St. Columba – Saint and Ship

This post is one of a continuing series to showcase some of the special objects we have in the Holyhead Maritime Museum’s collection.

The Franta Belsky mural at the Museum

One of the most fascinating and certainly the largest objects on display at the Museum is the Franta Belsky mural that once graced the Forward Lounge on the Holyhead ship MV St. Columba.

The vessel was named after the 6th Century Irish monk who founded the monastery on the Scottish island of Iona, then part of the Irish kingdom of Ulster. It is believed that work to produce the treasured ‘Book of Kells’ may have commenced by monks at Iona.

The mural portrays episodes in the life of St. Columba. It depicts his journey to Iona and the monastery he founded on a base of stones. St. Columba did much to spread Christianity to this area of Scotland. It also shows the coronation of the Scottish King Aiden, which helped bring peace to the feuding clans. Praying figures, a Viking ship and white doves of peace are also depicted.

MV St. Columba in her Sealink colours

The Car Ferry MV St. Columba was built in Denmark and commenced operations on the Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire route in May 1977. At 7,836 tons she was then the largest Sealink ship on the Irish Sea. She could carry up to 2,400 passengers and 335 cars or 36 HGV’s, or a mixture of both. A popular ship, she was well liked by both passengers and crew alike.

The Mural in place in the Forward Lounge

In 1997 she left the Irish Sea for the warmer climes of the Mediterranean as the Greek ferry Express Aphrodite. It is not known when the mural was removed from the vessel but rescued by members of the Museum, it now hangs in pride of place at the Museum to remind us of the strong Celtic links between Ireland and Wales.

Sculptor Franta Belsky with his bust of Queen Elizabeth II

Franta Belsky was a Czech sculptor known for large-scale abstract works of public art as well as more iconographic statues and busts of noted 20th-century figures such as Winston Churchill and members of the British Royal Family.

The photo of the mural on board ship is from http://www.doverferryphotosforums.co.uk/mv-st-columba-past-and-present/

Contributed by the Editor.

© Holyhead Maritime Museum

This series of posts is to showcase items from the museum’s collection and to support the ‘Ports, Past and Present’ project that features and promotes five ports of the Irish Sea connecting Wales with Ireland – Rosslare, Dublin Port, Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke. More information here – https://portspastpresent.eu/

Captain Skinner’s Painting

This post is one of a continuing series to showcase some of the special objects we have in the Holyhead Maritime Museum’s collection.

One of the museum’s most valued items is an original oil painting from 1828 completed by James Sparrow, who at that time was a customs official at Holyhead and also a long standing friend and mentor of Captain John Macgregor Skinner RN, the main subject of the painting.

Captain Skinner’s House in 1828 by James Sparrow

The oil painting is of Stanley House, Captain’s Skinner’s residence. It was said that Sparrow’s original intention was to portray several humorous incidents concerning Skinner himself. However, following the captain’s untimely death in 1832, the artist’s intentions changed and he decided to fill much of the foreground to include several of his friends and a number of recipients of his charity. Captain Skinner can be seen on his bay horse in the centre of the painting offering charity to one of Holyhead’s poor.

Not shown in the above image is the gilded frame where James Sparrow inscribed the names of all the individuals depicted in the painting. It is not only a special work of art but also a valuable historical and social record of Holyhead at that time.

Commander John Macgregor Skinner

Of all the sailing packet commanders who carried the mails between Holyhead and Dublin, it may be argued that American born, John Macgregor Skinner is probably the most remembered. Popular with the social elite and renowned for his boundless acts of charity, there is no wonder that an obelisk, paid for by public subscription, was erected on Alltran Rock, above the Holyhead Harbour, in his memory.

Skinner’s Monument above Holyhead Harbour

Captain Skinner was an accomplished Packet Captain, who in 1821 had the honour of carrying KIng George IV to Ireland on his ship, Lightening. Refusing a knighthood from the King, he graciously accepted a promotion to RN Commander. He had, during his service with the Royal Navy, lost part of his right arm and was further disadvantaged by the loss of sight in one eye. Despite this he served as a distinguished Packet Captain for more than 30 years at Holyhead until he was sadly washed overboard from his ship The Escape in 1832. His loss was greatly felt by the people of his adoptive town.

