Over, 7,500 Hull men died in the First World War. Over 1,200 of these were sailors working with the fishing fleet, or serving with the Merchantile Marine, the Royal Navy and the Royal Navy Reserve. They carried out vital war work, bringing in supplies, transporting troops and minesweeping the seas
There were nearly another 1,500 men who were born in Hull, but who lived elsewhere. They died fighting for Australia, Canada, New Zealand and America. There are many others, who enlisted in Hull or who were associated with the City, but are not usually remembered on Hull war memorials. As Hull had four large hospitals and was the port of entry for repatriated prisoner of wars, servicemen from all over the world are buried in Hull. The Kingston Upon Hull Memorial aims to remember all those with a Hull connection who died in the First World War.
There are over a hundred families on the Hull Memorial that lost two or more of their family. Sometimes fathers, sons and brothers were lost on the same day. Some families lost three sons, other Hull families lost four sons, including all their children in the First World War. At least one in six Hull families lost a direct relative. Many others would lose close friends, work colleagues or others known to them. Each death was irreplaceable and an individual tragedy for someone.
Unfortunately, not all deaths were recorded in official casualty figures, particularly if soldiers died of sickness, accidents or were discharged home with wounds, of illness. By 1924 the Ministry of Pensions reported that there were 20,000 war wounded living in Hull. Although they survived the war, they are rarely recorded on war memorials. What follows here are snippets of some of those people who died, whose deaths were reported in the local newspapers.
Hull Trade, Industry and Output
Hull has historically enjoyed successful trade links with most of the ports of Northern Europe, from Antwerp in the west, to St. Petersburg in the east, Le Havre in the south and to Trondheim in the north. Between 1836-1914, 2,2 million people, mostly from Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway, Russia and Sweden, passed through Hull, on their way, to America, Canada, South Africa and Australia. Some of these people stayed in the City, adding to its commerce and culture. Hull was at the peak of its properity in 1914, but the First World War, would change and damage Hull's shipping and trade for decades.
Hull's foreign trade declined from 4.7 million tons in 1913, to just 1.6 million tons, in 1917. The tonnage of shipping entering Hull ports in 1914 was a record of 6.6 million, a figure not matched until 1923. Hull's coal exports in 1914, were never again equalled, and the imports of wheat which reached a peak in 1912, did not reach the same level until 1931. The King George Dock had been opened in June 1914 to cater for this expanding trade. It was the largest and deepest of Hull's docks, designed to compete with the Great Central Docks of Immingham. Before the war, two thirds of Hull's trade came from Russia, Scandinavia, Denmark and Holland. However, 11.6% of this trade which came from Germany, ended immediately when war began. The wool trade with Australia, which had been built up before the war, collapsed entirely when war began.
Many Hull ships were arrested or stranded in foreign ports, when the War started. They were unable to return to Hull, through the German naval patrols. For example, only 40 ships arrived in Hull from Russia in 1917, compared to 757 in 1913. The Government also diverted cargo away from Hull, particularly after the bombing of Scarborough in December 1914 and in May 1915.
(Preparing oil for varnish at Sisson's paint factory , Hull 1918)
While Hull compensated with some increased trade with neutral countires, like Sweden and Holland, this too reduced in February 1917, when Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare on any shipping helping the Allies. Losses to shipowners were also severe. The Wilson Line, Hull's largest merchant shipping company, had lost 15 of its 79 ships by 1916, and by the end, over 40 of its 84 vessels and some 300 crew members. The tonnage of shipping registered in Hull Ports fell from 230,000 ton in 1913 to 182,000 by 1917. Therefore, from probably it's most prosperous period in 1914, Hull declined through the war, and took decades to recover. With so many Hull people dependent on the docks for work, the War had an immediate impact on livelihoods and acted as an incentive for young men to enlist.
