Zeppelin Letters

Saturday, 7 August 2021

This photograph, taken at the Brighton Carnival in 1923, shows a float carrying a model British airship, just a few years after the German Zeppelins terrorised the general public in the First World War.

The photographers and postcard manufacturers were the local Brighton company of Deane, Wiles and Millar, who published a great many Brighton views at the time, the majority of which were "real photo" postcards.

The following brief quotes are from some of the personal letters included in my book Zeppelin Letters, Personal letters from the people of London (available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle). The book has 124 pages, includes over 70 illustrations, 13 contemporary cartoons from Punch magazine, as well as many letters which have been transcribed and scanned. It is printed in full colour. The three main letter writers have been researched and a basic family tree is included for each person.

"I am suffering from an attack of nerves again, I am positively terrified, we had the rotten German Zeppelins over the City and west-end on Wednesday night at 10.45 Sept 8th, 1915. They dropped a lot of bombs, 12 I think in all several big fires were started down the city. I was out at Hyde Park Corner when the first bomb was dropped. I was absolutely paralysed and thought my time had come. Over 150 casualties it passed right over our house."
Maud Norris, 1915

"We had an idea that there would be a raid, as the searchlights had not been at work during the evening, and at 2.20 a.m. we were awakened by the guns and bombs, and on going to the window could plainly see the Zepp. which was then about 12 miles away. We dressed and went out into the street, and watched the shrapnel bursting and the flashes of the guns and bombs, which even at that distance were very bright. After we had been out about a quarter of an hour, during which the Zepp. had disappeared, we saw a red speck in the sky which suddenly flared up and then commenced to fall."
George Vernon Hatch, 1916

"I expect you will have heard about our excitements last night. Another raid and very near this time. Charlie woke me up about 12.30 and we groped about and dressed ourselves in the dark to the accompaniment of loud firing and bomb dropping. Had an awful business waking up the servant – she locks her door, sleeps heavily and is rather deaf. We thought she would never wake and meanwhile the fire was getting fast and furious. (I’ve forbidden her to lock her door since!) Finally we got all three downstairs – there was nothing to be seen, but sometimes we could hear the engines of one, or perhaps two, Zepps distinctly. Then a lull and then suddenly great flashes of light and terrific crashes. We got indoors again to our safety post by the cellar door where the house walls are thickest. Charlie said he was frightened for a minute for the first time in his life. One flash lit up the darkness inside."
Irene Magraw, 1916

New Zealand Shipping Company stoker

Wednesday, 3 March 2021

The following is an extract from my new book Pitcairn Island via the Panama Canal in the 1920s – SS Remuera's visits to the tiny Pacific island. The book, a 172 page paperback, includes over 100 rare black and white illustrations, extensive extracts from passenger Logs, and contemporary newspaper reports.


Setting the record straight

Unfortunately, I need to begin this journey through the 1920s by being rather controversial. On researching the voyages of the Remuera, I have found that the ship continued to be powered by coal until late in 1922 when she was converted 
to run by oil-fired steam. The problem is that many of my source books, magazines and websites mistakenly say that the Remuera was converted in 1920. 

The advantages of oil over coal

The change from coal-fired to oil-fired steamships was quite dramatic. Coaling a ship was a dirty and tedious job, whereas oil was simply pumped directly into the storage tanks. The boiler room of an oil-fired steamer could be as much as 25° cooler, on the Fahrenheit scale, than if coal were burned under the same boilers. Much of the additional heat in the boiler room, when using coal, was caused by opening the furnace doors to load more coal, and then much heat was lost, making coal-fired ships much less energy efficient. Labour saving was also tremendous, with the required fire-room workforce on some ships reduced by an incredible 90 per cent.

A further advantage is energy density. Oil has a lot greater energy per ton, meaning that less tonnage of oil is required when compared to coal for the same distance of travel. This might mean more tonnage available for cargo on a cargo or mixed ship. Or, if the same tonnage is loaded, it would give more range and potentially more choice about where to stop for bunkering next.

Contemporary reports confirm conversion was in 1922

As you can read in my book, one passenger wrote, in the published diary of his voyage, that on 25th June, 1921, “the passengers suffered great discomfort from the old method of loading coal”.

The description of the 14th December, 1922, voyage from Southampton, in New Zealand’s Auckland Star newspaper, begins with: “The Remuera, the first passenger steamer burning oil fuel to leave England for New Zealand…”.

Also, there is the dated photographic evidence, illustrated below, that the Remuera’s rebuild did not take place before July 1922 when she collided with the SS Marengo.

This photograph, possibly taken by the ship’s hairdresser Henry Keyse, shows the Remuera after her collision with the SS Marengo. The Remuera is in her original form, prior to the refit. At this time she had five lifeboats in a row on the boat deck. After the refit, photographs show that there were four in a row.
It was the ideal opportunity to work on the engine room when the Remuera was being repaired. There was a period of well over four months for this conversion to be carried out before the Remuera went back into service.

Two early "Selfie" photographs

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Apparently, the first selfie has been credited to one of the American pioneers of photography, Robert Cornelius, who produced a daguerreotype of himself in 1839. It was not known as a selfie at the time of course, the name has been credited to an unknown Australian:

The first use of the term was on a public forum in September 2002. An Australian man took a photo of his torn lip after a drunken night out and was seeking advice about the stitches that he had just received. The man’s identity has remained a mystery, and he is surely missing out on much fame or notoriety. Many linguists have analyzed the term and believe that it is very typical of the Australian language to shorten words and end them with (ie); other examples include barbie for barbecue, firie for firefighter, postie for postman and tinnie for a can of beer.

The two photographs here certainly do not date back to 1839, but they are still interesting as they were taken with an extremely long bulb shutter release mechanism. Early cameras had a "B" setting which referred to "Bulb" or sometimes "Brief" exposure. The bulb was a detachable rubber pneumatic shutter release as shown in this illustration from Wikipedia. When the shutter was set to "B", the pneumatic release kept the shutter open for as long as the photographer squeezed the bulb.

In the second photograph below, the bulb is clearly visible in the man's hand, and also the very long line to the camera. Sadly, there is no information written on the photograph as to who the people are. 

Unfortunately there was obviously a fault with my time machine as I have no idea when or where I have been! If you have any idea as to the location or time period, please do get in touch.

Ruahine III in Clydebank, Scotland

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

The fantastic photograph below, from my collection, was taken at the John Brown Shipyard, Clydebank, Scotland, c.1949. Thank you to Herb Ford, author of Pitcairn Island as a Port of Call for the following information:

This would have been Ruahine III (both I and II were built at a different yard – Wm. Denny & Bros, Dumbarton) and she was launched on December 11, 1950, so the photo would most likely have been taken in 1949, given the degree of completeness shown; can’t get closer to an exact date for you than that. 
Ruahine III made her maiden voyage from London to Wellington on May 22, 1951, after having been handed over to the New Zealand Shipping Company (which was then actually the New Zealand Shipping and Federal Steam Navigation Company) on May 3, 1951.
In 1968, after having been transferred to Federal ownership in 1967, she was sold to C. Y. Tung’s Orient Overseas Line, Hong Kong.  She was renamed Oriental Rio.  In 1969 she left Hong Kong on the Round the World Service. 
This great ship arrived at Kaohsiung for scrapping on December 31, 1973.

External link: The story of the Clyde Bank Shipyard

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