A Blackpool Bobby: man on a mission


Blackpool Police Badge

It was late November 1946, an Allied Internment Camp in the heart of Germany. A dark room lit by a single lamp hanging from the centre of the ceiling. Two men, one sat shackled to a shabby, heavy table, the second stood over, facing him with an intense glare, awaiting some sort of response. A uniformed guard looked on. The second had just placed 3 well-handled photographs in front of the first, three men in RAF uniform, smiles on their faces, hatless. The first man looked emotionless at them. ‘Do you recognise these men?’ The straight face turned to slight surprise. A second time, more forcefully, ‘Do you recognise these men?’. ‘I was only carrying out orders! I have a family to think of’ was the eventual reply. His fate was sealed!

The interview was the end of two day’s determined, gruelling and rigorous interrogation. The first man was an ex Gestapo Officer, imprisoned under suspicion, by the Allies three months earlier. He had been caught working under an assumed name on a farm and recognised whilst on an infrequent trip into town, by a local policemen. He had been on the list of those wanted for the murder of fifty British and Allied Airmen, hunted by the Special Investigation Branch of the RAF Police, the investigation headed by Squadron Leader Frank McKenna. This was only one of the interrogations McKenna and his team would carry out, until all the perpetrators were caught.

The three men in the photographs were three of the fifty airmen murdered following their escape from ‘Stalag Luft III’ Prisoner of War camp in Sagan, south west of Berlin. The Escape was immortalised in the 1960s film ‘The Great Escape’. The murder was also portrayed in the film.

The interrogator was Frank McKenna, an ex Blackpool Detective Sergeant, appointed by Churchill to find and bring to Justice the murderers of the fifty Airmen.

Frank McKenna, was born in Church, Accrington in February 1906. Frank had been a pupil at Sacred Heart School, Blackpool and had lived in Huntley Avenue, Layton. He and his younger brother John, joined the Police like their father. At the outbreak of war, Frank was living with his wife Eunice and son Terence in Lyndhurst Avenue, South Shore. Sadly, Terence died in 1941, at the age of just 9 Years.

Frank joined the RAF in 1943 as a Sgt Flight Engineer, flying 30 missions over Germany. He was commissioned to Pilot Officer in November 1944 with 622 Sqn at Squires Gate. In December 1944 he transferred to the RAF Police Special Investigation Branch.

During the ‘Great Escape’ from Stalag Luft III,  76 escaped, 23 were captured and returned to the camp; only 3 eventually escaped to allied lines. The remaining 50 were to be the subject of McKenna’s investigations.

On a direct order from Hitler, these 50 were to be recaptured at all costs and executed. 150,000 German troops along with the dreaded Gestapo with national and local police, were detailed to find them. At the beginning of the investigations, McKenna had little to go on, no names, no witnesses, no confirmed locations, he had commented that ‘they launched their enquiries in utter darkness’.


Frank McKenna with Eric Zacharius, one of his Gestapo prisoners.

Despite the initial dearth of clues, the statistics of the investigations are impressive, from such a poor start: 329 suspects were tracked down; 72 identified as played an active role in the murders of whom 23 were directly complicit (18 of these were Gestapo officers); of the 72 identified, 21 went to the gallows; 17 received prison sentences; 6 were killed in wartime; 7 killed themselves; 5 had the cases against them dropped; 3 had sentences overturned; 1 turned material witness, 1 remained and remains free. There was insufficient evidence against the rest.

He and his Commanding Officer were awarded the OBE in  for their ‘Outstanding’ work. On demobilisation from the RAF in 1948, McKenna resumed his career with Blackpool Borough Police, but retained his Commission in the RAF Volunteer Reserve, Provost Branch. In 1954 he was posted to Cyprus as Assistant Provost Marshall, to serve during the EOKA Emergency. For his ‘exceptional work’ there, he was ‘Mentioned in Despatches’ in 1958. He retired from the RAF in 1965, however, continuing to work for the MoD, finally retiring to Ansdell in 1971.

Local press in 1952, records a well received talk given by Frank to Fleetwood Round Table, ‘How the murderers of the RAF Officers from Stalg Luft 3 were hunted’. In it he recounted the 20,000 people interviewed, travelling 100,000 miles over 10 countries

Family Grave Stone

The McKenna Family Grave in Layton Cemetery.

McKenna died in Ansdell in 1994, aged 88 and is buried in Layton Cemetery. His story has only come to light since his death.

The 2013 book ‘The Human Game’ details the extraordinary investigation, the fate of the fifty and capture of the murderers. The Author Simon Reid also discusses the nature of the ‘Only carrying out orders’ defence.


Albert Pierrepoint

In a final twist to the Blackpool connection, Albert Pierrepoint was the British Executioner sent to Germany as ‘Lead Executioner’ to deal with Nazi War Criminals. On his retirement, Albert bought a Pub in Oldham and later one in Hoole, Preston. Throughout his career, he took his holidays at the Headlands Hotel in South Shore.

Oct 2019, Revised Feb 2021


Reid, S., (2013), The Human Game: Hunting the Great Escape Murderers, Constable, London

Siegphyl, 2014 available at:  https://www.warhistoryonline.com/war-articles/murder-great-escapers-mission-blackpool-police-track-nazi-killers.html

Article on the 70th Anniversary of the Great Escape, highlighting McKenna’s role at:

Talk to Fleetwood Round Table at:
Fleetwood Chronical, 25/01/1952, p 11, Col 1


Blackpool Police Badge at:

Frank McKenna at:

Gravestone by the Author.

Albert Pierrepoint at:

Blackpool: Hub of Technology

Blackpool can boast a host of technological innovation, most of that innovation remains largely uncelebrated. Innovators and entrepreneurs from the beginnings of Blackpool have moved knowledge forward and capitalised on the experience of doing so.

Trams, Street Lighting & illuminations 1879

Development of practical uses for Electricity centred on Blackpool in the 1870s. Experiments by Siemens on electric ‘Traction’ just 6 years earlier, led to the beginnings of Blackpool trams. Blackpool Council, ever on the lookout for new ideas, quickly adopted this ‘Conduit Electric Tramway System’ for Blackpool’s promenade in 1885. It was the first ‘Mass Transit System’ in the world.

Street lighting too was pioneered in Blackpool. Until 1879 municipal street lighting was provided by gas, then in a flash of brilliance, the Council set aside £5000 to test 8 dynamo powered ‘Arc’ lights, six on the promenade and two on Victoria (North) Pier. The Switch on was advertised widely advertised and tens of thousands of people came to see the magnificent ‘Artificial Sunshine’, street lighting was born in Blackpool.

The famous ‘Illuminations’ followed in 1912, with a huge ‘switch on’ ceremony for a 10,000 lamp display, around Princess Parade was headed by Princess Louise, the Princess Royal. The display was so successful that the council planned a re-run of the illuminations in September of the same year, and every year since, apart from war years

The Tower

1891 saw the laying the Foundation Stone of what has become an iconic symbol of Seaside holiday, Blackpool Tower. The tower was built using cutting edge technology of the time ‘Portable Hydraulic Riveting’, pioneered on the Tower and still used Worldwide today.

The structural engineers employed to build the Tower, also invented the ‘Water Brake Dynomometer’, used in the newly built Tower Aquarium.

TVR Cars

In 1946, local boy Trevor Wilkinson established an engineering company, repairing fairground rides and motor cars in Blackpool. By 1949 Trevcar Motors (later TVR) produced its first lightweight motor car chassis.  TVR introduced a car manufacturing production system known as ‘iStream’, cutting the manufacturing processes to 25% of the size of a traditional process and using 60% less energy.

Jaguar Cars

Another local boy, William ‘Billy’ Lyons, who attended Arnold School, joined William Walmsley, a neighbour, to start small business to produce Swallow Motor Cycle Sidecars, later converting the bodies of Austin 7’s to stylish designs. Swallow changed its name to Jaguar Cars in 1935, moving away from Blackpool to Coventry to meet increasing demand.


Blackpool’s own Gledhill Engineering pioneered insulated hot water cylinders in 1965. More recently introducing ‘Lightweight’ hot water cylinders using a new ‘circumferential’ welding technology.


Technology was always at the forefront in the teaching in the college. Way back in 1947 when the Head of Engineering, R.H. Garner and Head of Catering, William Rees-Jones, worked on the technology known during the war, when RADAR Technicians noticed they could cook sausages when placing them close to the Radar transmitter. The Bakery Department decided to try and beat the record set by the Italians to produce a loaf within 2 hours. The Departments worked together to produce an oven based on those early RADAR experiences and techniques applied to the early plastics industry. The ‘Dialectric’ oven was shown at the ‘Country Comes to Town’ exhibition at Stanley Park, Blackpool. The loaves were cooked in 4 minutes! The Heads took their ‘invention’ to a number of commercial and universities, the largest, GEC suggested there would no commercial value in the project!

In the 80’s and 90’s Courtfield flourished, leading the way in contemporary cooking and preparation methods and new technology: Microwave, ‘Induction’, ‘Sous Vide’.

Blackpool and The Fylde College has recently opened its Advanced Technology Centre on the Bispham Campus. It will enhance skills in advanced engineering and manufacturing industry. In a further development. In a further development, the College and Lancashire Enterprise Partnership has established Lancashire Energy HQ in Blackpool. The new facility aims to support renewable and low-carbon energy generation, and traditional oil and gas industries.


Premium Bond’s ‘Electronic Random Number Indicator Equipment’, or ‘ERNIE’, was invented by one of the original Bletchley Park code breakers in 1956. Since 1957, there have been four generations of ERNIE. With continuous advances in technology, each has become faster and smaller. If ERNIE 1 were still in use today, it would take over 100 days to complete a draw. ERNIE 4 only takes around 5 hours!

The Premium Bonds office was based in St Annes-on-Sea until it moved to a new site in Marton, Blackpool in 1978.

Sept 2017


Blackpool’s HMS Penelope: ‘With Constancy and Faith’

The title refers to the Motto of the Penelope. She was the eighth Royal Navy warship to carry the name of nine:

1778,     A 24-gun, captured by Spanish prisoners in 1780.
1783,     A 32-gun, broken up 1797.
1798,     A 36-gun, Nelsons Squadron alongside HMS Foudroyant during the ‘Siege of Malta’ in 1799 to 1800. Wrecked in 1815.
1829,     A 46-gun, completed in 1843 as a paddle frigate, broken up in 1864.
1867,     An armoured corvette, became a prison hulk in 1897, sold in 1912.
1914,     An ‘Arethusa’ Class light cruiser, hit by a German U-Boat Torpedo in 1916, scrapped in 1924.
1918,     A tender purchased in 1918 and sold in 1922.
1935,     ‘Our Penelope’
1962,     A Leander Class Frigate, served in Falklands War, decommissioned following a collision with a Canadian ship, sold to Ecuador in 1991, became the ‘Presidente Eloy Alfaro’.

(From: Wikipedia)

‘Our Penelope’ was to achieve a great reputation during operations in Norway in 1940 and patrol and convoy escort operations in the Mediterranean between 1941 and 1942 and later in the support of the Allied landings at Salerno in 1943 & Anzio in 1944. During the defence of Malta she was involved in the infamous ‘Op Pedestal’ a British operation to re-supply Malta in August 1942. The story includes the amazing account of ‘SS’ Ohio, the aircraft fuel tanker, which limped into Valletta after being bombed and strafed.


Figure 1 The ‘Neptune’ & ‘Kandahar’ Memorial at NMA

In December 1941 she was slightly damaged after hitting a mine, during the same action, Cruiser HMS ‘Neptune and Destoyer HMS ‘Kandahar’ were sunk.  After repairs in Malta , she returned to service in Jan 1942. In March she was holed and damaged by air attacks, so much so that the Crew christened her ‘HMS ‘Pepperpot’. The crew repaired the damages with long wood ‘Plugs’, giving the appearance of and nickname of ‘HMS Porcupine’.  In April on route to Gibraltar, she was repeated damaged. After temporary repairs in Gibraltar, she sailed for repairs in the USA. She returned to UK in October 1942, where the crew and Officers were invested with medals by the King, as ‘Heroes of Malta’.  She remained on service in the West Mediterranean, participating in some of the best-known naval operations.


Figure 2  HMS Penelope in the Grand Harbour, Valletta

In 1941, a successful ‘Warship Week’ National Savings campaign led to its adoption by the population of Blackpool. She was referred to in the local press as ‘Blackpool’s Battleship’.  As mentioned earlier she was the second ship to bear the name, the first being part of


Figure 3  ‘Pepperpot’ damage to HMS Penelope. June 1942

On return to Naples to restock with ammunition and supplied she was sunk with all hands (415, incl the Captain) following a submarine attack in February 1944. There were 250 survivors.

One of the casualties was ex Blackpool Grammar Schoolboy ALFRED JOHN BROOK, son of Cyril and Kathleen May Brook of Bloomfield Road, from Waterloo Juniors in 1936 until 1941. He was 18 and is remembered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.

There is a memorial to HMS Penelope in St Johns Church, Blackpool along with a Roll of Honour book with the names of the Officers and crew of the ship. A Penelope Association was also formed by survivors. Blackpool also has links with the Blackpool Sea Cadet unit ‘TS Penelope’ at Bispham, the name reflecting the Blackpool link.  The Blackpool branch of the Royal Naval Association (RNA) met in the ‘Penelope Mess’ at the Stretton Hotel on North Promenade, although the RNA in Blackpool no longer exists.

Following the demise of Penelope and to maintain links with the resort, Blackpool adopted HMS ‘Swiftsure’, a Minotaur Class Light Cruiser, Launched in February 1943 and scrapped in October 1962. She saw action in the Okinawa campaign in March-May 1945 and was Flagship of the British Pacific Cruiser Squadron, until the end of the war in 1945.

The Mayor’s Parlour at Blackpool Town Hall holds a number of artefacts relating to our ‘Penelope’ and the later ‘Penelope’ and ‘Swiftsure’


Gordon, E., (1985), HMS ‘Pepperpot’: The Penelope in WW2, Robert Hall, London

‘Our Penelope: HMS Penelope by her Crew’, 1943, Harrap, Reference Only, Bay 14, Open Shelves, Blackpool Central Library

Williams, J.F., 1985, HMS Penelope: The history of the ships of the Royal Navy that have borne the name ‘Penelope’., Self Published. Reference Only, Bay 14, Open Shelves, Blackpool Central Library



Brief History at:

Crew List at:

Ship Information at:

Detailed Story at:

Personal Accounts:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ww2peopleswar/stories/68/a2947368.shtml  &

Service Diary at:

Blackpool links with Malta at:

HMS ‘Swiftsure at:

The Blackpool Regiment: A Brief History Part 2: The ‘Capitulation’, capture, imprisonment, liberation, recovery, repatriation and reception of the Blackpool Regiment’s survivors.

Background to the Surrender

With the British engaged in a demanding war in Europe and North Africa,  France capitulation, Netherlands overrun,  Japan hungrily eyed the rich resources held by  British, French and Dutch in the Far East. Prior to the invasion, the new Prime Minister Gen Tojo, advise an Imperial Conference that Japan should go to war to preserve its empire and as a response to the embargo placed on oil imports, by the USA.

In spite of a perceived growing threat, the Governor of Singapore, Sir Shenton Thomas had been instructed to continue as ‘normal’, so as to maintain face and stability with the native population, made up of around 120,000 Thais and Chinese along with allied troops charged with the islands defence.

The Imperial Japanese Army (herein referred to as the IJA) invaded the Malay Peninsula on 7 December 1941, just a couple of hours before the attack on Pearl Harbour. They landed at Pantai Sabak, 10 miles from the RAF Airfield at Khota Baru, British Malaya, close to the Eastern border with Thailand and made rapid progress West and South. They crossed the Johore Straits on 7th Feb 1942. Despite fierce resistance by Australian and Indian troops (including the remnants of 137 Regt and 350 Battery), the IJA overran the island within 10 weeks of landing.

Singapore was never seen by Britain’s High Command as being threatened from the North. There was no effective plan for the defence of the island of Singapore. The jungles of the Malay Peninsula were thought to be impregnable, especially by tanks and artillery. Any attack was expected to be repelled at sea and as it landed – in Malaya! Attack via Thailand a neutral country was never envisaged. Defence was dependent on the presence of HMS ‘Repulse’ & HMS ‘Prince of Wales’, along with an allied air force of 335 aircraft, located mainly on the Peninsula. Reinforcement of the forces in Malaya & Singapore would take at least 3 months.

The largely unopposed landings and rapid dispersement from the Beachhead was facilitated by bicycles, using maps taken from school atlases. (Isaacs, 1973)

Island defences were directed seaward. Artillery was armed with Armoured piercing shells for repelling a Naval attack, not high explosives for a land-based attack. In any event, most of the guns were never intended to be turned inland. At the time of the surrender, the island was full of transiting troops; native and migrant civilians; colonial officers; civil servants and administrators, numbering over 100,000.

From the very beginning of the invasion of Malaya, and the collapse of the allied air force bombers were able to strike Singapore and did so with increasing intensity and accuracy. They were guided at night by the city lights that were never turned off, city officials, didn’t know how to! (Isaacs, 1973)

The Commander of Allied Forces in Singapore, General Arthur Percival surrendered the island to a relatively small IJA force on 15 Feb 1942. He did so in a confused meeting with General Yamashita at the Ford Motor Factory in Singapore. Confused because Yamashita didn’t realise Percival was surrendering. He only had 20,000 men on the island, Percival had 100,000. However, constant bombing and bombardment, low supplies and with reservoirs cut off, Percival sought to limit further civilian and military casualties. That day, Churchill declared ‘…It is a British and Imperial defeat. Singapore has fallen..’. He later regarded ‘The Fall of Singapore’ as ‘Shameful’, ‘the worst disaster’ and ‘the largest capitulation in British Military history’. A more detailed background to Japan’s entry into the war is widely available. New books testify to the renewed interest in the Fall of Singapore, its politics, its errors and its hero’s.

Following the Surrender, Japanese Newsreels would report and show Allied troops’ humiliation, by parading these ‘Mongrel Troops’, along the route through Singapore taken by General  Yamashita on his victory tour of the island.

The surviving men of what had been Blackpool Regiment, having been caught up in the events leading to the Surrender, found themselves disconnected from their Regiment, disarmed, bewildered and almost certainly angry that the fight was lost and there was nothing they could do about it. They would also be apprehensive about their treatment at the hands of the IJA. Little did they know!


