GTG at P&O

On a recent visit to the library of the National Maritime Museum to view the company archives of P&O, I discovered confirmation that Theo had started his career as a clerk in the head office of P&O in London.

The salary records of the London office of P&O record GT Gill joining the Passage Department in 1899.

P&O Salaries London Establishment

P&O Salaries to 1900 - Passage Dept

The London office of P&O was at 122 Leadenhall Street in the City of London.

Leadenhall Street in 1896, with P&O’s Offices on the right.

There is a photo in Theo’s album of himself at this time.

GTG circa 1900

“self about 1900 – and NOT (as Rosey says) an Italian, but a quite pardonable mistake, even a daughter’s”.

Unfortunately the records are missing for the period from 1900 to 1910 so it is not known how long Theo remained at P&O before he left to be an indigo planter in India in 1907. However, it is probable that he was still at P&O when his brother Reggie also joined P&O as 5th Officer on board the Candia in 1903.

RHG at sea 2 – with P&O


Reggie’s service file in the archives of the Australian War Memorial in Canberra record that had been ‘Officer Mercantile Marine’ with the P&O Company.

The ‘Mercantile Marine’ was the earlier name for the Merchant Navy –  the collective title for all the commercial shipping (i.e. non-military) both the UK registered ships and their crews. During the First World War, the loss of British commercial shipping to German U-boats  was so great (around 14,600 merchant seafarers lost their lives and 7,759,090 tons of ships were sunk) that King George V granted the title ‘Merchant Navy’ to the service in honour of their sacrifice. All British registered vessels fly the Red Ensign and have done so since 1674.

The P&O Company – The Peninsula and Orient Steamship Navigation Company – was probably the most famous of shipping lines in the Merchant Navy. It started in 1832 operating routes primarily between Britain and the Iberian Peninsula (i.e. Spain and Portugal) – using the name Peninsular Steam Navigation Company. The company flag colours are directly connected with the Peninsular flags: the white and blue represent the Portuguese flag at the time in 1837, in combination with the yellow and red the Spanish flag.  In 1837, the business won a contract from the Admiralty to deliver mail to the Iberian Peninsula and in 1840 they acquired a contract to deliver mail to Alexandria in Egypt. The present company, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, was incorporated in that year by a Royal Charter. Mail contracts were the basis of P&O’s prosperity until the Second World War, but the company also became a major commercial shipping line and passenger liner operator. In 1914, it took over the British India Steam Navigation Company (‘BI’), which was then the largest British shipping line, owning 131 steamers. In 1918, it gained a controlling interest in the Orient Line, its partner in the England- Australia mail route. Further acquisitions followed and the fleet reached a peak of almost 500 ships in the mid-1920s. In 1920, the company also established a bank, P&O Bank, that it sold to Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China (now Standard Chartered Bank) in 1927.

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, holds the company archives of P&O. In these archives, I unearthed Reggie’s employment record (I also discovered confirmation of his brother Theo’s employment as a clerk at the P&O head office in London):

P&O Officer's Register p 395 - RH Gill

Reggie is recorded as ‘second mate’ just under his date of birth at the top of the page, which I assume means that he held a Second Mates Certificate of Competency, which I presume he obtained from his apprenticeship with Thomas Stephens & Son.

[09/09/14 – I have just received this copy of Reg’s Certificate of Competency as Second Mate, dated … 11 December 1903]

Certificate of Competency - Second Mate 11 Dec 1903

Reggie started at P&O as 5th Officer of the Candia on 28 December 1903.The Candia was a genral cargo liner, launched in 1896 and plying the route between the UK and Australia. It was sunk by a German U-boat in 1917.

Four months later Reggie transferred to the Arabia, on 24 March 1904.

The Arabia was a passenger liner, launched in 1898, in service on the route between  the UK and India. The Arabia took Lord Curzon to India in 1898 to take up his his appointmentas Viceroy and in 1902 took a full load of passengers to the Delhi Durbar, who nicknamed her ‘RMS Grosvenor Square’. The Arabia was also sunk by a German U-boat during the First World War.

But less than a month after joining the Arabia, on 18 April 1904 Reggie transferred to the Simla, in Bombay, so I imagine he was only on the Arabia for the voyage out from England to India.

SS Simla (1894)

The Simla was a passenger/cargo liner which was adapted as a troopship, carrying Indian troops to the Boer War and later used in famine relief in India. It too was sunk by a German U-boat, in April 1916.

Reggie was back on the Arabia on Christmas Eve 1904 in Bombay, but again just for a single month.  From 31 January to May 1905, Reggie was off sick and on 22 May he joined the China – one of five sister ships of the Arabia

The China was on the UK/India and UK/Australia mail route and in 1902 broke the record from Fremantle to Colombo with a run of 8 days and 28 minutes.  From the on-line archive of local newspapers in Australia I have discovered the first mention of Reggie in Fremantle,  as Fifth Officer on board the RMS China which called very briefly in the port on 27 June 1905 en route to the Eastern States. (It seems a ship used the title “R.M.S.”, meaning “Royal Mail Ship” – ‘a designation which dates back to 1840, is the ship prefix used for seagoing vessels that carry mail under contract to the British Royal Mail. Any vessel designated as RMS has the right to both fly the pennant of the Royal Mail when sailing and to include the Royal Mail “crown” logo with any identifying device and/or design for the ship’):

