During the WW1 years, what was to become HMS Ganges [1927] at Shotley Gate Suffolk,  was a very different place than it was during WW2. Implicit in that statement was that HMS Ganges was a training establishment for HO's called-up for war service during WW2, and all the boys under training were relocated to HMS St George, hitherto a holiday camp, situated just outside the town of Douglas Isle of Man. The boys returned to Shotley to continue their training in 1946.

Unlike WW1 it escaped the war in terms of bombs, although the Ganges environment, governed by the navy in Harwich was just as frenetic, and geared towards submarine warfare.

We often today comment on the size of our navy, whilst feeling sorry for its personnel who have not had  and cannot share the fun we used to have post WW2 right up to the late 1970's, when a large part of our job was conducted in many friendly foreign places, and I think that we were respected more than our sailors are today, sad to say!

The navy in Harwich alone during WW1, in number of units, was approximately 150% of the Royal Navy today, and the argument about hitting power today vis-a-vis that of WW1is rather flawed when we think of the out-of-action status of our modern destroyers and deployment of very few SSN submarines, not to mention the rather embarrassing saga of lack of naval fixed-wing air power which is now nearing a count of ten years: moreover we are told that our new diesel electric carriers [which surely should be nuclear powered?] will have to wait until 2022 before they get the controversial F35's, and seemingly, fewer than promised or desired, if that is not essential!

Given that we had naval bases all around the UK including a large base in Wales plus smaller ones;, N,S,E & W of Ireland which belonged in total to the UK; the same for Scotland etc etc, and Harwich was nowhere near to being considered large. That said, it and Dover were the nearest ports to the enemy territory and that in itself posed questions not needed to be asked of say the Port of Falmouth for example.

Of interest the count was:-

8 depot ships, but some rotated, so not on station continuously for the four years of the war,
9  cruisers,
41 destroyers,
38 submarines - in those days submarines did not have names but alphanumerics instead,
2 minesweeper gun boats,
2 patrol boats,

and here is that list as a kind of a bridge card with omissions

and it wasn't even called out to assist at the Battle of Jutland - it wasn't needed!

Shotley Barracks therefore continued as before almost oblivious to the raging war not that many miles away. There was one tiny change though, and this reduced a boys training period at Shotley by one month, with the fleet ever demanding more personnel at sea.

The boys part of ship duties [called "work ship"] were maintained; jobs like moving coal around the establishment to mess/office heating and for the main electrical generating station plus the RNSQ, cleaning the establishment, humping food and the waste products of food etc, but there was also a necessity to protect the infrastructure from German bombings and possibly from naval guns twenty miles from the Essex/Suffolk coast. The guns never came to fruition but the Zeppelins did, and more than once they bombed the barracks. A picture is shown below

Harwich, as all open sea ports had to do, had to  protect its maritime assets from attack, and since the overt German high seas fleet surface units were easily [?] combatted by shore batteries, British submarines, armed sea planes based in Harwich, and a very useful arsenal of cruisers, it had to addressed the covert enemy submarine menace of hazarding shipping to and from Harwich. This was done in the then traditional method of stringing submarine wire nets across navigable accesses to the harbour and its entrance, which were either permanent non-boom devices, or boom devices which were  liftable and slewable so as not to impede our own bonafide shipping accesses.  

As the problem of German submarines manifested itself on Harwich, the requirement for submarine nets increased and became a local [east of England] problem: this problem was resolved in the Harwich  harbour, and later on, assisted in the protection of harbour's south, covering the Nore areas [gateway to the River Thames and thus to central London] to Chatham and to Sheerness].  It fell to the lot of Shotley Barracks [inter alia] and the boys therein, that a manufacturing business to produce these submarine nets became a prerequisite and was therefore duly set up from the earliest of WW1 days in 1915.

A huge shed was built inside the barracks on the River Stour side, where later on was was built the Gunnery School.  Its job was to process reels of wire delivered by road and sea to the establishment to achieve the end product of  ⅝ inch wire spliced ropes, eyed, and ready in all respects to to towed from the barracks into the River Stour to be placed and sunk into an appropriate position to stop rogue submarines from entering the harbour and creating havoc.

I can tell this story pictorially, and since a picture is worth a thousand words, that I intend to do.