Much of Hull's economy was turned towards winning the war. It's existing Industries and trades were mixed and varied. Its' shipyards built modern minesweepers, anti submarine patrol boats and Tugs. It's well established factories at Fenners, Needlers, Rank Hovis and Reckitts, were expanded and adapted towards the war effort. For example, Smith & Nephews', based at Neptune Street in Hull, grew from 50 to 1,200 employees, and supplied field dressings and surgical equipment for the Allies, throughout the war. One particular order, for the French Government, in October 1914, was worth £350,000 (£108 million), and was delivered in just 5 months. Every British soldier carried two field dressings, and with the millions of casualties caused, no doubt Hull helped save many lives. Joseph Rank Ltd, of Clarence Street, employed nearly 3,000 women in flour production and Joseph Rank himself was asked to join the Wheat Control Board due to National food shortages. Reckitts expanded at the outbreak of the war by buying two German companies based in England - Rawlins & Son and the Global Metal Polish Company. They employed 4,761 in 1915 which rose 5,609 in 1917. By the Armistice 1,100 Reckitts employees were serving in the armed forces and 153 had lost their lives. Being Quakers, Reckitt's factories, produced non combative war goods, such as cleaning materials, gas masks, and petrol cans. Rose, Downs and Thompsons, on Cannon Street, which manufactured general engineering equipment, converted to shell production for the war. In July 1914, it employed 276 people, including just 3 women. By October 1918, Rose, Downs and Thompson, employed 938 workers including 359 women (3 under 18 year old girls) with 212 employees leaving for war service. The Needler's sweet factory, employed 1,700 workers, mostly women, to make confectionaries and 'Military Mints' for soldiers at the front.
By the end of the war, there were 115 major factories in Hull. Of these, 25 were involved in seed crushing and oil cake manufacture, eight in oil extracting and refining, 11 in paint and colour making, three in the manufacture of soap and two in the production of margarine. Grain warehousing was carried out in 10 factories and there were six flour mills. The fishing industry accounted for three premises for cod liver oil extraction and two factories produced fish manure. There were 13 saw mills, four ship yards and six marine and mill engineering works. Other large factories were engaged in the manufacture of starch, blue and black lead (6); tar distilling (2); the making of tin cannisters and paint drums (4); tanning and leather production (3); canvas and sack making (1); and sweets and confectionary (1).
In addition to these larger factories, a total of 1,169 workshops were registered with the City Council. The trades with the largest number of workshops were bakers (83), boot repairers (77), cabinet makers (24), coopers (39), cycle repairers (49), dressmakers (118), fish curers (62), tinsmiths (20) and watch and clock makers (27). The largest number of employees in these workshops was in the fish curing trade (407 men and 535 women), with dressmaking second (10 men and 849 women) and tailoring (271 men and 326 women) coming third. Approximately, 700 men and women were employed as outworkers, the vast majority of people being engaged in bespoke tailoring and the making of fish nets. The above details reflect the many facets of life in Hull, suits and dresses made to measure, leather boots and shoes which could be repaired, craftsman-made furniture etc. The number of bicycle repairers also indicated the large number of cycles used in the city, and it was said that only Coventry could match Hull for its number of cyclists.
Life on the home front was hard and the work often dirty and low paid. By 1919, there were at least 30 premises in Hull involved in 'dirty' processes, such as tripe boiling (6), cod liver boiling (5), gut scraping (3), fish manure production (3), tanning (3), fat and candle melting (2), soap boiling (2), bone boiling (2) horse slaughtering (1), hide preparation (1), cod liver oil extraction for medicinal purposes (1), and amonia producing works (1).
The widespread use of coal for industrial power and also heating the home caused considerable smoke pollution. Public health and safety was in its infancy and there many unrecorded industrial accidents. There was also a limited welfare state, to support those unemployed or affected by the war. All this made life and work on the 'Home Front' particularly tough, especially for women and girls who were essential to maintain war production.
Hull's contribution during the First World War was remarkable. Probably the complete story of Hull's contribution in the Great War will never be known, so extensive and so diverse were the ways in which its thousands of workers toiled. While it is possible to measure actual industrial output, such as shells and other munitions, it is more difficult to assess the value of all the repairs and alterations made to hundreds of ships used by the Navy, the actual construction of war ships, how Hull's oil, paint and colour trades helped, the manufacture of food stuffs and the contributions of all the many small trades and services carried out during the war. While Hull's economic output undoubtedly increased during the war and assisted the nation to victory, there was little to show for the huge expenditure of labour, wages and material. Most of the unused munitions after the war were destroyed and surplus equipment became scrap. The increased production was remarkable considering the youngest and strongest of workers were away overseas. Retired men, women and girls volunteered for duties, often shortening their lives by long hours of work and increased worries and duties. (Below. Photo of three Hull Munition workers)
A female worker preparing paint casks in the works of Sissons and Co. Ltd., Bankside, Hull, November 1918.