The IJA military never committed to the 2nd Geneva Convention of 1922, which gave internationally agreed ‘rules’ for the treatment of Prisoners of War, although the Emperor, Hirohito, had agreed to its provisions. However, within the Japanese military, soldiers were treated harshly. Discipline was dispensed at all levels. A superior rank would think nothing of chastising a junior rank with a beating.

The ancient cultural code of Bushido (The Way of The Warrior), was a chivalrous code of behaviour for Samurai, the Japanese Warrior class. One of the code’s precepts included ‘mercy and benevolence’, which for PoWs, conflicted with another precept, that of ‘Honour’. The irrational fear of ‘disgrace’ in the face of the enemy was all consuming. Disgrace in surrender provided a fanatical driving force for Japanese soldiering.  These two features of Military life, disgrace and chastisement were to provide the framework for the treatment of PoWs under their control, throughout the war.

Having surrendered to a much smaller and inferior force (in terms of numbers, firepower and equipment), the allied armies captured in Singapore and Burma were regarded as detestable, disgraced and unworthy to be regarded as real soldiers. From the first day of the occupation the allies were reviled and consequently subject to humiliation, ridicule and poor treatment.  Following the Fall of Singapore, and the dishonour of lining the route of the IJA victory parade, the now captives were marched off to makeshift prison camps.

Round-Up & Incarceration

Since the collapse of the Blackpool Regiment  at Trolak, no records of 137 as a Unit exist, the rest of the story relies on experience of Coombes (1948) and ‘Chuck’ Jackson of 88 Regiment, the Blackpool man caught up in the next stage of the story. His diaries and documentary evidence provide valuable insights into the capture and treatment of our Blackpool boys; Cary Owtram’s account and  Leo Rawlings’ descriptions and drawings add authenticity and credibility.

The first instruction, when odds against the allies mounted on the island, was to destroy anything that might be of value to the enemy – materiel, weapons, equipment, vehicles & ammunition. The IJA surveyed all captured kit, repaired, reconditioned and recommissioned it. Amongst their star finds were 150 Field guns, including some of 137’s beloved ’25 Pounders’.

Some troops refused to accept the surrender and fought on for some days, others including the Australian General Gordon Bennett, attempted (and succeeded) escape. General Wavell had been withdrawn from the Island before the ‘Fall’. Others simply exhausted welcomed the end of hostilities.

On 16 Feb 1942, the IJA issued orders ‘..to concentrate all Allied PoWs in  Changi’.  Prior to the ‘Fall’, Changi was a complex of Barracks, Changi Gaol, civilian accommodation, offices and a small hospital. These were set on an area of land with three sides of sea and so easy to confine and contain the 80,000 or so prisoners. Initially, British Officers were left  alone to manage operations. Prior to his transfer to Manchuria, General Percival was keen to re-establish Regimental routine and discipline in Changi, much to the chagrin of many of the Australian and the few American troops. Later this was to become a bone of contention in the conduct of the Camps.

Owtram decribes attempting to gather up the men of 137 following the surrender. He then (along with Rawlings) goes on to decribe in detail the 12/14 mile march to Changi, without much water, some without shoes, but they marched as best they could through devastated villages and large numbers of dead soldiers and civilians, there was no time to clear casualties from where they lay.

The Regiment had managed to send kit and all the food they could muster in a truck allocated for the task. Initially, they were housed by the Allied High Command into Roberts Barracks, which was without light and water because it had been severely damaged by Jap bombers. After a few days they were moved to Changi Gaol. Owtram and other officers were allocated the relative luxury of the Gaol Governors House, affording use of the beach for bathing, until the Japs forbade it. The 330 men of 137 were then moved on to Birdwood Camp. Here they made gardens, played sports and held concerts and even had talks on Infantry Tactics and Jungle Warfare! For the first few months food was provided,on half rations, from that which was rescued at the Surrender, supplements by issues from the vast warehouses of European foods held in Singapore. Soon these were restricted in favour of an issue of rice from their captors. The rapid change in diet having a massive impact not just on physical well-being but on morale. Owtram suggests that a tin ‘Bully’ had to be shared by up to 40 men.

The first duties given to the allied prisoners was building the wire fencing surrounding the camp and clearing the streets and bombed sites of dead.

Once the Jap High Command realised they had an additional workforce of 100,000, The Allied Commanders were instructed to establish ‘Work Battalions’ of 500 men. Owtram describes attempting to keep 137 Regiment men together, he did so with the addition of 170 men from 80 Anti-Aircraft Regiment. This Battalion were sent to work, via Singapore in a truck, to Ban Pong in Siam (Thailand), some 1500 miles north, to work on road projects and what became known as the ‘Death Railway’.

The Camps

There are many accounts of life in camps for both civilians and the military controlled by the IJA.  Here we can only outline some of the key features of life for Prisoners, including those of 137 Regiment. The author had access to a detailed timeline of one man’s journey through capture and return from captivity. Although not a member of 137, he was a Blackpool man, a Gunner in 88 Regiment RA, 137’s  ‘Parent’ Regular unit. It records his time in camps throughout Thailand, working on the Death Railway and his return home. It is based on the scrapbooks, diaries and photographs he maintained. It provides a real insight into the life and repatriation of Far East Prisoners of War (FEPOWs).

Films like ‘King Rat’, ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ and ‘The Railwayman’ may give us an inkling of life in the camps. Whilst each dealt with the topic sympathetically, some aspects of the ‘Kwai’ film were roundly condemned by Blackpool FEPOW at their 1958 Conference, when it had been implied that Prisoners might have colluded with their captors in the building of the bridge, featured in the film. (Hack & Blackburn, 2007, p159).

Despite privations and deplorable conditions there are many memoirs, artefacts, artworks (including comedic caricatures and poetry) and accounts of resilience, if not resistance. Improvised musical instruments, concert programmes testify to prisoners making do and coping. The Imperial War Museum of the North holds collections of improvised musical instruments, medical equipment, games equipment, etc. as testament to prisoner’s ingenuity and resourcefulness

Medical conditions too, however appalling, were mitigated by ingenuity, courage and imagination. Parkes (2015) reports evidence of improvised equipment, facilities and medication from the meagre resources available.

The conquerors were unprepared for a large population of military and civilian prisoners. Buildings of all types were commandeered to provide secure accommodation: warehouses, schools, factories, Barracks, public buildings. 50,000+ Allied prisoners were crammed into buildings inadequate for the numbers. In one case, at Selerang Barracks, 15,000+ prisoners were forced into accommodation for 1200. Next door, Changi, was built in 1936 to house 600 prisoners, held 3500 Civilians, including women and children. ‘Changi’ remains in the consciousness, although Selerang was the PoW prison.

As time passed, PoWs were moved to provide slave labour throughout the occupied territories, to work in factories, mines, industrial areas, and building airfields and the infamous Burma -Thailand and the lesser known ’Sumatra’ Railways. Many thousands died on the transport to these camps, either from malnutrition, poor treatment or by sinking of ships and air raids by Allied action. It’s estimated that some 18000 prisoners and forced labourers, died in sunken ships alone.

The camps were of distinct types: ‘Branch’, ‘Detached’ or ‘Despatched’.

Branch Camps were established and controlled by the IJA, who provided accommodation, clothing and food.  Detached or Despatched Camps were smaller Branch Camps, located in or close to factories or mines, in these the benefiting Company provided all, with JIA providing prisoners and military staff. Many well-known names feature in the list of those company’s benefiting from slave labour: Mitsubishi, Hitachi, Kawasaki, Nippon Steel, Matsui, etc. Many were pursued for compensation by American ex PoWs in the 1990s.

Camps were not subject to a common regime and local Commanders held great power. Experience of prisoners varied greatly, but none of it good. Rules and regulations were enacted but were routinely ignored. The Japanese Navy insisted on interrogating Allied Pilots prior to internment, to improve military intelligence and consequently established its own camps.

Blackpool Boys in Captivity

At the surrender, the remnants of the Regiment were now divided into three distinct groups: The ‘Casualties’, The ‘Remnants’ and 350 Battery. The Casualties comprised those men who had been lost in the jungle after the Slim River incident; the wounded left behind in the care of the IJA because they were too poorly to move; prisoners of the Japanese captured after Major Owtram as Officer Commanding 137, split the survivors into two groups at Slim River; those killed in action or died of wounds during the fighting and those who died at the hands of the IJAafter capture. The Remnants were those who, with Cary Owtram had made it to Singapore, joined 88 Regiment and as captives were now in Changi, but separated from their colleges in 350 Battery that had fought with 135 Regiment, right up to (and briefly after) the surrender.

Coombes, Battery Commander of 350 Battery, relates the story of how the remnants were finally linked up with 350 at Roberts Lines, Changi. He describes how Cary Owtram returned from a foraging trip to Singapore, with news that ‘the estranged Battery would be joining them’.  After welcoming cups of tea and a long rest they were now, at least in name, back as 137 Field Regiment RA. The following day, the Regiment was reorganised into just two Batteries, with two Troops each, with a reasonable structure of officers and NCOs.  Jobs details were circulated, to include fixing latrines, cook-houses and accommodation in the bomb damaged buildings.

After 2 days work and as the Boys were getting used to captivity they were ordered to move, along with all the Divisional Artillery units, directly into Changi Gaol, two miles up the road, leaving the good work done.

At that time the Gaol had been cleared of its civilian inmates and although conditions were stark, 137 moved in, established accommodation in the concrete housing blocks, including Sergeant’s and Officers Messes.

Coombes recalls ‘Days began to fall into a relentless parades, inspections, meals and leisure time’. This was until notice was given that another 2400 men were to join them in the same accommodation. They did so and in relatively quick time, normal service was resumed. Work parties were detailed to work inside and outside the confines of the Gaol. One detail was required to bury about 300 Chinese personnel that had been driven down to the sea and machine gunned on the beach, a task undertaken by Blackpool Boys. Another, later job was extracting boxes of gold bullion from a bank in Singapore, loading it onto a succession of lorries bound for the docks, there it was stacked by more of our boys, ready for dispatch to Tokyo. Coombes later discovered from an English Bank worker that the cases of ‘bullion’, were actually coins and bank notes since the bullion had been liberated and sent to Australia before the Surrender.

Initially, life in the camps was fairly leisurely. Generally the Camp was unguarded, with men of the Regiment taking their turn as sentries, mainly to discourage absconders and foragers.  Coombes says that contact with their captors was minimal. Senior allied officers were briefed each morning about work that needed to be undertaken and these instructions were relayed in the Part One Orders to the men and NCOs to carry out, as would be the case in any other circumstances. One such order required Officers to relinquish their badges of rank, displaying only one ‘Pip’ on their left breast pocket. Another demanded that all IJA soldiers (and later the Korean Guards) to be saluted, regardless of rank.

Food was still in reasonable supply but water was rationed to one bottle per man per day for washing, shaving and drinking, the water being collected off site in a water truck that had to be manually pushed by the men, because no fuel was allowed to be used.

Within the next three weeks, another move was to be made, as the numbers of Allied troops were corralled into the Changi area. This time it was to Birdwood Camp, following the move the men were required to ‘Wire themselves in’, to create the wire fence that would constrain them while they were there.  Whilst here, it became necessary to run foraging trips into the surrounding jungle to collect berries, leaves and roots to supplement the ever reducing diet. Eventually, the IJA appointed Sikhs to guard and patrol the compounds to restrict movement. These weren’t just any sikhs, they were recruited by the IJA into the Free Indian Army, by selling the promise of liberation from the shackles of Britain, their homeland of India. Many thousands of Indian Troops fell for the dream and switched sides, even in the midst of battle. They would be disappointed!

During the time at Birdwood, work details were of two sorts: the normal activities of work that may mean working for the day and returning to the camp at night after work and that which required a more long term arrangement; perhaps in Singapore or other parts of the island where prisoners were away from Changi and away longer term, salvaging vehicles left in the rapid departure from the city, building roads, repairing airfields, working on the docks, ant the like. Coombes declares that by mid May upto 10,000 allied prisoners were living in Singapore and its environs. He goes on to say that about half of 137 were working at Kranji 23 miles from Changi, on roads and building a war memorial to the Japanese war dead.

Life in the Camps

Accounts of treatment by IJA Guards in the camps are available from sources, including the National Archive, many also reported in the trials of IJA Officers. Local survivors put pen to paper, or at least maintained a record of events at great risk. Among them was Leo Rawlings, who joined 137 at the outbreak of War and was captured at the Surrender, spending three and a half years in jail, some of that in the notorious Changi complex.

More recently in 2017 the diaries were published of Cary Owtram, formally Major in 137, later ‘Promoted in the Field’ to Colonel, commanding the PoW Camp at Chungkai, one of the largest, with over 10,000 prisoners. His account provides a vital insight in to how the now fragmented 137 Regiment merged into an amorphous mass of beleaguered inmates; how he managed both personally and professionally to cope with capture, transportation, imprisonment, eventual release and return home. Others include Ian Mitchell (1996) who settled in Blackpool after the war and the detailed accounts from Col Phil Toosey (in Summers, 2005).

For many, liberation from IJA tyranny was not the end of the story. Physical and mental effects of captivity and deprivation left deep scars

Those prisoners who managed to keep diaries of their imprisonment, risking torture and certain death by doing so. They used scraps of paper, tree bark, charcoal anything to write with and write on. Ink was made from blood, pigment from earth or berries. Leo Rawlings managed it, as did Cary Owtram. An excellent, detailed and personal account of the move to Changi, life in the camp where he was imprisoned, the Surrender and the journey home is given by Brigadier EW Goodman DSO MC, Brigadier Royal Artillery, Malaya Command 1941 – 1942, (See references) although from a senior Officers perspective; Parkes (2002 & 2003) also provide Officers experiences. Some prisoners managed to maintain, large quantities of documentary material: details of payments made and due; planned journeys to be taken when released; play scripts & songs; dishes missed as a prisoner and many, many more.

Life in the camps was hard, especially in those camps made ready at short notice and in times of shortage, even for the IJA. Open latrines, inadequate washing facilities, negligible medical supplies and facilities and food.  Prisoners of all ranks were forced to work. In some more established camps Prisoners were paid for the work they did and were occasionally able to buy minor comforts, at the camp canteens in nearby villages and transported them under close guard. Pay was not in cash but in a sort of Credit account with cash only being given for purchases outside the camp. Most Prisoners were not paid in any form. The Japanese view was that the prisoners had the opportunity to redeem themselves by working for the Divine Emperor.

Those who were paid, were able to enhance their diet, marginally from local purchases. Pay was around 60 Cents a week, paid on the basis of no work, no pay. That left those who were unable to work, without any supplementary food. Officers who were paid had a levy on their pay of around 30% to contribute to hospital drugs and food for the hospitals. Toosey records that officers were paid at the same rate as their  IJA counterparts. The money being paid to him each week and distributed by him and his officers. Rates varied, around 30 Cents (US) a day for NCOs, 25 Cents for ORs, probably enough to buy 20 cigarettes and a couple of duck eggs.

Hospitals too were in short supply of drugs, dressings and equipment, occasionally the ‘Detached’, Company camps had basic medical facilities, although Prisoners in homeland Japan had 2 PoW Hospitals treating seriously ill patients. Alternatively, Army Hospitals were used.  Camps in outlying areas had no facilities other that what Prisoners managed to provide for themselves. Cary Outram i/c 137 Regt., was appointed SBO at Chunkai, which later became a ‘Hospital’ camp. Toosey makes reference to the efficiency and effectiveness of the Chunkai Camp. The highly regarded Major Eddie Gill, also of 137 was running Nong Pladuk Camp, from Autumn of 1942 until Toosey arrived there in December 1943.

In the well established camps, thing were a little more organised, there are reports and artefacts relating to theatre productions, and educational courses and talks. Like PoWs anywhere, the greatest feature was lack of contact with home.


Pre-printed card

Communication with home was at best occasional. In the larger, better organised camps, the IJA provided pre-printed cards to send home with very rudimentary information, but at least it was something. Incoming and outgoing post, via the Red Cross, on the other hand was to say the least sporadic. Prisoner Charles Jackson received four in three and a half years, taking up to 6 months to be delivered either way. Contact, at heavy expense was also available via local population, where that was possible. On liberation, telegrams enabled home contact, although demands on the service were very heavy and infrastructure for sending and receiving somewhat unreliable.


Headlines in the Gazette,  Christmas 1943

Jacksons Diary records the Cards sent home, (probably pre-printed with bare information), as follows,  Cards sent: July ‘42; Nov ‘42; May ‘43; Oct ‘43; Jan ‘44; Jun ‘44
Jan ‘45 (25 Words)

Generally, the regime in the camps was harsh, with frequent beatings and punishments for minor infractions of rules and summary justice for more significant crimes – stealing food or attempting to escape. Very few escapes have been recorded. Prisoners could be relocated without notice, being moved on foot, by train or ship.

It’s estimated that around 10% of the camps population died as a result of neglect, ill treatment, injury, malnutrition and disease, with the number increasing to almost 30% for those working on the Burma Thailand Railway. In addition, many died in Allied air raids and sinking of the prisoner transport ships. Sometimes planes crashed and there were cases of suicide, as well as ill health on the ships home.  Parkes also draws attention to the PoWs working near the sites of the Atom Bomb blasts, particularly at Nagasaki where 350 were based, in work camps and a mine close by. At least 80 were killed by the blast.

Changi Jail

Individuals and remnants of units arrived in Singapore in three distinct ways: those who were captured during the battles in and during the retreat from the Malay Peninsula; those who avoided capture and made their way to ‘safety’ by any means and those who fought a rear-guard action, in formed units, all the way to the island. Some elements of the Blackpool Regiment and 88 Regt were in this latter group, eventually taking up positions close to the famous Raffles Hotel and the Governor’s residence and later right on to the Southern Beaches, with their backs to the sea. They did so as ‘remnants’, with the men, artillery and ammunition they could transport in the ramshackle remains of the Batteries. They fought valiantly but in vain. Parkes and others report the surrender as ‘a shock’, even though inevitable in the face of what was perceived overwhelming force. The reality was the Garrison island housed up to 100,000 allied troops, and it was overwhelmed by 20,000 enemy.

As the IJA tried to manage the administration of so many prisoners, Changi was commandeered to house them. The Changi Garrison complex was the principal location for allied prisoners on the island, providing a heavily fortified, coastal defence base, which included the British Barracks at Selarang, just a mile or so away from Changi. The complex also included Roberts Barracks which housed a hospital.