Stanley House as it is now

Contributed by Peter Scott Roberts, author of the book – ‘The Ancestry, Life and Times of Commander John Macgregor Skinner RN’.

The oil painting and other artefacts that once belonged to Captain Skinner were kindly donated to the museum by Mrs. Kathleen Hughes of Birmingham. They are on display in the museum’s main gallery.

© Holyhead Maritime Museum

This series of posts is to showcase items from the museum’s collection and to support the ‘Ports, Past and Present’ project that features and promotes five ports of the Irish Sea connecting Wales with Ireland – Rosslare, Dublin Port, Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke. More information here – https://portspastpresent.eu/

The ‘Princess Maud’ – a brave little ship

This post is one of a continuing series to showcase some of the special objects we have in the Holyhead Maritime Museum’s collection.

This plate below was removed from the ‘Princess Maud’ in September 1965 prior to her leaving Holyhead and subsequently given to the museum for safe keeping.

Many who found themselves stepping on board the ‘Princess Maud’, either at Dun Laoghaire or Holyhead to cross the Irish Sea between 1946 and 1965 would probably have taken some time to study the weather and maybe be concerned about the possibility of a rough crossing. Built in 1934 at Dumbarton, with a capacity for almost 1,500 passengers, her draft was relatively shallow and she had no stabalisers. In rough seas she was known to ‘pitch and roll’, all at the same time, making for a very uncomfortable crossing. Subsequently many potential passengers refused to sail on her.

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Despite her characteristics she served with distinction during WW2, some detail of which was recorded on a large brass plate displayed on the promenade deck. Those who studied the inscription might have been very surprised to read of the extent of the wartime exploits of this little ship.

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‘Princess Maud’ going astern out of Holyhead Harbour on her way to Dun Laoghaire

After firstly assisting in the transport of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) to France in 1939, the ‘Princess Maud’ later took an important role in the evacuation at Dunkirk. It is believed that she was the last ship to leave the Dunkirk Mole on 4th June 1940, rescuing under fire over 2,200 British and French Army and Naval personnel. She then evacuated 600 British and 400 French troops from St Valery-en-Caux and later in the month a further 2,500 troops from St Malo.

Returning for a short time to her usual route ferrying troops between Ireland and Scotland, she was then sent to Merseyside in 1943 for conversion to a troop landing ship in preparation for the allied invasion of Europe. On the evening of 5th June 1944 ‘Princess Maud’ set off for Omaha Beach in Normandy carrying several hundred American troops, mainly demolition engineers, who were to land ahead of the main D-Day assault force to clear obstacles from the beaches. For this the ‘Maud’ was equipped to carry six Landing Craft slung three each side of her main deck.

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‘Princess Maud’ equipped as a Infantry Landing Ship astern of two other similarly converted vessels

Having completed this hazardous work the ‘Maud’ then joined the Landing Ship Shuttle Service transporting troops to the beaches of Normandy. She was the first allied vessel to enter Ostend. Later she also began transporting troops returning home on leave from Calais to Dover.

At the end of the war ‘Princess Maud’ resumed her duties on the Stranraer route until 1946 when she moved to the Holyhead – Dun Laoghaire crossing to replace the Holyhead ship ‘Scotia’ lost at Dunkirk. Here she was employed mainly as the ‘spare’ or ‘third’ ship, relieving any passenger overload from the Mail Boats, ‘MV Hibernia’ and ‘MV Cambria’.

It is estimated that throughout the period of the war the ‘Princess Maud’ transported 1,360,870 troops.

In September 1965, the ‘Princess Maud’ left Holyhead after almost 20 years service. One of the Marine Yard fitters sounded the ‘Last Post’ on his bugle as she left the harbour for the last time. Bought by a Greek shipping company for the Mediterranean, she was renamed the ‘Venus’. She ended her days as an accommodation vessel under the name ‘Nybo’ in Copenhagen before being broken up in Spain in 1973.

