Great-Grandad, what did you do in the Great War?

Seeing family at Christmas time and being asked to research some family history appears to becoming a new family tradition. Last year I was asked to investigate my husband’s grandfather and this year it is my great-grand father.

My mum has been investigating our family tree for many years, and while we knew that my paternal great-grandfather served in the navy we hadn’t researched his career in depth.  A chance tweet on the @NorfolkinWW1 twitter led us to the website. This wonderful resource dedicated to the Senior Service is a place to lose hours but a sub-section of the site is dedicated to the (ongoing) transcription of ships’ logbooks. This means that you can now see exactly where ships were – and what the crews were up to – throughout the war this information can in turn add real ‘colour’ to family history data.

In 2015 it also became easier to find out which ships relatives did serve on during WW1 as the Registers of Seamen’s Service (1900-1928) has become available on (This website can currently be accessed free of charge at all of Norfolk’s Libraries)

With this in mind and armed with information about my great-grandfather, Horace Edward Collar, I set off to find out more about his service.

Horace Edward Collar, c.1920

Horace Edward Collar, c.1920

Horace officially joined up on 31st July 1916, the actual date of his 18th birthday, and from reading his service record it can be seen that his wartime ships were:

  • HMS Ganges
  • HMS Impregnable
  • HMS Pembroke
  • HMS Centaur
  • HMS Curacoa
  • HMS Dido
Screenshot of Horace Collar's Naval record taken from

Screenshot of Horace Collar’s Naval record taken from

(It is interesting to note from the dates on this documents that Horace actually started his service on HMS Ganges & HMS Pembroke in May 1916 a couple of months before his official enlistment date.)

The first thing I discovered on comparing this list of ships to those on the naval history website is that only one of them actually appears (HMS Centaur).  Google became my friend at this point and I found out that Ganges, Impregnable and Pembroke were all non-sea-going training ships. HMS Dido was also not on active service but was a depot ship based in Harwich.

HMS Centaur and HMS Curacoa were on active service and formed part of the Harwich Force. This was a patrol flotilla which supported both the Dover Patrol (protecting the English Channel) and the Grand Fleet, based in Scapa Flow (protecting the Atlantic).  Ships in the Harwich Force also escorted Allied and neutral ships between Holland and the UK and undertook some missions within the North Sea.  The Harwich Force didn’t actually take part in the Battle of Jutland in 1916 but had been on patrols and other ‘shouts’ shortly beforehand. After the German naval surrender in 1918 the Harwich Force became responsible for the remaining German submarines, which were surrendered at Harwich.

Although not a part of any major battle it can be surmised that at some point during 1917 Horace saw some action as in December of that year he was reimbursed £1.7.6 for “loss of effects.” There is a record on the National Archive website, Damage to HMS Centaur by Mine, which tantalisingly hints at what happened. Intriguingly a website dedicated to the history of Harwich lists this happening in June 1918 which deepens the mystery… As yet this document has not been digitised and I haven’t ordered a physical copy of it, although I feel that my interest in knowing what happened will lead me to do so very soon!

Horace signed up as a Ship’s Boy in 1916 and by the end of the war was listed as Ordinary Telegraphist, he ended his career in 1928 as a Telegraphist. Wikipedia’s entry for this role reads:

A telegraphist or telegraph operator is an operator who uses the Morse code in order to communicate by land or radio lines. Telegraphists were indispensable at sea in the early day of Wireless Telegraphy. During the Great War the Royal Navy enlisted many volunteers as telegraphists.

In the case of Horace Collar these new (well new to me and my family at least!) websites haven’t actually added a lot of details to our knowledge of his war time service as he was so land based but my mum informs me that he did have a brother who also served in the Navy during the First World War and then there are the following 10 years of Horace’s service to investigate too…


2 thoughts on “Great-Grandad, what did you do in the Great War?

  1. His 12 year service started from the day he turned 18, hence the date you’ve noted as his enlistment date. His initial service was on boy terms (this had the advantage he wouldn’t be conscripted into the army on turning 18)

    • Many thanks for explaining this bit to us, we did wonder if it had anything to do with conscription but confirmation is always well good. I will pass this on to the family.

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