My pictures come courtesy of the IWM who hold the full copyright, and I am grateful to them for allowing me to copy and publish these pictures.

The areas involved in the manufacture of submarine nets is where Hawke and Collingwood messes [green mansions] were built in the 1930's.

These events were kept secret from the general public mainly to deny the enemy knowledge of this manufacturing outlet, hoping to avoid bombing of the Shotley Barracks site by Zeppelins other than the few bombs they dropped during that war. It wasn't until October 1919 virtually a year after the armistice, that The Times Newspaper broke the story and in some detail, which not only surprised the public but very much surprised much of the navy! That story is published below.

It can be read from this link The_Times_1919-10-20 shotley barracks and the building of submarine nets plus other defences.pdf  Use your pdf zooming tool for a comfortable read.

Next up, comes some fascinating pictures  of HM SHOTLEY ANTI-SUBMARINE WIRE NETTING + OTHER INHIBITORS Plc which can be viewed on this file


At this stage you will have viewed the content on the pdf above and will have returned to this position

Now go to this page scroll down to ADMIRALS and click on page 5. When on that page, look to the top to the text and click on the FIRST click here link. On the returned menu look for the 1st WW CO of Shotley Barracks on that menu which should be No 16, then click your back button and count the boxes from top left until your arrive at box 16 and then click on it. That, if you have followed my  instructions, will show you a life-like Admiralty sponsored pencil sketch of Rear Admiral G C Cayley. Like all captains of Shotley Barracks and then HMS Ganges in war time and for a few years after war has ceased until the base has been run down again, wore  two hats - the CO of boys training at Shotley and across the harbour, either the Captain in Charge [CAPIC] Harwich [WW2 style because Harwich had its own admiral in HMS Badger a shore establishment on Parkeston Quay, or Commodore in Charge [COMIC] Harwich WW1 style. In WW1 Captain Cayley [but appointed as a commodore 2nd class]  for most of the war, and Rear Admiral Cayley CB from 28th April 1917, would have rarely been in Shotley spending all his time conducting the war somewhere on Essex territory either ashore or afloat.  Harwich, for with all those vessel shown above based there it would have been a demanding and skillful job befitting his rank and experience. That is why, whenever you see pictures of ceremonial divisions inside Shotley Barracks you will always see the Commander of the Establishment in full charge, taking the march past salute and the divisions inspections.

The following picture shows the flag officers of the Nore Command in 1915.

Captain Cayley was already a senior captain [seniority 31st December 1905] when appointed to Ganges [using the old name associated with Ganges II etc] on the 20th May 1913, with war in and with Europe a distant threat! At that time he was also appointed as a  commodore 2nd class and his dual role [2nd hat] was "Commodore Shotley". The war, and the importance of the Harwich naval base, preoccupied his time.

This potted story will, I believe, answer any question you may have of this officer.

Unlike today when we have many commodores as a substantive rank.pdf

Just as a matter of interest only, this is a comparison between the manning of Shotley Barracks from approximately Jan 1918 to Feb 1919.

The manning from Jan 1918 until January 1919


and the manning from February 1919 when training took on a kick down.  We had lost many thousands of men in WW1 and at the end many thousands of HO's were being discharged, and in addition many thousands more regulars were seeking discharge. The mature, even elderly men  with war experience were weary and eager to leave, but the navy were concentrating on peacetime manning and that required new blood from much younger and less stressed personnel. Boys and youths were the future navy, and the structure of Shotley was geared to accommodate them.


Note just one instructor officer, Inst Commander John L Holt MA RN, and that the whole of the school staff were warrant officers of some kind or other, either WO's, WO's over ten years seniority, CWO's = chief WO's,  commissioned WO's either lieutenants of lieutenant commanders, chief headmasters, head schoolmaster  and the like. See  my warrant officer pages 1,2 and 3.

To offer a comparison to WW1 at Harwich, this is what Harwich a la WW2 looked like. Note that the appointment is now a flag officer albeit a retired officer, instead of an active list commodore with his own HQ in HMS Badger over in Harwich. The CO of HMS Ganges became the CAPIC Harwich [captain in charge] in lieu of a commodore 2nd class.

Hope you enjoyed my story and perhaps gained new knowledge because of it?