Selerang was the site of a well-documented incident, in August 1942, when the British and Australian prison population of the Changi complex were assembled in the parade square, where they were held for 5 days with little water and sanitation. Four prisoners had escaped, and the IJA commanders insisted that the prisons population sign non-escape declarations. The 4 recaptures were executed, which only stiffened the resolve of the rest. However, illness, weakness and disease and the threat of adding the patients from the nearby hospital to the numbers in the Square, finally forced the signatures and the men were allowed back to threadbare accommodation.

Rawlings suggests that Changi was regarded as ‘luxurious’, when compared to some of the ‘Up Country’ camps. Abuse, beatings and malnutrition, bad accommodation and facilities were the norm of course. However, attempts to normalise conditions, through team games, concert shows, improvised medical facilities and a sort of Regimental regime tended to justify the term ‘Luxurious’.  Certainly, these luxuries were not afforded in the camps on the mainland and within the Japanese held territories. Indeed, the Regimental regimes there tended to include comprehensive admin and disciplinary arrangements, much to the chagrin of those who had experienced the harsh realities of other camps. After a few months the Changi complex became a sort of clearing house or distribution centre for the allocation of slave labour to the Singapore Docks, Sandakan Airfield and other infrastructure projects throughout the emerging Japanese industrial empire, including the notorious Thai-Burma railway.

Rawlings was in fact scathing in his accounts of the prisoners who were sent to work on the railway and those, mainly Officers, who stayed behind in the relative luxury of Changi and who failed to understand the treatment meted out in the Up-Country camps.

Food and Diet

Initially, Owtram, Coombes, Gill & Co. had managed to secure stocks of food, particularly tinned and dried food from the Godowns and warehouses, during the chaos of the time prior to during and shortly after the surrender. They had also managed to transport as much as they could, ahead of their march to to Roberts Lines. Once feeding arrangements had been sorted and the attached RASC and Regimental Cooks had worked their magic establishing cook-houses and messing for Officers, Sergeants and ORs, feeding was back into a normal, if highly rationed and controlled way. This luxury was not to last; protracted captivity and a constantly shifting tide of prisoners and an indifferent and unsympathetic IJA host would see to that.

Coombes (1948) gives us the clearest account of state of prisoner feeding, particularly in the earlier days in Changi. He recalls the supplementation of food grown in constructed kitchen gardens and that which was foraged. Some food was bought by the men, when they could, on the ‘Black Market’ at outrageous prices, sometimes subsidised from Mess funds or the PRI. Indeed arrangements were put in place to tax the pay of those who were working at a rate of up to 30% to pay for food essentials and little luxuries, like chocolate. Foraging parties were allowed to roam in the environs of the camp, until the camp was wired off. Trade through the wire, with locals and the Black Market seems impressive. During April and May, 1942, Coombes recounts 300 tins of Sardines, 200 tins of Jam, half a ton of vegetables and 400 Coconuts.

In terms of official food deliveries, The Jap authorities provided rice, flour, tea, sugar, milk, meat, salt, fat and occasional wheat, every 15 days, although the amount delivered equated to a single meal per man. The haul of tinned food liberated from the Singapore warehouses, and stored in Changi, prior to and just after the ‘Surrender’, was estimated to last about 80 days only.

According to Coombes, catering was supervised by a ‘Messing Officer’. Typical of the menu cycle was:

Breakfast – Boiled Rice, Fish Cake, Chauppatti and Tea
Tiffin – Boiled Rice, Soup or Sauce, or Rissoles of Beans or Fish, Sweet Rice Pudding, Tea
Supper – Stew or Meat Roll or Pastry or Meat Ball, Sweet Pastry – Biscuit, turnover or Boiled Dough & Sauce, Tea

By contrast, Toosey recalls an NCO of 135 Fd Regt’s description of the menu of 24 Feb 1942 in Changi:

Breakfast: 1 teaspoon of Sardine, 2 biscuits, 1 pint of tea.
Lunch: 1 pint of tea
Evening: Dessert spoon of stew, 3 biscuits, 1 pint of tea.

Later, the opportunities were greatly reduced. Rice became the staple food. Initially, it was an unfamiliar ingredient for the cooks who had to learn not just how to cook it but how to present it in forms acceptable to the men. Eventually rice would become the only food available and the calories it provided powered the back-breaking work the men undertook.

The same NCO recorded, in a letter to his wife, the following menu for the day:

Breakfast: Boiled rice, a spoon of milk, tea
Lunch: Boiled rice,mixed with tinned herring
Evening: Boiled rice and a little stew

The impact on the body of the inclusion of rice, raged from constant need to pee, to chronic diarrohea or constipation. It took weeks to adjust to the new diet.

With the financial supplements available, it’s also clear that the Officers Mess seemed to be able to pull all the stops out for Mess Dinners and for visiting Senior Officers, although sacrifices had to be made before and after, in order to provide for them. There is little reference to the catering for the ORs.

Coombes details the ‘Ration Scale’ at No1 Camp, Nong Pladuk & Ban Pong, June 1942, A base camp for work on the Thai-Burma Railway. (The Death Railway)..

Food Weight (gms) Calories
Rice 608 2027
Rice Flour 17 55
Tapioca Flour 16 18
Beef 35 60
Egg 11 20
Fish 9 10
Soya Beans 6 24
Peanuts 3 10
Sweet Potatoes 54 70
Pumpkin 36 4
Wax Gourd 17 2
Cucumber 8 1
Egg Plant 20 5
Greens 70 7
Onions 80 32
Chinese Radish 18 4
Coconut Oil 20 172
Sugar 16 64
Bean Shoots 80 16
Total 2601


  1. From Coombes, 1948, p118.
  2. Amounts per man per day.
  3. Includes all preparation waste.
  4. Grams at 32 per oz.
  5. Work and heat requirement at least 2500 Cals per day.

The ‘V-Scheme’

Mention of the ‘V-Scheme’ here is apposite, it enabled several thousand more survivors than otherwise be the case. Both Toosey and Coombes make reference to the scheme in their writings.

The Camp Medical Officers were well used to managing patients with care and compassion, in the absence of drugs, dressings and equipment. Camp SBOs like Toosey and Gill had both introduced a levi on any earnings from work done for the IJA, although this only amounted to little, it was used mainly to supplement food and medicines for the sick, whose number increased dramatically in number as the years went on.

Cary Owtram at Chunkai, Toosey at Tamarkan and Coombes and Gill at Nong Pladuc all describe how, in 1943, they were told by an allied interpreter, that it would be possible to make contact with a Thai trader called Boon Pong, in Bangkok. He would be willing to supply food, medicines and equipment (albeit in relatively small quantities, given the size of the camps)) in return for a letter guaranteeing repayment after the war. A short time later Owtram describes taking possession of 10,000 Thai Dollars, in notes, to provide initial help.

The ‘V-Scheme’ involved establishing a trading link between the camps and interred ‘Ex-Pat’ civilians in the capital Bangkok. The plan was to smuggle goods in to the camp under the noses of the IJA. Payment for the goods, mainly bought locally, would come from the ‘Tax’ levied on working prisoners, from small personal donations and from loans provided ‘through the wire’.

The trade benefits were not only one way. Information about troop and rail movements; bomb damage; details of enemy and allied casualties; prisoner sickness and death statistics. All transactions done in complete secrecy, with only very few having any knowledge of the arrangements. Risk of discovery was all consuming, the penalty would be summary execution.

The numbers of sick and dying were becoming exponential, as numbers in the work camps  increased. Coombes provided meticulous reports and statistics. A sample is found at Annexe ‘A’.

The relationship with Boon Pong would last until the end of the war and after. He would undoubtedly save the lives of thousands of allied prisoners, including many Blackpool boys.

The Thai-Burma Railway

The building of the railway was to enable logistic support for the invasion of Burma. It was an extension of the existing line, proposed and surveyed by the British in the late 1880s. It was thought to be too difficult because of the jungle terrain. At its peak over 180,000 civilians and about 60,000 military personnel would be engaged in the construction, 90,000 civilians and 12,000 Allied PoWs would die too. The railway ran from Ban Pong, Thailand in the south to Thanbyuzayat in Burma at the northern end.

A great deal has been written about the ‘Death Railway’ and there is no intention to write further here, however, some of the statistics are stark!

  • 3m Cubic Metres of Rock moved
  • 4m Cubic Metres of Earthworks built
  • 650 Cubic Ft of Timber poles
  • 688 Bridges
  • 415 Km of track
  • Work Camps every 5/10 Km

From Mitchell 1996, p105

Work on the railway was undertaken by ‘Battalions’ or ‘Forces’ of around 600 men.  ‘Force B’ from Changi included men from both 137 & 88 Regiments. ‘Force A’ had been assigned to Airfield Construction. The camps rarely had accommodation, the men having to construct it before they started work on the line. On 27 May 1943, some of the Blackpool boys with Col Eddie Gill were sent north in a group of 200, via Kinsayok, a camp of 1300 (200 of them suffering from Dysentry). Coombes provides diary details of the appalling and rellentless treatment and conditions on those northern reaches of the railway.  A typical workday (including rainy season days) is recorded by Coombes, thus:  07.15 Reveille; 07.45 Breakfast ; 08.25 Parade; 08.50 March to Nong Pladuc; 09.45 Work starts; 14.00 Lunch; 15.00 – 18.30 Work; 19.00 March Back; 20.00 Supper; Lights Out (where there was some) 22.00.

At Nong Pladuk, SBO Col Eddie Gill was concerned about the growth of unfit, sick and injured prisoners being forced to work, the impact of poor diet and poor medical support and the multiplying events which sought to separate allied officers from their men. Remonstrations with the IJA officers at all levels resulted in the regular response:

‘ The railway will be completed by August, 1943, irrespective of the loss in life of Prisoners of War.’

As planned, by August 1943 work on the railway was complete. The inmates of Kinsayok were split into two groups, the sick and unfit with Eddie Gill to go south via Nong Pladuk to Chunkai. On their return they were back with the CO 137, Cary Owtram and Col Toosey. The fit went further North to provide maintenance gangs for the railway.

Early in the New Year of 1945, the PoWs learned that they were to be separated from their officers. The intention was to further break the spirit of the men, and the officers. Most (successfully, for the men) handed over authority to the RSMs and NCOs. Both Toosey and Owtram had been keen to maintain contact with their own regiments, looking after the interests of the men in their charge. Both record that moving out was a terrible wrench. They were sent via Nong Pladuk to Kanburi at the north end of the track, near the town of Kanchanaburi. The camps held around 3000 Allied officers.


Liberation, recovery, evacuation and repatriation

Coombes recounts being told of the Japanese surrender by Siamese civilians, on his way on a work party. On return to the Camp, the SBO Col Swinton was formally informed that the war was over, but that they must still regard themselves as prisoners until relieved by ‘his own people’. They must stay within the confines of the camp, because the Camp Commandant could not guarantee that all the outlying IJA troops were aware. Supplied were demanded and received, from warehouses that were stuffed full of Red Cross materiel sent to prisoners, but never distributed.

A few days later, representatives of RAPWI (Recovery Allied Prisoners of War and Internees) appeared to arrange repatriation.

Being told that the war was over, did not sit easily with prisoners. They had not dare believe any success stories heard from newly arrived prisoners, on illicit radios or from sympathetic Thais. One account recalls the suspicion held by the PoWs when men in green uniforms arrived in camp to inform them of their freedom and release. That suspicion eventually evaporating into uncontrolled joy by some and reflective silence by others, particularly for relatives and friends who had not survived.

The Japanese declared their intention to surrender on 10 September 1945. Toosey describes how, not until 17 August 1945, he heard the news and expressed his wish to rejoin the men of his Regiment he had left at Ubon. Cary Owtram, acting CO of 137, also sought assurance of the state of his own men. 234 Men had died, 71 of those in battle, the rest, 163, had died at the hands of the IJA, the remaining survivors were in various states of mental and physical health. The surviving 137 Regiment officers had been sent to Kanburi Camp, many the men distributed to camps along the route of the Thai-Burma railway.

Mitchell (1996) describes a typical reaction to an interruption during some community singing, being held in their camp at Tamuang : ‘.. two men appeared and strode to the front. They were dressed in green uniforms , one with a strange looking sub-machine gun, both with parachute emblems on their shirts, neither with any badge of rank. … Since the men did not know that the European war was over, had never seen Sten guns, nor British troops in green uniforms, nor British troops without badges of rank, nor knew of the formation of the parachute Regiment, …’

One of the two men was a Major, who explained the situation; The IJA guards had deserted their posts and fled the camp. They had been ‘shadowing’ the camp and waiting for the opportunity to move in for several days.

The Japanese surrender and pending liberation was a double-edged sword, freedom, yes but the real prospect of reprisals led to trepidation and an anxious wait until the arrival of Allied troops.

In 1943, the IJA High Command, through Commanding General of Military Police, issued orders to plan for the ‘Final Disposition of PoWs’, what was designated as ‘Document No. 2710’ of August 1st 1944. The methods to employ were included, under Section 2 of the Order:

  1. Whether they are destroyed individually or in groups, or however it is done, with mass bombing, poisonous smoke, poisons, drowning, decapitation, or what, dispose of them as the situation dictates.
  2. In any case it is the aim not to allow the escape of a single one, to annihilate them all, and not to leave any traces.

The document was used in the post war War-Crimes Trials. An official translation of Document 2701 below.


On 20 Aug 1945, following Surrender of Japanese forces, a further order was issued providing ‘authorization for Guards to flee because of mistreatment of POWs’  (National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), War Crimes, Japan, RG 24, Box 2011)

The initial declaration of the end of hostilities was made in Japan on August 15th, however, the formal signing of the Surrender document was not made until September 2nd.  We see later that some of the Blackpool boys, although liberated on 2nd of September, were not declared ‘No longer PoWs’ for several weeks or even months after. Finding and processing so many thousand prisoners on adding to the anguish at home.

Even from Dec 1942, efforts were under way by the International Red Cross (IRC) to locate PoW Camps in the Far East and those in the Japan mainland were also being sought, under the title of ‘Op Blacklist’. Few camps were liberated by Allied Troops, other than those discovered as occupied islands were liberated. On Surrender, many IJA  Guards simply melted into the surrounding countryside, abandoning their charges, some of the prisoners in the larger industrial concerns were wined and dined by their employers. Camps were sought mainly by air surveillance, which dropped much needed supplies when they were found. Others were well known, often by reputation! Special Forces, working alongside Thai and Chinese resistance were able to move quickly into camps. Some were too remote that news of the Surrender didn’t reach them for several weeks.

Efforts to provide supply drops of food and medicines by air continued, although Toosey describes a number of unwelcome drops of RICE! Sutcliffe’s diary records one air drop that killed a bullock and badly injured several men.

Meanwhile, preparations in the ‘known’ camps were being made to get the men back home. Time for some was used to update themselves; getting used to new, unfamiliar terms being used, like ‘D-Day’, ‘Bazooka’, ‘Atom Bomb’ or personalities ‘Ike’, ‘Slim’ and ‘Montgomery’.


For the Blackpool Regiment boys, Cary Owtram delayed his return home to locate and gather them in. Many were never to return, killed in action of dying at the hands of the IJA or as a result of disease, malnutrition or work accidents.

Prisoners were recovered and evacuated from the camps by all available means. All were medically assessed and encouraged to complete ‘Liberation Questionnaires’. Many did not complete them and most only the first page with basic information. The liberating authorities were dependent on covert admin records kept by PoWs. Official Japanese records were destroyed as camps were abandoned. Those unfit to travel were moved variously to Allied Hospital ships and Field Hospitals and clinics established by military medics.


The Repatriation Memorial, Liverpool. (Courtesy Creative Commons)

Those well enough to travel immediately were assembled at Air Fields and Ports in preparation for the journey home. Many passed through ‘Repatriation Holding Units’ or Transit Camp like No 5 FARHU, getting kitted out with clothing as they did so.

From the British Government’s point of view the preferred means was by sea, allowing time for PoWs to put some weight on, improve medically and reduce the shock for those at home! On board, personnel were briefed not to dwell on their experience, on conditions at home and what they might expect when they arrived, bearing in mind that many had spent over 3 years without any contact from home. Similarly, families were told not to ask questions and just get on with life. Many arrived back in the UK without welcome or fanfare

The newly liberated PoWs were told in no uncertain terms that they were not to recount their experiences until after a debrief by the Intelligence Officers of ALFSEA (Allied Land Forces South East Asia) and production of a written statement. Statement were to be of dates and places of internment, treatment and personalities involved. Speculation as to their use in tracing Japanese Escapees and War Crimes Trials was rife, but unconfirmed.

Ships assembled for invasion of Malaya and Singapore in Op Zipper, were reassigned to move PoWs.  All UK airports and ports were pressed in to service to receive PoWs back home. Those from the NW including 137, came back mainly via Liverpool, landed and given rail passes to get them to their home town, arriving at the homes in what they stood up in and little else, often with bewilderment and disbelief.

About 37,500 FEPOWs (20,000 via Liverpool) came home to UK normally by sea, taking several weeks, giving time for the men and women the chance to adjust to their freedom and to recuperate physically and to some extent mentally, in preparation for questioning by families and officials back home. Many received instructions not to talk about their experiences to their families, because ‘they wouldn’t understand’. Many were in poor physical and mental state: tropical illnesses and infections, malnutrition, being amongst the most common. Whilst there was a network of military hospitals for each of the services, many had minimum capability and capacity to cope with numbers of referrals.

The Journey Home

Those for repatriation were transported from camps by plane and train and assembled at the ports in Rangoon and Singapore, bound by initially for Bombay to handover the sick to Indian hospitals or Colombo, where they first tasted real freedom – shore leave. Ships were met there with bands playing. Their journey would usually take them via the Suez Canal, the Mediterranean, past Sicily, Malta and Gibraltar through the Bay of Biscay and home.

The journey home by ship provided much rest, rehabilitation and respite from the rigours of the camps, new kit, good food. Sutcliffe recalls the kindness of the military and civilian staff manning the reception and movement centres allocated for handling repatriation and the taste of tea with milk and sugar, of real bread and the tinned apricots that seemed to be served everywhere at all times.

The journey provided time for joy and regret, for grieving and for longing. Longing for family, wives and for sweethearts and for wondering what life at home would be like, back in the company of loved ones, with the ghosts of the last three and a half years constantly close by.  Some were cheered by recollections of home, some with dread of what they might find – some expectations would be met and others dashed in the months to come.

Few flew to UK. Onward journey to home from the Ports, was normally by Travel Warrant by train, to be met, or not, at local stations.

