Showing posts with label Stokes (Wolverhampton). Show all posts
Showing posts with label Stokes (Wolverhampton). Show all posts

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Mostly at sea: Harry Grattidge and his landlocked ancestors

This is yet another of my blog adaptations of a presentation I gave to the British Family History Society of Greater Ottawa on April 8th, 2017.  It contains some information that I didn't have the time to include, and omits some items that really only work in an oral presentation. 

In early 2017, this notice appeared at the website for the British Family History Society of Greater Ottawa:

Gail Roger’s mild obsession with the Titanic led her to the discovery of the closest thing to a celebrity in her family tree: Harry Grattidge — sailor, survivor, and a Commodore of the Cunard Line. No, she hadn’t heard of him either. We will meet some of the Grattidge ancestors that Harry and Gail have in common, ponder the blessings and drawbacks of a highly unusual surname, and discover how Harry came to be a consultant on a classic film by surviving Britain’s worst maritime disaster (not the Titanic).
About the speaker

Gail Roger has been a BIFHSGO member for over a dozen years, and it took her the first seven years to pluck up the courage to make her first BIFHSGO presentation. This is her fifth. Gail’s family will tell you that her obsession with the Titanic is not as mild as she claims. They are mistaken. They also say that her obsession with family history borders on the frightening. They may have a point.


I may be sorry that I asked this question.

Is there anyone who has not heard of the Titanic?

Now, this presentation is not about the Titanic, although the Titanic will keep . . .  bobbing up.

People who are obsessed with 1912 sinking of the Titanic are called “Titaniacs” – probably only by those who are not Titaniacs.

I am not a Titaniac.  No, I’m not, no matter what my family tells you.

See, real Titaniacs are scary.  Y’know, military-history-buff scary. 


Even though this presentation is not about the Titanic, there are four things about the Titanic that I'd like you to keep in mind.


No, there won't be a test, but things I say during this presentation may make a little more sense if you can remember them.

One.
The Titanic was a large ship.   She had a gross tonnage of 46,000.  Now, what exactly does that mean?  

I don't care.

I'm a family researcher, not a nautical expert. I understand the tonnage of ships about the same way I do centimorgans in DNA-matching.  


I know 46,000 tons means "big ship", and I use this number to give me a vague idea of how big other ships are in comparison.  


The Titanic was a very big ship by 1912 standards, and big ships are difficult to maneuver.  The captain of the Titanic was an experienced captain, but not in commanding a ship of that size.  Up until 1911, his largest ships had been about 22,000 tons; that's roughly half the size of the Titanic.


So,"46,000 tons" means "big ship"; big ships are difficult to maneuver.

Two.

The Titanic's First Class featured very wealthy people who would have been familiar to newspaper readers of the day.  This was in the days before movie stars, television, and rock music, so celebrities tended to be society people, government big-wigs, and captains of industry, such as railways, for example.

This meant, in the days before widespread air travel, that an ocean voyage was a prime opportunity for networking and deal-making. This didn't change that much between 1912 and 1952.  


The fact that there were rich, prominent, and important people on board is why we still talk about the Titanic today.  Oh, there's some mention of the Third Class where 84% of the men, just over half the women and two thirds of the children died - which is horrific - but hardly anyone talks of the Second Class in which 92% of the male passengers died.  After all, they were only teachers, preachers and civil servants.

You know.  People like us.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RMS_Titanic

Stories about rich and influential people sell.  
Two words:  "Downton Abbey"

Three.

The sinking of the Titanic engendered many legendary stories.


"Legendary" as in: "not easy to prove".  


"Legendary" as in: "still argued about" - mostly online. 


Most entertaining stories that people want to believe are legendary stories, and we family historians are always running up against them, aren't we? 
Liam Tuohy as Charles Joughin in the 1997 film Titanic


One legendary Titanic story is the tale of the baker Charles Joughin, who claimed to have gotten quite drunk before making it to the stern of the ship before its final plunge.  He said he rode it down like an elevator, stepping off into the water at the last minute, not even getting his hair wet.

I don't know how true his story is, but he survived the sinking and he lived a long life. 
Charles Joughin 1878-1956


Remember him.

Four.

There were about 2200 people aboard the Titanic, 1300 of those were passengers. 


The Titanic could have carried up to 3500 passengers and crew, but there had been a coal strike, so, unusually for a maiden voyage of a prestigious liner, Titanic was not fully booked.  This was just as well, because there were only spaces in the life-boats for about 1100 -- half the people on board and one-third of Titanic's total capacity.  

As it was, only 700 people survived -- all picked up by the Carpathia.
Remember that name, and remember that something like 1500 people died that April night in 1912.

Did I mention that this presentation is not about the Titanic?

In the late sixties, my mother took one of those Famous Writers’ correspondence courses.  She was hoping to sharpen her writing skills for her own presentations at work, and the nonfiction course involved studying and analyzing a book called A Night to Remember by Walter Lord.  It was about the  --- Titanic.

