Tag Archives: WW1

A Literary Launch





At the beginning of the new season the Museum hosted the successful launch of Battling Onwards: The Brixham Fishing Fleet 1914-1918 by Samantha Little, Writer in Residence.

The book, written as part of the Museum’s Great War centenary commemorations and based on memoirs from the Museum’s archive with contemporary newspaper accounts, provides a fascinating and fast-moving narrative of life at sea and the constant danger to the fishery from German submarines, mines in the trawl and many other hazards.


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The Museum was delighted to welcome Torbay’s Mayor, Gordon Oliver, a keen supporter of the Museum, along with Dr James Wallis, Associate Research Fellow at Exeter University; Katie Findlay from the Devon Remembers Heritage Project; Nigel Hyman, Curator of Sidmouth Museum with his wife, Aileen; Heather Roche, Deputy Curator of Teign Heritage  Centre and her colleague, Lou Bagnold.


IMG_5706 BO Mayor and SL


Samantha and her husband, Edwin Day, were also delighted to welcome family members, friends and many of the Museum’s volunteers and supporters. The Museum’s Fundraising Team provided a wonderful vintage tea with home-made cakes to rival those of Mary Berry, which greatly enhanced the book signing, socialising and general enjoyment of the occasion!

Angela Morgan, one of the Museum’s longest-serving volunteers, presented a huge bouquet of flowers to Samantha, who was also celebrating a milestone birthday!

John Risdon, local historian, author and President of the Museum, who wrote the introduction to Battling Onwards, talked about the importance of the Museum to the local community and beyond and introduced Samantha, who thanked everyone for attending and supporting her writing career. She also thanked the Mayor for his support of the Museum, including having provided a grant from the Mayor’s Fund – half the annual salary of the Mayor which is distributed to charities and communities throughout Torbay. She then spoke in depth about the Great War and signed numerous copies of Battling Onwards, which sold extremely well. The Mayor also spoke, commending the ‘impressive’ Museum on the hard work of its staff and volunteers. His attendance at the event despite a very busy diary was particularly appreciated.


8221.1_BM 161 Valerian Crew



is available from Brixham Heritage Museum and at a cost of £3.50 (plus p&p)

ISBN: 978-0-9545459-8-7

Brixham’s Untold Stories of the Great War – the birth of a new display





Visitors are often unaware of all the hard work and planning that is required to set up a new display in the museum – much of it done by our team of dedicated volunteers.

Louise Cresswell has written this short piece to give a flavour of what goes on behind the scenes before a new display can be unveiled…

Brixham’s Untold Stories of the Great War

“The idea to refurbish the existing WWI display began with our plans to commemorate the Great War. These plans developed as we uncovered new information, photos and artefacts, and we soon realized that the existing display area was not a sufficient space to house the new panels. We decided to use the space in the first corridor as we already had plans to tidy up this area, which had previously contained a rather random collection of photos of the town.”




“Christopher Macauly, our display curator, suggested the theme of “Brixham’s Untold Stories of the Great War” as we needed the display to be not only a commemoration of those who had died or served, but also an engaging display for visitors who don’t have a Brixham connection. The display also needed to reflect the different theatres of war served in and to represent the different services.”

“The research was primarily based on our archive, particularly the Brixham Western Guardian newspapers. We focused our research on the stories we wanted to tell in the panels. For example, we wanted to include a story about the Tank Corps. We found a brief mention of Captain Hawthorn from Brixham receiving an award for his service with the Tank Corps. From that, I was able to trace his family through Ancestry and with the assistance from the Bovington Tank Museum, we managed to piece together an interesting story of his experience in World War 1, discovering that he recovered the first German Tank and brought it back to the British line. The research for each individual story took a number of weeks and we had too many to fit them all in.”

“The research and design of panels are done by me and Christopher. He makes them print ready and sends them to to the printers. Christopher’s role as volunteer ensures that any budget we have is only needed for the final print cost.  This World War 1 project comes from the joint project with the library, which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. If we had to pay a designer to design and lay out the panels there is no way we could afford to do them.”



Brixham in the Great War



As a joint venture to commemorate “Brixham in the Great War”, Brixham Heritage Museum, in conjunction with the Friends of Brixham Library and S. Devon Players, has been awarded a Heritage Lottery Grant.

This will enable the museum to collate and interpret the archive information already held and present this to the public in the form of pamphlets, teachers’ packs, and an updated World War 1 display. In addition we will compile an edited copy of a diary written by a Brixham sailor named Lawrence Lake, in which hand painted pictures depict boats and places which he saw during his WW1 service.

In order to complete these projects, Brixham Heritage Museum would like to appeal to the people of Brixham for any photographs (which could be scanned and returned), family stories of life during that time, or donation of artefacts.


As an example of a local family’s contribution to the project, we include a photograph of Percy John Johnson, a local butcher, who served in the Coldstream Guards during World War I, together with a photograph of his service medals.

Please contact the Museum on 01803 856267 or email mail@brixhamheritage.org.uk

A gallant rescue in a heavy gale


A lengthy extract from a contemporary account of the sinking of H.M.S. Formidable in 1915 and the subsequent rescue of survivors by the Brixham trawler ‘Provident’…



Extract from the ‘Brixham Western Guardian’ 7th January 1915

It was officially announced that the battleship Formidable was sunk on Friday morning in the Channel, whether by mine or submarine was not certain. The Formidable was a twin screw battleship of the pre-Dreadnought class, of which there were eight in the Navy. She was 420 feet long, 75 feet beam, of 15,000 horse power, had a speed of 18 knots, and carried a complement of 760 men.