To confuse things, Britain in October/November 1945 was in the middle of a strike by Dockers. 2000 Returnees were delayed at Rangoon’s ‘Epilogue Camp’ – No 5 FARHU (Forward Area Holding Reception Unit), wrote to the British Press and the Government to complain about the delays to the ships – the RMS ‘Alcantara’ and MV ‘Llangibby Castle’, likely to make them miss their first Christmas at home for many years. (Discussion at: ww2talk.com ‘Epilogue Camp, Rangoon, 1945′). They did so with full support of their Commanding Officer General Symes. Sutcliffe also comments with indignation, on the strike and its consequences for returning PoWs. He also criticises what he refers to as the ‘Gutter Press’ for their support of the action and the decay in life at home – reporting the strike, rationing, shortages and the like.

A typical journey home is covered fully in Lt Sutcliffe’s diary. Another, for one of the Blackpool men of 88 Fd Regt can be found in Annex ’B’.


The treatment of POWs differed between those from Europe, where there had been a declared victory and those from the FE where their capture was a result of capitulation. There were questions to be asked about how and why; as opposed to the questions from the European perspective which concentrated on what and who. The latter featured people, the former, circumstances.

Officially, PoWs were regarded as Casualties and as such should be expected to attend a ‘resettlement’ programme in order to rehabilitate them back into society. Early in 1945 a pilot ‘Civil Resettlement Unit’ (CRU) was established by the Army, in response to the increasing number of repatriates, either from escapes from captivity, or on medical grounds via the International Red Cross (IRC). By the end of 1945, a network of 20 residential CRU’s had been established. The four-week programme at these units, was designed to ‘re-socialise’ ex-prisoners and attend to their mental, physical and social wellbeing and help with employment, with in a safe and familiar military setting. In general, the CRUs were regarded as successful, judging by the number of attendees regarded as ‘Well adjusted’, suggesting a genuine benefit in the therapy given and received. Whether the families at home regarded the therapy as beneficial is not known.

cru leaflet

Extract from ‘The New Plan’ pamphlet, given to returning PoWs

Leading light in developing care for returning FEPOWs Brig Phillip Toosey CBE. As Lt Col he was CO 135 Fd Regt RA, the remnants of 137’s 350 Battery were allocated to his command on their return to Singapore. Toosey, a Wirral TA Officer was captured in Singapore and was SBO in the infamous Camp at Tamarkan (Tha Makhan, on the River Mae Klong), from where the Prisoners built and died working on what the film the ‘Bridge on the River Kwai’ was based.

Parks & Gill, (2014), describe how he helped FEPOWs obtain medical help after their return (no NHS at this time) and how he later established a close bond between them and the consultants working to help those with what was at the time TDI ‘Tropical Disease Investigations’ at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. It was a relationship that would last over six decades.

Parkes quotes Hately-Broad (2013) suggesting that the lack of information and a consistent policy looking after PoW’s families promoted fear, isolation and frustration for both PoW and their family. The Belfield Report of 1919 spelt out the importance of a rational, navigable and sympathetic support systems for serving soldier’s and PoW’s families, following the experiences in world War 1. However, nothing came of its recommendations, leaving families and PoWs in an information and support ‘Limbo’. Traditionally, Regiments generally carried the burden of supporting families of its servicemen. In the case of FEPOW many of those Regiments, like the ‘Blackpool Regiment’ just ceased to exist, in practical terms.

The Blackpool Experience

By the time of repatriation, more Blackpool boys had died in the camps than were Killed or ‘Died of Wounds’ in Action; more were to die of or with the physical and mental effects of their experiences, once they were home.

Lack of information and speculation played havoc with both authorities and families, A quick analysis of the Official Notifications to the families of the men’s capture, shows something of the anguish felt at home, not knowing if loved ones were dead or alive. Both fear and dread at the prospect of loss and then jubilation and thanksgiving for some.  A sample of three Blackpool men’s records illustrate the point:

Gunner Reginald Leonard ‘Reggie’ Dunne

15 Feb 1942       Reported ‘Missing’
05 Nov 1942       Reported as a PoW
02 Sep 1945       Liberated
10 Oct 1945        Declared ‘No Longer PoW’

I.e. 9 Months between notifications of being ‘Missing’ and being a PoW; then over a month between Liberation and being declared ‘No longer a PoW’

LBdr Charles William ‘Chuck’ Jackson

15 Feb 1942       Reported ‘Missing’
09 Jun 1943        Reported as a PoW
02 Sep 1945       Liberated
26 Oct 1945        Declared ‘No Longer a PoW’

I.e. 17 Months between notifications of being ‘Missing’ and being a PoW; then 2 months between Liberation and being declared ‘No longer a PoW’

Maj WE ‘Eddie’ Gill

15 Feb 1942       Reported ‘Missing’
23 Sep 1942       Reported as a PoW
02 Sep 1945       Liberated
14 Sep 1945       Declared ‘No longer a PoW’

I.e. Officers fared a little better – 7 Months between notifications of being ‘Missing’ and being a PoW; then just 12 Days between Liberation and being declared ‘No longer a PoW’

Because the Blackpool Regiment were distributed around the Japanese occupied territories, their experiences differed hugely. From September to December 1945, The Gazette was filled with reports of returning PoWs and accounts of their treatment.

About 500 Mums, wives and girlfriends attended a briefing at Blackpool Library, given by Professor BG Magrath, Principal of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. The newspaper report headlined ‘HOW TO TREAT POWs BACK FROM THE FAR EAST’ suggested that they left ‘looking brighter’. The Professor gave them up beat advice on diet, ailments the men may suffer from and when and how to get medical help and advice. Finally, ‘Don’t let your man over eat!’.

Reception at home was mixed. One Mother meeting her son, said ‘At least you didn’t have to face the Blitz, like us!’, and another ‘Well you weren’t fighting for long!’. Families wanting to know why, how and what they’d been through; some accepting a quiet resignation not to speak about it. Other returnees eager to share experiences, not just with family, but with anyone eager to listen, including the Press. Local papers just as eager to tell tales of atrocities and of heroic deeds.

Adjusting must have been difficult in all cases. Rawlings describes how his family failed to understand or tolerate what was simply referred to as ‘Battle and Stress Fatigue’ and the role that alcohol played in offering brief spells of respite. He was clear that return to civilian life was too quick for ‘…sanity to establish itself decisively’.

Some consolation was garnered when the Blackpool Branches of Far East Prisoners of War Association and Burma Star Association were formed in the early 1950s, with several thousand founder members across the UK. Both provided opportunities for comradeship, collective memory and mutual support.

Free from captivity didn’t mean free from torment and ordeal. Feelings and emotions suppressed for years were now unleashed on families ill-equipped to cope or make sense of it. Families that had been advised not to talk about their experiences and not expect too much; Families that took second place to fellow PoWs. Families that despite the privations of war at home, knew absolutely nothing of what these shadows of their former selves had experienced. Families that couldn’t make sense of ‘new’ irrational behaviours. Behaviours that had maintained some kind of survival, sanity and normality in a captive, totally alien world. In the longer term, these men expected that, as time moved on the rest of the world would forget what they had been through. Adding to the mix of non-communication, returnees too had been instructed’ to ‘Guard your tongue’ in an official leaflet given to them on the way home.

GuardYrMouth2 (2)

The ‘Guard Your Tongue’ Leaflet

After varying times for recuperation and recovery, many went back to work. Work as therapy; Work as a distraction; work to earn a living. Some enlightened sympathetic employers held jobs open. Others made use of the facilities laid on by local and central government employment agencies.

Returning to work for some was relatively easy. Professional folk and some tradesmen found it easy and gratifying to slip back into work. Others, who may have lost skills over their captivity, or who had lost physical faculties, found it more difficult. Some of course would never be able to hold down a job ever again, helped only by the rehabilitation, benefit and therapeutic services on offer at the time. Senior Officers of local units, like Toosey, Owtram and Gill, appear to have played a crucial role in assisting returnees, either to therapy or into work. 137’s 2i/c Cary Outram’s family describe their fathers re-integration, following a long spell of paid leave: ‘…we were much impressed by the many responsibilities he was soon taking on..’, ‘…he kept in touch with other ex-prisoners, attending FEPOW Reunions in London.’

In June 2008, The Gazette reported the anniversary of ‘Eddie’ Gill’s death in 1968. One of 137’s Battery Commanders, launched himself into local service as a Councillor, and as a keen supporter of the military and service organisations in Blackpool, including FEPOW and the British Legion. Gunner ‘Reggie’ Dunne, whose brother Fred also a Gunner in 137, became a teacher of Science at John Vianney School. I remember him in the late 50s, with some affection as a tough, quiet and patient man who earned the respect of his pupils. He filled his days working with ex-POWs in several organisations including FEPOW. In a Gazette report on his funeral in 2003, is wife declared He made everyone have a laugh and got on with life. He spoke about being in the POW Camp but he always saw the good side, all the men had such great comradeship.’.

FEPOW & Burma Star Association

DSC09045The need for association with contemporaries and those who shared the experience of captivity in the Far East seemed strong. By 1946 the move from informal and local self-help groups was made to form National Association of  Far East Prisoners Of War Clubs and Associations in 1947. Not all the returnees engaged, Parkes & Gill suggest that about a third were involved, leaving the remainder, unsure or unwilling to share, talk and listen. Probably preferring to suppress dreadful memories. Initially, the ‘Returned British Prisoners of War Association’ attempted to deal with the men and women that had been through the Japanese experience. It was clear that the experiences of the German PoWs was a world away. The National Association of FEPOWs grew out of the differing set of needs. Toosey describes the most common symptoms suffered by the men and their families were ‘anxiety, restlessness and nightmares’.

The aim was to provide support for each other and their families, indeed ‘To keep the spirit that kept us going’.  Simply to be able to talk and listen, usually organised by the men themselves or former NCO’s. Officers were also welcome of course and some took on leading roles in the grown of what became a movement. As time moved on it was clear that health and welfare needs were beyond ‘helping each other’. In the North West, Philip Toosey, local business man and Banker provided enabling force to develop not just the FEPOW presence but also the early and  close collaboration between the Far East veterans and Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. Toosey, ex Senior British Officer in the Tamarkan Camp, later Knighted, worked tirelessly for the FEPOW cause until his death in1975, as did Col Eddie Gill and Cary Owtram.

In spite of dwindling numbers of members of FEPOW, the Children Of Far East Prisoners of War (COFEPOW), continue to perpetuate their memory and host research.

The Final Legacy

In 1946, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (then the Imperial War Graves Commission) started gathering together the remains of those that had fallen on the island from the cemeteries at and around Changi and the rest of the island, mainly located at the sites of PoW Camps. Together with those in Thailand and Burma (now Myanmar). The legacy of those years of conflict and imprisonment is written in the names, accounts of the battles and prisons of those British, Commonwealth, American and Dutch who are commemorated there. To name a few: Kranji including Singapore commemorates 24,000; Rangoon, 27,000; Kanchanaburi, 5080; Thanbyuzat, 3150;


Kranji War Memorial, Singapore. (Courtesy Creative Commons)

Chunkai. 1420. Those numbers don’t include the civilians who died, fighting and suffering at the Singapore hands of the IJA. The Kranji Memorial includes memorials to ‘Unmaintainable Graves’ and one to ‘The Singapore Civil Hospital Graves Memorial’, remembering those who died and were buried in the grounds of the Hospital in such numbers ‘.. that burial in the normal manner was impossible. Before the war, an emergency water tank had been dug in the grounds of the hospital and this was used as a grave for more than 400 civilians and Commonwealth servicemen’ (CWGC).

The troops serving in the Far East regarded themselves as ‘The Forgotten Army’, we pray that the graves and memorials and sacrifices made by the Blackpool Regiment and all others, are never forgotten.


A cursory review of the Casualty List shows the Regiment was in action as soon as it arrived in Jitra in the north of Malaya. The War Diary records the losses objectively, dispassionately: ’23 Dec 41, …4 Killed, 6 Wounded, 2 vehicles destroyed…’. Like many others, our Regiment was made up of fit young men, average age 27, the youngest just 20 and judging the the men’s numbers, made up of both experienced and fresh and inexperienced, perhaps caught up in the recruitment frenzy in 1939.  Also interesting are the names shown as ‘Killed in Action’ long after the Surrender, as late as September and December 1944. Sad to read are the long list of those who died as Prisoners of War, especially those who died just before, during and just after ‘Liberation’.

For many years after the War, two major organisations held the stories of those who survived the retreat and surrender of Singapore, The Burma Star Association and the Far East Prisoners of War Association (FEPOW). Often those stories were only shared between those who had experienced it and the trauma of servitude under a brutal military regime. Certainly, the men who returned were mere shadows of themselves pre-War, both physically and mentally. A Regiment of fit young men launched into War as a new and inexperienced Regiment, established to fight at home, in defence of Britain. Many would have found the War exciting, challenging, then only to spend 3 years in a hellish prison, to die in squalor, illness and without mercy from their Captors.

Accounts of conditions and treatment in the camps are widely available, much less so are the accounts of treatment on liberation, repatriation and home-coming. Perhaps an opportunity for further research.

The stories of those prisoners that have been told and reported, drawn, filmed and recorded We must never forget what the survivors of the Blackpool Regiment went through, never.

As tourists travel to far away places in what is now Malaysia, visiting the shops and sites of the Modern Far East, will they ever consider what made those sites available to our generation and what might have happened if the Japanese had won the War there. We must also be wary of the ‘Disneyfication’ of the sites of battles and those of significance to the ‘Forgotten Army’ that fought in Malaysia: ‘The Burma Railway’, ‘The Bridge on the Kwai’, ‘Changi Prison’ and the multitude of war grave sites and the rest.


Part 1: Oct/Nov 2015
Part 2: Jul/Aug 2018

Authors Note:  Like the first part of this History of the Blackpool Regiment, this is a reduced version. The full story with Annexed documents is available at Blackpool Central Library, Local History Section.


References, Sources and Further Research


Background to the Fall of Singapore
Isaacs, J., 1973, BBC Series ‘World at War’, Ep 6 Banzai! Japan (1931–1942), Thames Television

Lt Sutcliffes Diary (‘D’ Tp, 350 Bty, 137 Fd Regt RA)
Personal Papers of Lt Robert Sutcliffe, 350 Battery, 137 Fd Regt RA TA. At Imperial War Museum, Library, Ref: Docs18749

Personal Diary of CO of 88 Fd Regt
D’Arbuz, History of the 88th Fd Regt RA In Malaya 1941/42, Unpublished. At IWM Library, Ref: LBY K.84/2318

Accounts of Captivity
Vart, R., Experience of Captivity with 137 Fd Regt RA, Sound Recording, at: Lancashire Archive, Ref: 1995.0231


Details of Japanese Prison Camps; locations and life in the camps at:

Clark T.(Ed) 2008, The ‘Bushido’ Code at:

Conditions on Thai- Burma Railway at:
Coombes, J.H.H., (1948), Banpong Express, available at: https://sgp1.digitaloceanspaces.com/proletarian-library/singapore-malaysia/Major%20J.%20H.%20H.%20Coombes/Banpong%20Express%20(1423)/Banpong%20Express%20-%20Major%20J.%20H.%20H.%20Coombes.pdf

Jap PoW Index Cards;  PoWs held in Singapore Camps at NA WO367 and Find My Past; Hospital Registers for PoW Camps in the Far East (1942-1947) at NA WO 347 via:

Researching FEPOW History 2015 Conference Papers, Surviving Far East Captivity and the Aftermath: 70 Years On

Accounts of the Sumatra Railway construction

Entertainment in camps at:

Experience of PoW’s Families via Google Books, search ‘War and Welfare: British Prisoner of War Families, 1939-45’ at:

Information on Civil Resettlement Units at:

The Sporting Lives of Sir Shenton Thomas and the Male European Internees at Changi Prison Camp During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, 1942–1945, Peng Han Lim and Mohd Salleh Aman at:

Document 2701, etc.  at:

Leaflets ‘Guard your Tongue’, etc at:
Oliver, L., 2017, Prisoners of the Sumatra Railway: Narratives of History and Memory, Bloomsbury Publishing. Available on Google Books, search ‘Guard Your Tongue’

Photo of Repatriation Memorial Liverpool By Rodhullandemu [CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Photo of Kranji War Memorial By Oorlogsgraven stichting [CC BY 2.5 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5, via Wikimedia Commons

‘Epilogue Camp’, Discussion and documents at:

Brig EW Goodman account of time in Malaya, including capture, imprisonment, liberation and repatriation at:

WW2 Forum at:

Thai-Burma Railway map at:

No 1 Nong Pladuc Camp and Group 1 Movements at:

‘The New Plan’


Blackburn, K, & Hack, K., 2007, Forgotten Captives in Japanese-Occupied Asia, Routledge

Bull, S., 1999, Lancashire Gunners at War: the 88th Lancashire Field Regiment, 1939-1945, Carnegie Publishers

Chesworth, A., (2017), Planning and Realities: The Recovery of Britain’s Far East Prisoners Of War 1941-1945, PhD. Thesis, Dept of History, University of Sheffield. Available at: etheses.whiterose.ac.uk

Coombes, J.H.H., (1948), Banpong Express, Self Published, Printed by Wm Dresser & Sons, Darlington

Davies, P., (2013), The Man Behind the Bridge: Colonel Toosey and the River Kwai, A&C Black

Daws, G., 1996, Prisoners of the Japanese: POWs of World War II in the Pacific Paperback, William Morrow Paperbacks

Eldredge, SE., 2014, Captive Audiences / Captive Performers: Music and Theatre as Strategies for Survival on the Thailand – Burma Railway 1942-1945, Macalester College

Farrell, B., (2005), The Defence and Fall of Singapore (2nd Ed, 2015), Monsoon Books, Singapore

Hately-Broad, B., 2013, War and Welfare: British Prisoner of War Families, 1939-45, Manchester University Press,

Mitchell, I., 1996, Prisoners of the Emperor Paperback, The Pentland Press

Monument, G., 1996, An Angel on my Shoulder, A Lane Publishers,

Parkes, M. & Gill G., (2015) , Captive Memories: Starvation, Disease, Survival, Palatine Books.

Parkes, M., 2002, ‘Notify Alec Rattray…’, Kranji Publications

Parkes, M., 2003, ‘…A.A. Duncan is OK’, Kranji Publications

Summers, J., 2005, The Colonel of Tamarkan: Philip Toosey and the Bridge on the River Kwai, Simon & Shuster UK Ltd.

Taylor, E., 2018, Captivity: Prisoners of the Japanese – Their ordeal and the Legacy, Pen & Sword Military,

Woodburn-Kirby, S.,et al.,  (1957), The War Against Japan: The Loss of Singapore (Official History), Vol 1, HMSO, London. Republished 2015 by 232 Celcius.