This presentation is not about the Titanic.

I was eleven and read pretty well anything I found lying around the house, so I became hooked, like so many others, on the story of this disaster.  It has everything:  glamour, tragedy, injustice, lots and lots of human error.


Rather like family history research.

A few decades later, after a particularly tough day in late November of 2004, I sat down to watch a telecast of the 1958 film based on that book.

Because nothing says “relaxation” like a maritime disaster in which nearly two thousand people die by drowning, crushing, or hypothermia.

I’d seen the movie before, of course, but, if you remember any of my other presentations, most of my family history discoveries are accidents, and they usually involve revisiting a document, book, or, in this case, a movie that I thought I knew. 


This time, I noticed something in the opening credits.

It was the name “Grattidge”.

That’s the surname of one of my great-great-grandmothers.

I had just joined BIFHSGO that year, but even from my minimal and untutored pre-BIFHSGO research, I knew that “Grattidge” is a highly unusual surname.

I staggered over to the computer and entered “Grattidge” and “Titanic” into the search engine.

A whole bunch of hits came up – including this one.


Clicking on any image will enlarge it.
Remember Rootsweb?  I used to spend hours browsing their mailing lists – the listserves for the individual counties were particularly useful to a newbie such as myself. The Rootsweb lists and archives are still there, and if I'm googling in search of an obscure historical fact, chances are that I'll find an answer that I can find nowhere else posted years ago by a family researcher on Rootsweb.  

Rootsweb had its beginning at a time when people couldn't get a family tree with a single click.

However, this was my very first encounter with Rootsweb, and I was beginning with the only list for the surname Grattidge.  It is, after all, a highly unusual name.

I spent a few weeks reading everything in the Grattidge Rootsweb message archive, before finally getting the courage to introduce myself. I met about a dozen people, from Sweden to Australia, researching the Grattidges. This intrepid group of distant relatives had all sorts of data on Harry Grattidge and his astonishing career, 
and they had the Grattidge family worked out to 1590. 

They hadn’t done this by copying down online trees. It was as if I’d stumbled upon a personalized seminar in family research. 

My fifth cousin Paul in Sweden had resources on medical ailments and occupations.  My fourth cousin Rex in Australia sent me photocopies of parish registers and marriage bonds.  My fifth cousin Peter in Derby, England, had written a Grattidge history with quotes, photographs and charts.

I remember attending one of my first Great Moments of Genealogy at the Legion Hall on Kent Street, and thinking: I’ve just had one of these!

In fact, I should warn you that this is what happens when you let a Great Moment fester for over a decade: a full-hour presentation breaks out. It’s like a boil.  

First, the name.  It’s probably derived from a place name, and that place is Gratwich, a tiny hamlet in the country of Staffordshire, north-east of the city of Stafford, where several branches in my maternal line come from.

Gratwich is four miles to the east of Uttoxeter, which is the location of the earliest Grattidge record the Rootsweb list had.
Once again, clicking the image will enlarge it.

I’ve mentioned this in my last presentation, but if I want a detailed map of an area in the United Kingdom, I use Street Maps.uk to really know where everything is.  This map shows why Gratwich is described as “remote”.  There’s really very little around it.

If I want a relatively uncluttered map where I can look up walking distances between places, and create my own family maps, I use Google Maps.  

Here, I’ve been using one of my customized family maps to track the christening and marriage places of my subsequent Grattidge ancestors. 

You see that for most of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Grattidges settled within ten miles of Gratwich  - often four or five miles - even though I have no record of any Grattidges there. 

Yet. 

So, I think that, as far as name origin theories go, this is a pretty good guess.

Now, I believe the guess came from my cousin Peter Grattidge, who lives in the town of Derby, within reach of these ancestral villages, and has been researching the Grattidges for decades. 

He has another theory that, of all the Grattidges living on the globe today, more than ninety percent are descendants of four brothers born in Foston, Derbyshire in the late eighteenth century.  This means that when I run into someone with the surname of Grattidge on the Internet, the chances are superb that they are related to me -- and I can usually figure out exactly how quite quickly!  

Here’s my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather William Grattidge who married his first cousin.  This happened quite a bit in my family, which may explain a lot.
They actually had nine children.  One daughter married, but her descendants petered out.  One son died as a baby.  The three youngest died in the flu epidemic of 1803.  (My cousin Paul in Sweden had a plague encyclopedia.)

So here are those four sons from which most Grattidges descend. 

Like his surviving brothers, Thomas had two wives, but both his partners proved particularly fecund.  The second, Kezia, was initially his mistress and she bore him six children before he married her and three children afterward.  When he died, she married another Grattidge nephew and had two more kids. 