Steam Powered Priestman Grab, a World War I conversion using an Artillery Track as a Chasis in front of their Williamson Street Works. Notice the Army Officer amongst the men in the picture, two of the other men are the Priestman Brothers themselves.
Hull's Jewish Community
The Hull Jewish community is one of the three oldest in England.
The Hull ports made travel easier for traders and peddlers, allowing Jewish businesses to flourish and encouraging them to put down roots. Hull's first recorded Jewish inhabitant in 1766 was Michael Levy, a watchmaker. In 1788 a local jeweler, Aaron Jacobs, created an 'elegant crown' to adorn the 'King Billy' Statute in Hull's High Street. (The King William the Third's (King Billy) equestrian statue, marked the centenary celebration of his victory over King James the Second.)
The port of Hull was a prominent destination for migrants heading from Eastern Europe to a new life in the US. Historians estimate that more than 500,000 Jews passed through Hull in the 19th Century. As Hull already had a thriving Jewish Community many stayed.
Over the 300 years since the Jewish community first put down roots at a former Catholic chapel in Posterngate, its presence in Hull has brought vitality to the city. Sports clubs, drama societies, and welfare organisations established by Jewish residents have contributed much to the cultural life of the city. The city was once home to numerous synagogues and active social and sporting clubs, such as the Hull Judeans cricket team. The family responsible for the Max Factor cosmetics giant sprang from humble beginnings in Hull's Osborne Street before emigrating to the USA. Marks and Spencer opened one of their first shops at Whitefriargate in Hull.
The economic vitality of the city continues to be supported by numerous Jewish businesses, such as the architects firm started by B.S. Jacobs, the jewelers Segal's, the solicitors Graham and Rosen, and the accountants Sadofsky's. Individual members of the Jewish community, such as Leo Schultz, Victor Dumoulin, Edward Gosschalk, Benno Pearlman, and various members of the Rosen family have contributed much to the civic life of the city through their work as mayors, sheriffs, and societal leaders.
About 50,000 Jews served in the British Armed Service during World War 1, and around 10,000 died on the battlefield. Britain's first all-Jewish regiment, the 'Jewish Legion' comprised 5 Battalions and fought in Palestine. Five British Jewish soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross during the war. An important consequence of the First World War was the British conquest of the Palestine, and the Balfour Declaration promising a home for the Jewish people in Palestine.
Many men from Hull's Jewish community volunteered for active service at the outbreak of the First World War. See the 'Our Losses' section on this website for some of these Hull casualties.
During the First World War, 300 Hull ships were used as minesweepers and for searching submarines. Hull lost 61 of these Minesweeping trawlers on Admiralty service during the war. On average half the crew of a minesweeper were lost with the ship. By the end of the War, only 91 Hull owned ships were afloat, 9 of which had been built during the war. Hull lost nearly 1,200 merchant crewmen, another 267 Royal Navy sailors and 38 Royal Marines.The majority of these died at sea and have no known grave. To add to the tragedy, there was little compensation for a sailor's family. Sailors' pay stopped when their ship sank, and usually only paid if they died with the ship. Sailors who left their ship in life boats were deemed to have discharged themselves from duty and often had their sea pay docked.
Dangerous work for fishing trawlers used as minesweepers
When the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) was first created in 1859, it consisted of up to 30,000 merchant seamen and fisherman who the Navy could call on in times of crisis. Fishing trawlers were strong, sturdy ships, designed to withstand severe weather conditions out at sea, and in 1907 the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, Admiral Lord Beresford, recognised that trawlers could be used as minesweepers. His recommendation led to the formation of the Royal Naval Reserve (Trawler Section) in 1910, with approval to mobilise 100 trawlers during any crisis period and enrol 1,000 men to man them.