The Girl in the Spotty Dress: ‘Eat your Heart out Marilyn!’


Marilyn Monroe in 1954 (Public Domain Photo)

Just four years before Marilyn Monroe was seen in an iconic pose, stood on a ventilation shaft with her skirt blowing up, Pat Wilson a 17 year old ‘Tiller Girl’ was also caught on camera with her skirt blowing in a Blackpool breeze.

What became an iconic Blackpool photograph in July 1951 was seen across the world on the front cover of Picture Post magazine, itself an iconic journal of its time.

The picture was taken by an enterprising, professional photographer Bert Hardy, using his inseparable Leica camera. Hardy had been a successful war photographer covering the D Day Landings, Liberation of Paris, the London Blitz, the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, the London Blitz. He also covered the war in Korea for Picture Post. The Daily Mail described Hardy as ‘One of the greatest photographers of his time’. He died in 1995.

Copyright Photos & full Story HERE.

Although Pat was photographed many times, the ‘Spotted Dress’ picture was  taken almost by chance. Pat, a young Tiller Girl at the time was walking on the Prom with friend Wendy Clarke, Hardy asked the girls to sit on the Prom railings, to get a photo. Just as they settled precariously on the railing, a gust of Blackpool breeze fluttered both the girl’s dresses, Pats to waist high. Hardy got his shot.

The photo courted controversy. In the first place the breeze exposed Pat’s swimsuit. Before publication, the swimsuit was filtered out, so that it looked as though Pat was not wearing underwear!

A further controversy occurred when the photo was shown recently on the BBC show with a lady purporting to be ‘the girl in the spotted dress’. The programme was seen by Pat’s Grandson, who raised the issue with her. Pat contacted the show and was given air time to put the record straight.

Pat went on to a glittering career in show business, working with some of the most famous names in the business. She married comedian Johnny Stewart. Her death was widely reported earlier this year, aged 83. The dress went with her to the grave, however a cutting from it was sewn into her Grand daughter’s unitard. She is training as a Competition Rower.

August 2017 (Written for & Published in ‘Blackpool Heritage Newsletter’ Issue 19, Sept 2017)

Who is ‘Grundy’?

On an unusually leisurely walk on Highfield Road, in South Shore


The Commemorative Stone at the Park, there is a second tablet with the date ‘July 1915’

recently, I noticed the commemorative stone set in the wall of the Recreation Ground and former Library. The rest of my walk was spent wondering who, when, what and why?

‘Grundy’ was in fact a pair of brothers, both Artists. Sons of a Bury Solicitor and staunch Unitarian, Thomas Grundy: John Relph Greenhow Grundy, born 1841 and Cuthbert Cartwright Grundy born 1846. The Census record for 1861 shows Thomas with wife Eliza (nee Greenhow) and  four children, older brothers Thomas and Edmund (also Solicitors), along with John and Cuthbert the youngest. The record also shows the household with a House Maid and a Cook. John is a Bleacher/Dyer in a local Cotton Mill and Cuthbert a School boy.

Cuthbert was expected to follow his brothers and father into the legal profession; however, dogged by illness, his university life in Manchester was frequently interrupted. He took to Painting, Biology and Chemistry;  as an artist he was untrained, as a Chemist he was amateur, although in 1870 he published ‘An Introduction to the study of Chemistry’ and in 1871 ‘Notes on the Food of Plants’ and in 1901, ‘How does a Plant Grow? In the same year, their father died and Cuthbert was awarded a  silver medal for rescuing two boys from the sea at Grange over Sands.

By 1879, Cuthbert was producing and exhibiting Landscapes, often based on trips to the Lake District with brother John. He exhibited at the Royal Academy.

The Grundy association with Blackpool began when Cuthbert moved here in 1888. In 1891 he is living with a Servant from Nottingham at 11 Moore Street, South Shore (demolished in the 1970s).  John is also in Blackpool at 322 Lytham Road, with his wife Alice, a Daughter Ethel, John RG Jnr and two Servants.

The 1901 Census shows Cuthbert living with the same servant, in an eight bedroomed house at 326 Lytham Road as a Landscape painter. John has moved with his family next door to 328 Lytham Road. Cuthbert’s house became known as Grundy House and housed the Grundy Museum after his death in 1946 until the house became a private residence again in 1980. (Note: House number changes on Lytham Road took place between 1924 and 1929, What became the Grundy Museum was located at 456 Lytham Road)

As a Unitarian like his Father, Cuthbert held Unitarian services in his sitting room, until the South Shore Unitarian ‘Tin Tabernacle’ opened on Lytham Road in 1894. A Church Hall: ‘The Sir Cuthbert Grundy Hall’ was built in 1932, on the site, becoming the church in that year.  In 1904 Cuthbert’s support for the Unitarian community culminated in his formally opening of the Unitarian Church at Fairhaven in July 1930 and a Non Denominational, Free Christian Church on Waterloo Road.

Cuthbert never married He had said that his Mother was his best friend and if he was married he wouldn’t be able to do the things he wanted to do.  He and his brother were generous contributors to Children’s charities in Manchester, Bury and Blackpool. He was exhibiting in Blackpool in 1879, John following in 1880. He became a Magistrate and was Blackpool’s first Knighted resident. Becoming a Justice of the Peace in Lancashire and Blackpool


Sir Cuthbert Grundy

Since 1902, Blackpool’s municipal art gallery, was housed in modest accommodation at Revoe Branch Library and both brothers exhibited there. In 1903 the Brothers sought to hand their collection of artwork to the Council in order to ‘encourage arts’ and to promote the formation of a dedicated Art Gallery in the town. As incentive the Brothers provided £2000 towards development costs. In 1908 a site in Queen Street was acquired for a new Library and Art Gallery. The work was completed in 1911, with a further extension of the Gallery in 1938.


The Grundy Art Gallery today

The Grundy Art Gallery is regarded as ‘one of Britain’s loveliest little Galleries’ (Cook, W., ‘The Spectator’, 03/09/2011)

Cuthbert’s public persona burgeoned and in 1911 he was presented with a Ceremonial Key by Blackpool Corporation on the opening of the Recreation Park and Reading Room on Highfield Road, a project to which both brothers had promoted and contributed financially. The Grundy’s life long commitment to community culminated in the opening of Children’s Convalescent Home at 138 Stoney Hill Avenue.


John RG Grundy

John died in 1915, in the same year Cuthbert was Knighted by King George V. The newspaper reports of his death were effusive, providing some glimmers of light into the life this very private man and his family.

He had trained to be a Civil Engineer. After a very few years he had abandoned his career in favour of Landscape and Seascape painting, around the time that Cuthbert was developing his own enthusiastic interests in painting and sketching. The brothers were reported as inseparable in their artistic pursuits. They founded The Bury Society of Fine Arts, played a significant role in establishing The Royal Cambrian Academy.between them the community benefited too; children’s Convalescent homes, recreation grounds, etc.  The apex of their joint enterprise was the establishment of Blackpool’s own Grundy Art Gallery.

With the anniversary of the death of his son Relph in 1907, John never really recovered, taking to his rooms for two weeks and dying shortly after, the culmination of two years ill health.

In 1933, Cuthberts name was included on the tablet commemorating the building of the Peace Palace in the Hague, after he had a commemorative medals cast for each of the 700 men who worked on the building; a testament to his Unitarian roots and his lifelong pursuit of peace and community.  He was made Hon freeman of County Borough of Blackpool in 1938 and died in Blackpool in 1946, just before his 100th birthday. Despite their generosity to Blackpool, their funeral services were low key in line with their belief in understatement, although press coverage was widespread.

Throughout both their lives the Grundy brothers had shunned publicity, John especially. However, that belies the fantastic contribution both may to the Arts in general and cultural life in Blackpool in particular.  At Appendix ‘A’  is a summary of the Brothers extraordinary involvement with the Arts and Charity.

So this was the who, what when and how of the Grundy name is significant in Blackpool’s heritage.

April 2017


Sources & Further Research


Census Returns at:

Births Marriages & Deaths at:

The full story and painting life of the Grundys at: http://www.lythamstannesartcollection.org/coming-rain-by-cuthbert-grundy.html

Story of Grundy Art Gallery at:

Changing fortunes of Blackpool

Morris, E., 2001, Public Art Collections in North-West England: A History and Guide, Liverpool University Press

Images:   All images remain copyright to the Author.

Books authored by Cuthbert Grundy:
Grundy, C.C., 1870 ‘An Introduction to the study of Chemistry’, Ulan Press (Reprinted 2012)
Grundy, C., 1871 ‘Notes on the Food of Plants’, Nabu Press (Reprinted 2009)
Grundy, C., 1901, ‘How does a Plant Grow? John Murray, London (Reprinted 1935)
Grundy, C.C., 1909, ‘Paragraphs about Pictures: Six Dozen Helpful Hints for Visitors to a Picture Exhibition’, RE Jones, Conway (Reprinted 1913)

Newspaper References to the Grundy Brothers
21/04/1998 Evening Gazette, Feature on the contribution made by Sir Cuthbert Grundy.
28/10/1916 Gazette, ‘The man behind the Resort’s Gallery’
18/07/1927 Gazette, Grundy Home for Children foundation laying.
11/01/1927 Gazette, Forthcoming Ceremony
01/02/1946 Gazette, Obituary & death reports

Cuthbert References:
27/09/1907 Blackpool Herald   p6 Col 1
07/12/1904 Blackpool Times    p6 Col 6
16/08/1919   ,,                              p5 Col 8
03/01/1930   ,,                              p9 Col 1
09/02/1929 Gazette & Herald   p7 Col 3
27/09/1907 Blackpool Herald  p6 Col 1
08/10/1907   ,,                              p7 Col 3
22/03/1911  Blackpool Times  p5 Col 6

John References:
17/03/1915 Blackpool Times p5 Col 1 Obituary

Properties owned by the Grundys: to be found in
Kelly’s Blackpool Directory 1924, 1929, 1934,
Slater’s Blackpool Directory 1890, 1901, 1902, 1905, 1909
Cook’s Blackpool Directory 1896, 1902
All available at the Local & Family History Dept, Blackpool Central Library

Additional Sources:
Cuthbert’s Last Will and Testament available at Ref  LG3(P) Blackpool Central Library
Council Minutes for 1913: Establishment of Highfield Road Recreation Park and The Branch Reading room at Minutes: 375, 376, 395, 433, 481, 494, 495, 593, 596, 657, 664, 666, 677, 678.

Blackpool’s links with Malta.

I recently had a short holiday in Malta. Our excursions included a boat trip round the Grand Harbour in Valletta. Our attention was drawn to the strategic importance of the island and the number of invasions and sieges suffered by the Maltese by foreigners. From the early 1800s the British were the custodians of the island and the champions of the Mediterranean, having wresting occupation from the French by a Royal Navy blockade.  A short review of the history of Malta reveals a couple of unexpected links with Blackpool.

HMS Foudroyant

HMS Foudroyant, was wrecked on the beach by North Pier in 1897. Her story includes action and almost destruction at Valletta, Malta, whilst she was the Flagship of Admiral Horatio Nelson.

The French had captured Malta with a relatively small Expeditionary force in 1798, as a prelude to the capture of Egypt. Malta was of strategic importance as a staging post for Napoleon Bonapart’s aspirations of a threat to Britain’s presence in North Africa and ultimately in India.  The French sent a large force to capture Egypt and were pursued by a small British Naval force that included Foudroyant. Thus started what became known as the ‘Mediterranean Campaign’. The ‘Battle of the Nile’ proved decisive for Nelson and following it he was able to release ships to eliminate the French from Malta.  Foudroyant was one of a force of seven British ships sent to Blockade the Island in February 1799.


Figure 1.  Robert Dodd’s ‘The Capture of the Guillaume Tell’ by HMS Foudroyant (in the background) and HMS Penelope (in white sails)

The French attempted to break the Blockade in 1800 with a significant convoy of supplies and warships. The British squadron intercepted them and eventually the French surrendered, although the French Garrison on the island survived another few months, Malta surrendered in September 1800.

During the battle to destroy the French convoy, Foudroyant was badly damaged, so much so that she was put under tow for repairs to Syracuse, Sicily. She would be back in service by February 1801. Nelson was not on board during the Battle, he had been taken to Palermo in Sicily with heart problems.  As a measure of her involvement during the action, she had used:

161 barrels of gunpowder, together with
1200 x 32lb Shot  (Cannon Balls)
1240 x 20lb Shot,
100 x 18lb Shot
200 x 12lb Shot.

Incidentally, as shown in the engraving above, ‘HMS Penelope’ was also involved in the same action, receiving a medal for doing so.  A later incarnation of the ‘Penelope’ is also associated with Blackpool and Malta.

HMS Penelope


Figure 2.  HMS Penelope in the Grand Harbour, Valletta.

There is another direct link with Malta in the resting place of known servicemen recorded on the Malta Memorial or buried on the island; together with the many Blackpool men who served and died in the seas around Malta between 1940 and 1942, when the Germans and Italians attempted to dislodge the British from this strategic stronghold. During the siege, the island, its ports, towns and installations were badly damaged by bombardment by air and sea, with significant loss of life. The Maltese population were awarded the George Cross. The citation read ‘to bear witness to the heroism and devotion of its people’

As early as 1938, Mussolini had intended taking the island from the British.  A little later, lack of supplies and fuel, together with a number of Naval defeats caused Italian military planners to suspend their plans.

Recognising the Islands importance to the Allies, Britain developed the defences and reinforcements in order to disrupt the enemy supplies for North Africa and the Mediterranean in general. The Grand Harbour in Valletta provided a suitable base for those activities.

Among the ships sent to defend support and strengthen the island was ‘HMS Penelope’. HMS Penelope was a ‘Light Cruiser’ warship, built by Harland & Wolff, in Belfast.  In 1941, a successful ‘Warship Week’ National Savings campaign led to its adoption by the population of Blackpool. She was referred to in the local press as ‘Blackpool’s Battleship’.  As mentioned earlier she was the second ship to bear the name, the first being part of Nelsons Squadron alongside HMS Foudroyant during the ‘Siege of Malta’ in 1799 to 1800.

This ship was to achieve a great reputation during operations in Norway in 1940 and patrol and convoy escort operations in the Mediterranean between 1941 and 1942 and later in the support of the Allied landings at Salerno in 1943 & Anzio in 1944.


Figure 3.  ‘Pepperpot’ damage to HMS Penelope, June 1942.

To some extent she enjoyed a reputation as a ‘Lucky’ an accident prone ship, just like the Foudroyant, with a number of periods out of service undergoing repairs and bearing many battle scars. She was often referred to as ‘HMS Pepperpot’ in recognition of the holes in her structure from enemy action.  At one time she managed to plug holes from enemy gunfire and shrapnel by plugging them with wedges of wood, giving her the appearance and nickname of ‘HMS Porcupine’.

Nevertheless, her war service details are testament to a busy and successful time defending Malta and disrupting the Axis convoys and supporting operations throughout the Mediterranean. On return to Naples to restock with ammunition and supplied she was sunk with all hands (415, incl the Captain) following a submarine attack in February 1944. There were 250 survivors.

One of the casualties was ex Blackpool Grammar Schoolboy ALFRED JOHN BROOK, son of Cyril and Kathleen May Brook of Bloomfield Road, from Waterloo Juniors in 1936 until 1941.   He was 18 and is remembered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.

There is a memorial to HMS Penelope in St Johns Church, Blackpool along with a Roll of Honour book with the names of the Officers and crew of the ship. A Penelope Association was also formed by survivors. Blackpool also has  also has links with the Blackpool Sea Cadet unit ‘TS Penelope’ at Bispham, the name reflecting the Blackpool link.  The Blackpool branch of the Royal Naval Association (RNA) met in the ‘Penelope Mess’ at the Stretton Hotel on North Promenade, although the RNA in Blackpool no longer exists.

Incidentally, there are two additional claims to fame, according to Wikipedia: CS Forester’s book ‘The Ship’, published in 1943 is dedicated to HMS Penelope as follows, “with the deepest respect to the officers and crew of HMS Penelope“.  The Politician and ex-Defence Secretary (2019), Penny Maudaunt is named after The ‘Penelope’.

On a purely personal note, my father’s best friend from St Anne’s, served on HMS Laforey, a Destroyer, in World War 2 . Laforey too was engaged in operations in support of Malta. During which she was involved in the infamous ‘Op Pedestal’, a British operation to re-supply Malta in August 1942. The story includes the amazing account of ‘SS’ Ohio, the aircraft fuel tanker, that limped into Valletta after being bombed and strafed. Like Penelope in Blackpool, Laforey had been adopted by the population of Northampton in November 1941. She too was sunk by a submarine north east of Sicily with the loss of all hands (189, incl the Commanding Officer) on 30 March 1944, my father’s 21st Birthday.

Jan 2017



The story of Foudroyant 1799 – 1812 at:

Siege of Malta (1798 -1800) at:

The history of HMS Penelope at:

HMS Penelope Casualty List at:

HMS Penelope Association at:

HMS Laforey Casualty List at:

The story of Op Pedestal and the SS Ohio at:

Wikipedia entry at:


Gordon, E., 1985,  H.M.S. “Pepperpot!”: The “Penelope” in World War Two, Robert Hale Ltd

Ellis, J., 2013, Blackpool at War: A History of the Fylde Coast during the Second World War, The History Press


Fig 1.  Capture of the ‘Guillaume Tell’ off Valletta, March 1798 (HMS Penelope is with the White sails, Foudroyant in the background at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Foudroyant_(1798)

Fig 2.  HMS Penelope at Valletta at: http://www.naval-history.net/xGM-Chrono-06CL-Penelope.htm

Fig 3.  Pepperpot damage at:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Penelope_(97)


Foudroyants Legacy at: https://fyldecoaster.wordpress.com/2016/11/13/retaining-heritage-foudroyants-legacy/

Exciting Excursions: Blackpool’s Paddle Steamers

Prompted by an excellent talk by local historian Barry Shaw, I was intrigued by the number range and activities of the fleet of Paddle Steamers that provided services to Blackpool holidaymakers.

I have written of the work of shipping on this coast, of the wrecks and rescues that


Figure 1. The ‘Lune’ and the ‘Greyhound’ to the right

were part of the seafaring community in town. This aspect is largely ignored by in the story and heritage of Blackpool.

In 1812, Bell’s paddle steamer ‘Comet’ became the world’s first operational, commercial passenger steamship for coastal waters.