“At 10.30 yesterday morning the P. and O. Co.’s favourite liner China arrived at Fremantle from London and ports, and berthed at the Quay. Since her last visit to Australia some changes have taken place in the personnel of the officers of the ship. Captain Lockyer is now in charge, and has with him the following:-Chief, G. F. Caldwell; second, R. C. Warden; third, A. Martell; supernumerary, J. McGregor; fourth, J. Plumpton.; fifth, R. H. Gill; surgeon, E. Kennedy; chief engineer, W. C. Walker; purser, W. Bervice. Captain Lockyer reports as follows on the trip:-“Left London on the 26th May with 91 passengers and a general cargo. Fine weather prevailed until Gibraltar, which was reached on 30th May, and it was here that the first news was received of the battle between the two opposing fleets in the Far East.  From Gibraltar to Marseilles (lst June) fine weather ,with light winds, was experienced. At 10 a.m. on the 2nd June the China left Marseilles, having embarked 64 passengers. Port Said was reached on 6th inst. and upon the arrival of the mail packet Osiris, at 6 a.m. the following day. passengers and mails from Europe were transferred to the China. A rapid transit through the Canal was effected, and the China left Suez shortly after midnight, arriving in Aden on Sunday, 11th June, at 8 a.m. Here the China transferred 30 of her passengers, with the mails for India. to the P. and O. steamer Arcadia. The voyage down the Red sea was pleasant, with a strong N. wind. Leaving Aden at 1 p.m. on the 11th inst.. the China commenced her run down to Colombo. This was a pleasant surprise, for a light monsoon, with fine, clear weather, was experienced for the whole distance. Arriving at Colombo on the 17th June, the China connected with the Chusan, transferring passengers and mails for China and Japanese ports. Left Colombo shortly after midnight, and in a few hours a heavy swell from the S.E. was experienced. Dull weather, with heavy rain squalls, accompanied by a moderate sea, now set in until the 23rd. when the weather cleared considerably, although the S.E. wind and swell continued all the way to Fremantle.” (source: The West Australian 28 June 1905)

The China brought a few passengers for Fremantle, as well as about 200 tons of general cargo. She embarked a large number of voyagers, and resumed her voyage to the Eastern States during the afternoon.”

RMS China - 1897

Another newspaper records the China in meticulous detail in 1900 after a recent refit:

The reappearance in the colonies of the R.M.S.China is an interesting event, and visitors to PortMelbourne to-day will have an opportunity of again viewing this noted liner. The disaster which she met with on the rocks at Perim, her narrow escape, from total destruction, and her subsequent flotation and rehabilitation are matters of history. She was almost entirely re-built, and advantage was taken of the opportunity to make several improvements to the vessel on her original construction. The China is 514ft. long, 54ft.broad, and 37ft. deep. Her engines are of the new four cylinder triple and expansion type, giving 11,000 indicated horse-power. She can steam 17½ knots with ease. Her gross tonnage is 7,899 tons,and she can accommodate 313 first and 152 second saloon passengers, in addition to 187 European officers and crew, and 179 natives. The China has  many improvements, one of the most important being that the cabins of the commander and the  six other officers are all located together on the bridge deck. Above them rises the upper bridge,from which the vessel is steered. This bridge is 55 ft. above the water line, and being situated well  forward enables a capital look-out to he kept. The first-class dining saloon is amidships, a little for-ward of the engines, and measures 76 by 52 feet,having a height to the gable roof of the music saloon above of about 36ft. It is capable, of seat-ing 242 passengers. The saloon and all other parts of the ship are supplied with a complete electric  light installation, and, as is the case in the second saloon, with punkahs for use in the tropics. The second-class saloon is situated aft. The companion  and smokingroom arc decorated tastefully, The dining saloon provides seating accommodation for153, and is furnished in mahogany, with a handsome wallpaper picked out with a rich design in pink and gilt. Cabins are fitted with all the latest interior comforts. A feature of the ship is the large number of bathrooms, 34 in all, which are located on all the decks and provided with hot and cold water. The China is under the command of Captain T. S. Angus, an old and popular servant of the company, who is assisted in the  navigation by a staff of six officers. Passengers have ample room for exorcise, as the promenade  or hurricane deck is 267ft. long, or about a quarter of a mile round, while the second saloon deck is most spacious. The China is dividcd into ten water-tight bulkheads, has a cellular double bot-tom, and can, if necessary, carry from 800 to 900tons of water ballast. She is altogether, a magnificent specimen of her kind.” (from The Argus (Melbourne) 9 July 1900)

Reggie was promoted to 4th Officer on what looks like 27 November 1905, on the Egypt – the third of the five sister ships including the Arabia and the China:

And five months later, on 10 April 1906, Reggie transferred to the Peninsular at Bombay.

The Peninsular was a slightly older passenger liner, having been launched in 1888. It was originally in service with P&O on the route between the UK out to India and the the Far East, but in 1904 she was refitted and modernised, together with several others of P&O’s older ships, and put on the Aden/Bombay shuttle.

SS Peninsular

The employment record states that Reggie resigned from P&O service in Bombay on 31 August 1906. It is not known why he resigned and what his plans were, but it seems he arrived in Fremantle the following month.

The last record on file is the note “Papers destroyed 24 – 2- 15   Satisfactory reports”.

RHG at sea 1 – with Thomas Stephens & Sons

It is not known what year Reggie left the ‘Worcester’ and until starting my research I had no idea what he did until joining the Australian army in 1915. How he got there, and why he settled there, I did not know. I did not even know about his schooling on HMS Worcester.

All the information I had until recently came from his file at the Imperial War Museum in London and the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.  The files include his enlistment papers of September 1915 showing that Reggie was living in Fremantle, Western Australia, married without children.  The information on his early life given in these papers, such as schooling at ‘Ovingdean and “Worcester”‘, is very brief and didn’t mean much to me. But with the help of the Google search engine and the digitisation and free on-line access to a huge archive of past local newspapers in Australia, I have discovered some very interesting information and have been able to slowly piece together Reggie’s early career. I have already covered Reggie’s schooling in my previous post and will come back to Reggie’s life in Fremantle later – but here I want to discover what he did in his early career and how he came to end up in Fremantle, Western Australia with no previous connection to the place.