So in the present day, amid a host of Grattidge descendants, we have an expert angler who has written extensively in magazines and websites, all which seem to feature people cradling carp.

And, from the line of Kezia the mistress-later-wife, we have a Grattidge who has won prizes at Crufts for the Staffordshire Bull Terriers he breeds at his kennels.  My helpful Rootsweb fifth cousins, Peter and Paul, descend from this line as well.

And descending from brother William Grattidge, we have Frederick James Grattidge, a Lord Mayor of Birmingham, plus at least four recipients of the MBE and the OBE, as well as the runner-up in Britain's Next Supermodel 2009.

I call this the overachieving branch of the family.

From Richard Grattidge, we get a lot of Americans and a lot of Kansas farmers. Also a rock musician, but not a famous one.

Then, there’s my great-great-great-great-grandfather John, who is also Harry Grattidge’s great-grandfather. Lots of Aussies in this line, including my fourth cousin Rex from Rootsweb.  I should point out that we have 2 OBEs descending from John.

Identifying and placing modern-day relations is one advantage of an unusual surname.

A chief disadvantage?

No one knows how to spell it -- particularly those intrepid transcribers at Ancestry.  This means, among other things, that I'm still finding records associated with Grattidges in my direct line -- once I clue in to who "Willan Grubbage" is. 

I ran into more fun with spelling when taking the online course “Finding People in the National Archives” with Pharos Tutors last spring.

Our teacher Guy Grannum  , who is an archivist with the National Archives, was demonstrating various “wild card” techniques for searching the National Archives catalogue, so I suggested “Grattidge”.

Up came a document for Harry “Gratridge” being held at the Liverpool Maritime Archives.  Guy sent me the proper form the next morning.

I soon received a charming email, saying that my correction had been accepted, and that a small accompanying biographical note had been composed, so I went to check it and Grattidge was spelled correctly!

But “Cunard” wasn’t.

The Collections Knowledge Officer took prompt action.



Here’s how the page looks now, with some of the details I provided.  I was rather proud.

So, how exactly is Harry Grattidge related to me?

My great-great-great-great-grandfather John Grattidge is at the top, and starting with me at the bottom, we can go clockwise, through my mother, my grandmother, my great-grandmother Clara Elizabeth Stokes - who is Harry’s first cousin – then to my great-great-grandmother Anne Grattidge - who is Harry’s paternal aunt – to Daniel Grattidge, the ancestor that Harry and I share.

Harry’s dad is George Grattidge, one of Anne’s eight younger siblings – she was the eldest, so Harry and I are first cousins – three times removed.

My great-great-grandmother Anne Grattidge (probably pronounced "Annie", after the fashion of the day) is the earliest Grattidge relative I had within living memory, because she was in the living memory of my late grandmother.

Anne’s husband John Stokes earned my gran’s undying enmity for chewing her out at age twelve – for whistling.  That was in 1912, well-brought-up girls weren’t supposed to whistle.  She never forgave him. 

My grandmother remembered two things about her grandmother Anne Grattidge:

Every Christmas, or any other family gathering, Anne would declare in tremulous tones:  “Of course, the next time, I will not be with you….”

This went on for years.

When she died at age 79, she flatly refused to let her husband visit her deathbed -- after ten children and sixty years of marriage.

When Anne was born in 1844, her father Daniel was a railway brakesman in Stafford, but his father (my great-great-great-great-grandfather) John Grattidge had been an innkeeper, among many other things.

Photo taken in late 1950s or early 1960s
In 1854, my great-great-great-grandfather Daniel Grattidge took charge of the Castle Inn on Eastgate Street in Stafford. With one brief interlude, the inn remained in the Grattidge family for over 60 years.  

Up until two weeks before I gave this presentation, the above photo was the only picture I’d seen of the Castle Inn – it was demolished in the early 1960s.  I think my invaluable cousin Peter in Derby emailed it to me.

And here’s a story that further illustrates two things: 1) the unexpected benefits of doing a presentation for BIFHSGO; and 2)   why you should always try to give credit for every discovery you make.

I was actually looking for mid-19th-century pictures of the Stafford Railway Station to illustrate this talk when Google Images brought up a shot of Stafford from over a century ago. It was on a website about memorial drinking fountains.  

The blog-writer, who goes by HIS, had carefully credited a website called
Staffordshire Past Track, so I went to look, and I’ll try not to get emotional here.

http://www.staffspasttrack.org.uk
Click to enlarge.

On the right, is the Castle Inn in 1877.  They know this because the Borough Hall is being built, near the centre of the photograph.

In 1855, Harry Grattidge's father George Grattidge, the sixth of the nine Grattidge children in that generation, was the first of the family to be born here.

Daniel Grattidge ran the inn until his death in 1863 at age 42, at which point, his wife and my great-great-great-grandmother Matilda took over for the next nine years. 