Mass Transportation of people and goods up to the 19th century was dominated by travel by sea, certainly up to the development and spread of the railways in the 1840’s. Where road transport would have been difficult because of terrain or the cost and expertise of road-building, ships of all sizes would journey between coastal towns, near and far.


Figure 2. A Railway Poster

With the development of leisure with improving working conditions and a notion of ‘disposable income’, the opportunity was realised for entrepreneurs to invest and make money from the burgeoning tourists and holidaymakers that flocked to the seaside, for health and entertainment. For some the first experience of not just riding on a ship but seeing the sea for the first time.

Blackpool’s entrepreneurial spirit was quick to form companies to build and operate ships for leisure purposes, linking resorts and enabling holidaymakers to see and sample resorts in easy travel time: Fleetwood, Southport, Morecambe, Douglas (Isle of Man), Llandudno.

The Ferry from Fleetwood extended the range of the railway network by bypassing the then unassailable ‘Shap’. Even Queen Victoria availed herself of the service to Androssan in Scotland on her regular journeys to Balmoral. Indeed, Thomas Cook organised a party of 350 to do the same trip in 1846.

A new Jetty was built accommodate Paddle Steamers and to compete with the Victoria (North) Pier in 1868. It wasn’t long before the Jetty was upgraded to what became the South  Pier in 1878, with a Toll House and additional facilities and attractions.

The first major Paddle Steamer to ply her trade was the ‘Bickerstaffe’, built in the Laird


Figure 3. The ‘Bickerstaffe’

Shipyard in Birkenhead. It was built for the Bickerstaffe family, who owned the South Jetty or South Pier (later Central Pier) opened in 1878.

She sailed mainly on the Isle of Man route, under command of Capt Clare. The fare was 6/- First Class and 4/6d Second Class, about 30p today.

It was said that the Bickerstaffe’s popularity lay in the fact that her daily afternoon sailings always coincided with the shout of ‘Time Gentlemen Please’ by local Publicans was followed by a mad rush to the Jetty.

In the days after a Sea going vessel passed the 3 mile limit, the bars were then opened for the duration of the voyage until the 3 mile limit at the destination Port of Call.


Figure 4. The ‘Bickerstaffe Bell’

In 1915 The Bickerstaffe was requisitioned for war service as a Minesweeper and was eventually broken up at Garston Docks on the banks of the River Mersey in 1928. Her Ships Bell hangs in the ground floor of Blackpool’s Central Library as a reminder of those heady days.


Megoran (2016) suggests that in their heyday from 1890s until the First World War, ‘so prolific were excursion Paddle Steamers that you could have boarded a ship at Great Yarmouth and, with an assiduous study of the timetables and connection’ travel anywhere from there to North Wales. The same is true of the Blackpool based ships and visiting ships, travel from North Wales to the Clyde and North of Scotland. Appendix ‘B’ provides a map of the Sea Routes.from Blackpool.


Figure 5. An Excursion Handbill

For Blackpool itself the heyday appears between 1870 and 1880 when no less than 7 ships regularly operated into and out of the resort.

It’s not surprising, that, apart from the Piers themselves and the Paddle Steamers, Raikes Hall Park held the monopoly. At the height of its success in the 1870s there was no Winter Gardens, no Tower to attract visitors

The Weekly ‘Steamboat Traffic Returns’ reported in the Gazette for Whit Week, June 1873 show 18,200 persons making sailing excursions from South Pier alone, representing 1 in 3 of the visitors to the Pier. Over the same period the Raikes Hall complex welcomed 40,000 visitors, each paying 2d for the privilege.

In one weekend in June 1899, The Gazette was reporting excursions planned for the ‘Greyhound’, the ‘Queen of the North’ and the ‘Clifton’ to Piel Island, Douglas, Morecambe and Southport. Appendix ‘C’ shows the cover of the 1901  official guide to Steamboat Sailings.

Around 1990, on the Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic, The ‘Waverley’ once more docked at North Pier to take passengers into the Mersey, for the commemorations. Sadly, because of poor weather and sea conditions she was unable to return her passengers who had to travel back from Liverpool by bus.

 The Companies

From the simplicity of entrepreneurship in the beginning, the complexity of who owned what, when, where and for how long is shown in Appendix ‘A’ and there are websites describing ownership. Companies were merged and acquired alongside the ebb and flow of demand for steamer services. The situation is further confused by the acquisition and disposal of the Steamers. The company and ship ownership family tree of that era, is worthy of much more research.


Figure 6. A Press Advert

Blackpool probably had the largest number of locally owned vessels in the fleet operating out of Blackpool. Initially, North Pier offered docking facilities, provided by the owners. Later by a company formed for the purpose, The North Pier Steamship Company. The newly built South Jetty (later Central Pier) provided alternative facilities and access to holidaymakers based in South Shore in 1871. Established by John Bickerstaffe, this company was acquired by Blackpool Passenger Steamboat Co in 1894 and then the North Pier in 1905. John’s Son HD Bickerstaffe re-acquired the company in 1923.

The Railway companies also developed Paddle Steamer services to integrate their rail journeys with ferry and excursion provision.

Individuals too made a contribution. The Gazette of 10 April 1873 gives details of A Mr Enoch Read of Birmingham, son of William Read of Blackpool purchasing the Steamboat ‘Dandy’, although undergoing repairs in Dublin would be ready for service by Easter Bank Holiday Monday of that year.

Development of Technology


Figure 7. The Paddle Principle

The Paddle Steamers associated with Blackpool are those with Paddle to the sides of the ship, as opposed to those in widespread use in the US, with a large driving paddle to the rear.

There may be a further confusion between ‘ Paddle Steamers’ and ‘Turbine Steamers’ the latter generally refers to steam ships driven by a propeller rather than ‘Paddles’.

Sailboats, Clippers & Windjammers had plied their trade through the Irish Sea and to its ports and docks for 100s of years, either calling at Lancaster, Skipool & Wardleys, Glasson, Fleetwood, Lytham, Freckleton and Preston, or linking the big ports of Liverpool with the Americas and the Far East.  Some a product of the Industrial Revolution, providing transport of coal and other goods up the Douglas River and the local canal system, even right into the heart of the coalfields of Wigan.

The number of recorded wrecks and rescues is testament to the weight and range of traffic and cargo through local waters.

With the invention and development of Steam engines in the 18th century there was a new faster, more economic way of moving goods and people by sea. All this at the same time as needs grew from the Industrial revolution.  For the leisure business, steam power had a major advantage too, it wasn’t weather dependent. Steam ships could sail in the lightest breeze or the roughest sea making them ideal to fit into entertainment mix of the new burgeoning seaside resorts.

Paddle Steamers were the first types of ship to make use of a steam engine, converting the circular motion of a turbine, transmitted to large ‘Paddle Wheels’ on either side of the ship. In operation, these paddles drove the ship forward or back by, in effect, pushing the water, much as an oar or paddle would and causing the ship to move in the water. As the technology improved, the gearing of the paddles would allow some manoeuvrability by enabling one paddle to turn whilst the other slowed or stopped, bringing about a turn in direction.

The weight of often large Cast Iron paddle wheels, mostly above the water line, made ships unstable and there are records of ships capsizing as passengers rushed to one side of the ship when coming into port.

Further, the advent and continuous development of the ‘Screw Propeller’ in the mid 19th century added a new dimension to efficient operation of shipping, commercial and leisure. Profit laid Paddle driven steamers to rest, other than as novelties to be seen and exploited as such. The last Paddle Steamers still provide excursions in the UK, the ‘Waverley’, ‘Balmoral’ and  ‘Lingsmere Castle’ still operates round UK Ports and is listed with the ‘National Historic Fleet’ under the care of the ‘Paddle Steamer Preservation Society’

War Service

Paddle Steamer operators were not immune to the demands made in Wartime. Neither were they exempt from destruction. Although none of the Blackpool based Steamers were sunk, those of other resorts were, in both World Wars. Indeed four of the London Thames based steamers were bought and moved to Iraq for service there just before WW1.  A Britain based ship, The ‘Brighton Belle’ was sunk off the coast of Dunkirk in 1940 fulfilling her role as a Minesweeper. The original ‘Waverley’, after which the Paddle Steamer was named, also served gallantly at Dunkirk before being sunk by enemy action.

Others requisitioned for minesweeping included the Bickerstaffe, Queen of the North, Greyhound and Atalanta in WW1, Queen of the Bay in ww2. Incidentally the Queen of the Bay served as a blockade runner in the Spanish Civil War as the ‘Capitande Corbeta Verdia’. The  ‘Queen of the North’ was drafted into service as a Minesweeper, based at Harwich and was sunk by a mine off Orford Ness, Suffolk in July 1917.

The Heritage of Paddle Steamers in Blackpool

There is very little left by way of neither ‘hard’ ephemera nor artefacts of the Paddle Steamer era. There are postcards, photographs and prints; the Bickerstaffe Bell, together with Press cuttings and adverts. We also have the stories of the ships, their owners and itineraries. Enthusiasts have established a charity, ‘The Paddle Steamer Preservation Society’, in a bid to keep what remains of the Paddle Steamer fleet in the public’s eye.

The accounts of the birth, growth and decline of this industry and their impact on holidaymakers and on the growth and development of the resort, not to mention the benefit to the enterprising individuals that brought it about, cannot be overstated.

The beach and sea have silted up over the years eliminating the prospect of a return of ships to dock alongside the North and Central Piers.  However, the stories and memories remain.

Jan 2017



Megoran J., 2016, British Paddle Steamers: The Heyday of Excursions and Day Trips, Amberley Publishing. Available at books.google.co.uk/books

Gladwell A., 2013, North Wales Pleasure Steamers, Amberley Publishing

Gladwell A., 2003, Lancashire Coast Pleasure Steamers, Tempus

Dumpleton, B., 1973, Story of the Paddle Steamer, Melksham Colin Venton

Duckworth, CLD., & Langmuir, GE., 1956, West Coast Steamers, Stephenson & Son

Seddon, A., 1996, Raikes Hall: Its Golden Years, Peneverdant Publishing.


Blackpool Gazette & Herald References:

Piers & Steamboats                        13/06/1873  p2.5
North Pier Steamship Co              15/02/1895  p4.1
Steamboat Cruises                          16/06/1899  p6.6
Blackpool to Llandudno                 04/06/1909  p8.4
50 years Ago                                      06/07/1917  p2.3-5


Comprehensive details, stories and links to Paddle Steamers at: http://www.paddlesteamers.info/BlackpoolOperators.htm  And  http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/NorthWestUK.html#anchor6818



Mitchell & Kenyon Film Archive:

Identifier: 661167   Steamboats at Blackpool North Pier (1903) Original release
Ref: 206 Blackpool Steamers North Pier (Archive)
Ref: 208 Blackpool Steamers, Deerhound (Archive)
Ref: 207 Blackpool North Pier Steamboat (C.1900) (Archive)
Ref: 209 Blackpool Steamers, Greyhound, Belle and Clifton (Archive)
Paddle Steamer Preservation Society at:   http://www.paddlesteamers.org/

Official Guides:
Steamboat sailings from Blackpool for 1901,1903, 1905, 1906, 1907, 1908, 1910, 1912, 1913 & 1914 at Blackpool Central Library, Local & Family History Dept at: Ref: LN44(P)

Paddle Steamer Preservation Society at:   http://www.paddlesteamers.org/


Fig 1  The ‘Lune’ and ‘Greyhound’   http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/NorthWestUK.html#anchor945522

Fig 2  Rail Poster   http://blog.nrm.org.uk/conserving-the-midland-railway-poster-blackpool/

Fig 3  The ‘Bickerstaffe’   http://www.simplonpc.co.uk/NorthWestUK.html#anchor139855

Fig 4  The ‘Bickerstaff Bell’   (Barry Shaw)

Fig 5  Advertising Handbill   (Gladwell 2003)

Fig 6  Excursion Press Poster   (Gladwell, 2003)

Fig 7  Paddle principle   http://nautarch.tamu.edu/PROJECTS/denbigh/WHEEL.HTM


Retaining Heritage: Foudroyant’s Legacy

For sale on Ebay: ‘A Medallion With A Blackpool Connection’.  What on earth is the story behind this token of Blackpool’s maritime heritage?

Indeed, there’s more!  A cupboard and chair made from Foudroyant’s timbers; Walking Sticks; Copper plates and watch fobs; pictures and cards; news articles, paintings, photos and prints, all at surprising prices and available from all over the World.

The message from these adverts is two-fold. On the one hand, the fact that these items are for sale, on the other, at least the memory of Foudroyant lives on, through these artefacts, as does the connection with Blackpool.

Investigation of the connection starts as usual with a look at local newspapers and of course, and internet search.

So what did we find out?

What was the ‘Foudroyant’? 

In fact there were two ‘Foudroyants’. The one with the Blackpool and memorabilia connections is ‘HMS Foudroyant’. Built in Plymouth and launched there in 1798; she was an 80 Gun, ‘Full Rigged’ warship, a sister ship to HMS Caesar and named after the French ship, bearing the same name, captured in 1758 during the ‘Seven Years War’ with France and Spain, during the blockade of the Spanish Port of Cartegena. The name is derived from the French for ‘Thunderbolt’.

HMS Foudroyant had a somewhat chequered service, despite service during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, including a three year spell stationed on the River Plate, in Rio de Jeneiro; action in Egypt; Royal visits; Troop Transport; roles as ‘Flagship’; punctuated by long periods in dock for repairs, or service as a Tender or Guard Ship. She was decommissioned in 1812. In her later years she was a Gunnery Training ship and a Naval Training ship. An attached annexe ‘A’ gives details the service history of the Foudroyant. It’s most celebrated role was as Nelson’s ‘Flagship’ from June 1799 until 1800.

In June 1891 she was put on to the Navy’s ‘Sales List’. Bought by J Read of Portsmouth for £2350 and quickly resold to German Shipbreakers, who promptly started dismantling the upper decks,  prompting protests in the press and at the highest levels in the UK. Arthur Conan Doyle resorted to poetry and ‘Punch’ magazine published a follow-up piece ridiculing the Royal Navy decision to sell off the ship.

She was re-bought at a cost of £6,000 and brought to London eventually by Mr Geoffrey Wheatly Cobb, with a plan to redevelop the Foudroyant as a Boys Training Ship, at a cost of £20,000. In order to recoup costs of refurbishment to original design, the ship was to be exhibited at Seaside resorts.

By 1896 the Foudroyant, ‘Nelsons Flagship’ was on tour, carrying a crew of 27, 20 of who were Boy Sailors. On 11 June 1897 lay off Blackpool Promenade, between North and Central Piers, about a mile out. The Gazette & News reported the ‘Man-o-War’ ‘framed in a sea of glass, which was only broken by the fussy passenger steamers’. All setting the scene, for what was to be a short season of attraction for the visitors at Blackpool and an opportunity for Mr Cobb to make a contribution to the running costs of the venture.  The article went on to describe the visit to the ship by the local dignitaries, leaving North Pier in the ‘Clifton’. Commodore G.L. Seed, the Chief Constable and Mr J.L. Smith all munching on chocolate ice cream.

Entry to the ship was a shilling, the Boy Sailors provided a band playing nautical ditties. On the 15th a new venture was tried – Dancing on the upper Deck, by all accounts a great success, promising a lucrative visit to Blackpool, for the owner.

Foudroyant doomed!

On the evening of the 15th , the weather was fine, albeit with a sprinkling of fine rain, but nothing to keep the crowds away.

By 4am on the 16th a rapidly developing storm had blown up, almost ‘out of the blue’. By 6am a ‘an iron chain as thick as a man’s wrist’ had snapped in the weight of the wind and sea, pushing the Foudoyant on to the beach, approximately in line with the end of North Pier, in just 14ft of water. The force of repeatedly ‘bumping’ on the beach, with the ebb and flow of the tide, causing her hull to breach in places, snapping masts and tearing sails,. Now on her side and flooded, about 600 yards offshore she rolled and writhed in the storm tide, which was now ‘sweeping over the Sea Front’.

The Owner and Crew were still on board. At 09.00am they hoisted a Distress Signal and the Samuel Fletcher II was brought from the Lifeboat house on Lytham Road, harnessed up and towed up the Promenade, now crowded by sightseers. The launch was further hampered by waiting for the tide to turn. She launched into a wild surf at 1pm, four hours after being called. Eventually battling through debris, rigging and broken timbers, the ‘Samuel Fletcher’ struggled to stay on station, but managed to scoop all to safety. The full complement of twenty seven and Mr Wheatley Cobb were rescued and brought to shore at about 2.30pm, under the gaze of excited crowds on the Promenade.

image005The following day, the damage was clear. It was possible to climb into the mud caked and battered hulk via a hole created by one of the 32 Pounder guns, which had broken loose on the lower deck. The upper deck was strewn with timber, planking and guns wrenched from their carriages. Nevertheless, the crew attempted to gather their belongings left their in the hurry of escape. One managed to retrieve his Concertina, before the incoming tide of the 18 June washed over her.

image006By the 19th June, prompted by the enterprising efforts of Blackpool’s Marketing Manager, visitors from all over the north were filling trains to see the spectacle and the resort. It hadn’t been a good season until the wreck. The Queens Jubilee year had kept folk at home

Losses for Cobb were estimated at £30,000 and there was no insurance cover. Already there was talk of the value of the remaining hulk and options available: perhaps sold piecemeal- guns, timber, etc. or made watertight and retained as tourist attraction. The Directors of North Pier had a more pragmatic approach; they sought an injunction to have the wreck removed, since if it broke away or broke up further it would pose a hefty threat to the pier structure. By mid July, Foudroyant’s fate was sealed. Cobb had agreed with a Clyde based salvage company to re-float the wreck and tow it away for dismantling. Progress was being made, however, the Foudroyant was not finished yet.

A steam tug, the ‘Anna’, employed to by the salvage company found itself in difficulties during another freak storm and had pulled away from the Foudroyant to anchor offshore to ride out the squall. She was carrying ropes and some of the guns from Foudroyant, with the weight of the wind and tide, she slipped her anchor and drifted to shore. Deluged, she was unable to operate pumps and steam engines and eventually only the mast was visible in the swell. The crew had been taken off by off duty fishermen using a pleasure boat.

The following morning debris and wreckage were strewn along the North beach

In front of the ever present crowds on the North Promenade, another salvage attempt was made in mid August. The ‘Aurora’, a trim, neat 300 Tonner arrived to restart operations, loading more guns, ropes and rigging, timbers and artefacts from HMS Foudroyant. The Aurora was tethered to her broadside and as the tide increased, her moorings gave way and she broke free, bobbing precariously in the swell rolling heavily with every wave until she hit one of the beach banks, rapidly filling with water. As the tide rolled in she was battered against the Sea Wall.  Another thrilling spectacle for the Blackpool crowds.

