THE story of eight heroes from Hartlepool is being re-lived as part of a new project.
The sinking of a tug called Stranton in 1915 makes up part of the new Heroism & Heartbreak project which was being launched today at the Central Library in York Road.
But there’s still plenty of time for people to play their part in the new venture which encourages people to come forward with memorabilia of the First World War at sea.
Project manager Gary Green would love to see anyone who has photographs, letters or diaries of a relative who served at sea during the First World War.
To help people get involved, Gary has shared some dramatic images of ships which are already part of an archive collection.
They include the damaged ship Firfield which was attacked during the Bombardment of Hartlepool.
They also include dramatic images of a German U-boat crew and some of the images it took while it was in service.
And on top of all that, Gary has also shared one Hartlepool story of bravery and tragedy which happened exactly 100 years ago today.
It centres on the Stranton which was built at South Shields by J.P. Rennoldson in 1899 for the North East Railway and was based at Hartlepool.
At the outbreak of the First World War, the Stranton and five other NER tugs were requisitioned by the Admiralty and taken over for war work.
She was renamed and became HMS Char, entering Royal Navy service on November 17.
Gary said: “The eight-man crew volunteered to stay with their ship and were duly enrolled in the Mercantile Marine Reserve, being given equivalent Royal Navy rankings. A further nine Royal Navy men made up the rest of the crew.
“She was classed as an unarmed boarding vessel and was based at Ramsgate on the east coast as part of the Downs Boarding Flotilla.”
Her task was to check all vessels passing through a stretch of water between the Goodwin Sands and the Kent Coast.
But tragically, her naval service was very short, as Gary explained.
“In the early hours of Saturday, January 16, 1915 while on patrol in the Downs in very stormy weather, she approached a ship in distress, the Belgian steamer Frivan.
“While standing-off to assess the situation, a large sea drove her against Frivan’s bow.
“Holed below the waterline, HMS Char immediately began to sink. In the gale force winds and huge seas the Belgian crew could do little to help, and HMS Char drifted away in the dark.”
In response to distress rockets sent up by the Frivan, the Deal lifeboat was launched, but after searching for several hours in atrocious conditions, was unable to find the tug or any of her 17-man crew, including eight from Hartlepool.
The eight Hartlepool men lost were:
E. Booth, Fireman (formerly Deck Hand)
W. Booth, Artificer (formerly Engineer)
R. Fergus, Petty Officer (formerly Mate)
M. Hastings, Able Seaman (formerly Deck Hand)
W. Hatch, Fireman (same role as in NER service)
J. E. Hunter, Fireman (same role as in NER service)
G. Nossiter, Artificer (formerly Second Engineer)
J. P. Whale, Lieutenant (Captain in command of HMS Char, formerly Master)
The tragic story of HMS Char is one of the Heroism & Heartbreak Project’s “talking history” features, which can be accessed through the Hartlepool History Then & Now website at www.hhtandn.org.
Diane Marlborough, Hartlepool Council’s Reference and Information Manager, said library staff and project volunteers want to “help people discover more about their ancestor’s war record and to explore their own family history using existing local and national records. We are also very interested in the role of Hartlepool’s women during the First World War, particularly those who worked in the Hartlepool shipyards and Munitions Factory”
If you have any further information relating the crew of the Stranton - or you can help the project to build up its collection of images and other items from the First World War - get in touch by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org phoning (01429) 242909, or call in to Hartlepool Central Library.