Contributed by the Editor

The photograph of the ‘Princess Maud’ converted to an Infantry Landing Ship is from the book – ‘Short Sea:Long War’ by John de S Winser.

The photograph of ‘Princess Maud’ leaving Holyhead is included by kind permission of Paul Martin of the ‘Old Holyhead’ Facebook Page.

© Holyhead Maritime Museum

This series of posts is to showcase items from the museum’s collection and to support the ‘Ports, Past and Present’ project that features and promotes five ports of the Irish Sea connecting Wales with Ireland – Rosslare, Dublin Port, Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke. More information here – https://portspastpresent.eu/

Holyhead Women of the Great War

This post is one of a continuing series to showcase some of the special objects we have as part of Holyhead Maritime Museum’s collection.

There are a number of memorial plaques on view at the museum. These were made of bronze and issued to the next of kin in remembrance of those lost during the Great War of 1914-1918. Each one is inscribed with the name of the person who died. Over one million were issued.

Only 600 were issued in memory of women who lost their lives due to the war. The plaque below is in the name of Stewardess Louisa Parry from Holyhead, who died in the torpedoing of RMS Leinster in October 1918. Whilst the ship was rapidly sinking she went to a lower deck to the aid of a woman and child but became trapped with them in their cabin as the waters rose.

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Louisa Parry’s Memorial Plaque on display at the Museum

The sinking of RMS Leinster resulted in the loss of over 650 lives including another Holyhead Stewardess, Hannah Owen. Both she and Louisa worked in hospitals before being employed by the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company. Hannah was 36, unmarried and had worked for the CoDSPCo for 12 years. She lived with her family at 2 Tower Gardens, Holyhead. Her Memorial Plaque was sold at auction in 2006.

Louisa, aged 22, was one of nine children, two of her sisters were also employed as Stewardesses, one of which was ill on that day and Louisa sailed in her place. The family lived at 5 Fairview, Holyhead. It is believed that Louisa was engaged and soon to marry an Army officer.

Hannah Owen and Louisa Parry

Hannah and Louisa were among a number of Holyhead women who worked as Stewardesses on the Irish Sea vessels operating out of the port. Each crossing had its dangers not only from the forces of nature but as the war progressed enemy submarines began to hunt and attack vessels of both the CoDSPCo and the LNWR. The official crew lists for 1915 include the names of 16 Stewardesses from Holyhead. Their duty, if the vessel was attacked, was to attend to the safety of women and children passengers, probably putting their own lives at risk.

The Great War also claimed the lives of two other Holyhead women. Margaret Williams was lost in the tragic sinking of the LNWR vessel, SS Connemara, at Carlingford Lough following a collision with SS Retriever. During a fierce storm and under restricted wartime lighting, this was one of the ship’s regular crossings from Greenore in Ireland to Holyhead. It is believed that this voyage was meant to be Margaret’s last before leaving to get married. She was then aged 32.

Annie Roberts from 6 Ponthwfa Terrace, Holyhead joined the WRAF in May 1918 and was based at Hooton Hall, Cheshire. Aged only 20, she was one of many who sadly succumbed to the influenza epidemic.

The 1920 book ‘Holyhead and the Great War’ by R E Roberts records that 62 women from the town served in uniform – WRNS (4), WAAC (12), National Army Catering Board (8), Land Army (12) and Munitions (26). In addition, close to 40 women served as part of the Red Cross effort in the many hospitals and convalescence homes of the area.

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Volunteer Nurse Katie Evans of Holyhead

Not all Holyhead’s losses are recorded on the town War Memorial (The Cenotaph). Catherine (Katie) Evans, from Bryniau Llygaid Farm, Holyhead, was a volunteer nurse for the Red Cross Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) based at Holyhead during WW1. Katie served with the No. 8 Anglesey Detachment but sadly died on 16 October 1914. Although not commemorated on the Holyhead Cenotaph, she is listed on one of the panels in York Minster commemorating members of the nursing services. Katie was unmarried and only 34 years old when she died following an operation for a perforated ulcer. On the day after her funeral, her sister Pollie Evans volunteered for the VAD.

Contributed by the Editor.