Someone named Edward Hudson was in charge for another four years – I know this from a book entitled Inns and Alehouses of Stafford by John Connor, large parts of which are online at Google Books, including, thank goodness, the parts pertaining to my family! (You can also order his books through Amazon.uk.)

Daniel Grattidge, George’s eldest brother, became the innkeeper in 1876, so he’s the “D. Grattidge” on the sign in the above photo.  Daniel had been, like many of the residents in Stafford, a shoemaker, and George became a shoemaker too, getting married to an Ellen Tildesley in 1885, and having three children:  Bernard, Harry, and Clarice.

Brother Daniel gave up inn-keeping, and invested in a colliery.  He eventually made pots of money.  He’ll figure in the story later.

In 1897, George Grattidge brought his family, including seven-year-old Harry, to the Castle Inn and took over for the next thirty years.  

My great-great-great-uncle George Grattidge was a quiet man who loved detective stories and long unruffled games of bridge at his club.  He raised neither his voice nor his hand in anger against his three children, content that (his wife Ellen), from her operational headquarters in the kitchen, should plan and carry out the daily strategy of shaping (their) manners and morals.

I know this because George is the only family member whom Harry describes in his autobiography Captain of the Queens, published in 1956.  He does mention his mother more than once, and his brother and sister in passing, but the book - which was reasonably successful in its time and even became part of the Reader’s Digest Condensed Book series - is aimed at those interested in his career at sea. 

This is the frustrating thing about reading relatives’ biographies. They rarely supply the details that a family historian craves.

I acquired the book some weeks after discovering the Grattidge Rootsweb group.  It’s no longer in print of course, so I checked Abebooks and
Alibris, and got my hands on a first edition for about ten bucks. 

Captain of the Queens is described as an autobiography, but it’s really an “as told to” biography, ghost-written, rather well, by Richard Collier, a historian who was a member of the RAF during the Second World War and was the author of several books, once of which is in the Ottawa Library. 

During the three times I read Captain of the Queens - in 2005, in 2010 and in 2016 - I’ve often wondered whose voice I’m hearing:  Harry’s or Richard Collier’s.

The description of Stafford in the first years of the twentieth century is positively lyrical:  . . . the thrill of riding in the brand-new horse-cars that took you a mile and a half across town, all for a penny, with the smell of the dirty oil lamp that lit them pricking your nostrils, the deliciously dry straw on the floor, perfect for scuffing with highly shined Sunday boots. 

Harry’s world - at age fourteen in 1905 - was indeed expanding.  There had been a railway for decades, and motorcars were making an appearance, even in his small, landlocked market town. 

He took a family trip to Blackpool where a sailor saved his mother from a stampede in a theatre. Based on this experience, plus two gold medals in swimming at his school, plus an offhand suggestion from his father, Harry took the decision to try a career at sea.

So in 1906, he found himself in La Pallice in La Rochelle, France on the Bay of Biscay, being apprenticed on the Osborne, which was a four-masted barque. 
A drawing of the Osborne from Harry Grattidge's collection
Many merchant ships in 1906 were still sailing ships.

As the lowliest of the low - a brand-new apprentice -  the first order fifteen-year-old Harry received was to clean the “fo’c’s’le head”. 

Harry Grattidge was a son of a Stafford brewer and innkeeper. He didn’t know what a “fo’c’s’le head” was.

Neither did I. 

I had to look it up. 

It’s the toilet in the very front of the ship and I couldn’t find any illustrations – for which you’re probably all very thankful.  Ships like the Osborne didn’t have running water, so it was essential to clear out the --- evacuating hole with a kind of metal stick called the Golden Reach.  In some ships, this involved hanging over the side in a sling, dangling several yards above the heaving water.  Harry soon had numb, chapped hands, but he figured this was the worst.

Not really.

Apprentices were routinely slapped and kicked, in the name of discipline.  Harry, as the youngest, was mercilessly bullied by the other apprentices. He soon developed boils, and a host of other unpleasant things, due to the dirt and the kinds of food they had to eat.  Being British sailors, they drank lime-juice to ward off scurvy from lack of fruit and vegetables.  Being a sailing ship, they were sometimes becalmed and often tempest-tost.

Over about four years, Harry became accustomed to this life.  About 1910, he started sailing on steamships, eventually saved enough to take his exams, and obtained his Master’s certificate in early1914 at age 23.  He joined the Cunard Line and stayed with them for the next forty years.

One of his first Cunard ships was the Carpathia where he was Fourth Officer.
RMS Carpathia

Remember her?  In 1914, she was still chiefly famous for being the ship that rescued the Titanic survivors from the drifting lifeboats.

In Captain of the Queens, Harry only mentions the Titanic once, and it’s in relation to a contemporary story about the musicians on the Cunard ship Saxonia, who went on strike and then gave up when the captain withheld their food.  The captain decided to punish them further by only letting them go back to work if they first played “Nearer, My God, To Thee”.

