Captain Charles Fryatt: 100 years since his execution

Today, 27 July 2016, marks exactly 100 years since the execution of Captain Charles Algernon Fryatt by the German army in Belgium. He was tried by a military court despite being a civilian, and his death sentence was carried out just two hours after his trial, provoking international condemnation.

Fryatt worked for the Great Eastern Railway (GER) Company, captaining steam ships which sailed between Harwich or Tilbury and Rotterdam in the Netherlands. The ships carried post, food supplies and sometimes refugees fleeing the continent. The ships continued to sail during the war, despite the dangers of enemy warships and submarines, blacked out coastlines and floating mines. Here we take a look at the story of Fryatt and the crew under his command as told through the pages of the GER magazine.

GER magazine Capt Fryatt

The cover of the September edition of the Great Eastern Railway company magazine focused on the execution of Capt Charles Fryatt

Fryatt lived in Harwich and had joined the GER continental service as a young man in 1892. By the outbreak of the First World War he was a captain, and between the beginning of the war and his capture he made 143 trips across the Channel. The GER ships faced dangerous journeys during the war years, and on more than one occasion were hassled by German submarines. It was a run-in with a German submarine that ultimately led to Fryatt’s capture and execution.

The GER magazine of September 1916 described an incident in which the s.s Wrexham, under Fryatt’s command, had been chased by a submarine:

On March 2nd, 1915, about noon, near the Schouwen Bank, the ‘Wrexham’, proceeding to Rotterdam, was chased for 40 miles by an enemy submarine. Deck hands assisted the firemen to get every ounce of speed, and the enemy’s signal to stop was ignored. They made sixteen knots out of a boat which could hardly be expected to do fourteen knots, and dodging shells and floating mines, as well as the submarine, Captain Fryatt got his boat safely into Dutch waters. She entered Rotterdam with funnels burnt and blistered, the crew black with coal-dust.

A couple of weeks later, on 28 March 1915, Fryatt had a second meeting with a submarine, this time while in charge of the s.s. Brussels. A German submarine was sighted nearby, and the Brussels being unable to outrun it, Fryatt took the decision to attempt to ram it. He ordered the engineers to get all possible speed from the ship, and steered it straight at the submarine, which was forced to dive. Fryatt and others in the GER service were awarded watches for their bravery, but the Germans had different thoughts on the matter.

On the night of 22/23 June 1916, the Brussels, under Fryatt’s command, left the Hook of Holland with a cargo of food and refugees. The ship never arrived in Harwich, and two days later reports reached England that the ship had been captured by the German navy and taken into Zeebrugge in Belgium, then under German control. When the stewardesses were later released their tale was recounted in the GER magazine of November 1916:

After the tiring work of providing for the refugees on board the “Brussels” they were resting, when at 1.30a.m., June 23rd, they noticed the stopping of the engines and heard noises on deck. Chief Steward Tovill said there was trouble and told them to get their life-jackets on. The ship was the prize of five torpedo boats and the Germans were on board. The captain had been hailed in English. For the sake of the women and children he sent no wireless message: if it had not been for them there is little doubt that the Germans would not have been able to take the ship whole.

 

During the journey to Zeebrugge and then Bruges, ‘the captors on the way enjoy[ed] a most hearty meal. They called for wine but fortunately, think the stewardesses, there was none on board. The stewardesses were kept busy for some five hours serving the Germans and comforting the unfortunate weeping refugees’.

GER Magazine 1916 Brussels crew

Photographs of some of the crew of s.s. Brussels in the Great Eastern Railway magazine

According to the GER magazine, when the Germans wondered at the calmness of the stewardesses and asked if they were not afraid of being shot, ‘“We are Englishwomen” was considered sufficient reply’.

The crew of 40 men and 5 stewardesses was taken to Bruges and locked up in the town hall, before being scattered to various prison camps. Eventually, postcards from the crew reached Harwich, saying they were well enough but in need of aid packages. Fryatt sent his wife a letter from Ruhleben on 1 July; it only reached her on 29 July, just after his death.

Fryatt and his second-in-command, William Hartnell, were interrogated for three weeks, and on 27 July 1916 were tried by a military court in Bruges. Fryatt was found guilty of attempting to ram submarine U33 on 28 March 1915 and was sentenced to death. The sentence was carried out just two hours later – Fryatt was tied to a post and shot, receiving 16 bullet wounds. His death left behind a widow and seven children, aged between 18 and 2.