From Reggie’s ‘Attestation Paper of Persons Enlisted for Service Abroad’ in his file at the Australian War Memorial, which seems to have been filled in by Reggie himself, his ‘trade or calling’ was recorded as Clerk and for the question of whether he had been an Apprentice he says, “Yes, 3 years at sea” followed by what appears to be the name “Messrs Thomas Stephens & Sons” but the writing his hard to decipher:

extract from Attestation Paper of Persons Enlisted for Service Abroad - Sept 1915

But elsewhere on his file in Canberra the details of his early life completed by his wife Laura in 1917 are given as follows:

‘Clerk’ had been written but then crossed out and replaced with ‘Accountant’ – maybe Laura wished to make his profession sound a bit grander?  His training is given as “Officer Mercantile Marine (P&O Coy).” and there is no mention of Thomas Stephens & Sons.  Perhaps both are correct – maybe he started with an apprenticeship at sea with Thomas Stephens & Son, lasting three years, and then took a job, presumably upon the successful completion of his apprenticeship, with P&O?

Usefully it gives Reggie’s age that he came to Australia as ’23 years’. This would be therefore be between 2 September 1905 and 1 September 1906.

If we assume from the information discovered about the cadets on the ‘Worcester’ that Reggie left between ages 16-17, this would have been in 1898-99. So what did he do in the 6-8 years between 1898/9 and arrival in Australia aged 23 in 1905/6? How did he end up in Australia, and why did he settle in Fremantle?

Searching for Thomas Stephens & Sons on Google has revealed fascinating information:

“The “Thomas Stephens

The Thomas Stephens was one of the best known ships of her day . When she came out she was considered the most up-to-date and perfectly appointed passenger sailing ship ever built on the Mersey. She was intended for the old Black Ball Line, but never actually sailed under the famous flag, but sailed as one of the London Line of Australian Packets (Bethell & Co.). She was owned by Thomas Stephens & Sons, of London. Captain Richards, the well-known commander of the Donald Mackay, superintended her building and fitting out and eventually left the Donald Mackay to command her.

The Thomas Stephens soon proved herself one of the fastest iron ships afloat, and a very successful ship financially. She was beautifully sparred, crossing three sky sail yards, and was a very lofty ship one of the tallest ships, indeed, that ever sailed either from the Mersey or the Thames ; and she carried all her stunsails well into the eighties. At first she was fitted with single topgallant yards, but followed the fashion for double topgallant yards before she had been afloat many years.

She was launched in July, 1869, and left Liverpool on 24th September, with a full passenger list for Melbourne, arriving out on 15th December in 82 days. On her second voyage she left Liverpool on 9th September, 1870, and anchored in Hobson’s Bay on 21st November, 73 days, port to port. After this she always sailed from London as one of the London Line of Packets, along with her great rival The Tweed….

During her long and successful career she usually loaded outwards to Melbourne or Sydney; but in 1879 on her twelfth voyage she went out to Otago, and on her thirteenth left Liverpool on 29th April and arrived at Rangoon on 21st July, 83 days out.

In 1881 she went out to San Francisco in 124 days from Holyhead, and coming home to Falmouth in 98 days. Except for an occasional run to Frisco, Calcutta or Rangoon, she was kept regularly in the Sydney trade during the eighties and nineties….” (source: ‘The Colonial Clippers’ by Basil Lubbock, 1921)

The locations of the ship’s voyages could explain why, if Reggie had joined the ship after leaving the Worcester, he ended up in Fremantle, Western Australia. But the dates do not match. It seems that the Thomas Stephens was sold in 1896, the year before Reggie was photographed in the uniform jacket of the Worcester, aged just 15:

“In the later eighties her passages began to slow up for two very good reasons: firstly her sail plan was cut down ; and secondly her captain, owing to a very nervous wife being with him, made no attempt to drive her….

The Thomas Stephens was a lucky ship and kept singularly free of trouble; indeed she had no serious mishap until July, 1893, when she got well battered by a severe gale in 52 S., 130 W., whilst homeward bound from Melbourne with wheat. Her bulwarks were carried away from the fore rigging to abaft the main rigging on the starboard side and her main deck was swept clean. She put into Callao for repairs, but she was not leaking and her cargo was found to be undamaged.

On her following voyage she got into more serious trouble in battling to get to the westward of Cape Stiff. She sailed from Barry on 27th December, 1894, and was partially dismasted off the pitch of the Horn. Put back to the Falklands, arriving in Stanley harbour on 28th February, 1895. Captain Belding, however, refused to agree to the extortionate demands of the Stanley shipwrights, and sailed for Capetown under jury rig, arriving there 14th May, 1895. Here he refitted, and leaving Table Bay on 22nd June arrived at Esquimalt by the eastern route on 24th September.

This unfortunate voyage terminated her career under the Red Ensign, for on her arrival home in 1896 the Thomas Stephens was sold to the Portuguese Government. The Portuguese have a singularly shrewd eye for a ship; and in this year they bought at breaking up prices three of the finest and fastest ships ever built, namely the Thomas Stephens, Cutty Sark and Thermopylae.

Captain Belding was retained to sail the Thomas Stephens to the Tagus under her new flag. He had a Portuguese crew, and the passage was not without incident, for a fire broke out on board and it was chiefly owing to Captain Belding’s personal bravery that it was extinguished. Indeed so pleased were the Portuguese with his behaviour that they presented him with a service of plate and a Portuguese Order, at the same time asking him to continue in command. For many years after this the Thomas Stephens served as a naval training ship in the Tagus in conjunction with the Thermopylae. She survived the famous tea clipper, however, and many a British naval officer has probably been aboard the famous old ship without realising that, disguised under the name of Pero d’Alemgucr, floated one of the crack Australian passenger ships of the seventies.

