Saturday, 22 April 2017

Battle of Doiran

I find it interesting to peruse family history from time to time, and my grandmother's extensive memoirs are a treasure trove. Something in those memoirs that has caught my attention, it being both nautical and naval in nature, is a short mention of a 1913 visit of HMS THETIS to her hometown of Walls, Shetland. Her brother, my great-uncle, Robert (Bertie) Andrew hosted some of the officers at the Manse where the family lived (their father was the Church of Scotland minister in Walls).

Four years later, and one hundred years ago, saw the culmination of the Battle of Doiran in northern Greece. This battle against the Bulgarian Army raged from April 22, 1917 to May 9, 1917, and its loss ultimately cost the British 12,000 killed, wounded, and captured. One of the over 1,200 who died was this same great-uncle, now Lieutenant Robert Andrew. He was killed in the final attack on May 8, 1917, at the age of 24. His name joins those of 700 Commonwealth soldiers on the Doiran Memorial, whose final resting places are unknown.

Lieutenant Robert Andrew, Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders, 12th Bn. As a child, this picture of my great-uncle was on the wall first at my grandparents, and then after they passed away, in my parent's house.
It is probably best to simply repeat the words from my grandmother's own memoirs on the subject:

"Meanwhile in the remote north of Greece, near the border of Yugoslavia and Greece at Lake Doiran, our eldest brother Bertie has his resting place. He was 24 years old when the troops in that northern campaign had to make their first retreat in a night action 8-9 May 1917, from which over a thousand men failed to return (repeated in the autumn of that year when another thousand similarly laid down their lives). Some part of the debacle was due to the dreadful intestinal troubles which  pervaded the swamps, but also the campaign was a complete failure and it looked as if very many lives were lost needlessly. Bertie had just returned (8th May) from a long-awaited leave in Shetland and we gleaned from quiet talks he had with his father that he was going back without much hope for the success of the final campaign. Certain platoons who took part in the 8/9 May battle had orders - No retreat - hold back the enemy while the main body retreats. Bertie, though just returned from leave, would normally have had a day or two to recover from the journey. However, there was a scarcity of officers as well as of men owing to dysentry, and so the 12th Battalion, "C" Company, went into action knowing full well they had little or no chance of survival. As the Captain had been invalidated back home to Britain, Bertie acted that night as "acting Captain", as we learned later, and as one returned soldier told my folks, he refused to accept the double rum ration offered, saying he wanted to face his end without the rum's deadening effect. However that may be (we know he was teetotal), he was among those who never returned, and there he lies. A large monument there testified to the memory of over 2000 men who in the disastrous retreats lost their lives, and whose graves are unknown. On one of our later trips to Greece, Sandy [my grandfather] and I had the privilege of visiting this monument." - From the memoirs of Vaila Mowat.

My grandmother, Vaila (Andrew) Mowat, was very fond of her eldest brother, and I'm told missed him terribly. Even knowing he was dead, she apparently went to the dock to greet the ship bringing soldiers back to Shetland, hoping he might be one of them (and as I recall didn't tell anyone of this until many years later).

Lake Doiran (also apparently spelled Dojran) is split in two by the border between Yugoslavia (now Macedonia) and Greece, and apparently photography was not allowed at the time due to border tensions. Ever resourceful, my grandfather painted a picture of the memorial from memory. 

My grandfather's watercolour, from memory, of the memorial at Lake Doiran. I believe the row of buoys in the lake represents the border between then-Yugoslavia and Greece. Painting by Alexander (Sandy) Mowat.
It is interesting to compare this painting to a photo from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) website. Although located near the south end of the lake, from the painting I assumed it was nearer the north end. While the central monument is not the spire from the painting, and rather is flat topped, he got the general layout correct with the four smaller plinths and a low wall surrounding it. Much better than I could have done, I must say.

The Doiran Memorial is located in the north of Greece not far from the Doiran Military Cemetery, and it stands on a landscape feature formerly known as Colonial Hill. Designed by Sir Robert Lorimer, and with sculpture by Walter Gilbert, the memorial stands roughly on the line occupied by Commonwealth forces during the war.

A CWGC photograph of the memorial at Lake Doiran.
The CWGC cares for memorials at 23,000 locations in 154 counties around the globe, and coincidentally they also have their centennial in May 2017.

As for THETIS, she didn't survive the war either. Although she outlived Bertie, almost a year later on St. George's Day in April, 1918, she was filled with concrete and deliberately sunk as a blockship in a raid on Zeebrugge.