It also introduced a new rank, that of 'Skipper' RNR, into the Navy List. By the end of 1911, 53 skippers had joined. In 1912 a further 25 enrolled and the Trawler Section of the Royal Naval Reserve, consisted of 142 trawlers manned by 1,279 personnel. 31 more skippers joined before the war started in August 1914, making a total of 109 skippers. Another 315 more volunteered by the end of the first week in October. By the end of 1915 the Minesweeping Service employed 7,888 officers and men.
The Royal Naval Reserve (Trawler Section):
Postwar mine-clearing:The cables were laid right or left-handed according to the side streamed. This helped the wires achieve hydrodynamic lift and spread. A single strand in each wire was laid in the opposite direction to provide a serrated cutting effect. The 'Paravane', a form of towed underwater "glider", was developed from 1914–16 by Commander Usborne and LieutenantC. Dennistoun Burney, funded by Sir George White, founder of the Bristol Aeroplane Company. Initially developed to destroy naval mines, the paravane would be strung out and streamed alongside the towing ship, normally from the bow.The wings of the paravane would tend to force the body away from the towing ship, placing a lateral tension on the towing wire. If the tow cable snagged the cable anchoring a mine then the anchoring cable would be cut, allowing the mine to float to the surface where it could be destroyed by gunfire. If the anchor cable would not part, the mine and the paravane would be brought together and the mine would explode harmlessly against the paravane. The cable could then be retrieved and a replacement paravane fitted. Burney explosive paravanes were deployed from torpedo boat destroyers in a configuration known as the 'High Speed Sweep' to counter submarines. However, most paravanes were non-explosive and were streamed by larger warships and merchant ships as self-defence measures to divert moored mines away from their hulls. They comprised a wire streamed to each side from the bows with a float secured to the end to divert it outwards
Hull's Minesweeping war
Due to its coastal location many men joined the Navy in its many forms. As a City with long standing maritime history, Hull men served throughout the world in the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, Naval Reserve, Merchant Service and the Hull Fishing Feet. 14,000 merchant seamen were to die in the war, over a thousand of these were from Hull. 4,000 of these sailors died in just 3 months during 1917, when the German U Boat attacks peaked.
To add to the tragedy, there was little compensation for a sailor's family. Sailors pay stopped when their ship sank, and usually only paid if they died with the ship. Sailors who left their ship in life boats were deemed to have discharged themselves from duty and often had their sea pay docked.
At the end of the First World War, Lord Jellico declared that the Royal Navy had saved the Empire, but it was the fishermen in their boats who had saved the Royal Navy. The Royal Naval Reserve of fishermen was "a Navy within the Navy". They swept mines, escorted convoys, hunted U-boats and carried out countless dangerous duties. While often overlooked by Admiralty officials, there contribution was at least recognized by Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon who said; ‘It is doubtful if we could have defeated the Germans, at any rate as quickly as we did defeat them, if it had not been for the assistance which the Royal Navy received from the fishing community.’
Hull ships and crews therefore played a major part in that victory. The ongoing peril of unexploded sea mines continued to take the lives of Hull fisherman, long after the war had ended. For example, the Hull Trawler ‘Gitano’ struck a mine and was sunk with all hands on the 23rd December 1918. The Hull Trawler ’Scotland’ struck a mine on the 13th March 1919, killing 7 Hull men. Two days later, the steam ship‘Durban’ exploded‘, killing another eight Hull sailors. The ‘Isle of Man’ (Hull) exploded on the 14th December 1919, killing a further seven Hull fishermen. The steam ship ‘Barbados’ exploded on the 5th November 1920, taking ten Hull men. These included the two Weaver brothers killed on the same day. Many of these seaman had survived the war, only to be its victims after.
Illustrations of life on board a trawler - "In the Wheelhouse, Mail Day, playing cards, cleaning guns, the Galley cook, the stoker, the radio officer,slipping the "kite" which controls the mine sweeping depth."