The Great War found her lying a hulk in the Tagus. The Portuguese fitted her out when tonnage began to get scarce in 1915, and sent her across to America. On her return passage to Lisbon in January, 1916, she was posted as missing possibly a Hun torpedo sent her to the bottom and that terrible word ” missing ” may be hiding some awful tragedy or glorious heroism. Anyhow her name goes on the ” Ships’ Roll of Honour in the Great War,” along with more than one of her sisters in the Australian trade.”

However, the Thomas Stephens was not the only vessel owned by Thomas Stephens & Sons. I have discovered a newspaper article from the Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser dated 7 August 1931 about the career of Capt. J.B. Browning, “P. and O. Captain’s 34 years at sea”, “one of the best known masters on the Australian mail service of the P. and O. Line”:
“He signed his indentures as an apprentice in June, 1894, with Messrs. Thomas Stephens & Sons of London, and the next four and half years of his life were spent in their barque Harold running on the big triangle out to Australia and home by way of the west coast of South America. It was a fine training and he has never lost his keen in sailing ships, but he was quite shrewd enough to see that there was no future in them for an ambitious youngster, and as soon as he got home at the end of his first voyage he joined the P. and O. Company as a junior officer.
Can it be that Browning’s first voyage lasted for the full four and half years? All that time away from home and still just a teenager! Perhaps this was typical for the training of officers in the merchant navy at that time and Reggie experienced the same or similar. Perhaps Reggie also signed indentures as an apprentice with Thomas Stephens & Sons and then joined P&O – maybe he was even apprenticed on the same barque Harold?
Despite my love of all the Aubrey and Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian, I must confess that I had to look up the exact meaning of ‘barque’ – “A barquebarc, or bark is a type of sailing vessel with three or more masts.” There is not a lot of information easily available through Google on the Harold, but the local Australian newspapers reveal some very useful information – painting a picture of what life might have been like for Reggie if he was a young apprentice at sea with Thomas Stephens & Sons.
‘HAROLD’ Built 1888. Steel barque of 1376 Tons. Length: 240 ft. Breadth: 36.5 ft. Depth: 21.3 ft. Built by Duncan for T. Stephens and Son. She was sold to Warmsley and Co in her later life.[General Carrier]’ – source The Warren Register of Colonial Tall Ships
Harold - built 1888
A newspaper clipping from The Argus (Melbourne) of Thursday 12 July 1900 reports:

“THE BARQUE HAROLD. The voyage from Liverpool of the barque Harold, which arrived here yesterday, was marked by several incidents. When in the vicinity of the Canary Islands on 23rd April the barque narrowly escaped colliding with a German ship,which was apparently without side lights. It was very dark at the time, and the vessels only cleared each other by a few yards. When crossing the equator on the 18th May the Harold spoke the barque Procyon, of Dundee, bound from Spencer’s Gulf to Falmouth, and 88 days out. A terrific gale smote the Harold on the 28th May in lat. 30deg. south and 19deg. west. The seas rose to a great height, and several immense rollers swept the vessel, smashing two of the boats and the skylight of the deck-house. Two days before rounding the Cape the barque was caught in a whirlwind, but suffered no damage. It was followed by extremely fierce squalls of hail and rain, and for 72 hours the barque encountered dangerous cross seas.  The barque was just 20 days from the meridian of the Cape to that of the Leeuwin, but was afterwards stuck up for over a week by head winds.  The best record for one week during the voyage  was 1,700 miles, and the best day’s run 302 miles.The Harold left Liverpool on the 14th April.”

Sydney Morning Herald Saturday 14 July 1900:

While the barque Harold was bound to Melbourne from Liverpool, when bowling alone under a favouring breeze in the bright light of an almost perfect moon, the officer on watch descried close ahead what appeared to be breakers on a huge ocean rock. Smartly the wheel spun round, and while passing the edge of a wide circle of foam, there lay exposed under tho moon’s beams, the blackened timbers of a large water-logged ship, [?] almost level with the ocean. The spot was recorded as approximately 40.00 south and 40.47 east.

Sydney Morning Herald Monday 12 July 1909:

George Stansliffe, apprentice on the barque Harold, had an unpleasant experience on the voyage from Liverpool. During a gale near the coast of Australia he was washed from the forecastle. Into the sea. The captain from the poop threw a lifebuoy, which Stansliffe, who could not swim, was able to reach, He was in the water 10 minutes before a boat got to him.”

Evening News (Sydney) Tuesday 9 February 1904:

A boat’s crew which capsized in Sydney Harbour, below Garden Island, during a terrific squall on Sunday afternoon have to be thankful to the captain, officers, and crew of the barque Harold for timely assistance. It appears’ that the sailing boat went over without any warning, and almost as quickly was a boat launched from the Harold. The capsized crew struggled for a bit, and when they were picked up a couple had been caught by cramp. They were taken on board the barque, and supplied with hot coffee, while the boat was righted and bailed out. The conduct of the crew of the Harold shows out somewhat differently to that displayed not so long since by another crew which picked up a capsized boat in Sydney Harbour. Instead of claiming “salvage,” the Harold crew rendered all possible aid. “

I have discovered that the Harold passed through Fremantle in December 1903 /January 1904.  She left Liverpool bound for Fremantle at the end of August 1903:

The Brisbane Courier, Wednesday 26 August 1903
Arrivals. – Ulysses, s., from Brisbane,via Australian ports, Laeisz, s., from Adelaide, via Eastern ports.
Departures. – For Sydney : Perthshire,s. For Adelaide : Loch Vennachar, ship, from Glasgow. For Fremantle : Nicolaas Witsen, barque, from London : Harold, barque, from Liverpool.

And arrived Fremantle in early December 1903:

The Daily News (Perth) Wednesday 9 December 1903
“FREMANTLE POLICE COURT – THIS DAY.  (Before Mr. R. Fairbairn, R.M.)
DANGEROUS DOUGAL.  Paul Dougal, a seaman, from the newly-arrived barque Harold, was charged with disorderly conduct. Dougal, who admitted the charge, was fined £1, in default seven days’ imprisonment.”