Harry explains why this was so harsh:  Most ship’s musicians believed the report that the gallant musicians on the Titanic had played this tune as she sank as fervently as hardened seamen disbelieved it. (p. 67)

I’d tell you where I stand on this question, but this presentation is not about the Titanic. (Did I mention that?)

Instead, I’m going to tell one of the strangest and most questionable stories in the book.
The Austro-Hungarian Empire and Serbia, as they were in June 1914


In June 1914, the Carpathia was steaming out of the port of Trieste, which, as you may see from this lovely, uncluttered, and slightly fuzzy map, was then in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 

Among the passengers boarding at Trieste were three scruffy men in trenchcoats. 

The Carpathia next anchored off the port of Fiume, which is now called Rijeka, and is in modern-day Croatia.

Harry was told that these three passengers were insistent on being taken ashore, and he was directed to take a rowboat and small crew, and get the passengers out of the captain’s hair.  He put them ashore in the middle of the night. 

A few days later, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo,  and the crew of the Carpathia recognized the pictures of the assassins in the papers.
A photo taken in Belgrade, Serbia in May 1914

So, was my cousin Harry indirectly responsible for the assassination that is widely regarded at the triggering event of the First World War?

Well, it’s a good story.  Legendary, I’d say.

Harry said, in Captain of the Queens:  “I had ferried them as close as might be to the scene of their crime.” (p. 69)

Really?   

Look at Sarajevo. 

The photo I showed you of Grabež, Čabrinović and Princip – Princip was the fellow who did the actual shooting – was taken in Serbia a few weeks before the assassination. 

Serbia is much closer to Sarajevo than Fiume, which is nearly 300 miles away.  And as it turns out, the trio's movements are documented, and they did indeed cross the border from Serbia on June 1st , 1914.  It was Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie who departed from Trieste on a dreadnought June 23rd, on their way from Vienna to Sarajevo.

But it’s a good story.  It's also a good idea to check a map.

When the war was declared, Harry Grattidge was still on the Carpathia, and wrote to his brother Bernard:  “For heaven’s sake, don’t let it end until I get there.” (p. 73) He mentions his brother’s name about three times in his biography, all in passing.  This was the last time he mentioned it.

The war did wait for Harry, and he got more than enough of it.  He joined the Royal Naval Reserves, eventually became a Lieutenant, and spent a chunk of the war ferrying soldiers (in a requisitioned English Channel ferry) across the Dardanelles to a place called the Gallipoli peninsula.  You may have heard of it.  He saw some dreadful things.

Back home, brother Bernard also got more than enough of the war.

Bernard George Grattidge shows up in the World War One memorial lists, usually with “Theatre of War: Home” beside his name.  I thought perhaps he’d died in a training accident or while driving a vehicle.  Last summer, my faithful cousin Peter in Derby emailed me.  He’d found Bernard’s inquest in the British Newspaper Archives.
Excerpts from the article on the inquest

This is one reason why it’s necessary to return to resources again and again, especially the newspaper archives, because they are always being updated.  I learned that Bernard had been to the front, become shell-shocked, then was discharged from the army, and placed on the reserve.  The news report supplies the details of his suicide, and of his note to his mother Nellie.  The report also mentioned that most people at the inquest knew Bernard.  Stafford is a small town, even today.

When I returned to the newspaper archives myself, I found a description of Bernard’s military funeral – he was after all, in the reserve when he died.  No female mourners are mentioned – Nellie and Clarice presumably did not march behind the coffin – but Harry was there, along with his father and Uncle Daniel, who was by now a wealthy man and quite prominent in Stafford.  At least one of the two Stokes mourners named is one of my grandmother’s four maternal uncles; the other may also be an uncle with a case of mistaken initials.
The Staffordshire Advertiser - 3 February 1917

None of this is mentioned in Harry’s biography.  Family historians tend to find out the sort of stuff that doesn’t get into biographies. 

No wonder we’re so popular.

Harry did get torpedoed towards the end of the war, but survived it – it’s another great story, but we don’t have the time!  

I also don't have the time to recount a rather convoluted story about a Greek lady who was a regular passenger on the Carpathia just prior to the Great War.  Her charming manners endeared her to Harry and his fellow officers.

Harry was well into the war when he learned the lady was married to a German official, and had smuggled maps and plans which compromised the safety of a number of places, including Esquimalt, British Columbia.  I was startled to read this, because I lived in Esquimalt, now a municipality of Greater Victoria, for several years.  I find, the longer one researches family history, the more of these crazy coincidences turn up.

Harry returned to the Merchant Navy as Third Officer on the Mauretania after the war.  His captain was one Sir Arthur Rostron – the “Sir” on account of having saved the Titanic survivors while Captain of the Carpathia in 1912.  Harry doesn’t mention this.

His biography, like this presentation, isn’t about the Titanic.