As far as could be ascertained the disaster to the Formidable occurred out of sight of land. The weather became very tempestuous and the waves were running high. At one moment the moon would be shining brightly; at the next dark clouds hid her light. there was no sign of the lurking enemy and it was not considered probable that there were mines so far down the Channel. Without the slightest warning however, there was an explosion on the starboard side of the Formidable, in such a spot that she was not only disabled but narrowly escaped the fate of her sistership, the Bulwark, the remarkable disaster to which had been witnessed by many of her crew. The ship took a list to starboard, but there was no panic. Officers and men manifested great coolness, boats,barges and woodwork were at once got over the starboard side, one of the barges being capsized and the occupants thrown into the raging sea.

It was not until a second explosion occurred on the port side of the battleship that it became evident that it was a case of every man for himself and that a great disaster was inevitable. Distress signals were sent up and it was more than an hour before the Formidable turned turtle and disappeared. Before that however, the other battleships had followed the instructions of the Admiralty following the North Sea disaster, and got clear away from the fatal spot.


After being in their open cutter for nearly 12 hours, two officers and 70 men of the battleship were rescued by the Brixham fishing smack Provident some 15 miles from Berry Head. When taken on board the trawler they were accomodated in the engine-room, cabin and fish-hold, but such a number was a big tax on the carrying capacity of the boat. They were in a pretty bad way for they were less than half-clad, indeed some of them were not covered by a shilling’s worth of Navy clothing, but remarkably cheerful despite their experiences. During the night it rained, hailed and blew, and they were very fortunate to reach safety, for every two or three minutes the cutter was washed by the waves, and it was only men with a superb constitution who would have come through such a terrible ordeal. “Quite sixty out of the seventy men took off their boots and used them as balers,” said one survivor. “We were baling all the time, and managed to keep the water under. We worked with a will, though we were very glad when the Provident, after grand seamanship, saved us all.”


The needs of the men were attended to on board the smack. All the Provident’s stock of food was fairly divided and all the cigarettes and tobacco the men possessed was used. Hot coffee was continuously made by little Dan Taylor, the cook, who was quite a hero. On nearing Brixham, the Provident fell in with the tug Dencade,which towed her in, and she was berthed at the pier. The rescued men who were in a pitiable condition gave a hearty British cheer – the like of which only British tars could give – and sang “Auld Lang Syne,” and then in batches of four and five wrapped in blankets, they were taken, by waiting cabs, to the Bolton Hotel, the Globe, the Cafe, the Sailors’ Institute and Doidge’s, these being the distributing centres. Here the men were provided with hot food and warm clothing and either went to bed at these places or went into private houses which were thrown open to them.


William Pillar, owner and skipper of the trawler is quite a young married man, not much over 30 years of age and all the crew are young men. It appears that about 9 o’clock on Friday morning the Provident was racing through mountainous seas of the Channel before a south-west gale with the hope of making Brixham Harbour. The foam-capped waves were running mountains high, but the sturdy little craft was handled with fine seamanship for which Brixham is famed.
Off the Start the trawler had to heave-to owing to the force of the wind, and just at that moment the vessel was struck with a particularly heavy sea. She had been running rigged with a reefed mainsail, a reefed foresail, and no jib.


Hardly had the decision to heave-to been arrived at when the third hand, John Clarke, noticed a boat being tossed about like a cork on the waves some little distance off. He shouted to the captain and the mate to jump up, saying, “Here’s a sight under our lee!” They were amazed to see a small open boat drifting amid the mountainous seas, with a boat hook hoisted as a staff, from which was flying a sailor’s black scarf. One moment the boat would appear on the crest of a wave high up, and then it would be lost to sight for several minutes. With hardly a though of the collossal risk the captain and crew at once set about rescuing the men in the boat. After a great struggle they managed to haul down the second reef of the mainsail and set the storm jib. The cutter, which had been riding at a sea-anchor rigged by the men, drifted towards the Provident, but in the mountainous seas they missed each other, and the naval boat passed out of sight of the men on the smack. For the moment they thought she was lost.


Clarke climbed the rigging, and presently discovered the cutter making heavy weather of it just to leeward. Captain Pillar gybed his vessel a very dangerous undertaking in such weather since the mast was liable to give way. Four times did the gallant smacksmen seek to get a rope to the cutter. Each effort was more difficult than the last, and it was only after between two and three hours’ hard fight with the seas and after four attempts, that the Provident obtained a good berth on the port tack, and a small warp was thrown and caught by the naval men. When made fast, the warp was coiled around the Provident’s steam capstan, and with great skill the cutter was hauled to a good berth astern. Then the warp was passed around the lee side, and the cutter was drawn up under the lee quarter.


The bluejackets at once commenced jumping from the boat to the smack, and although this was a hazardous task, in the heavy seas that were running 30 feet high, they accomplished it successfully in true navy fashion. All were rescued by one o’clock and a course was then shaped for Brixham.