With special thanks to Simon and Jon McClean who donated the memorial plaque of their great-aunt, Louisa Parry, to the museum and also allowed her photograph to be published.

Note: When the memorial plaques were first designed it was not envisaged that they would be needed in memory of women and modifications were necessary to change the ‘HE’ into ‘SHE’. To enable the ‘S’ to be added a much narrower ‘H’ was inserted to make space for it.

© Holyhead Maritime Museum

This series of posts is to showcase items from the museum’s collection and to support the ‘Ports, Past and Present’ project that features and promotes five ports of the Irish Sea connecting Wales with Ireland – Rosslare, Dublin Port, Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke. More information here – https://portspastpresent.eu/

HMS Tara and the ordeal in the Red Desert

This post is one of a continuing series to showcase some of the special objects we have in Holyhead Maritime Museum’s collection.

The two small items below could seem very insignificant to many when seen on display at the museum. However they help to tell the story of the loss of the Holyhead ship HMS Tara  (ex. SS Hibernia) in 1915 and the ordeal faced by the crew during their 4 months of captivity.

SS Hibernia was built by William Denny and Brothers, Dumbarton, Scotland for the London and North Western Railway, entering service on the Holyhead to Ireland route in 1900. Soon after outbreak of war in 1914, along with three other Holyhead ships of the LNWR, she was requisitioned by the Admiralty as an Armed Boarding Steamer and commissioned as HMS Tara. She was quickly armed with three 6-pounder guns.

The ships crew, mostly from Holyhead and Anglesey, were largely retained with the addition of some RN and RNR officers. The ship was under the joint command of the ship’s Master, Captain Edward Butler Tanner and Captain R Gwatkin-Williams, RN. In late October 1915, after service in the north Irish Sea, she was transferred to the Mediterranean to relieve her sister ship, HMS Scotia. She then had a crew of 104 men.

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SS Hibernia in her LNWR Colours

In the morning of  5 November 1915 she was patrolling off the coast of Sollum, North Africa at just over 7 knots. Just after 10.00am the ship’s lookouts were shocked to see a torpedo heading their way. The Helmsman attempted to avoid the torpedo, but due to her slow speed, the ship didn’t come around in time.  The torpedo launched by the German submarine U-35 struck the ship amidships on the starboard side.

Twelve crew members, mostly from the Engine Room, were lost during the ships sinking. The remaining 92 survivors took to the lifeboats which were then towed to Port Bardia by the U-Boat and handed over to Senussi tribesmen as prisoners. They were then marched deep into the Libyan dessert. They suffered great hardship for 4 months whilst held captive by their Senussi guards at a remote desert Wadi.

Among the numerous artefacts at the museum’s Tara Display, probably the most poignant are pictured above. The small glass was used to measure one man’s portion of rice per day, if any was available. The men hunted for snails among the rocks surrounding the Wadi to supplement their very meagre diet. Unfortunately the conditions began to affect the health of some of the crew resulting in the eventual death of five men from dysentery and malnutrition.

With very little to occupy their minds some of the men turned to making items out of whatever they could find to hand. The small bone brooch carved with the name of ‘Cissie’ was made by one of the ship’s Quartermasters, Richard Williams from Holyhead. He was 47 at the time and had four sons and two daughters, one of them adopted. It could be said that carving the brooch was an act of optimism by Richard in the belief that he would indeed see his family again and be able to hand this keepsake to his 12 year old daughter, Mary Elizabeth, known to the family by her pet name, Cissie.

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One of the Duke of Westminster’s Armoured Cars operating in the Libyan Desert.

On Saint Patrick’s Day, 1916 a British armoured car column led by the Duke of Westminster reached the Wadi and rescued the sailors. After time recovering at Alexandria they returned home to their overjoyed loved ones.

Contributed by the Editor.

© Holyhead Maritime Museum

This series of posts is to showcase items from the museum’s collection and to support the ‘Ports, Past and Present’ project that features and promotes five ports of the Irish Sea connecting Wales with Ireland – Rosslare, Dublin Port, Holyhead, Fishguard and Pembroke. More information here – https://portspastpresent.eu/