His biography also doesn’t mention his marriage in 1917 – four months after his brother’s funeral. Nor does it mention his wife nor his son.  One of my cousins on the Grattidge Rootsweb list found this information in Harry’s Who’s Who entry, which also mentions that his marriage was dissolved about 1921.

Harry spent most of the twenties on the Mauretania (where he was Third Officer) and the Laconia (where he was Junior First Officer),  He encountered a lot of famous passengers, not many of whom are that famous today. 
He seems to have become quite chummy with songwriter Ivor Novello.  How many people nowadays recognize that name?  If you’ve ever sung “Keep the Homefires Burning”, visited the theatres in West End London, or seen the film Gosford Park, you should.

Harry Grattidge eventually moved up to Senior First Officer on the Berengaria.  Harry talks of ships as if they were people, and it’s clear he didn’t like the Berengaria, although it’s never quite clear why!  I gather he thought she was too “Teutonic”.

One night, when the ship was docked in Southampton and almost completely deserted, he stumbled upon the Prince of Wales leading a jazz orchestra in the Berengaria’s empty ballroom.

“It was very convenient, of course,” the Prince told him, apologetically.  “And I thought we shouldn’t be disturbed.” (p. 134)

The thirties hit the British Merchant Marine hard and Harry Grattidge found himself living a strange sort of hand-to-mouth existence, living on the luxury liners that crossed the Atlantic.  When a ship was docked at New York (usually for five days) and at Southampton (usually for six days), he had to buy his own food, and sometimes the money ran out, and he would have to supplement his diet from whatever he could scrounge from the leavings in the ship’s buffet. 

There was no home in Stafford now; with the retirement of his father in 1927, the Castle Inn finally passed out of the hands of the Grattidge family.  Harry’s mother Nellie died in 1929; he does mention that – in passing.

Harry doesn’t mention that he got substantial financial relief in early 1939.  His uncle Daniel Grattidge, the one who had given up running the Castle Inn in favour of making pots of money through a colliery, had died - decades after his wife and only child – and we family researchers know what that means:  a lovely will, detailing all his relatives. 
The Staffordshire Advertiser - 22 April 1939

One of the beneficiaries was Daniel’s niece and Harry’s first cousin Clara Elizabeth Griffiths née Stokes, my great-grandmother, who, along with her five surviving siblings, got a small but undoubtedly welcome legacy.  Unfortunately, she accidentally stepped out in front of an army truck in Wolverhampton two years later, got put in traction for several months, then died of pneumonia.

Harry got 3000 pounds.  A conservative estimate of the value in today’s money is 160,000 pounds, which is something like 270,000 Canadian dollars.  Even with an ex-wife and teenaged son, it must have helped.

When the Second World War was declared in September 1939, Harry Grattidge was cruising in the West Indies on a ship called the Lancastria.

He was now Chief Officer – not Captain, I’ve seen that mistake on more than one web site. 

1940 was a depressing year for the Allied Forces.  In May, the Lancastria was rescuing troops from Norway at about the same time that an armada of ships and boats of every size were evacuating soldiers from Dunkirk, France.  One of the smaller boats heading for Dunkirk was that of Charles H. Lightoller, the former Second Officer of the Titanic.

However, this story isn't about the Titanic, nor is it about Dunkirk.

When the Lancastria returned to Plymouth, she was sent off almost immediately to St Nazaire.
Google Maps - Latitude 47.09N; Longitude 2.20W

I know exactly where they were because the coordinates are entered in the history web sites and in Harry’s book.  This is never a good sign. The last time I did a presentation for BIFHSGO, I mentioned that you can enter coordinates into the search field at Google Maps.

Position of the Lancastria on 17 June 1940

St Nazaire was choked with retreating Allied troops and refugees. 

The capacity of the Lancastria was 3000 people, but there were special orders that day:  to take as many troops as possible without regard to the limits laid down by International Law.

Harry Grattidge estimates that there were about 5000 people aboard, soldiers, nuns, families, unaccompanied children, mostly below decks. Other estimates go as high as 8000.

Four bombs hit the Lancastria at 3:45 in the afternoon. 

Harry Grattidge was the one with the megaphone, passing on Captain Rudolph Sharpe’s orders:  “Clear away the boats now…your attention please….clear away the boats.” (p. 155)

There was little time, and not enough people knew how to lower the boats, anyway.  The ship began to list, and Harry ordered everyone to the port side, to buy more time.  Finally:  “Everybody off with their boots.” Some stripped altogether.

Harry gave the one life-belt on the bridge to Captain Sharp, who was not a good swimmer.

Harry was a good swimmer. 

I’ve done my best to lighten and define this picture, snapped from a neighbouring boat.  Can you see the heads in the water, and the scores of people standing on the side of the Lancastria?  There were many people trapped inside.