But departing soon afterwards in early January 1904:

The Daily News (Perth) Friday 8 January 1904
“FREMANTLE POLICE COURT- THIS DAY. (Before Messrs. R Fairbairn, R.M., and E. Solomon, J.P.)
DESERTERS.   Charles Neilson and Hjalmar Lieno, two foreigners, were charged with deserting from the British barque Harold. The magistrate ordered accused to return at once to the ship, as she was sailing this afternoon.”

But it is just not known whether Reggie sailed on the Harold, and was on board during the above mention voyages of 1900 and/or 1903/4. I’m sure the barque travelled that route on many other occasions.
Sadly, the Harold met an untimely end, sunk by a U Boat in 1917:
“The British barque Harold was torpedoed and sunk by German submarine U-66 when 65 miles N.N.W. 1/2 W. of Tory Island on July 21st, 1917 when carrying a cargo of coal from Liverpool to Santos. Thirteen men, including the captain, were killed.”
the Harold

“Worcester” – the Incorporated Thames Nautical Training College

New CrestAfter school at Ovingdean Hall, Reggie joined the ‘Worcester’ – officially called the Incorporated Thames Nautical Training College, HMS Worcester (ITNC) and affectionately by the cadets as “the Ship”, which was a training academy for young officer cadets bound for the Royal Navy and the Merchant Navy.

The training academy was situated on board the former warship named HMS Worcester, hence the name of the academy, which was moored on the River Thames at Greenhithe, just east of London, between Dartford and Gravesend. It was the second of three ships of that name to house the college so is often referred to as Worcester II in pictures of the vessel.

There are two photos of Reggie in the uniform of ‘Worcester’ but only one is dated – 1897. Reggie would have been fourteen at the time.

GTG photo album - p.27

There are a number of excellent photos and paintings of the ‘Worcester’ and the cadets around the time that Reggie would have been there on the excellent website

‘Worcester’ Rugby Team – circa 1880-1892
Cadets on Deck

The academy had been founded in 1862 by a group of London shipowners, marine insurance underwriters and merchants who felt the need for pre-sea training for potential officers in the Royal Navy and Merchant Navy.  The Admiralty provided the two decker, 1473 ton, 50 gun frigate HMS Worcester. The ship was located at a number of places before being moored at Greenhithe were it remained but the school did not have any permanent shore facilities there until 1920 when the Ingress Abbey estate was purchased.

‘Worcester’ started with just 18 cadets but the numbers grew rapidly and there was soon a waiting list for entry. By the mid-1870s the first Worcester was too small and in 1877 ‘Worcester I’ was replaced by the much larger ‘Worcester II’ – the two decked battleship HMS Frederick William (4,725 tons, 214 feet long,  86 guns and screw propulsion) which was renamed the HMS Worcester on arrival at Greenhithe – and which could accommodate over 150 cadets. When Reggie was there in 1897 there were 155 cadets.

The following information comes from an article appearing in Boys Own Paper of 1893:

Thames Nautical Training College, H.M.S. “Worcester”

   We give with this brief article a portrait group of the racing crew of the Worcester, which ship carried off the Challenge Cup on the Thames in 1892, and on the Mersey in 1893. Captain D. Wilson, Barker, who started as a cadet on the Worcester, is now commander of this well-known training-ship, a few particulars about which can hardly fail to interest our readers.

About five hours of the day, it seems, are devoted to schooling; the rest to technical training in all the practical duties of seamanship. The recreations and amusements of the boys have been carefully studied.  In the summer a swimming-bath is moored to the side of the ship, in which the boys are professionally taught. On the shore, at Greenhithe, a field of two and a-half acres has been secured for cricket, football, and tennis. To all these aids to muscle development must, of course, be added that of rowing, which is enjoyed ad libitum.

The boys are generally received between the ages of eleven and sixteen, and remain from two to four years, according to their position in the school on joining.   After a course of two years on board, a boy is entitled to a Board of Trade certificate, should he then be in one of the nautical classes; and a Worcester certificate is recognised by the Board of Trade as equivalent to one year’s service at sea. A great advantage that the cadets possess on leaving is the arrangement between the Secretary of State for India in Council and the committee of this training ship, whereby appointments as leadsmen apprentices in the Bengal pilot service are placed at the disposal of the latter. These appointments are very lucrative, the higher grades reaching £1,200 per annum. When accepted, a free passage to Calcutta is given to each cadet, and £20 towards an outfit. Considerable encouragement is given to Worcester boys to qualify for cadetships in the Navy.

The Queen awards a prize of a binocular glass, and the sum of £35 towards the expense of the outfit, to the fortunate young man who is nominated by the committee to the naval cadetship annually granted to the ship by the Admiralty. The conditions for this are that the boy nominated shall have been two years on board the Worcester, be of good character, and in the first class in school work, and first section in seamanship. He must, moreover, be under sixteen and a half years of age on July 15 following the competitive examination, must be able to swim, and his parents must give the usual guarantee as to outfit and private allowance. The two years served on board count as if served on H.M.S. Britannia, and an extra year is allowed for good conduct and high attainments in examinations. Again, in the Royal Naval Reserve the Admiralty annually present several midshipmen’s commissions to the Worcester cadets, on the following conditions: That each cadet is a British subject, and possesses a first-class certificate from that training-ship; that a written notification of concurrence in the appointment be given by the parents or guardians; that the candidates approved of by the committee shall be under eighteen years of age, have been two years on board, be of good health of firm and steady behaviour, smart on duty, and of good address and manners. There are three terms in the year – Lent, Easter, and Michaelmas, commencing January, May, and September – and the payments for each term are £17 10s. for cadets in the upper school, and £15 15s. for those in the lower school, a charge of ten guineas per annum being made for uniform, etc. This consists of best blue jacket, waistcoat, trousers, cap, and badge; also one pair second quality blue cloth trousers and cap, and two uniform serge shirts. Pocket-money is permitted in weekly instalments, but the introduction of wine, spirits, or tobacco on board is rigidly prohibited.

