Father and son both escape torpedo strikes in 1918 – Retro

Royal Marine Harry Davis who survived the sinking of HMS Calgarian in 1918.
Royal Marine Harry Davis who survived the sinking of HMS Calgarian in 1918.
Share this article

On March 1, 1918, the armed merchant cruiser HMS Calgarian was torpedoed off Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland. 

The ship was the former Allan Line transatlantic cruiser SS Calgarian that worked the Liverpool, Quebec and Montreal routes.

An Allen Line spode plate from HMS Calgarian, now over a century old and in perfect condition.

An Allen Line spode plate from HMS Calgarian, now over a century old and in perfect condition.

The ship had eight decks and could take 1,700 passengers and 500 crew. She was equipped with 8 x 6in guns. In command at the time of her loss was acting Captain Robert Newton.

She was requisitioned by the Admiralty and assigned to the 9th Cruiser Squadron.

On that fateful day the Calgarian was engaged in convoying 30 merchantmen off the coast of Northern Ireland.

Apart from convoy duty she also carried a number of naval ratings either going on leave or being transferred to other ships.

She was attacked by U-19 who put one torpedo into her hull, which was not enough to sink her, and the crew managed to shore up the large hole.

But then she was hit by another three torpedoes which sent her to the bottom, taking 47 men and two officers who are remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

One of the survivors was Royal Marine Artillery gunner Harry Davis from Portsmouth. It is thought he took half a dozen plates from the ship as so many were broken when in stormy sea.

Only one survives now in possession of his grandson Brian Sessions, of Bedhampton.

The following month Harry was involved in the Zeebrugge raid when ships were sent to blockade the port to stop U-boats from leaving to sink shipping in the Atlantic.

After leaving the service Harry went on to work in the dockyard where he contracted TB which ended up killing him. 

In the Second World War Harry’s son, Stan – Brian’s uncle – was serving on HMS Royal Oak when she was also torpedoed in Scapa Flow, Scotland. Like his father before him, he also survived.

If you ever want to find out what the navy was like before the Second World War, try and obtain a copy of The Sky was Always Blue by the late Admiral Sir William James C-in-C Portsmouth June 1939 to October 1942.

Admiral James is a hero of mine and James Road in Bedhampton was named after him.

He was a prolific writer in his spare time, writing nine books. His Portsmouth Letters is a must if you are interested in Portsmouth and events that occurred during the early years of the war.

When he was captain of the battlecruiser HMS Hood, the ship was making her way to the West Indies in 1932.

One day, when crossing the Atlantic, James described events: ‘When I arrived at my position a full gale was blowing and waves were as high as I had ever seen them.

‘The Hood stood up well but the high boat deck of the Renown was wave swept and all her boats were wrecked.’

There was a time when I would not miss the FA Cup Final.

I used to work on a Saturday and I would book a week’s holiday so I could have the Saturday of the final off. 

I remember Sunderland’s goalkeeper Jim Montgomery making the two fantastic saves, one after the other, to deny Leeds the lead and manager Bob Stokoe running down the pitch with macintosh flailing and trilby in hand to hug Montgomery after the final whistle in 1973. 

And what about the Arsenal v Manchester United final in 1979? Of the five goals, three were scored in the last five minutes.

An absolutely pulsating finish to the game which saw the Arsenal win 3-2. Just some of the wonderful memories of cup finals. 

But over the years I have fallen so out of love with football, I did not even know last Saturday's final was happening until I looked in the paper to see what was on television. 

There was not even a Royal Marine band to entertain the crowd at half-time. It has changed so much, and not for the better. 

I must admit to changing channels when adverts come on as they last so long these days –anything up to six minutes.

I timed one section the other evening, I must get out more. 

Then on came two adverts in a row with two of my favourite top 10 hits from the 1960s.

The first was Albatross by Fleetwood Mac on a mobile phone advert. 

When I played with a band called Charisma, Ray Mitchell, our lead guitarist, always received a massive round of applause after he played it.

The second was for Marks & Spencer with the Beach Boys’ track Wouldn’t it be Nice. One line goes: ‘You know it’s gonna make it that much better. When we can say goodnight and stay together. Wouldn’t it be nice.’

I used to sing that to an ex-girlfriend of mine. She fell in love with someone else!