GER magazine Fryatt family

Mrs Fryatt with her six daughters and one son

The execution of Charles Fryatt provoked a storm of protest in Britain, and was denounced in the strongest terms in Parliament and in the press. The September edition of the GER magazine, in one of its milder statements, said ‘one does not expect a European nation to murder its prisoners of war’.

In its report of Fryatt’s death on 4 August 1916, the Chelmsford Chronicle condemned the German decision to capture and execute him:

The murder by the Germans of Captain Fryatt, who  commanded the Great Eastern Railway Co.’s steamship Brussels, brings the fact of German frightfulness home to the country in general, and Essex in particular. The gallant captain’s offence, in German eyes, was that he, in self-defence, attempted to run down and sink and enemy submarine, which by all international law, to which Germany herself subscribed, he was perfectly entitled to do. There seems little doubt, however, that the Germans had planned some time ago to capture the Brussels and her intrepid commander, and when the opportunity came they appear to have lost no time in placing Capt. Fryatt on a trial of a sort and condemning him to death, a sentence which was carried out with feverish expedition, so that the crime they had decided to commit might not be interfered with by a neutral nation…Of course the whole Empire is crying out for vengeance.

Mrs Fryatt received telegrams of sympathy and support from several high profile people and organisations, including from Buckingham Palace:

Madam,

In the sorrow which has so cruelly stricken you, the King joins with his people in offering you his heartfelt sympathy.

Since the outbreak of the war, His Majesty has followed with admiration the splendid services of the Mercantile Marine.

The action of Captain Fryatt in defending his ship against the attack of an enemy submarine was a noble instance of the resource and self-reliance so characteristic of that profession.

It is, therefore, with feelings of the deepest indignation that the King learnt of your husband’s fate, and in conveying to you the expression of his condolence I am commanded to assure you of the abhorrence with which His Majesty regards this outrage.

At the time of Fryatt’s death, the rest of the crew were still in prison camps. From their initial imprisonment in Bruges the stewardesses were put on a cattle train to Ghent, then sent to Cologne, then a camp at Holzminden near Hanover, then finally deposited at the border with neutral Holland. The GER staff magazine of November 1916 reported:

It was indeed a pleasure and a relief to see again the released stewardesses of the s.s. “Brussels.” Mrs. Elwood, Miss Elwood, Mrs. Stalker, Mis Bobby and Miss Smith have passed through a most trying experience and have done so in a manner of which G.E.R. women can be proud.

GER magazine Brussels stewardesses

The stewardesses of s.s. Brussels while being kept prisoner

After the war, the government decided to repatriate Fryatt’s body, along with the remains of Edith Cavell and the Unknown Soldier. (We have written previously about the papers we have in our collection from Bruges relating to the release of his remains to the British.)

In July 1919, the coffin was exhumed from its grave in Bruges in the presence of Hartnell and Fryatt’s brother William. The Chelmsford Chronicle of 11 July gives a full account of the day of processions and funeral services marking the return and reburial of Fryatt’s remains. The coffin was transported from Antwerp on HMS Orpheus, and was received at Dover with full military honours. To the strains of Chopin’s Funeral March, the coffin was carried to Dover station, and from there taken to London for a funeral service at St Paul’s Cathedral. Music was provided at the service by the orchestra of the Great Eastern Railway Musical Society, and the coffin was placed under the great dome of the cathedral. After the service, the coffin and mourners proceeded to Liverpool Street, and from thence to Dovercourt, where crowds awaited the return of their local hero. At the reburial, the Bishop of Chelmsford said that Fryatt was one of the representatives of the ‘self-sacrificing spirit of the English people’ during the great war.

Next time you pass through Liverpool Street station, see if you can spot the memorial to Captain Fryatt, which today can be found near the exit onto Liverpool Street.

Latin in the Archives

It’s a scenario many of us can relate to. A catalogue entry looks promising for your research, but there is a note that it is in Latin. Our new Latin translation service at ERO may be able to help you – read on to find out more.

Latin was the official language for all legal documents up to the 18th century, including title deeds, Quarter Sessions, manorial and ecclesiastical records, and can also be found in wills, maps, letters and parish registers.

