_Reeves

Also Stoke mortars at either end of the front row. They fired smoke ammunition amongst other things.

 

TR

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AlanD
18 hours ago, Philip Smith said:

Whilst I'm in posting mood I attach a photo from my father's memorabilia. Uncaptioned but it could be members of the Stratford team after the raid. Someone may recognise the arm badges.  Are those  smoke guns and canisters in the background?  My father (back row second from left) carried a flame thrower on to the mole. 

 

 

Group Photo 1918.jpg

Did your father ever talk about the small arms that were used on the raid. A letter exists that mentions some Winchester rifles were on the ship. I am looking for further evidence as to which model.

 

Your father was lucky to survive what must have been a harrowing experience.

 

Regards

AlanD

Sydney

 

AlanD

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SiegeGunner

Courtesy of his late son, I have a copy of a letter written in December 1920 by Lt Cmdr Edward Hilton Young RNVR (who commanded the 6" howitzers aboard Vindictive) in which he says 'In the distribution of arms my share had been a Winchester Rifle, a service revolver, a gas mask, a weighted cudgel , anti-searchlight glasses and field glasses'.  He continues that he kept only the gas mask and the revolver, stowed the rest at his station, forgot about them and never saw any of the other items again.  So confirmation that Winchesters were distributed, but no indication of which model. 

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domwalsh
On 07/02/2018 at 12:40, Philip Smith said:

Whilst I'm in posting mood I attach a photo from my father's memorabilia. Uncaptioned but it could be members of the Stratford team after the raid. Someone may recognise the arm badges.  Are those  smoke guns and canisters in the background?  My father (back row second from left) carried a flame thrower on to the mole. 

 

 

Group Photo 1918.jpg

 

Hi Philip.

I have a photo of Robert Smith in my Zeebrugge photo collection. I will try to dig out. D

Edited by domwalsh
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Philip Smith
13 hours ago, AlanD said:

Did your father ever talk about the small arms that were used on the raid. A letter exists that mentions some Winchester rifles were on the ship. I am looking for further evidence as to which model.

 

Your father was lucky to survive what must have been a harrowing experience.

 

Regards

AlanD

Sydney

 

AlanD

Alan

 

My father, a modest and humble man, spoke very little of his experiences on that night.  He did give a quiet but vivid account of his adventure from his days at Stratford through to the engagement itself to his assembled family one Christmas evening - my guess this was in around 1955 when I was 11.   There's a danger that I have misremembered or embellished the details over the years but I believe he was trained in the use of a portable flame thrower.  He was injured in the leg as he climbed the scaling ladder on to the mole and became separated from his party though he did make it at a second attempt.  I can't be sure now but I think he said he was the only survivor of his original detachment.  My siblings and I (and indeed our own offspring!) are indeed very lucky to be here!

 

Regards. Philip.

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Philip Smith

Thanks Dominic that would be great.

 

I note your interest in this raid and wonder if you have any information of any events to mark the centenary this April.  I believe there may be parades in Deal and/or Dover.  I have no info regarding anything happening in Zeebrugge or Bruges. Perhaps I'm looking in the wrong places.  I live in SE London so it would be easy for me to get to the Kent coast or Belgium if I knew where to go!  I may be able to tempt other members of my family to join me.

 

Regards.  Philip.

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GrenPen
On 08/02/2018 at 17:03, AlanD said:

Did your father ever talk about the small arms that were used on the raid. A letter exists that mentions some Winchester rifles were on the ship. I am looking for further evidence as to which model.

 

Your father was lucky to survive what must have been a harrowing experience.

 

Regards

AlanD

Sydney

 

AlanD

 

The Winchesters were nothing whatsoever to do with the RNAS party from Stratford. They were given cutlasses I believe!

The Seamen Storming Party was made up of four groups of fifty men. One of these subgroups, "C" Company, were the demolitions party. They were carrying explosives and the like. They were given the Winchester 1894 carbines, as a secondary armament or personal defence weapon. In the same manner, you would have Israeli tank crews armed with Uzis eather than FN FALs or Galils. A more modern day equivalent would be a FN P90 rather than an assault rifle in 5.56x45 calibre.