On the 20 August, the Gazette reported ‘Never has there been a season in which exciting incidents have been so plentiful’

Exciting, but also dangerous. There were a number of accidents involving people getting close to the Foudroyant, and reported in the Gazette: a sailor fell from the wreck; a cannon ball fell from the deck injuring a Policeman and the tragic death of a bystander, reported later in this piece. Latterly, crowds were kept away from the wreck, initially to stop looting, later to reduce risk of injury. However, the Blackpool phenomena of any opportunity to make a shilling, was not to be thwarted and many stands were established close by selling all manner of goods and services.

Now what about those Ebay artefacts, souvenirs and museum pieces? 


Display Case from Foudroyant’s timber

By November of 1897, The Foudroyant was in the hands of Mr Michael Hayhurst of Birkenhead, for just £700. Demolition was planned using Dynamite, however, the weather and tide continued its toll on the ship. Until in August of 1898 more misfortune beset the Foudroyant when, Hayhurst and his young son set charges to demolish the ship. During the explosion a large fragment of wood and copper sailed through the air and caught a female visitor, killing her instantly.

Eventually, the salvageable oak timbers, copper sheeting and bolts from the ship were sold to Cabinet Maker Robert Fletcher of Talbot Road.  The Copper Sheeting from the Hull of Foudroyant was made into many souvenirs, including medals.  In 1901 the Oak was sold on to a Manchester Company: Goodhall, Lamb and Heighway where the oak was turned into furniture. As early as 1899, newspaper report told of the removal and installation of Foudroyants staircase into what was Jenkinsons Café (on the site of what became ‘Rumours’, on Talbot Road). Many of Foudroyant’s artefacts are held at the Nelson Museum, Monmouth. The panelling from the Captain’s Cabin is reputed to have lined the Board Room at Blackpool Football Club.

There are also two paintings of the wreck and its aftermath, one at the Nelson Museum and one held by the Messel Family at ‘Nymans’, a National Trust property in West Sussex. Local resident presented a painting by Charles Simpson to the Borough Library & Galleries Committee, which is still there.

The name ‘Foudroyant’ lives on too in the Training Ship. In 1903 HMS Trincomalee was renamed TS Foudroyant, after the ship she replaced. She remained in service as TS Foudroyant until 1986, after which she was again restored and renamed back to TS Trincomalee in 1992.  Billed as the oldest warship afloat anywhere in the world’, she is berthed at Hartlepool’s Maritime Museum.

Nov 2016

Sources and Further Reading

Acknowledgement:  This piece has been constructed from materials gathered by Tony Sharkey at Blackpool Local and Family History Centre at Blackpool Central Library. Without his help this work would have been made difficult.

Where possible, images are included under ‘Creative Commons’ licences

Foudroyant on the Beach – Unknown author, Gazette image

Wreck of HMS ‘Foudroyant’, Blackpool, 1897 at:

Foudroyant Medal, by the Author

Cabinet from Fourdroyant Oak, Nelson Museum, Monmouth by John Cummings at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Foudroyant_(1798)

Paintings of the Wreck of the Foudroyant at:

Newspaper Reports

Sailor falls from Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times, 1897, ‘A remarkable number of accidents’, 01/09, p2 col 8

Loss of Aurora and plans for disposal of Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times, 1897, ‘Our latest wreck; and the next’, 21/08, p5 col 6

Court case:
Times, 1897, ‘The Advertising on the Foudroyant’, 04/08, p2 col 9

Fate of Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times. 1897, (Editorial comment), 17/07, p4 col 6

Preserving of Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times, 1897, (Editorial comment), 07/07, p5 col 4

Blackpool Times, Goulden, J., 1897, ‘Lines on the wreck of the Foudroyant’, 30/06, p3 col 9

Ladies Swim to Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times, 1897, (Editorial comment), 23/06, p5 col 1

Danger to North Pier:
Blackpool Times, 1897, ‘What will become of her?’, 23/06, p5 col 1

Account of the loss of Foudroyant:
Blackpool Times, 1897, (Several headings with picture), 19/06, p8 cols1-6

Newspaper coverage and a poem:
Blackpool Gazette & News, 1897, ‘Our wreck editions’ & ‘Ode to the Foudroyant’,  22/06, p3 col 1

Disposal of the Foudroyant wreck:
Blackpool Gazette & News, 1897, ‘What of the ‘Foudroyant’?’’, & Her owners intentions’, ‘Value of the vessel’, 22/06, p3 col1

Visit to the ship:
Blackpool Gazette & News, 1897, ‘With Lord Nelson’; ‘On board ‘Foudroyant’’, 11/06, p5 col 6

Account of the loss of Foudroyant:
Blackpool Gazette & news, 1897, (Several Headings), 18/06, p8 cols 1-8

Presentation of a Painting:
Blackpool Gazette & Herald, 1943, ‘Foudroyant for the Art Gallery’, 24/07, p1 col 2

Foudroyant’s cable found:
Blackpool Gazette & Herald, 1925, ‘A Nelson relic’ (with pic), 24/02, p7 col 4-6

Foudroyant Supplement:
Blackpool Gazette & Herald, 1921, ‘About our special Supplement’, 13/12, p6 cols 3-6

Staircase to Jenkinsons Café:
Blackpool Gazette, 1899, ‘Jenkinsons developments’, 25/08,  p2 col6

Foudroyant fatality:
Blackpool Gazette, 1898, ‘Foudroyant Fatality: a day trippers sad end whilst watching the ships’, 19/08, p3 col 3

Story of the Foudroyant:
Blackpool Gazette, 1897,‘Story of the ‘Foudroyant’’, 30/11, p3 col 1-4

Wreck of the ‘Anna’:
Blackpool Gazette, 1897, ‘Another Shipwreck The salvage steamer swamped’, 30/07, p8 col 3

Wreck of the ‘Anna’:
Blackpool Gazette, 1897, ‘Another wreck’’, 20/08, p6 col 6

Wreck of the ‘Anna’
Blackpool Times, 1897, ‘Our latest wreck’, 21/08, p5 col 6


The literary response to the sale of HMS Foudroyant in :
Doyle, A.C., 1892: The Fighting ‘Foudroyant’, in Peschel B., (et al), 2014, The Early Punch Parodies of Sherlock Holmes’,  Peschel Press,  Available at: Google Books

Short account of the Lifeboat rescue in :
Morris, J., 2002, Blackpool Lifeboats, Lifeboat Enthusiasts’ Society, Coventry

A History of 221 Talbot Road and ‘D’ DLOY

DSC01523A walk down Talbot Road, towards the Cemetery at Layton will provide a sample of the gentle decline of Blackpool in recent years. To the left on the way, you come across a once imposing building, 221 Talbot Road, the Drill Hall built for The Duke of Lancaster’s Own Imperial Yeomanry, a Cavalry Unit.  The building appears on ‘Blackpool’s list of buildings of local architectural and or historic interest’.  ‘D’ Squadron of The Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry are inextricably linked to the building.

DSC01533The Drill Hall was opened with great ‘Pomp & Circumstance’ and press coverage on 17 July 1903. It was opened by Field Marshal Earl Roberts, Commander in Chief of the Army and The Honourable, Lord Chesham, the Inspector General of Yeomanry. A Guard of Honour was formed by The Troop in ‘Dismounted Order’. The building was described as a ‘…building of National importance by Lord Roberts in his Opening speech in fullness of tribute to Corporation of Blackpool for their generosity.

Until the Drill Hall was opened, the Troop camped where ever they could, with a small office, provided courtesy of the Winter Gardens; Foot Drill and training took place in the Ballroom of Raikes Hall Gardens. Raising the profile of the unhelpful conditions, Colonel Hargreaves and The Earl of Ellesmere persuaded and cajoled the authorities into providing a custom built base. The Corporation leased the site, and much of the work was done by the Troopers, supervised by two of there number acting a Clerks of Works, Sgt J.C. Derham (later to become chief Architect at the Winter Gardens) and Sgt F.M. Wilding.

The DLOY Drill Hall, 221 New Road (now Talbot Road),

A review of the Council Minutes relating to the development of the Drill Hall, provide a glimpse as to its progress:

24 Sep 1902    Read: A letter of 18 September 1902 from Dr Molloy, asking the Committee to lease at a nominal rent to the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Imperial Yeomanry (Blackpool Troop), sufficient land adjoining the road leading from New Road to the Public Abattoirs for the erection of a Drill Shed.

08 Oct 1902     Considered the Letter from Dr Molloy….then proceeded to the proposed site

15 Oct 1902     Resolved: That the land referred to in preceding Minutes be let to the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Imperial Yeomanry for the term of 99 years subject to an annual ground rent of 23s 1d.

25 Mar 1908    Resolved: to hand over the Drill Hall to the TA Council for West Lancashire.

22 Apr 1908     Considered a letter from Capt Leonard Molloy requesting land for Drill.

20 Jul 1908      Considered a letter from Maj Topping for use of land for Riding Drill.  Resolved: Permission given for Riding and Driving Drill

27 Jul 1908      Resolved: land between Rigby Road and the Gas works to be used for Riding and Driving Drill.

24 Mar 1909    Resolved: permission given to use the field behind the Drill Shed.

29 May 1909    Concerns arose regarding insurance on the mortgaged Drill Hall

30 Jun 1909     Resolved: to accept that the premiums for insurance should be paid by the Corporation.

22 Nov 1909    Resolved: to provide a crossing of the footpath on New Road for the movement of horses and vehicles.

The Drill Hall maintained its link with DLOY until 1991 and was finally closed 1992 when the Troop was disbanded and Blackpool Units moved to a new Centre in South Blackpool. The building, sadly, now lies partly derelict.

This piece attempts to uncover the heritage of this building and its occupants.

What about the ‘Yeomanry’

We cannot consider the history of the Blackpool Squadron without considering the wider story of ‘Yeomanry’.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines Yeomanry as:

A group of men who held and cultivated small landed estates. A volunteer cavalry force raised from the yeomanry (1794–1908).

Traditionally, Yeomanry were mounted units of a volunteer, part time Cavalry, established in 1908, but having a heritage in militia and volunteer units dating back many decades. In the 1790s, there was a widespread perceived threat of invasion by Napoleon Bonaparte. To improve the country’s defences, Volunteer Units were raised in many counties from Yeomen. These Units became known collectively as the ‘Yeomanry’. Designed for home defence, Yeomanry were not expected to serve overseas unless they gave personal consent to do so.

In absence of a widespread Police Force, the early 1800’s saw Yeomen used in support of civil authority to respond to civil unrest prevalent at the time; ‘Peterloo’ features in the history of the Salford & Manchester Yeomanry.

By1827 and in spite of continuing unrest, Yeomanry Units were reduced in number by amalgamation and disbandment, mainly for financial reasons.  These changes led to the formation of just 22 Corps or Regiments receiving funding and a further 12 serving as Volunteers, without pay.

Because of concerns over effectiveness of the Yeomanry, in 1870, measures were put in place to increase both recruitment and effectiveness. The measures required members to attend regular training in return for what is still called a ‘Bounty’, or financial benefit. The introduction of Yeomanry Officers, permanent Military skills instructors and a new School of Instruction, together with the Secretary of State for War assuming responsibility for the force, improved the professionalism of the Yeomanry Force, However, numbers remained relatively low at 10,617 in 1881; the use of Yeomanry in quelling Civil unrest, no doubt having an impact in the North.

In 1876 the role of the Yeomanry Force was moved to that of ‘Light Cavalry’.

Yeomanry in Lancashire

Read (1992) traces the origins of Lancashire Yeomanry to the late 18th Century, to the time of the ‘Revolutionary War’ with France. 1794 saw the Volunteer Act, encouraging men to ‘voluntarily enrol themselves for the defence of their Counties, town and coasts, or for the general defence of the Kingdom’. With the following peace from around 1802, many Lancashire Yeomanry Regiments were disbanded, changed names and were revived as necessary. The picture at that time is confusing. Read goes on to show that amongst those surviving in 1804 was the Bolton Le Moors Cavalry and he states that the DLOY was derived from that Regiment, raised by Bolton businessman John Pilkington, its first Commandant, in 1798. However

In 1827 Mounted Volunteer units from Bolton, Furness and Wigan joined forces to become the ‘Lancashire Corps of Cavalry’. 1834 saw King William IV declare that the Corps should take the title ‘The Duke of Lancaster’s Own Corps of Yeomanry Cavalry’. The Regiment was now made up of three Troops. By 1849, with no shortage of Volunteers, the number of Troops grew steadily, so that by the end of the Century the Regiment boasted eight Troops in 4 Squadrons, with its HQ in Worsley and with a strength of around 500.

‘A’ Sqn: Oldham (1872) & Rochdale (pre 1849) Troops
‘B’ Sqn: Liverpool (1899) and Bolton (pre 1849)
‘C’ Sqn: Broughton 1877) & Worsley (Pre 1849)
‘D’ Sqn: Blackburn (1880) & Blackpool (pre 1849)

So, mixing experience, older Troops with new ones.

Interestingly, The Blackpool Troop claimed its heritage directly from Furness, (see below). Although its direct lineage can be taken from the Bolton Light Horse Volunteers in 1798 (Read, 1992)

As the 1899 reforms and ‘Imperial Yeomanry’ gathered pace, the Lancashire contingents formed the 23rd (The Duke of Lancaster’s Own) Company of Imperial Yeomanry. Recruits were kitted out, armed and supplied with fresh horses; moving to Blackpool for training. Accommodation was found in the Guest Houses and preparations made for a move to the Cape and war with the Boers. The Gazette reported:

‘…training in science of musketry, the art of riding and the wiles of associated with mounted infantry. …. The sands at South Shore have been occupied by khaki clad horsemen galloping, curvetting and manoeuvring in picturesque, yet methodical evolutions. Their operations have been keenly watched by crowds of pedestrians…’

Patriotic entertainment at the Grand Theatre and a departure Dinner was organised at the Alhambra, supplemented by free access to the Music Halls and Opera House provided off duty pastimes during the four weeks to prepare for departure to South Africa,.

In January of 1900, the Mayor of Blackpool gave permission for 10 horses to be billeted in Corporation stables. The Council approved the action ‘… for a fortnight prior to the Yeomanry proceeding to the seat of the Transvaal War’.

Service in South Africa was eventful. Within 8 weeks of arriving (March 1900) and following acclimatisation for men and horses, they moved to join General Sir Charles Warren to support the British Counter attack against the Boers. Arriving at Faber’s Put, a small camp at a Farmstead in May 1900.  Perhaps the most serious action for the Dukes Own occurred here. The Camp was attacked in the early morning of 30 May 1900, 22 were killed, 32 wounded. The incident at Faber’s Put was followed by skirmishes in and around Hoopstad until December when the 23rd moved back to the South and in April 1901 returned home, although some decided to stay and build new lives in South Africa.

Council Minutes of 16 June 1900 record the discussions to provide a permanent record of those from Blackpool who fought in South Africa:

BoerResolved unanimously:

‘That the names of all the men who have gone from Blackpool to take part in the War in South Africa as volunteers, whether Yeomanry, Artillery or Ambulance men, be inscribed upon a permanent Roll of honour in the Town Hall, and that the selection of the position and design be left in the hands of the Offices Sub-Committee, with power to carry out the work.’

That Roll of Honour still stands in the Entrance hall to the Town Hall. Passed by many, seen by few.

Yeomanry of Blackpool

What follows is a transcription from a souvenir booklet for a fund raising ‘Military Bazaar’ in September/October 1904. The Military Bazaar was held Victoria Hall, Winter Gardens, Blackpool. (See ‘Sources’)

  A ‘Short History of the Blackpool Troop of
The Duke of
Lancashire’s Own Imperial Yeomanry’



Military Bazaar



SEPT. 28th, 29th, 30th, & Oct. 1st.

Times, Blackpool


The Duke of Lancaster’s Own Imperial Yeomanry
A Short History of the Regiment

The Duke of Lancaster Own Imperial Yeomanry, as the Regiment is now designated, has existed since October 1819. when a Troop of Yeomanry Cavalry, under the command of Col. Braddyll being its Captain. Of Conishead Priory, was raised by that gentleman at Furness; Col Braddyll being its Captain. A few days later a Troop was raised at Wigan, and in April 1820, a third came into existence at Bolton-le-Moors.

Until April, 1828, these three troops of Yeomanry were managed independently. On that date, however, the Government ordered them to be united under one command; Capt. Braddyll being placed in charge with rank of Major. The unit was then known as the ‘Lancashire Yeomanry Cavalry’.

The first training of the Regiment, lasting 10 days, was held at Lancaster in June, 1828.

In October, 1834, at a private audience granted to Col. Braddyll at St. James’s Palace, H.M. King William IV directed that in future the Regiment should be known as ‘The Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry Cavalry’ and that the uniform should be scarlet with blue facings and gold lace.

Col. Braddyll was succeeded in the command in 1841 by Lord Francis Egerton.

For over 20 years the Regiment consisted of the three above-mentioned troops, but in February, 1844, a troop was raised at Rochdale; in March, 1846, another at Worsley; in 1873, another at Oldham ; and 1877, another at Broughton, near Manchester. In 1873, after an existence of 54 years, the Furness troop was disbanded, and in 1880 the same fate overtook the Wigan troop after 61 years’ service.

The Blackburn troop was raised by Captain Herbert Shepherd-Cross, in November, 1880; and the Blackpool troop by his son, Capt. (now Major) T. A. Shepherd-Cross, in 1899. The Liverpool troop was raised in the same year by Capt. (now Major) R. H. Tilney.

The Regiment now consists of 4 Squadrons, designated A, B, C, and D, each Squadron consisting of 2 troops, viz:

A Squadron  Rochdale & Oldham Troops.
B  ,,             Liverpool & Bolton  ,,
*C  ,,           2
Manchester     ,,
D  ,,             Blackburn & Blackpool ,,

*This Squadron, until recently, consisted of the Broughton and Worsley troops, which have now been absorbed into the Manchester troops.

The strength of the Regiment is 25 Officers and 487 Rank and File, i.e. some 50 men above establishment.

The title of the Regiment is now ‘The Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry’, the change having been made during the reorganisation of the Yeomanry Forces during the late South African Campaign.

The Hon. Colonel is the  Earl of Ellesmere, and the Regiment is commanded by Col. Percy Hargreaves

The Regiment has been closely associated with many stirring events in the County Palatine, having been utilised in assisting the Civil Power in the troublous times in 1826, 1839, 1840, 1842 and  184S, at various industrial centres.