Latin documents can prove a tricky stumbling block in your research, but we can help by translating them for you

Latin documents can prove a tricky stumbling block in your research, but we can help by translating them for you

Latin was temporarily banished from legal records during the Interregnum of 1649-60. Finally, on 25 March 1733 it was enacted by an Act of Parliament (4 George II, c.26, 1731) that English should henceforth be used in all legal documents. The change to English, back to Latin, and then English forevermore can be seen in, for example, the Borough of Colchester’s Monday Court books. English replaced Latin from 21 April 1651, on 27 August 1660 Latin resumed again, but was abandoned in favour of English on 12 June 1733 (D/B5 Cb1/14, 16, 27).

Colchester Monday Court book - last Latin entry

In 1651, during the Interregnum, the Colchester Monday Court began recording its meetings in English rather than Latin. Here we see the last Latin entries made on 21 April 1651…

Colchester Monday Court book - first English entry

…and the first English entries on 21 April 1651 (D/B5 Cb1/14). When the monarchy was restored to the throne in 1660 the use of Latin resumed until English was adopted permanently in 1733.

It is commonly said that documentary Latin is easier to read than Classical Latin. Certainly the syntax (word order) is generally more akin to English and therefore simpler to follow. Moreover, as you would expect from legal documents, the information is set out in a standard way and formulaic phrases are used. Common phrases you might find in wills, for example, include  ‘compos mentis licet eger in corpore’ (of sound mind though sick in body); and ‘lego animam meam Deo omnipotenti, beate Marie virgini et omnibus sanctis eius’ (I leave my soul to God Almighty, to the Blessed Virgin Mary and all His Saints).

Latin will of John Cotelere

A Latin will dating from 1449, belonging to John Cotelere, who left his property to his wife Sara and daughter Agnes (D/Dba T3/2)

English words were often used where there wasn’t a satisfactory Latin equivalent. In a late 13th century grant of land in Little Waltham there appears the words ‘sterlingorum’ (of silver pennies). The word may derive from the Anglo-Saxon ‘steorra’ (star) which was often depicted on the pennies. The English word ‘croft’ which was Latinized into ‘croftam’ is also used in this deed (D/P 220/25/1).

The third word on the fourth line down is 'croftam', a Latinised version of the English word 'croft'. You can see the shape of an 'a' at the end of the word, and the downward stroke joined to it is a contraction to indicate an 'm'

The third word on the fourth line down is ‘croftam’, a Latinised version of the English word ‘croft’. You can see the shape of an ‘a’ at the end of the word, and the downward stroke joined to it is a contraction to indicate an ‘m’

However, even with a familiarity with Latin grammar, many documents can still be very tricky. Ecclesiastical documents, especially those produced by the papal see, may have complex sentence structures and obscure vocabulary. Many words are abbreviated, either by superscript marks or letters (to save time and space on a manuscript). This was a system of standard abbreviations and rules so, once the scribe knew the rules, he could easily read and apply them.

However, it may be that a combination of Latin legalese, challenging handwriting, copious abbreviations and a faded or damaged manuscript are too much of a challenge. If so, you may like to enquire about ERO’s new Latin translation and transcription service. We have recently welcomed to the team Dr Stacey Harmer, who has a diploma in Classical Latin as well as over 10 years’ experience as an Archivist working with Latin documents in local government record offices. Dr Harmer did her PhD on book production and ownership in late medieval Yorkshire, for which she read 1200 original wills (a large proportion of which were in Latin) looking for bequests of books. We offer this translation service not just for documents held at ERO, but also any other Latin manuscripts, as long as you can provide a high-quality digital copy or photocopy. Any type of document will be considered; but we may decline the work if the Latin is too obscure or if the document is in a poor condition.

To find out more, please contact us at ero.enquiry@essex.gov.uk

Sound and video recordings now available on Essex Archives Online

Did you know that the Essex Sound and Video Archive at the Essex Record Office holds over 30,000 recordings of oral history interviews, music, local radio and television broadcasts, and much more? The best way to discover all the treasures in the Archive is to search Essex Archives Online – and now you can also play a sample of the recordings directly from the website.

Screenshot of video player on Essex Archives Online

With the latest update to our online catalogue, we can now embed audio and video recordings from hosting websites such as Soundcloud and YouTube. This means you can listen or watch our recordings without having to go to a different site – recordings like this ‘Haunted Essex’ clip from an EastWard Hospital Television programme.

You can also search specifically for items that have audio or video recordings attached to the catalogue entry. From the main search page, choose ‘Audio Visual’ from the ‘Refine your search’ drop-down box.