Dressed overall for Prize Day

Manning the Yards

Manning the Yards

‘Worcester’ was London’s answer to HMS Conway which was the first training ship for cadets and had been established on the River Mersey just two years previously in 1859 for Liverpool’s burgeoning merchant fleet. Throughout their history ‘Worcester’ and ‘Conway’ were fierce competitors, and the two met regularly on playing fields and in boats in keen sporting rivalry.

Overlooking the rugby fields circa 1930

‘CONWAY v WORCESTER Boat Race Challenge Shield PRESENTED by few old boys in the east 1897’

In 1867 Queen Victoria instituted a Gold Medal presented annually to the best cadet.

”    Her Majesty has also been pleased to grant for competition a gold medal. to be annually awarded to the boy who shows the qualities likely to make the finest sailor ; these consist of cheerful submission to superiors, self respect and independence of character, kindness and protection to the weak, readiness to forgive offence, and above all fearless devotion to duty .and unflinching truthfulness. The medal will be open to boys who have been one year on board the ship, and have received not less than half the total marks at the previous quarterly examination. The commander, after conferring with the headmaster, shall select not less than three or more than five of the boys whom he considers to possess the qualities for which the prize is given. He shall submit these names to the boys who have been assembled for the purpose in the school, and each boy who has been on board six months previously to the time of distribution shall then and there vote for one of the boys so selected. The boy who obtains the highest number of votes shall receive the medal…..
”    The Trinity House and the P. & O. Company each give a valuable prize every year, and there are heaps of others-many of them valuable nautical instruments.”
(source: prospectus of the Worcester quoted in The Boy’s Own Paper 1897)

The famous Admiral Togo of Japan was a Worcester cadet in 1873, graduating second in his class, and Joseph Conrad, the famous Polish-born English author and merchant mariner sent his son to ‘Worcester’ in 1911. The eponymous character in his great novel Lord Jim (first published in 1899) was trained at just such an academy:

“but Jim was one of five sons, and when after a course of light holiday literature his vocation for the sea had declared itself, he was sent at once to a ‘training-ship for officers of the mercantile marine.’
He learned there a little trigonometry and how to cross top-gallant yards. He was generally liked. He had the third place in navigation and pulled stroke in the first cutter. Having a steady head with an excellent physique, he was very smart aloft. His station was in the fore-top, and often from there he looked down, with the contempt of a man destined to shine in the midst of dangers, at the peaceful multitude of roofs cut in two by the brown tide of the stream, while scattered on the outskirts of the surrounding plain the factory chimneys rose perpendicular against a grimy sky, each slender like a pencil, and belching out smoke like a volcano. He could see the big ships departing, the broad-beamed ferries constantly on the move, the little boats floating far below his feet, with the hazy splendour of the sea in the distance, and the hope of a stirring life in the world of adventure.
On the lower deck in the babel of two hundred voices he would forget himself, and beforehand live in his mind the sea-life of light literature. He saw himself saving people from sinking ships, cutting away masts in a hurricane, swimming through a surf with a line; or as a lonely castaway, barefooted and half naked, walking on uncovered reefs in search of shellfish to stave off starvation. He confronted savages on tropical shores, quelled mutinies on the high seas, and in a small boat upon the ocean kept up the hearts of despairing men—always an example of devotion to duty, and as unflinching as a hero in a book.
…After two years of training he went to sea, and entering the regions so well known to his imagination,…”

Finally, there is an excellent account of the large number of medals and honours awarded to Reggie’s OW colleagues (‘Old Worcesters‘) during the Great War in “WORCESTER’S WENT TO WAR” by Tony Maskell OW:

Although the Armistice was signed on the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the armed forces of Great Britain continued to fight in the Baltic, this time the Bolsheviks, the “wash up” after WWI, concerning honours and awards continued right up to 1921.

In that period from 1914 to 1921, ex Worcester cadets were granted many gallantry awards, starting with two Victoria Crosses to Charles Henry Cowley, and Gordon Charles Steele, who many of us remember. Captain George Parker Bevan (1894) Albert Medal (AM), DSO, CMG. Our one and only Albert Medal (quite rare). It was for the action that Captain Bevan took to save the life of a Chief Officer trapped on a burning ship alongside the wharf at Murmansk, instituted by Queen Victoria’s consort Prince Albert for saving life at sea and not often awarded.

There were 51 Distinguished Service Orders (DSO) and 52 Distinguished Service Crosses (DSC); 9 Distinguished Flying Crosses (DFC), 46 Military Crosses (MC); 3 Air Force Crosses (AFC); 5 Distinguished Service Medals (DSM); one Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and 1 Military Medal (MM); the last three awards were for the other ranks, as well as 86 Mentioned in Despatches (MiD); and 87 Foreign awards, many of these were multiple awards to a single person.

Eventually 5 of these OW’s were knighted, 3 Admirals, and two Air Chief Marshals, one of those twice!; at the other end of the spectrum a LEUT Joseph Mair (1888) won a DSM as a sailor then a DSC as an officer. Two other DSM’s were awarded to LDGSMN William Albert Bennett (1866) at the age of 68, while serving on a minesweeping trawler, the other to LDGSMN Charles Henry Holmes (1866) also 68 and under similar circumstances.

Flight Captain John William George Price (1915) DSC*, DFC* Croix de Guerre RFC deserves a mention for receiving two DSC’s and two DFC’s and the Order of Leopold, he was very active in flying over France and Belgium, being shot down on a number of times, on one occasion, landing in the Furness-Ypres canal, by the end of the war, the medical records showed he had had 32 bullets in his body over the war.

