What was life like for
the men of the base?
A common part of life
was naval discipline and regulations. From washing uniforms to leave,
there was always a missive from Vice-Admiral Dare to keep the men up to date on
the correct procedures. At least three public houses in the town were
completely out of bounds to the men. Dare’s letters often concerned recent
events, such as a large quantity of free railway passes being granted without
good reason before the 7 June 1916.
Mechanics at the Base
In addition to those
staff that would send out Dare’s seemingly endless paper, there were mechanics
stationed at the base, tasked with fixing ships. From worn out hydrophones, to
boiler cleaning, to requests for new guns for armed trawlers, it is clear that
mechanics at the base rarely had a quiet moment.
Far more serious were
the errors that caught the vice-admiral’s eye. Incidents of loose tongues and
lax discipline in public areas soon led to reprimands for entire swathes of
base personnel. When navy vessels undertook gunnery practise outside the
designated area, the response was swift and furious.
Health seems to have
been a worry for some, with a large number of men making use of private dental
practitioners (unnecessarily, in Dare’s view).
Serving on Ships
For those serving on
ships, the threat of injury or death was very real. It was perfectly possible
for an entire ship’s company to be lost beneath the waves. The fate of HMS Prize in 1917 serves as an excellent
example. Having fought U 93 to a
standstill, the crew were unaware that the U-Boat had escaped the engagement
and informed the German admiralty of the Q Ship’s existence. Soon after, Prize was found by U 48 and lost with all hands.
However, life on the
bases may not have been an unending tale of grimness. A century after these
events, we may possibly appreciate the funnier side of base life. It is certain
that some of the regulations concerned rather bizarre eventualities. For
example, one missive instructed seamen to avoid sending either their
washing or fish by mail.
Dare was willing to provide useful advice when dealing with difficult
situations. Advice he provided on how to handle depth charges, or to dispose of
German mines can be found in documents from the base. Whether the men were
experienced in such matters or not, such advice may have been a comfort to the
younger crewmen serving on sloops and mine-clearing trawlers in the Western
A hard life it may have
been, but the navy did what it could to look after its men.
U-Boat Project 1914-18 exhibition
During a week of celebrations of the Naval and
maritime history of Milford Haven, the U-Boat Project 1914-18 exhibition will
be on display at the Lord Nelson Hotel, Hamilton Terrace, Milford Haven SA73
3AW from Wednesday 29 May until Friday 31 May 2019 from 10am each day.
By Geoffrey Hicking, Researcher on the U-Boat Project 1914—18