Screenshot showing option to find a-v material on Essex Archives Online

Why not try it now? For example, try searching for ‘school’ – and remember to first select ‘Audio Visual’ in the ‘Refine your search’ box.

This is also an option on the Advanced Search page. Please note that this will only return results where we have uploaded digital copies of the recordings. There are many more amazing treasures in the Archive yet to be digitised, so do get in touch if you cannot find what you are looking for.

Maybe you are not specifically looking for audio or video material, but, as you search the A-v iconwhole catalogue, you might come across some relevant recordings. You can quickly spot which results have audio-visual content, because you will see this icon on the results page.

You will need to create an account on Essex Archives Online and log in before you can view or listen to the content. However, you do not need to purchase a subscription: the material is absolutely free to play, and can be played as often as you like. So you can scrutinise, frame by frame, this 1980s video of St Cedd’s School Choir performing at the Chelmsford Cathedral Festival to see if you recognise anyone.

Or perfect your Anglo-Saxon.

This means you no longer have to travel to the Essex Record Office to use Essex Sound and Video Archive material (but of course we would be happy to help you with your research in the Searchroom if you do want to visit). Instead, you can play recordings from the comfort of your own home – or in the library, or an Internet café, or your garden if your Wi-Fi is strong enough (but please be considerate of others when listening).

This material is being made available for free thanks to our Heritage Lottery Funded project, You Are Hear: sound and a sense of place. The material available online will continue to grow as we digitise more of our recordings over the next two years of the project. Follow us on Soundcloud or YouTube to be alerted to new uploads.

For more information about You Are Hear, you can go to the project blog site or the Essex Sounds website, or you can sign up to receive news updates.

We would love to hear what you think about the content we have added so far. Please also let us know if you experience any problems using the site.

All these recordings are being made available under a Creative Commons (Attribution Non-Commercial) licence. If you wish to use any material for commercial purposes, please get in touch. You can also contact us about recordings that have not yet been uploaded.

For more information about the Essex Sound and Video Archive and the digitisation and consultancy services we provide, please visit our website.

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Battle of the Somme film screening

On Saturday 16 July 2016 we will be screening The Battle of the Somme film here at ERO.

The Battle of the Somme is one of the most infamous engagements of the First World War. Beginning on 1 July, it raged for 141 days. Nearly 20,000 British soldiers were killed just on the first day of the battle, and over 30,000 were wounded.

The Battle of the Somme film was shot during the opening weeks of the battle. Released in cinemas in autumn 1916, it was seen by 20 million people, almost half the population of Britain at the time. The film is looked after by Imperial War Museums, who have re-released it in 2016 to show to audiences across the world.

Following the screening, there will be a talk from Ian Hook, Keeper of the Essex Regiment Museum, on the Essex Regiment’s experiences at the Somme.

Still from The Battle of the Somme, courtesy of Imperial War Museums

Still from The Battle of the Somme, courtesy of Imperial War Museums

Amongst the thousands killed at the Somme were several Essex men:

  • Cpl, William Robert Elliston, 18th (Service) Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps spent his early life in Ipswich, before moving to Chelmsford, where he worked for a printers. He joined up in November 1915. In February 1916 he married Ada Jane Barker at St John’s church in Moulsham. The couple were married just 8 months before William was killed. William’s battalion left for France in May 1916, and took part in the Battle of the Somme during the summer and autumn. William was wounded in the thigh on 15 September. He was operated on, but died on 22 September at No. 5 General Hospital in Rouen, aged 28. He is buried at St Sever Cemetary, Rouen. In spring 1917 Ada, who lived in Lady Lane in Chelmsford, was sent William’s personal effects, including a ring, wrist watch, cigarette case, pipe, and mirror. She never remarried, and lived to the age of 85, dying in 1980. (Information kindly supplied by Andy Begent of chelmsfordwarmemorial.co.uk)
  • Cpl James John Halls, DCM, 1st Battalion, Rifle Brigade was born in Saffron Walden in 1895. He was one of five children, and attended the Boys’ British School in the town. On leaving school he worked as a telegraph messenger. He was sent to France in late August 1914, and was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for ‘conspicuous gallantry’ at Ypres in May 1915. He and one other N.C.O. had spent 9 hours under heavy fire in a destroyed trench, firing on the enemy. Just before the Battle of the Somme erupted, Halls had written to his mother reassuring her he was in good health. Tragically, by the time she received it he had already been killed in the early hours of the action on 1 July, aged just 20. (Information kindly supplied by Robert Pike – read more here)
  • Children from North Primary School in Chelmsford remembering Joseph Gant at the Thiepval memorial