Just before the Lancastria disappeared, about twenty minutes after being hit – some reports say ten minutes - Harry walked off the bridge into the ocean, which was slick with oil.  He said it was like cold, black syrup. (p. 157)

After swimming for more than half an hour, while the German planes strafed the water, he was picked up by a tugboat and spent the rest of the day helping ferry the wounded from the tugs to the troop ship Oronsay, which, if you can believe it, was still picking up troops and refugees from St Nazaire whenever there was a break in the gunfire.

Harry saw some ghastly things.

When it was all over, and he was taking the train from Plymouth to London, the stench of the oil still remaining in his hair drove many of his fellow passengers away from him.

Afterwards, he would always be a little deaf, with a reduced sense of smell.  The other symptoms, however, of nightmares, flashbacks and depression are all too familiar to us nowadays.
A postcard of the RMS Scythia

Some months later, he was on one of several transatlantic runs, which involved transporting as many planes as possible, while he also circulated amongst the passengers to distract them from the very real possibility of being torpedoed. 

This was how Grattidge encountered the famous author H.G. Wells on the deck of the RMS Scythia.  The conversation involved H.G. Wells’ coming to terms with the death of his first wife and fellow writer Catherine Wells, and how George Bernard Shaw helped Wells see her “in the spirit of the flames” at her cremation. 

Somehow, after the loss of the Lancastria, Harry found in this idea a sort of lifeline, and, he says, was able to move beyond the pain.

For me, the spooky part of this incident was the ship they were on.  The Scythia did get torpedoed a year or two later, in 1942, but was salvaged.  In 1956, she brought my father to Canada.  I was born the following year.

The OBEs for the officers of the Lancastria were announced in October 1940, four months after the sinking, but Harry did not receive his until January 1943.  By that time, Rudolph Sharp, the former captain of the Lancastria, was dead.  He had gone down with the Laconia, another horrible sinking, in 1942.

I don’t know if you can see, but four of the Lancastria commendations in 1940 were posthumous.

Harry got his OBE at Buckingham Palace from George VI himself, and held up the line of honourees when the king asked him why it had taken so long for Grattidge to get his award.

Harry explained that he had been serving on the Queen Mary, and the King wanted details:  I can pass it on to my mother; she’ll be thrilled. (p. 176)

George’s mother is, of course, the Queen Mary for whom the ship was named.  (And yes, there’s a legendary story about that which I don’t have time to tell you.) 

Harry was trying to give a quick reply, aware of a long line-up behind him, when the King asked him how many miles he had covered in the Queen Mary.  Harry had the answer, because he had happened to ask the navigator of the Queen Mary the same question, just before leaving the ship, so he said:  Two hundred and fifteen thousand three hundred and sixty miles, sir. When the official party roared with laughter, he realized they thought he was just saying a number off the top of his head.

Two years before, Grattidge had joined the Queen Mary as Staff Captain.  Now, a Staff Captain is not the Captain.  Grattidge’s job was to be a link between the military and the ship, as well as be responsible for drills, working conditions and crew discipline.  It’s a big job and the Queen Mary was a big ship, the biggest Grattidge had yet encountered.  When he asked the Staff Captain he was replacing for a tour, it took four hours.


The Queen Mary had been requisitioned for the war to transport troops because she was very large and very fast. This was a necessity because she had to tear across the ocean, while zigzagging to fox predatory submarines.  This was how she came to slice the British cruiser Curacao in half. 

The Curacao was part of the Queen Mary’s escort as she approached Ireland on October 2nd, 1942, but she had come too close to the Queen Mary’s zig or zag. At twenty-eight knots (and the Queen Mary could go as fast as nearly 32 knots), that bow was like a knife cutting through butter.  

337 of the crew on the Curacao died.

Among Harry Grattidge’s challenges on the Queen Mary was making it physically possible for the ship to carry 15,000 troops per trip without tipping in the more shallow waters near the ports.  Each soldier had a place to stand perfectly still until the Queen Mary was in deep enough water.  They didn’t fail – not once.
Using every available space on the Queen Mary

Miraculously, they found places for all those men to sleep, but the Queen Mary’s swimming pool had to go.

After leaving the Queen Mary, and after receiving that delayed OBE in January 1943, Harry Grattidge finally became Captain Grattidge.

Two months later, Harry’s father George died in Stafford, but Harry, of course, doesn’t mention this.

In February 1945, Harry was in charge of the Franconia when the ship went through the Black Sea to serve as British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s headquartersfor the Yalta Conference.

From a distance, Grattidge glimpsed Josef Stalin and Franklin Delano Roosevelt – FDR looked very ill indeed; he was to die a couple of months later.

However, he experienced Winston Churchill up close and personally – and at all hours.  Churchill had an erratic pattern of sleeping and eating, and the crew on the Franconia, some imported from the Queen Mary for added comfort, scrambled to accommodate.

