Live Bait

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALive Bait

Thomas Lindsay Kirkland from No2 Franche Court Road was the first of the 182 names on the St Mary’s church memorial to be killed in the war. As well as being on the Summerstown memorial his name appears on two Scottish war memorials and also the immense Chatham Naval Memorial in Kent. He was one of 1,459 men, about a third of whom were from London who lost their lives in an event very early in the war, around which there is seemingly quite a bit of speculation and intrigue. He was a Petty Officer on HMS Hogue, which was one of three elderly cruisers sunk in the space of less than ninety minutes by the German U-boat, U-9 about 18 miles off the coast of Holland on the morning of 22nd September 1914. The other vessels were HMS Cressy and HMS Aboukir and the three ships have collectively been given the name ’The Live Bait Squadron’. It was the first catastrophic loss of life of the conflict and was a great shock to people in Britain who weren’t expecting such a calamity to fall upon the nation that ruled the waves and whose navy they believed was invincible. The three boats, sailing out of Harwich were it seems barely seaworthy and ill-prepared, they were put out of service before the war, tied up in the Medway, ready for scrapping. The crews were a mixture of older reservists and very junior cadets, mostly from the Medway region. Their job in the first weeks of the war was to patrol the North Sea between England and Holland, on the look-out for any German threat to the stream of soldiers being ferried across the channel to the western front. It was suggested from the outset that the cruisers were used as some sort of bait or decoy to protect this transportation and assess just how much of a threat the German submarines would really be. At that moment in time a lot of naval experts really didn’t think that the submarine was up to much but as events proved that morning, they were very wrong. The boats were patrolling an area of water known as the Broad Fourteens and it was about 630am when the first boat HMS Aboukir encountered ‘Unterseeboot Nine’ under the command of Captain Otto Weddigen. The Hogue was first to the scene and picking up survivors from the water when she was hit. A huge explosion tore the ship in two and she sank in ten minutes. Shortly after that The Cressy was attacked whilst lowering her lifeboats. There were 837 survivors from the three crews, many of them picked up by Dutch vessels and taken to Holland. For weeks afterwards, bodies of British sailors were washed up on the Dutch coastline, many were buried there. The wrecks of the three boats still rest on the seabed and the site has been popular with divers. The Germans had landed a tremendous blow and Captain Weddigen was awarded the Iron Cross and his crew feted as heroes. Thomas Lindsay Kirkland was 38 when he lost his life. Born in Campbelltown, Argyllshire he was brought up in Colvend, Dumfrieshire where one of the Scottish memorials is. The other is at nearby Southwick. He joined the navy in 1894 and served in China, the Persian Gulf and Benin, West Africa. In the summer of 1913 he married Louisa Allen and they lived at No2 Franche Court Road, very close to the homes of three fellow Summerstown182ers. Just opposite were Phillip Chapman at No3a and Samuel Ambrose Tickner lived at No7. A stone’s throw away on the other side of Garratt Lane was the home of Louis Danzanvilliers. Thomas Lindsay Kirkland joined The Hogue in July 1914. A Dutch filmmaker called Klaudie Bartelink is making a documentary about the Live Bait Squadron story which should be completed in time for the centenary in September and there will be a major commemoration event at the Chatham Dockyard on 22nd of that month, honouring all those who lost their lives on the three cruisers. To find out more about this fascinating story, its well worth looking at the Live Bait Squadron Society website at the following link http://www.livebaitsqn-soc.info/

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