    Children from North Primary School in Chelmsford remembering Joseph Gant at the Thiepval memorial

    Joseph Gant lived in Brightlingsea and attended North School in Colchester. By age 15 in 1911 Joseph had a job as an errand boy for a china shop. He joined the 2nd Essex Regiment and arrived in France on 28th December 1914. On 1st July 1916 Joseph took part in the first day of the Battle of the Somme and was killed, his body never recovered. He was aged just 19. His younger brother, Arthur, was also killed in France in September 1918, aged just 18. (Information kindly supplied by Claire Driver of the We Will Remember Them project)

The Battle of the Somme film screening takes place at the Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT on Saturday 16 July, 1.30pm-4.00pm. Tickets are free but must be booked in advance on 033301 32500.

For more information about the First World War Centenary Partnership’s plans to commemorate the Battle of the Somme visit 1914.org

Document of the Month, July 2015: Correspondence of James Brogden MP, 1816

Chris Lambert, Archivist

D/DSe 13

Our document this month is actually 3 documents, chosen to illustrate how a national political and economic crisis works at a personal level – or at least, how it did in Britain in 1816.

They all come from the correspondence of James Brogden, long-serving MP for Launceston in Cornwall. He actually lived in Clapham, but his papers came to Essex through his sister Susannah, who married into a local family.

1816 should have been a year of relaxation, with the long years of war against France finally over.  Unfortunately, peace did not bring prosperity.  Sudden demobilisation and a fall in demand for goods brought unemployment, poverty and riots.  As always, however, individual reactions to the crisis varied.

One response was to make use of the patronage networks that ran through society and government.  Brogden himself was a client of the Duke of Northumberland, the major landowner at Launceston, but as a government MP and chairman of the Ways and Means Committee he too received many requests for patronage and support.

In our first letter, from March 1816, one H. Stratton wrote from London hoping for a job in the government service, stimulating the economy: ‘the present pressure upon the Agricultural and other Public Interests will probably be relieved by some Legislative Enactment … similar to the late Commission of Exchequer Bills’, and he desired ‘to fill some situation under the new Establishment’.  Evidently this was not his first attempt (‘I venture again to take the liberty of intruding myself upon your notice’), but what resulted from it we do not know.

2016-07 D-DSe 13 - letter 1 watermarked

Our second correspondent, from August 1816, was of a different kind.  John Parker of Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire had a longstanding connection with Brogden, whose family home was nearby at Narborough.  When Brogden’s mother died in 1814, the MP had sent Parker a £5 note to buy mourning, earning a tribute for ‘taking notice of a poor old man, and … numbering him among your most intimate friends’.  In 1816 Parker was 80 years old and in failing health.  Just a week before the present letter, he had complained to Brogden that ‘I cannot see to work in the Frame [presumably he was a handloom weaver], and if I could I do not know that I could get work, great numbers are out of work of all Trades …’

Now Parker gives thanks for the gift of a coat, waistcoat and pantaloons: ‘when Trade is bad, [a] poor man cannot afford any thing to purchase Cloathing.  I should rejoice to hear of the revival of Trade …’  Besides Brogden’s charity and 6 shillings a week from a sick club (shortly to fall to the club’s old age rate of 4 shillings), he relied on a small amount of invested capital.

2016-07 D-DSe 13 - letter 2, front watermarked

Those without capital or connections had few options.  In our third letter, from November 1816, an un-named correspondent reported a very different reaction to the crisis.  He had spent 3 hours at Spa Fields in London listening to the political reformer Henry (‘Orator’) Hunt address a public gathering: ‘the poor ragged people could not be complained [of] – the humbugging egotistical, stupid & impudent orator … nearly well might’.  A second meeting at Spa Fields in December descended into rioting and a march on the Tower of London.

2016-07 D-DSe 13 - letter 3, front watermarked

In the short term the government responded with repression, and an economic revival in 1817 helped to calm the situation.  The wider question of how to create a stable politics, able to respond to economic shocks, remained.

The three letters will be on display in the ERO Searchroom throughout July 2016.