When / Where: A note on the back of the photo answers both questions -
Gwulo talk: More photographs of old Hong Kong and the tales they tell
When: Wednesday, 20th November at 7pm
Where: Harold Smyth room, St. John's Cathedral
Details and booking: http://www.cab.org.hk/Old_Hong_Kong.png
What: If you think this looks like mother duck with her ducklings, you're not far off the mark. HMS Titania, the ship on the right, was a Submarine Depot Ship. It provided supplies to, and accommodation for, the submarines and their crews.
From left to right we have :
- L? - not clear, maybe "L8"?
- L3 (1916-1931)
- L4 (1916-1934)
- L5 (1916-1931)
- L19 (1917-1937)
- L2 (1917-1930)
- HMS Titania (1915-1949)
Who: I bought this thinking of R E Jones, author of one of the wartime diaries we're serialising . His family say he first visited Hong Kong as a submariner with the Royal Navy. Could he be one of the men shown in this photograph?
Unfortunately not, as we've since seen his service record which tells us where he was in 1926 :
I believe his move to submarines began with the entry dated 27 Feb 1926, when we see him move to the "ship" Vernon. HMS Vernon was actually a shore establishment, training sailors to work with mines and torpedoes .
On 2nd October he moves to HMS Dolphin, the location of the Royal Navy Submarine School . Training must have gone well because on 26th November he joins HMS Cyclops. Like Titania, Cyclops was a Submarine Depot Ship, but based in the Mediterranean at that time . His visits to Hong Kong must have come later.
So no R E Jones in this photo, unfortunately. Then what about the men we can see - what was their life like?
Not an easy one, according to this account of life onboard submarine J3 in 1918, by G. Hawthorne :
On these patrols we never washed, shaved, or took off our clothes and after a couple of days at sea were hardly on speaking terms with each other. We lived in a strange and weird dream world, just doing our watches, maintaining the boat, facing unsavoury meals, attending to diving or action stations and then sleeping as much as possible. This was particularly so in my case, because there were only two 'Sparkers' so we were on watch and watch about. The remainder of the crew were in three watches, so they did one on and had two off. As there were only six bunks available for the seamen and stokers, crew members just lay on the decks, wherever they fancied and fell asleep. We all became terribly constipated and many had bad sores from the arsenic in the oil fuel. However, after returning from a trip, we longed to be out on patrol again, always hoping to bag something.
There is a very good description of conditions at sea, which I picked up somewhere. 'The wind was rough and the sea mountainous. The motion of the boat was a perpetual swinging, swaying, racking, rolling and listing. Inside the humidity was intolerable; moisture condensing on the cold steel hull ran in streaks to the bilges; food turned rotten and had to be thrown overboard. Bread became soggy and mildewy. Paper dissolved. Our clothes were clammy and never dry and whatever we touched was wet and slimy. The air we breathed was a mixture of hydrogen and chlorine from the batteries, foul air, the smells of cooking and unwashed bodies, of arsenic and oil fuel and finally carbon monoxide. No wonder we hardly spoke to each other!'
Coincidentally, Hawthorne's depot ship at the time was the same Titania shown in the photo above.
The little I know about submarines in Hong Kong comes from today's search on the internet. If you can tell us any more, please let us know in the comments below.
Titania and her submarines left Portsmouth for Hong Kong in 1919. The journey took over five months, though three of those were spent in Malta. We can follow their route through Titania's log-books :
- 28 October 1919. Place: Portsmouth. Person: Other: Lt. Com. ~ Gill: joined ship for passage
- 29 October 1919. Place: Off Nab Lt Vessel. Other: Submarines took up cruising formation in 2 divs in line ahead.
- 3-8 November 1919. Place: Gibraltar.
- 13 November 1919 - 18 Feb 1920. Place: Malta.
- 22-25 February 1920. Place: Port Said
- 26-28 February 1920. Place: Suez
- 7-9 March 1920. Place: Aden
- 19-26 March 1920. Place: Colombo. Other: Started Tropical routine
- 1-2 April 1920. Place:Penang.
- 4-8 April 1920. Place: Singapore.
- 14 April 1920.
Place: Sighted: 0123 Gap Rock Lt: N20E
Place: Sighted: 0515 Waglan Lt: N56E
Place: Visited: 1017 Secured to "Storm Signal Buoy" Hong Kong
Other: submarines secured alongside
- The dates of commissioning & scrapping of the submarines are given at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_L-class_submarine, while Titania is described at http://www.naval-history.net/OWShips-WW1-50Titania1.htm
- R E Jones' wartime diary: http://gwulo.com/node/9660
- R E Jones' service record: http://gwulo.com/node/16238
- HMS Vernon: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Vernon_(shore_establishment)
- HMS Dolphin: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Dolphin_(shore_establishment)
- HMS Cyclops: http://www.battleships-cruisers.co.uk/hms_cyclops.htm
- HMS Titania 1917-1918 by G. Hawthorne, http://samilitaryhistory.org/vol051gh.html
- Log-books: HMS TITANIA - October 1919 to December 1921, UK out, China Station (Part 1 of 2).