 

Hope this link is of interest

 

 

Winchester thread

 

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GrenPen
On 07/02/2018 at 11:07, Philip Smith said:

My father, Robert Samuel Smith, was also stationed at Stratford as a chemical engineer and took part in the Zeebrugge raid.  With the centenary approaching I have revisited his small collection of memorabilia.  Amongst the items is an epaulette with the "strange insignia" you refer to (see attached).  This symbol also appears on the menu cards for several reunion dinners in the years that followed - it seems to be the insignia of the RN Experimental Base, Dover.  The menu cards were autographed by many of the attendees at these events though I have not spotted signatures for Leslie Stuart or Max Battle.  My father was an amateur violinist and entertained the guests at several of these dinners.  He was demobbed shortly after the Zebrugge raid and spent the rest of his life as a science teacher (and helping to raise his five children!).   

Epaulette RNEB Dover.jpg

 

How interesting to see an example of a surviving aria listed red poppy outline. Thanks for sharing with us!

So this, along with a piece of Zeebrugge's mole, has been kept in a box fashioned from the timbers of HMS Vindictive? 

Regards

GP

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GrenPen

A related thread, with some images of both the Hay portable flamethrower and the Morriss static flamethrower. These images can be found on the IWM website.

 

 

 

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GrenPen

Here's a snippet of a personal account from Air Mechanic 2nd Class William Henry Gough 1897-1975.

 

Quote

The [portable] flamethrower now being discharged, I was myself out of action and therefore went back to the Vindictive. I used my revolver once on one of three men who tried to get to the scaling ladders to wrench them.

 

Source: 

ADM 137/507: Reports, Zeebrugge and Ostend, 23 April and 10 May 1918

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domwalsh
On 08/02/2018 at 20:35, Philip Smith said:

Thanks Dominic that would be great.

 

I note your interest in this raid and wonder if you have any information of any events to mark the centenary this April.  I believe there may be parades in Deal and/or Dover.  I have no info regarding anything happening in Zeebrugge or Bruges. Perhaps I'm looking in the wrong places.  I live in SE London so it would be easy for me to get to the Kent coast or Belgium if I knew where to go!  I may be able to tempt other members of my family to join me.

 

Regards.  Philip.

I will dig it out, Philip.

Re events for the centenary, I am not really up to speed, I'm afraid.

Best.

Dom

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seaJane

I have been trying to find out about centenary events and no luck either. I know people who'd know, too :(

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Philip Smith
On ‎12‎/‎02‎/‎2018 at 16:43, GrenPen said:

 

How interesting to see an example of a surviving aria listed red poppy outline. Thanks for sharing with us!

So this, along with a piece of Zeebrugge's mole, has been kept in a box fashioned from the timbers of HMS Vindictive? 

Regards

GP

5a8c033e1bad7_Cabinet4.jpg.ca5c65396982c4caafa30f4595372a62.jpg

 

 

On ‎12‎/‎02‎/‎2018 at 16:43, GrenPen said:

 

How interesting to see an example of a surviving aria listed red poppy outline. Thanks for sharing with us!

So this, along with a piece of Zeebrugge's mole, has been kept in a box fashioned from the timbers of HMS Vindictive? 

Regards

GP

5a8c038365f2f_Cabinet5.thumb.jpg.9bdc6005b3bcbee6e4ddd0d5bb8f1b03.jpg

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Philip Smith
1 minute ago, Philip Smith said:

5a8c033e1bad7_Cabinet4.jpg.ca5c65396982c4caafa30f4595372a62.jpg

 

 

5a8c038365f2f_Cabinet5.thumb.jpg.9bdc6005b3bcbee6e4ddd0d5bb8f1b03.jpg

 

The browser crashed half way through this post so I've got into a bit of a muddle.

 

This is the cabinet with a lump of mole on top.  The medal is there to give an idea of scale.  I think my father made the cabinet himself. It was designed to hold his smoking accessories - there is a pipe rack inside with shelves for tobacco and other smoking paraphernalia. It was in use as such until he gave up his pipe sometime in his and the fifties. 

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GrenPen

What a truly wonderful thing to own. Thanks for having shared the photos, Philip.

Regards

GP

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sdparker

Found this press release on Dover District Council website regarding Zeebrugge Raid centenary commemorative

event.

https://www.dover.gov.uk/News/Press-Releases/2017/Zeebrugge-Bell-Returns-To-Dover-Ahead-Of-2018-Centenary.aspx

Hope this helps, waiting to hear full details from the council events team. Will share when I know more,

Regards

Geoff

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