When it was time for Churchill to depart the ship, en route to a speech in Athens, he addressed the crew over the P.A., and even he had trouble with the name “Grattidge”:

 Captain Graft – hmn – Captain Graff – Oh, Hell – Officers and crew… (p. 194)

After the address, he presented Harry with Russian vodka – Churchill didn’t care for vodka – and told Harry to put the gifts of caviar and cigars acquired from the Soviet government through Customs for him.

Three years later, Harry was still getting duty notices.  When he wrote to Churchill about the problem, Churchill sent his compliments, asked after his health, and said he had no intention of paying the duty.  Now, if Grattidge were fool enough to pay, of course….

Harry Grattidge returned to the great liners in peacetime, captaining the Mauretania, the Aquitania, and the Queen Elizabeth, among others. 

In 1948, the one remaining member of his original family died, his sister Clarice at age 54.  The youngest of her nine children was 16.  Harry doesn’t mention any of this.


RMS Queen Mary – 1952 photo by Erick Bjerke Senior
On New Year’s Day 1949, he became Captain of his beloved Queen Mary.  I’ve said that he spoke of the ships as if they were sentient beings, and it’s clear that he was head over heels about the Queen Mary

I guess you always hurt the one you love, because he grounded her at Cherbourg, France – on his very first day as her Captain.

It wasn’t his fault, really.  The harbour at Cherbourg was still a bit choked with submerged WW2 ship-wrecks, there was a seven force gale at the time, and a tangle of anchors and cables. 

However, he was the Captain,  and the ship was his responsibility.  He managed to get the Queen Mary back to Southampton with relatively little damage, and set off for New York into a lustrous career.
Top row:  Bob Hope, Walt Disney, Lord Mountbatten, Lana Turner, Charlie Chaplin
Bottom row:  Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Dorothy Lamour, Spencer Tracy, Rex Harrison

The last chapters of his biography detail the challenges of being Captain of a boat that attracted the wealthy, the glamorous and the influential – many of whom wanted the honour of a seat at the Captain’s table.

While I recognized quite of few of Harry's famous passengers, many more were those well-known to readers sixty years ago.

When he became Commodore of the Fleet in October 1952, Grattidge was required to captain the Queen Elizabeth.  “To me, as a seaman,” he said, “(the Queen Mary) was a great ship, the Elizabeth was a great hotel.” (p. 289)
2 June 1953

As Commodore Grattidge, he attended the coronation of another Queen Elizabeth, six months before his retirement.

He was probably seated quite far back at Westminster Abbey, but for most of his 40-year career with Cunard, he had had, if not a front-row seat, a damn close view of many hallmark events of the first half of the twentieth century: India’s independence from the British Empire, when, as Captain of the Georgic,  he was present for Lord Louis Mountbatten's address as the last Viceroy of India to the departing British troops on 15 August 1947the Yalta conference of February 1945 that decided the future of post-war Europe; the sinking of the Lancastria on 17 June 1940; and the Dardanelles Campaign from 1915-1916.

 When he docked the Queen Elizabeth for the last time on December 21st, 1953, he foresaw a life of more obscurity and much less excitement, which might have come to pass had he not participated in the writing of a well-received biography, resulting in speaking tours in the States.

Harry Grattidge on the set of the film A Night to Remember with actor Kenneth More (in costume as Second Officer Charles H. Lightoller) and Joseph Boxhall, who was Fourth Officer on the Titanic.

Oh yes, and served as a consultant on a classic film about the Titanic. 

Back in November 2004, when I was seeing his name for the first time, I idly wondered why he’d been asked.  I supposed, vaguely, that he knew a lot about ships.

Well, yes.

He’d captained the Aquitania, which was roughly the same tonnage as the Titanic and looked spookily like her, and the two largest liners of the mid-twentieth-century.  He’d even grounded one of them, and understood how much could go wrong with a big ship.



He knew about having a passenger list of the rich, famous, and/or influential.

He once stepped from the bridge of a sinking liner as she vanished beneath the waves.

And he survived the worst maritime disaster in British history.

I'd say he was spectacularly qualified to consult on a film about the Titanic.


I said there were two OBE’s in my own branch of the Grattidges, leading down from my great-great-great-great-great-grandparents William Grattidge and his wife Elizabeth Newham in Foston, Derbyshire, through their third surviving son, and my ancestor, John Grattidge.

One Order of the British Empire went to Harry Grattidge, of course.  The other was awarded in 1978, to the son he rarely saw.

A year later, Harry Grattidge died in Wexham, Buckinghamshire, at the age of 78 --- 25 years before I learned of his existence.

I’m so glad I finally heard of him.  He led me into one of the first of the many great genealogical adventures I’ve had over the past dozen years.

I feel so grateful to those distant Grattidge cousins for being such wonderful and gentle tutors.

And I’m grateful to you, for being such wonderful and gentle listeners.