Dangerous work for fishing trawlers used as minesweepers
When the Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) was first created in 1859, it consisted of up to 30,000 merchant seamen and fisherman who the Navy could call on in times of crisis. Fishing trawlers were strong, sturdy ships, designed to withstand severe weather conditions out at sea, and in 1907 the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, Admiral Lord Beresford, recognised that trawlers could be used as minesweepers. His recommendation led to the formation of the Royal Naval Reserve (Trawler Section) in 1910, with approval to mobilise 100 trawlers during any crisis period and enrol 1,000 men to man them. It also introduced a new rank, that of 'Skipper' RNR, into the Navy List. By the end of 1911, 53 skippers had joined. In 1912 a further 25 enrolled and the Trawler Section of the Royal Naval Reserve, consisted of 142 trawlers manned by 1,279 personnel. 31 more skippers joined before the war started in August 1914, making a total of 109 skippers. Another 315 more volunteered by the end of the first week in October. By the end of 1915 the Minesweeping Service employed 7,888 officers and men.
The Royal Naval Reserve (Trawler Section):
The 'Paravane', a form of towed underwater "glider", was developed from 1914–16 by Commander Usborne and LieutenantC. Dennistoun Burney, funded by Sir George White, founder of the Bristol Aeroplane Company. Initially developed to destroy naval mines, the paravane would be strung out and streamed alongside the towing ship, normally from the bow.The wings of the paravane would tend to force the body away from the towing ship, placing a lateral tension on the towing wire. If the tow cable snagged the cable anchoring a mine then the anchoring cable would be cut, allowing the mine to float to the surface where it could be destroyed by gunfire. If the anchor cable would not part, the mine and the paravane would be brought together and the mine would explode harmlessly against the paravane. The cable could then be retrieved and a replacement paravane fitted. Burney explosive paravanes were deployed from torpedo boat destroyers in a configuration known as the 'High Speed Sweep' to counter submarines. However, most paravanes were non-explosive and were streamed by larger warships and merchant ships as self-defence measures to divert moored mines away from their hulls. They comprised a wire streamed to each side from the bows with a float secured to the end to divert it outwards
Hull's Railway men
The 17th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers (Railway Pals) were formed in Hull, by the North Eastern Railway, in September 1914. Within a month over 1000 employees of the NER had joined 17th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers and were beginning training in Hull. Many saw this as a ‘Great Adventure. The Officers of Battalion were stationed on the SS 'Rievaulx Abbey', alongside the King George V Dock. The men were housed and trained in the nearby warehouses, along the King George V dock.
On 16 December 1914, just four months from the outbreak of war, the North Eastern Railway came under attack from the Imperial German Navy during the Bombardment of Whitby, Scarborough and Hartlepool, resulting in damage to North Eastern Railway buildings, track and rolling stock, and resulting in the deaths of two members of staff. There were also Zeppelin raids at Goole, York and Hull. The NER formed special fire brigades as part of the air raid defences at twenty-seven different locations, and also provided air raid shelters for both company staff and the general public, including using arches under railway lines at .
On St George's Day, 1915, the 17th () Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, held a sports day at King George Dock, , with the men and Officers wearing red and white roses on their caps. Activities included the high jump, tug of , hurdle race, hammer throwing, relay race and one mile race. B Company came at the end of the day with 21 points, C Company coming second with 17 points.
As the 17th Northumberland Fusiliers were well acquainted with working the railways, it became an important Pioneer Battalion in January 1915. In June 1915, the battalion moved to Catterick, where it joined 32nd Division, as the divisional pioneer battalion. The division embarked for France in November 1915 and the next six months were spent in the Somme sector around Albert, Bouzincourt and Meaulte. The battalion took part in the opening battle of the Somme at Thiepval. In October 1916, it left the division and joined GHQ Railway Construction Troops until the end of August 1917. It then rejoined the division at Nieuport on the North Sea coast for a couple of months before again joining the Railway Troops. In May 1918 the battalion was transferred to the 52nd (Lowland) Division, which had just arrived on the Western Front from Palestine, and remained with it as Pioneer Battalion to the end of the war. Below are some Hull Railway men stories from the local press.
Many thanks to Glen Hopkins for the contributions above and his work on the NER Railways in WW1