There were a number of honours – as opposed to awards for gallantry – given to OW’s in the course of WWI. These were given to men whose efforts were away from the immediate battlefield or face to face action with the enemy.

There were 8 Companion of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath (CB); 9 Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George (CMG); 17 Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) – both Military and Civilian – 4 Commander of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) – given to Indian Army and Royal Indian Marine Officers. 35 Officers of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE); and 9 Members of the Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE). All that does not take into account of the Foreign decorations given by a raft of countries, France, Belgium, Italy, Russia (pre Bolshevik), Norway, Greece, Portugal, Spain, the USA and Japan. As previously mentioned these amounted to 87, mainly gazetted after Armistice Day.”





Reginald Henry Gill was born 2nd September 1883 in Putney in London. He was the second son of George Henry Gill (who was Chairman of the Chelsea Water Company, Reggie’s uncle Albert Augustus Gill was chief engineer of the same company) and Agnes Ellen Gill (née Bower). His elder brother Theo (George Theodore Gill) was just under two years older (born November 1881). Tragically Agnes died in childbirth. So both boys never  knew their mother. However their father quickly remarried, in 1884, to Mary Agnes Kingsnorth. I seem to remember being told by a family relation that Mary may have been a cousin of Agnes but I can’t find any evidence of this now. Tragically Mary also died only eight years later in 1892 of Hodgkins Disease. She was cared for by a specialist nurse, Eleanor Pritchard Cooke, who became a year later the third Mrs GH Gill and the mother of ARG:

“Then came  the time when I was sent out to special cases – one such patient was the wife of the Secretary of the Chelsea Water Company. She had been ill for about a couple of years in fact almost immediately after their marriage – with what the Drs. diagnosed as Hodgkins Disease. It was my task to travel about the seaside places in the hope that her health would improve but the disease made a rapid turn for the worse and so I took her home for it was cruel to cause so much discomfort unless it did her good…. So G.H.Gill took a house at Hastings … he had been left with two little boys by his first wife who died at the birth of the youngest and for some years had tried to run the house and the children with relations.”

The Bower family seems to have been a large and close-knit family and they must have been a strong support. In his wartime letters, Reggie mentions visiting members of the Bower family, when he was on leave from the trenches, with clear affection. I have a montage photograph of the Bower family dated 1905 (which is about the date that Reggie arrived in Australia), including Theo, Reggie and their father and it seems they continued to be close with the family whilst growing up.


Written on the back of the photograph:

Back Row L-R: Jack Richardson, Theodore Bower, Theodore Gill, Reginald Gill, Herbert Richardson, Mrs G.C.Bower, G.C. Bower, T.H.Bower, G.H.Gill, Violet Bower, Geoffrey Richardson.

Middle Row L-R: Marjorie Bower, Alfred Bower, Mrs Herbert Richardson (‘Aunt Edith’), Daphne Bower, Theodore Bower, Margaret Bower, Mrs. Theodore Bower, Mrs. T.H. Bower, Bernard Richardson.

Front Row L-R:  Phillip Richardson, Gerard Bower, Cyril Bower

Geoffrey, Jack, Bernard & Philip Richardson  were [Theo and Reggie’s] first cousins. Mrs Herbert Richardson was [Theo and Reggie’s] aunt who was sister to [Mary Agnes Bower, George Henry’s first wife, and Theo and Reggie’s] mother who died in childbirth when Reginald Gill was born.

GTG photo album - p.45

In this photo from Theo’s album, which I believe from other photos in the album is dated circa 1900 (I believe Theo was working as a clerk in the head office of the P&O shipping company in London), Reggie is in the uniform of his nautical training academy.

Reggie’s military records state that he went to school at Ovingdean Grange (completing sixth form):

Screen Shot 2013-06-15 at 14.32.24

But it seems that Ovingdean Grange near Brighton was never a school. Ovingdean Hall in the same village however was – “In 1891, Ovingdean House became a young gentlemen’s school, which by that time was renamed Ovingdean Hall. Several extra school buildings were built by 1897. In 1941 the school moved to Devon during World War II, and the Canadian Army took over the Ovingdean site.” It was subsequently a school for the deaf and now is an English language school for international students. 

Ovingdean Hall

I assume Ovingdean was a prep school at the time (i.e. for 6-13 year olds) and ‘6th Form’ in the 1890s was not the same as 6th Form today (i.e. for 16-17 year olds).

Reggie’s military records also says he was schooled at “Worcester”:

This was HMS Worcester , now called the Thames Nautical Training College (more on this is a separate post).

GTG photo album - p.27

“Cutter “Water Lily”, Ramsgate 1897. My brother R.H.Gill (wearing uniform jacket of HMS Worcester). My father G.H.Gill and Rev. Cannon J Hasloch Potter (vicar of H. Trinity, Upper Tooting)”

GTG photo album - p.44

“My brother Reginald Henry Gill on my Rudge Whitworth.
The 1st machine ever to be sold for £10.10/-.
The 1st Australian Officer to get the M.C. in France 1914/18″

GTG – after the war with the Bihar Light Horse

It seems GTG remained on the staff at the School of Instruction for Young Officers at Sabathu and Ambala until 1919.

 GTG’s service record is unclear when he ceased his role as instructor at the school but it seems from the photo album that he returned to civilian life quite soon after the war. He was married on 30 December 1918 at St.Thomas’s Cathedral, Bombay to Annie Vera Chapman (known as ‘Vera’). Vera served in the war as a V.A.D. nurse at Bevan Hospital, Sandgate, Kent so how they met each other is unclear.

There is a photo in GTG’s album of Vera with her brother Lawrence Vaughan Chapman  who was a Lieutenant in the 2nd Rifle Brigade and was killed in Flanders on 25 September 1915.

