David Tattersfield, trustee from The Western Front Association, explores the little known Battle of Trindade, using Naval Records from the WWI Pension Ledgers to learn more about the 8 British men who lost there lives in this WWI battle.
Naval actions in the First World War were fairly uncommon. Whilst anyone with a passing interest in the Great War will have heard of the Battle of Jutland of May 1916, fewer will have heard of the Battle of Coronel (November 1914), or the Battle of the Dogger Bank (January 1915). It’s unlikely very many will have heard of the Battle of Trindade.
Battle of Trindade was one of the earliest actions of the war and featured two unlikely ships – both were converted liners. On the German side was SMS Cap Trafalgar, on the British side was RMS Carmania.
In September 1914, the Cap Trafalgar put into a remote German base – the island of Trindade which is a tiny archipelago about 680 miles east of the coast of Brazil – to take on coal from supply ships.
Meanwhile, Carmania had been ordered to the area to hunt for German colliers and any warships that may be using the archipelago as a base. On 14th September, whilst approaching the island, the Carmania spotted smoke from Cap Trafalgar’s engines. The German vessel was able to send a signal to say that she was about to be engaged by a British vessel.
Both ships were seriously under-armed compared to warships that served in the two navies, and had no armour protection. When the action opened, the Cap Trafalgar seemed to be landing more blows: Carmania was hit dozens of times and her bridge destroyed by gunfire. The engagement was similar to that undertaken in Nelson’s time – with the ships having to approach each other closely and fire on the enemy using small calibre weapons. Fires on Carmania seemed to be getting out of control when the Cap Trafalgar veered away and heeled over, lowering lifeboats – she had been hit below the waterline and was rapidly sinking.
German losses on board Cap Trafalgar amounted to up to 50 killed and an unknown number wounded. British losses on Carmania were nine killed.
Thanks to the Naval Records saved by The Western Front Association and published by Ancestry in the WWI Pension Ledgers set, we can start to know a little more about these nine men. What is particularly valuable about these Naval records for family historians, is the detail around dependent family members. This information can be incredibly helpful in building out the picture of surviving family members, and these nine men are great examples of what additional details can be uncovered.
• Chief Petty Officer James Burfitt was married to Edith. They had five children. A pension of 23/6 per week was paid, increasing in 1915 to 28/6.
• Seaman Norman Grant married Kate in 1898, they had six children although the pension awarded was soon to drop when the eldest (May) turned 16 years old in 1916.
• Seaman Kenneth McLeod (index-only) was probably unmarried, as the index entry here refers to his father, Colin
• Seaman Robert Russell married Bessie in 1910. They had no children. The ledger entry here says “Mrs Russell was married to Frederick G Thrower a manager at a gas works aged 47 on the 31 December 1916. Awarded a gratuity of £65”
• Lance Serjeant George Snell (and also here) Unaccountably, Snell (who was one of the Royal Marine Light Infantry on board) has two records in the Naval Pension records (see the page numbers 908 and 3440 in the top left corner). One names a wife (Margaret) who he married in 1909 and no children; the other omits the wife but names Phyllis Higgs (born 1909) as an “adopted child” of Mrs Lillian Snell. It is likely that this would be an interesting area of research for the Snell family.
• Seaman George Snowling was married to Edith in 1910. They had two children – the youngest being born only three months before George was killed. The CWGC lists all the men as having being killed on 14th September, but the records here indicate that others died two days later on 16th September.
• Seaman Cecil Diaper married Adelaide in 1912. They had one son, also called Cecil. A small list of payments is shown as having been made to Adelaide.
• Seaman Richard Pierce Like Cecil, Richard is listed as having been killed on the 16th. He left behind a wife and five children.
These records also list other men who may well have been lost in this action on RMS Carmania but who have not been listed by the CWGC. These include
• AJ Pollard was not in the Royal Navy but is recorded here on the Mercantile Marine cards. He is not on CWGC database but his death from Nephritis through enemy action is noted on his record – this certainly suggests he may be a candidate for subsequent commemoration by the CWGC.
Identify your serving ancestors, and their family members, in the WWI Pension Records on Ancestry and learn more about their experiences of WWI.