DAY 65
Beverley Moore

Safe on shore

100 days
100 lives
100 words

The live bait squad, they’d called the patrol. Three knackered cruisers. 2,200 men. Lots of them coastguards, newly mobilised by those fools at the admiralty.

“The narrator is Robert Henry (Harry) Turner, my great-grandfather. From 1905 and throughout the First World War, Harry served as a coastguard signalman in Donegal.” Beverley Moore

Creating the Centena

In researching the information used here, I’ve visited Donegal, dug into family papers, and, of course, interrogated the internet.

The narrator is Robert Henry (Harry) Turner, my great-grandfather. From 1905 and throughout the First World War, Harry served as a coastguard signalman in Donegal. Handed-down memories and postcards place him at Malin Head Coastguard Station during much of that time. A photo showing Harry and colleagues outside the Buncrana coastguard cottages suggests he was also stationed in Buncrana at some point. (I’d thought the picture was taken at Malin Head. On visiting, I discovered this wasn’t the case).
Harry joined the navy in 1894, age 16. When the 12 years he’d signed up for ended, he was – according to family anecdote – ready to settle down in Portsmouth with his wife Gertie using the money he’d been sending home. But finding his parents had spent his savings on his sister, he had little choice but to re-enlist. Fortunately for Gertie, Harry had served long enough to request a shore posting. Though what she felt about moving (with baby) to the wilds of 1900s Donegal is not recorded. And as an English family in Ireland in the years preceding the Easter Rising, they may not have been warmly welcomed.

At first, Harry would have worked at the original Malin Head signal station, high on the cliffs at Ireland’s most northerly point. In 1913, the station moved to the slightly-less remote building that still houses the Malin Head Coast Guard Radio Service today.

Wireless telegraphy equipment had been installed at Malin Head in 1902, making it the world’s first coastguard radio station. Messages were sent via Morse Code, received as a series of buzzes. A dedicated wavelength meant any ship or land station could receive emergency messages and respond.

My great-grandfather Harry Turner (far right) and coastguard colleagues © Beverley Moore

When the war began, most UK coastguards were mobilised into the navy, many to a North Sea patrol of three obsolescent armoured cruisers, HMS Aboukir, Hogue, and Cressy. No match for modern German warships, the patrol was nick-named the ‘live bait squad’.
Beverley Moore

All three ships were sunk by a single U-boat on the morning of September 20th 2014. With over 1,450 lives lost, the disaster was – and still is – one of the worst in naval history.

I have no evidence Harry handled communications from the patrol. But if he was on watch that morning, he would certainly have been aware of the messages. And I’d be willing to bet he was no stranger to O’Grady’s – the former name (according to a local) of what is now the Sea View Tavern.

So though the story’s written as fiction, it might just be true.

The Turners returned home in 1919. Harry later captained a naval tug in the evacuation of Dunkirk.

Some research sources:

Coastguards of Yesteryear

National archives: coastguard history, live bait squadron

Loss of HMS Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue

Malin Head Coast Guard Radio

The last coastguard Morse messages

Titanic SOS signal

Inishowen Maritime Museum


About the writer

Beverley Moore

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With special thanks

Research for this centena was carried out with Inishowen Maritime Museum and Planetarium

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About 26

26 is a group of writers whose purpose is to inspire a greater love of words in business and in life.