Four blockships fitting out at Chatham (THETIS on right). I have copied (rather incompetently) the photo from the 1958 book "Zeebrugge - St. George's Day, 1918" by Barrie Pitt.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Halifax Harbour Traffic and Shipbreaking at Port Mersey

I will start with three photos taken yesterday morning of HMCS FREDERICTON underway in Halifax Harbour. It's always nice to catch a ship underway during my morning ferry ride.

FREDERICTON in front of the Halifax skyline.

CHARLOTTETOWN, still on the Syncrolift, is photo-bombing this shot of FREDERICTON by appearing to perch on the latter's helicopter deck. 

Tribute Tower stands in the background of FREDERICTON in this image.
Tribute Tower is the new Junior Ranks mess and accommodation building, and has about 300 rooms over 10 floors, with the dining, kitchen, and mess halls over the remaining two. It replaces the old Fleet Club, A Block, and A Galley.

I was also down in Liverpool over the past weekend, and ran over to Brooklyn to take a few photos of the former Royal Canadian Navy vessels being broken up at the Port Mersey Commercial Park (aka the former Bowater Mersey Paper Company). Read no further if you are sensitive to such things. 

The two ships visible from the Brooklyn side are the former HMC Ships IROQUOIS and ALGONQUIN.

IROQUOIS is closer to the camera, with ALGONQUIN in behind.
Outwardly, IROQUOIS doesn't yet show signs of the breaking up process, other than having been stripped by the Navy prior to disposal. In fact, I am slightly surprised at the equipment that wasn't removed before she was towed away: the Mk.32 torpedo launchers, LIROD gun director, TACAN antenna, SATCOM antennas (I assume that's what they are), navigation radar (on ALGONQUIN), and launchers (or portions thereof) for both the Plessey SHIELD (both ships) and Nulka (ALGONQUIN only) decoy systems. But then, my wife says I am a bit of a packrat. None of this equipment has been carried over to the modernized HALIFAX class frigates, so I guess it can be presumed to be safely obsolete.

IROQUOIS, with ALGONQUIN in behind.

ALGONQUIN (left) and IROQUOIS (right), this time from the port bow.
From the bow, ALGONQUIN can be seen to have lost her bridge windows, and there is a burn or cut mark running under the bridge windows from bridge wing to bridge wing. The whip antennas have also been cut from the forward corners of the bridge.

All that remains of PROTECTEUR, hauled out onto the shore.
I had to head over to the Liverpool side to get photos of the other side of the wharf. Not much remains of PROTECTEUR, and what little does remain has been hauled out onto the shore to finish the job of cutting her up. She was hauled up bow-first, and that is where the most advanced work is. Slightly more remains at the stern, and the aft end of her keel and overhang remain. A portion of either her engine or boilers stick up above the remains of the hull. 

The two small landing craft carried by PROTECTEUR on either side of her hangar are landed on the hard, and seem to be intact. Not sure if they are for sale, or if the contractor intends to find their own use for them.
The work that goes on at the Port Mersey Commercial Park is a far cry from the loading of paper that the former occupant of the site, the Bowater Mersey Paper Company, used to do here. Indeed, I spent part of a summer (and one Christmas holiday) loading paper on ships on both sides of this wharf. 

The Brooklyn side of the wharf (where IROQUOIS and ALGONQUIN are located) was mostly used (in my limited experience) for ships to load with their own cranes, although there was also a concrete ramp for ships with RO-RO capability. The Liverpool side, where PROTECTEUR is being broken up, was used by Gorthon Lines ships that loaded through the side via elevators and forklifts. 

Friday, 7 April 2017

Halifax's new Discovery Centre

The media is reporting that the old Discovery Centre building at the corner of Barrington and Sackville streets in downtown Halifax will be torn down over the weekend. Here it is, in the photo below, earlier this afternoon with some netting over the Barrington Street face and hoarding around the base. 
The previous building that housed the Discovery Centre, on the corner of Barrington and Sackville Streets in downtown Halifax.
As it turns out, we took the family to the new Discovery Centre last weekend. It is currently housed in the extensively renovated former electrical generating plant on the Halifax waterfront that houses the new Nova Scotia Power headquarters. 

The sign at the entrance is on a fence.
The new centre is spread over 4 floors of this building, and is full of STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Math) displays and activities - all sorts of things to keep the kids busy and learning new things. As an engineer, I approve, but was glad there were also lots of things to keep me interested too, such as architecture and interior design to photograph. I will present the rest of my photos largely without comment.

The large sphere shown here appears in a number of the photos below.

Among other things, the basement contains a lab area where more hands-on learning can be had - the table in the foreground appears to provide opportunities to experiment with batteries and circuits. 

These lights change colour constantly.