Following up to “Great Grandad, what did you do in the Great War?”

Back in January we posted about the research undertaken into the naval service record of Horace Collar. More research has now been undertaken into the 1917 incident aboard HMS Centaur that lead to Horace losing all of his personal effects.

A very large envelope from the National Archives were delivered to the family and a story worthy of the BBC Radio Comedy The Navy Lark unravelled.

According to the book North Sea War 1914-1919 by Robert Malster:

On 23rd October 1917 Tyrwhitt (Commander of the Harwich Fleet) was told that a number of destroyers were expected to sale from Zebrugge for a north German port. Four light cruisers, Canterbury, Carysfort, Centaur, and Concord, with a flotilla leader and four destroyers, left Harwich to intercept them, but the enemy ships slipped past that night.


On their way back to port the flotilla ran into a severe gale and it is at this point Centuar was damaged. An explosion towards the aft of the ship  caused considerable damage to the engine room necessitating Centaur to be out of action undergoing repairs for quite some time.

The documents from the National Archive are incredibly interesting as they are so contradictory.  One document, listing the findings from an investigation dated 27th October 1917, states that it is the considered opinion that the damage was caused by a surface mine exploding near the ship:

centaur 1 centaur 2


This theory is, however, refuted in all of the other documents in the pack and in Malster’s book, where the conclusion is that the high seas and gale caused the depth charges stored at the back of Centaur to be washed overboard where at least one detonated and damaged the ship!

centaur 3


The documents make fascinating reading and include the transcript from the Court of Enquiry and instructions on how to run the Enquiry. The good news to this from the family perspective is that Horace Collar is not mentioned at all in the paperwork, and on a broader level no one was killed, indeed the report reads “I am glad to report that beyond one Officer who (was) slightly shaken no casualties were incurred.”


HMS Centaur during WW1

HMS Centaur during WW1


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…

Norfolk Stories: ‘Jackie’ Fisher

jackie1    jackie

John Fisher, known as Jackie, was born in 1841.  He had a very distinguished naval career, which culminated in his appointment as First Sea Lord in 1904: he set about bringing the British Navy up to date in preparation for war.  He is best known for his ‘Dreadnought’ programme of building new capital ships to match any navy in the world.  He also built torpedo boats and submarines to defend Britain against possible invasion.

Fisher retired in 1910, but his voice was so important that he was called back after the war broke out – at the age of 73!  He returned to his duties in October 1914, but resigned in May 1915 after disputes about sending ships to the Dardanelles.

Fisher lived for many years at Kilverstone, near Thetford.  When he was promoted to the peerage in 1909, he chose to take the title of Baron Fisher of Kilverstone.  His beloved wife Frances died there in 1919, and he followed in 1920: his ashes are buried in Kilverstone churchyard, where there is a memorial to this naval hero.

He is credited by the Oxford English Dictionary with the earliest use of OMG for ‘OH MY GOD!’ which appears in a letter he wrote in 1917 – a Norfolk man who was far ahead of his time!