Your browser is unsupported and may have security vulnerabilities! Upgrade to a newer browser to experience this site in all it's glory.
Skip to main content

This is the story of my grandad Bertie’s life at sea, by Linda Kelly.

Born 18 May 1894, Garthorpe, Yorkshire, Bertie left home when his mother remarried, and went ‘to sea’.

15th ist 1914, enlisted into the Royal Navy, his previous occupation listed as coasting trade

He departed from Hull to Chatham in August 1914, and was given his first ship Otranto, the ship was owned by Orient Steam Navigation, built 1908 in Belfast by Workman, clerk and company, launched 1909, a passenger ship sailing between England and Australia, requisitioned by the British Admiltary, August 1914, becoming armed merchant cruiser, and used to search for German commerce raiders, she was in the Battle of Coronel and the battle of the Falkland islands, December 1914.

In 1917, he joined HMS Pembroke and 1918 HMS President, being demobilised in 1919.

On his naval records it shows two lots of Prize Money, I understand this was awarded for salvage of a vessel, it was dated 1920 and 1923, so after the war and doesn't say which ships were involved.

He was awarded three medals, 1914-18 star, British War medal and Victory medal.

Bertie's tug name on back says Scotsman, then crossed out and RW Wheeldon

I haven’t any details of when he started on Hull tugs, my gran often recalled how hard it had been to survive, if he didn’t get to a ship to salvage it, the wages were just a retainer, and without the kindness of the local greengrocer, who allow her to run up a tab (bill) they wouldn’t have had enough food. they had seven children, only three survived to adulthood, until he died in 1984, he still received his Rankes’ money, which I recently found out is a local charity, for hard up and destitute, and on retirement he received Trinity house money again a charity payment.

My mum recalled him ferrying supplies out to barges on the Humber, during WW11, they were used as anchorages for barrage balloons and he towed parts of the Mulberry Harbour, that were produced in Goole, over to France.

I think Bertie's life at sea was hard and he did well to survive, he loved being on the water and reminisced greatly about it all , I wish i had paid more attention to his stories as really I only have the bare facts, he went from being the lowest rating to skipper, taught himself copperplate handwriting, and was mainly self-educated always with a book to read, he biked to the docks along with his sons Jack and Bert, to catch the tide, made his work bag, his bass, from canvas and string, and was my lovely kind caring grandad.

I love reading the fishing industry stories but Hull was and still is about more much more, I love to stand on the bridge at the entrance to the marina, I think about Bertie, sailing into the docks, seeing the dock offices and what now is the maritime museum, just as I can see them now.

Bertie in front of the Humber bridge being constructed, something he never thought would happen