8 March 1917 – The mystery of James’s lantern…

As James is still on leave and the next Post will not be until 14 March when he returns from leave, we thought it would be a good moment to write a Post about his Lantern, a much loved family heirloom.

Throughout her life, James’s oldest sister, Ellen, kept in her home a ship’s Lantern that was from one of the ships that James served on in World War One. Ellen was known to us as ‘Granny Got’ as she had sweets for our children and had a reputation as being a fearsome, outspoken Lancashire woman, who spoke her mind.  However, her admiration and love for her older brother, James, was irrefutable and his Lantern was a much cared for possession.

The story that we had always been told was that it had come from James’s last ship, the ship on which he lost his life, HMS Lady Cory-Wright.  This ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat, on 26 March 1918 and as it had a cargo of ammunition (torpedoes, sea mines, etc) it blew up and sank instantly and is still considered to be a dangerous wreck because of the explosives on board. There was only one survivor.  It would seem very unlikely that the Lantern came from HMS Lady Cory-Wright.

James’s penultimate ship was HMS Lady Olive, which he served on from 13 10 1917. This too was sunk by a German U-boat on 19 February 1917 (see Post for that day).  James’s diary for that day records that The Lady Olive was hit at 0630 and they abandoned ship at 0800 and it is thought that it finally sank around 0930….so there would theoretically have been time to take the Lantern.  However, James then spends the next 36 hours in an open life boat, baling water out of the bottom to survive and he describes himself as “getting awfully fagged” by the time they were rescued by the French destroyer, The Dunois.  In these situations it is common to jettison anything unnecessary that may pull the life boat lower into the water – and though it is not massively heavy, it is a bit bulky.  So even if James had taken the Lantern, it seems surprising that it was allowed to stay in the lifeboat during the next 36 hours, taking up precious space and weight.

So perhaps the Lantern is from James’s first ship, MHT Nodzu, the trawler that he sailed on, based in Milford Haven, from 13 11 1916 – 05 01 1917. He was posted away from the Nodzu quite suddenly and travelled by train to Portsmouth, via London and Chatham – not the easiest thing to carry on a train, travelling with other men.

The alternative possibility is that James just removed the Lantern from one of his ships on a random day, perhaps just when he was about to go home on leave. That would allow him to smuggle it away more easily and hopefully by the time he got back from leave, (usually 10-14 days later) any fuss about where the Lantern had gone had passed and it had been replaced.

If that is the case, then as James served on HMS Lady Cory-Wright for the longest period of time, from 01 04 1917 – 26 03 1918, and his confidence would have been more assured by then, then it is perhaps true what Ellen / Granny Got always told us….and the lantern really did come from James’s last ship, HMS Lady Cory-Wright

However, that theory also would appear to have some flaws in it. Our (limited) experience of the Armed Forces is that they don’t turn a blind eye to things disappearing, particularly on the day that half the crew go on leave, and that on the return of the crew from leave, it would still be a very hot issue.  Even more significant, is the fact that James was a deeply honest, religious young man, who would have derived no pleasure in giving his mother a piece of stolen property from His Majesty’s Armed Forces.  So we do not believe James stole it.

So, our final thought is that perhaps the lanterns on HMS Lady Cory-Wright underwent a re-fit at some point and members of the crew were given the opportunity to keep the discarded items – and James acquired the Lantern and thought that it would be a good thing to take back to his home in Grimshaw Lane, Middleton Junction.

When Ellen died in 1988, the truth about the Lantern died with her.  The Lantern was passed on to one of her five grandchildren and today it is looked after by Jon and his wife, Nong, in Thailand, where they now live.

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