Posted: 28th April 2021
Over 100 years ago, the First World War had a huge impact on Hull, its communities and its maritime economy. In no way could the city’s shipping function normally. Vessels faced attacks from submarines, torpedoes, gunfire, explosive mines, collisions and capture, and vast numbers of merchant seamen and fishermen from Hull lost their lives through enemy action. In an attempt to reduce attacks and keep shipping lanes and trade routes open, many of Hull’s trawlers were requisitioned by the Admiralty. Fishermen were recruited into the Royal Naval Reserve to undertake minesweeping duties and anti-submarine patrols. Both tasks were dangerous and trawlers were frequently destroyed in the conflict, along with some if not all of their crews.
Mines would explode on contact with a ship. Minesweeping operations therefore had to be undertaken with the utmost caution and precision. Trawlers were easily converted to minesweepers as they were built to tow fishing nets. In a similar way, they towed wires which swept up the mines so that they could be brought to the surface and detonated.
Many of Hull’s fishermen were thrown into the heat of the action. Not only were minesweepers operating close to home, but we have collections in the Maritime Museum that show they were operating in campaigns as far away as Turkey, which was Germany’s ally during the war.
Mines were such an effective enemy weapon that thousands still lay in the seas after the First World War. The Mine Clearance Service was immediately set up to sweep the remaining mines, not only in British waters but also in the Mediterranean where there were large areas of British and German mines to be cleared. Many of the men employed in this service had been engaged in minesweeping during the war. They were issued by the King with a special badge, which became known officially as “The King’s Badge”, to wear on their sleeve above the cuff. You can see the badge in this photograph. Made of silver, it shows a mine floating in the water, surrounded by a laurel wreath with the Imperial State Crown above.
Many people were issued with badges in recognition of services rendered for various reasons during the First World War, but we rarely stop to think about the personal stories behind each and every one of them. Many of the fishermen engaged in minesweeping did not expect to find themselves in the centre of maritime warfare, but their experience in dealing with the dangers of fishing in extreme weather conditions was seen to equip them with the ideal attributes to undertake such a perilous task. Hull’s fishermen were part of a workforce that made an incredible contribution to the war effort. We do not know who this particular badge belonged to, but we can gain some sense of the hazards they faced in doing their duty alongside their fellow comrades.
Written by Assistant Curator Susan Capes.
Tell Us What You Think
We’d love to know what you thought about our From the Stores blogs. Your responses will help inform our decision-making around programming of future works, both digital and in-person. Please help by completing our short survey Click here to Complete Survey