From 1919 GTG worked at the Russelpur indigo plantation and factory in North Bihar (I believe it is now called Rasulpur). And a year later, on 15th December 1919, GTG and Vera’s first child, Vaughan Reginald Gill (known as Reggie after his uncle RHG), was born.

The photo album shows a long leave in England in 1921 where their second son David Lawrence George Gill (Dave) was born on 2nd August 1921, and then back to Russelpur. I assume GTG remained in the Indian Army Reserve of Officers (I.A.R.O.) until 1922 when his service record states that  he was “Permitted to relinquish commission and granted rank of Captain – 1st May, 1922”. However it seems he was back in the I.A.R.O. in 1923 because the next entry in the service record states “Appointed Captain in I.A.R.O. – 10th April 1923”. I wonder why?

By this time it seems that GTG and family had moved to the Japaha sugar factory in Muzaffarpur District, Bihar, which GTG describes was “HQ district of same name in province of Bihar and Orissa, known as Tirhut, also called the garden of India”.

It was at Japaha that GTG and Vera’s third child Rosemary Theodora Mitchell Gill (Rosie) was born on 11th January 1924. There was a serious earthquake in Bihar in 1934, the devastating effects of which GTG captured by photograph in great detail.

1934 Bihar Earthquake (click photos to enlarge):

The last entry in GTG’s service record states “Resigned commission in A.I.R.O. – 1st January, 1930”. There are then a number of photos of GTG from 1930 onwards in the Bihar Light Horse (BLH) based at Muzaffarpur.

It seems GTG was given the rank of sergeant in the BLH. The BLH was part of the Auxiliary Force (India) and was a volunteer, part-time unit. I understand that it was quite popular to join such a ‘territorial’ unit, which were social hubs for British society in India, and due to the popularity it was common for former officers to join as other ranks. From the photos it certainly seems very sociable.

Some members of the Bihar Light Horse, Muzaffarpur
L to R: Bill Barkley, Streaky Campbell (I.P.),  McCarthy, Lt. Col. A.L. Danby O.C
On R – back: Ronnie, Frazer; front L to R: Sgt. G.T.Gill, N.V. Hayne, Morgan

It seems that Ferrers Munns, who was a good friend of GTG, wrote a short booklet entitled  “In Memory of the Bihar Light Horse” to commemorate the unveiling of a plaque to the BLH at Sandhurst in 1958. It is from this booklet that the various information on the BLH on the internet is taken.

Ferrers & Margaret Munns, Japaha 1933

With war in Europe looming, GTG returned to the UK in 1939, living at Sunbury-on-Thames. I believe that during WWII he served as an officer in the Home Guard but unfortunately his photo album stops in the late 1930s.  All three of GTG’s children Reggie, Dave and Rosie served in WWII. Reggie joined the Fleet Air Arm and trained as a pilot at NAS Brunswick in the USA. David joined the RAF and trained as a pilot in South Africa and Rosemary joined the W.R.N.S., stationed in London, Brighton and Edinburgh. And Vera served in the WVS in Sunbury – so the whole family was in uniform.

Tragically, Reggie died in a mid-air collision whilst on a training flight in a F4U-1 Corsair over Lake Sebago, Maine on 16 May 1944. It seems the two planes were discovered a few years ago submerged in the lake and there were plans to try to salvage the planes, but this was blocked in 2004 by legal action the State of Maine and the MOD.

RNAS in East Africa – Mtwara/Mikindani, September 1916

Further to my earlier posts with DG‘s photos, especially those which were credited in GTG‘s photo album as Gallipoli but I believe are of the RNAS in East Africa (see these posts here and here),  I have received some very interesting information from Kalla in South Africa. I quote from the email inserting the images at the relevant part of the mail:

“The photos from GTG’s photo album include some aerial shots (taken by David Gill according to your caption) which show a ‘lake’ or ‘river’ somewhere in East Africa.

I was fascinated by these images and tried to identify the location. Two images show the same area and must have been taken seconds apart. I have stitched them together and then figured out that it shows the lagoon (inner bay) at a place called Mtwara which is located South East of Mikindani Bay along the Southern end of Tanzania (German East Africa)

Unfortunately the pictures are not of sufficient detail to allow identification of the ships in the bay. However based on my research these could include the ‘Whalers’ Thistle, Pickle and Fly with the larger vessel possibly Thistle (or even Rinaldo), a Bramble-class old 1st Class Gunboat.

Troops appear to be taken to shore, several landing craft visible in the river mouth and also around the larger vessel.

Shipping logs and Naval Dispatches indicate that operations against the three Southern Ports of Mikindani, Sudi and Lindi commenced on 13 September 1916 and that there was activity in the Mikindani area until the 16th of September 1916 when Whalers entered the inner harbour (thought to be Mtwara) experiencing no resistance.

My guess therefore is that the the pictures were taken during the troop landings at Mtwara/Mikindani on the 16th of September 1916. Now if only I can lay my hands on the RNAS records for that day, we may be able to identify the aeroplane and pilot/photographer.

I’ve attached some Google Earth images of Mtwara as it is today. Please note that the old pictures were taken at low tide and that the shoreline and little islands visible then are not exactly matched on the colour images.

Kind Regards

South Africa”

I’m very impressed by the stitching of the photographs, and for recognising that they might join. The two separate photos appear on completely different pages of GTG’s photo album and I assume he never suspected that they were originally taken as a single panorama. Unfortunately I have not been able to find any records of the operations for DG’s No. 1 Kite Balloon Section for September 1916 but there are still a number of files at the National Archive on Kite Balloon Sections which I have not yet seen and which may still reveal some relevant information. And there are also files for the HMS Manica itself which I have not yet seen.

If anyone has any relevant information or observations, please feel free to leave a comment or drop me an email.