Detachments escorted the Queen-Dowager to Bowness in July, 1840; Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort at Worsley, in October, 1851 ; Queen Victoria, at the Opening of the Manchester Ship Canal, in May, 1894 ; The Prince of Wales (then Duke of York) at Manchester, in July, 1897 ; and on the occasion of the recent visit of Their Gracious Majesties, the King and Queen, to Liver­pool, on July 19th, 1904, the entire Regiment, 350 strong, under the Command  of Col.  Percy Hargreaves, Formed two Guards of Honour—A. & B. Squadrons being posted outside the Lime Street Station, and C & D. Squadrons at St. James’ Mount, where the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the New Liverpool Cathedral took place.

Detachments also took part in the Jubilee Procession, June 22nd, 1897 ; the Funeral Cere­monies of Her late Gracious Majesty, Queen Victoria, February 2nd, 1901 ; the visit of T.R.H. the Prince and Princess of Wales to Manchester to open the Whitworth Hall, on March 12th, 1902; the visit of H.R.H. Princess Louise at Manchester, on the same date.

Squadrons took part in the Royal Review, held on Laffan’s Plain, Aldershot, on June 12th, 1902 ; and in the Coronation Procession in London, on August 9th, 1902.

During the late South African Campaign, 6 Officers of the Regiment, one permanent Staff Sergeant, and 127 Non-Commissioned Officers and men served either in the 23rd Company Imperial Yeomanry or in other Corps.

The 23rd Company was officered entirely from the Regiment, the names of those serving being as follows:

Capt. George  Kemp (now Colonel George Kemp, M.P.) in Command;
Capt. H. M. Hardcastle, now Major Hardcastle;
Capt. A. W. Huntington, now Major Hunting-ton, D.S.O. ;
2nd Lieut. C. H. Bibby-Hesketh, now Capt. Bibby-Hesketh ;
2nd Lieut. J. A. B. Heap, now Capt. Heap;
2nd Lieut. T. B. Forwood, now Lieut. Forwood.

Capt. Kemp was rewarded by receiving the rank of Hon. Colonel in the Army, and Major A. W. Huntington, who was wounded at Faber’s Spruit, on May 30th, 1900, received the decoration of the Distinguished Service Order. Several members of the 23rd Company received commissions, and several were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

The following were killed at the engagement at Faber’s Spruit:—Lance-Sergeant G. Barry, of the Blackburn Troop; Corporal W. Coulston, of the Blackpool  Troop; Pte. D. Rew, Worsley Troop; Pte. J. W. Derbyshire, Broughton Troop; and in addition to Major Huntington, the following  were wounded:  Lance-Corpl. E. Poole and Pte. R. P. B. Carter. Pte. J. W. Dransfield died from Enteric, at Kimberley.

The Story of the ‘Blackpool Troop’.

Since 1887 the Duke of Lancaster’s Own, have been resident in Blackpool and the Fylde, at that time attached to the Blackburn Troop, and depending for their drills and instruction upon the Officers and Instructor of that Troop.

When it became necessary to enlarge the Regiment to eight Troops (1899), it was decided to locate one of the new Troops at Blackpool, the men resident there to form the nucleus, as it was felt there was plenty of good material to be recruited from ; Accordingly, Capt. T. A. Shepherd-Cross undertook to raise a Troop, and between January, 1899, and the Annual Training in the following June, he had succeeded in securing nearly 50 excellent recruits For the first two years of the Troop’s existence, Capt. T. A. Shepherd-Cross was its only Officer, and consequently all the hard work of organising it and installing it on a firm basis fell upon his shoulders, the burthen being increased by the fact that during the War he was obliged to supervise the work of three other Troops whose Commanders were absent in South Africa,

Mr. L. G. S. Molloy joined the Regiment as Surgeon-Lieutenant in 1900: resigning his com­mission in 1901, he was appointed to the combatant rank of Lieutenant, since which time he has seconded Capt. T. A. Shepherd-Cross’s efforts in bringing the Troop to as high a pitch of efficiency as possible.

For the first four and a half years the Troop laboured under the disadvantage of having no permanent Head-quarters. The office work had to be done in a small store, at the top of the Empress Buildings, rented from the Winter Gardens Co., and the dismounted drills took place in the old Ballroom, at the Raikes Hall Gardens, while the Sgt Major Instructor had to be supplied with a house in another part of the town. The men had very little opportunity of meeting together except at drills, and the various manoeuvres had to be carried out under conditions that were neither comfortable nor suitable.

It was decided to endeavour to obtain within the town, a permanent Head-quarters, in which the Sergt-Major Instructor could live, where the valuable stores and equipment could be safely stored and the men drilled under the best conditions, and in which they could meet for recreation, etc., in the winter months.

The Corporation of Blackpool allowed the Officers to have a site on the north side of New Road, on which to erect the building, on very generous terms, and Mr. R. B. Mather gave them, free of all costs, the plans and specifications, and supervised the work from the laying of the foundation-stone to its completion in every detail.

Mr. Alfred Ascroft gratuitously acted as Legal adviser in all matters connected with the transfer of the property, &c

Mr. R. B. Mather also permitted Sergt. Fred M. Wilding and Lance-Corpl. J. C Derham, both of whom are in the office, to act as Clerks of the Works, &, &. The work done by these Non-Commissioned Officers in connection with the entire scheme has been most valuable.

The Troop has, therefore, every reason to be grateful for the generous treatment it has received.

The Headquarters have a frontage to New Road of fifty feet and are substantially built of red brick throughout. The front elevation is treated with Accrington bricks and stone dressing. It has a Battlement Coping with a gable in the centre surmounted by a flagstaff.

The buildings contain a complete residence for the Sergt. Major Instructor, an Armoury, an Officers House, a Non-Commissioned Officer’s Room, a Recreation and Lecture Room, and ample  Lavatory accommodation.  The  Drill Hall  is about ninety feet long  by forty eight feet wide and is a lofty and well-lighted building ; the floor is laid with asphalt, and the roof is of corrugated iron. The Hall contains a miniature rage for rifle practice, the apparatus being the gift of Col. P. Hargreaves

The Officers Room has been furnished and decorated by Capt. L.G. Molloy.

The Non-Commissioned Officers Room, Recreation and Lecture Room, &c have been furnished by members of the Troop.

The floors of the rooms have been covered with oilcloth, generously given by Thomas Bannister, Esq.

The Recreation Room was decorated by Trooper Beaumont at his own expense.

On July 17th, 1903, the Head-quarters were formally opened by Field-Marshal the Right Hon. Earl Roberts, K.G., O.M., P.C, &c, Commander-in-Chief, who was accompanied by the Right Hon. Lord Chesham, K.C.B., Inspector-General of Yeomanry; Major-General Hallam Parr, General Officer commanding the North Western District; Colonel Courtenay, Chief Staff Officer, North Western District ; the Mayor of Blackpool (Aid. James Heyes), the Honorary Architect (Aid. R. B. Mather, J.P.), the Town Clerk (Mr. T. Loftos), the Borough Surveyor (Mr. J. S. Brodie), and other members of the Corporation. Lord Roberts was received by a Guard of Honour composed of the Blackpool Troop, Col Percy Hargreaves, commanding the Regiment; Major A. W. Huntington, D.S.O., commanding ” D” Squadron, and the Adjutant, Capt. N. D. H. Campbell, 7th Dragoon Guards.

Lord Roberts was pleased to express himself as perfectly satisfied with the buildings, and congratulated the Hon. Architect, Mr. R. B. Mather, on having designed such suitable Head­quarters. He also expressed his appreciation of the generous way in which the Corporation of Blackpool had assisted an object of such national importance.

During the time the Head-quarters have been in existence, in addition to the necessary drills and exercises, the men have been instructed in gymnastics, physical drill, boxing, &c, by P. C. Wilkinson (who has since been appointed Instructor at the Municipal Gymnasium). Lectures on Military subjects have also been given during the winter evenings, and it is intended in the future to make the building a place of healthful instruction and recreation for the members of the Troop; a considerable sum of money has already been expended in procuring the needful apparatus.

With a view to helping to defray the cost of the buildings and their equipment, various entertainments have been held.

On Monday, May 4th, 1903, Mrs. T. A. Shepherd-Cross and a party of ladies and gentle men gave a Dramatic Performance at the Grand Theatre, (most generously lent for the occasion by Thos. Sergenson, Esq.,) which resulted in the sum of over £100 being placed to the credit of the fund. This sum was further increased by a handsome donation of £200 from Col. Percy Hargreaves, and £25 from Major A. W Huntington, D.S.O.

The profits of the Troop Ball, for the last two years have been credited to the fund.

In connection with one of the Stalls for this Bazaar, Miss Nellie Pollitt arranged a Dramatic Performance at the Grand Theatre, on Friday, April 22nd, 1904, which produced a profit of £106.

As the buildings cost £1,600, and its equip­ment £200, a total of £2,000 is needed in order that a small capital sum for up-keep and repairs may be established.

The Officers of the Troop are personally responsible for the debts upon the undertaking.

As showing the efficiency of the Troop, it should be known that during the training of 1003, the “D” Squadron (Blackburn and Blackpool Troop) carried off the “Colonel Kemp Cup,” in a competition designed to discover which was the smartest Squadron in the Regiment. On June 6th, of the present year, the Storey Inter-squadron Challenge Cup, shot for by teams of six from , each Squadron, was won by ” D” Squadron, who had been runners-up the previous two years. The Blackpool Troop supplied five out of six of the winning team.  (End of Booklet Text.)

The Booklet contains lists of the ‘Key Personalities’ of the Blackpool Troop and those involved in the 1903 Bazaar, along with the ‘Programme’,  are transcribed at Annexe ‘A’.

The Yeomanry at War

CapBadgeDuring the Second Boer War, 1899-1902 the decision to allow and enable Volunteer forces to serve abroad was taken, under pressure to support the Regular Army. So, ‘Imperial Yeomanry’ was formed and from 1901 all yeomanry regiments were re-designated as such, and reorganised. In 1908 the Imperial Yeomanry was amalgamated with the Volunteer Force to form the cavalry arm of the Territorial Force, the “Imperial” title was dropped at the same time.

The Yeomanry regiments went on to serve in World War 1 as part of the Territorial Force, although the Territorial Force was disbanded to become the Territorial Army (TA) after WW1. Many of the regiments were re-roled as Armoured Reconnaissance, Artillery, Engineers or Signals.  The Regiment gained Battle Honours to add to those of South Africa, in Middle East Egypt and Europe. In fact the Regiment was split: A & B Squadrons to Egypt and Palestine and C & D Squadrons with Headquarters to France and Flanders. ‘D’ Sqn from Blackpool saw action with 14 Div, fighting dismounted, in trenches alongside the Infantry at Ypres, Belgium.

Rather than serving as a unit the DLOY Companies were split and Sections were tasked to their particular skills, usually as Snipers or Observers in FOPs; or guarding prisoners or burying the dead.

A review of the War Diary for ‘D’ Squadron between May 1915 when they arrived ‘in Theatre’ and May 1916 gives details of the Squadrons diverse activities, Sections usually on detachment of about 30 men with a Officer. Trenching, labouring and later, acting in a mounted Policing role. A List of key locations D Squadron can be found at Annexe ‘B’. Personnel referred to in the War Diary are at Annexe ‘C’ and a Nominal Roll at Annexe ‘D’.

In 1916, Companies reunited and were attached to the Surrey Yeomanry to form the ‘Corps Composite Cavalry Regiment’, to provide support to the Somme offensive. However, failure to make progress in the offensive brought the Companies back supporting the infantry in the trenches. The Corps was disbanded and the DLOY Companies absorbed into 12 Battalion, The Manchester Regiment and some of the bitterest fighting of the war.

At this time too, two new DLOY Battalions were forming as 2/1st and 3/1st Bn for home defence and recruitment and training. The latter serving in Ireland in time to contribute to the suppression of Easter rising.

A list of casualties from World War 1, extracted from Commonwealth War Graves Commission data can be found at Annexe’E’.

Post war: The Blackpool Squadron like many others awaited their fate of disbandment or amalgamation. In 1921 the DLOY were re-roled as a Field Artillery Regiment of just 3 Squadrons, although a couple of months later the decision was reversed and the DLOY reverted to mounted Cavalry. Life continued with a standard routine of Drill nights and annual camps, until September 1939 and a further, major re-role. 221 Talbot road remained the focus for the Blackpool members of ‘D’ Squadron.

In World War II, the TA was dramatically expanded, with many of the old ‘Yeomanry’ Units serving again with great distinction. In 1940, the DLOY were to become two Medium Artillery Regiments, 77th & 78th.

The Blackpool Squadron became ‘B’ Battery, 78 (DLOY) Medium Artillery Regiment (TA). In January 1943 DLOY were deployed to the Middle East in time for the planning for the invasion of the soft under belly of Europe. After a period of ‘quiet’ time, guarding and escorting German Prisoners of War from the Western Desert, they were redeployed, landing in Taranto in November 1943, moving north to Barletta, north of Bari and then on to Andria. The first couple of months were uneventful, other than training and inspections. In January 1944 they moved to the battle area between San Eusanio and Castel Frentano, re-designated as 105 Battery and 106 Battery. Both were in action almost immediately. On 28 April a shell landed on the Cookhouse and killed two Gunners and wounded another.

March 1944 saw the attempts to take and pass the almost unassailable Monastery at Monte Cassino. 78 Regiment was now under control of the Americans, with a major offensive on the Monastery to take place on 11 May at 23.00, from a vantage point on the slopes of Mt Trocchio.  The OP group (Observation Post group directing fire from close to the target) moved with the Infantry attack on the Monastery. Casualties in this assault were high as they were for 78’s Guns on Trocchio. One gun team suffered a direct hit, with nine killed outright. The taking of Mte Cassino claimed the lives of 45,000 allied soldiers.

By May the 78th had moved to Trieste via Padua and Treviso and although initially tense, they were again re-designated in January 1946 as a ‘Mounted’ Military Police Force, to keep law and order, becoming ’78 Regiment (DLOY) (Auxiliary Police)’. By March 1946 it was all over for 78 Regt, they were disbanded and sent home

After the War, the TA reduced in size and role, mainly supporting Regular units with which some were twinned.  The Regiment was not yet dead! Despite being in ‘suspended animation’ (Brereton, 1994) the Officers and Men of 78 formed an Association of Old Comrades, with a branch in Blackpool, at the same time the Atlee Government was reforming and reducing in number the Yeomanry Regiments to accommodate National Service. The Blackpool ‘Sabre’ Squadron of 78 Regt, was in business again. Its heritage as a pre-war Cavalry Unit it meant it was absorbed into the Divisional Armoured Regiment of 42nd (East Lancs) Division, with HQ in Manchester.

DSC01522AAIn June 1953, the London Gazette announced that like her predecessors since 1834, ‘Her Majesty was graciously pleased to assume the appointment of Honorary Colonel of the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry’ In September of that year,  a revised statement appeared in the London Gazette Supplement which said: ‘Her Majesty was graciously pleased to assume the appointment of Honorary Colonel of the Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry (T.A.)’….’ The previous announcement… is cancelled.’

Post war life for the 78th and the Blackpool Squadron was mainly routine and uneventful made up of training; weekly drill nights; weekend and annual camps; inspections; VIP Visits and Events. Although in 1955 the Annual Camp at Thetford was ‘attacked’ from the air by a 78 Regt Squadron Officer, a qualified Pilot, who managed to load up a small aircraft from nearby airfield with Toilet Rolls, ‘bombing’ the Squadron Lines causing some consternation on the ground. However, the attack was short lived when the men retaliated with Very pistols, putting a hole in one of the aircraft’s wings!

A number of further re-roling and reforming exercises have taken place since the War (Read, 1992):

1947  Royal Armoured Corps (TA)
1967  Royal Tank Regt (TA)
1969  202 (DLOY) Fd Sqn Royal Engineers
1971  DLOY (TAVR) (Infantry Home Defence Regt)
1979  HQ moved to Chorley
1981 Blackpool Troop was reduced to a detachment of ‘D’ Squadron based in Preston
1983  DLOY (RAC TA) (Home Defence Reconnaissance Regt)

In 1967 the TA was reformed into the Territorial and Army Volunteer Reserve (TAVR) and all existing Yeomanry regiments were reduced to squadron, company or battery sub-units.

At the end of the ‘Cold War’, in 1991 the Government embarked on another restructuring of the British armed services, with more amalgamation and disbandment. DLOY ceased to exist, replaced by a ‘conglomerate’ ‘The Royal Mercian & Lancastrian Yeomanry (Brereton, 1994). Blackpool’s ‘D’ Squadron moved to Wigan. DLOY’s presence in Blackpool was limited to an old Drill Hall, closed in 1992, bearing the inscription: The Duke of Lancaster’s Own Imperial Yeomanry’.

May 2016

Sources & Bibliography:

Read, F., (1992) The Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry: A short history compiled from regimental and other records, Lancashire County Books

Brereton, J., (1994) Chain Mail: The History of The Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry 1798 – 1991, Picton Publishing (Chippenham) Ltd.

Booklet: Souvenir Programme of The Duke of Lancaster’s Own Imperial Yeomanry, Grand Military Bazaar, 1904, at Local History Dept, Blackpool Central Library, Ref LP15(P)

First World War and Army of Occupation War Diary (France, Belgium & Germany), 14 Divisional Troops D Squadron Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry, 23 May 1915 – 31 May 1916 (First World War, War Diary, WO95/1886/1), (2015), The Naval and Military Press Ltd.,


Archives of the DLO Yeomanry at:

Scrapbook of ‘D’ DLOY at:

Brief history of DLOY at:

Handlist 72: Sources for the history of the militia and volunteer regiments in Lancashire (Lancashire Record Office)

Mills, T.F (2007)  The Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry at:  regiments.org.


Wikipedia entry at:


DLOY Cap Badge courtesy of Andrew Butler Insignia, Search ‘old_club_badges’ accessed 20/06/2016

Others by the Author. Copyright of Michael P Coyle


Annexe ‘A’  Key Personalities..

Annexe ‘B’  Locations of ‘D’ Squadron, May 1915 to May 1916.

Annexe ‘C’  Personalities of ‘D’ Squadron, May 1915 and May 1916.

Annexe ‘D’  Nominal Roll as at 20/12/1915.

Annexe ‘E’  DLOY WW1 Casualties

Annexe ‘F’  Annual Camp Locations for ‘D’ Sqn DLOY.

Annexe ‘G’  Key Dates: The Blackpool Troop.