Friday, September 18, 2009

Tragedy at Sea


At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month each year, we stop and remember those who paid the ultimate sacrifice in answering our country's call to arms. The more insulated world in which I was raised did not require me to answer that call and I knew of no one in my family who had served in war. Discovering that my great grandfather's half brother James Gammie had fought and died in World War 1 made the war and the loss of so many lives real in a new way for me. Suddenly, there was a relative of mine, a member of my own family who died serving his country and his death certainly impacted the course of my family's history (see "Little House on the Prairie? - August 18, 2009).

The 'Great War' also touched another branch of my family and with equally tragic consequences. James Little Triggs was my fist cousin twice removed. James and his twin brother Phillip were born on August 28, 1899 in Greenock, Renfrewshire, Scotland, the sons of John William Triggs, a Royal Navy seaman, and his wife Janet Little. Janet was the aunt of my grandmother Agnes Hadden (nee Little) and the sister of my great grandfather James Little. The Little family were for several generations, residents of Sir Michael Street in the core of Greenock.

In January 1915, James and Phillip, both 15 years of age at the time, decided to follow in their father's footsteps and managed to enlist in the Royal Navy where they were assigned as cabin boys. Their training lasted about a month at the HMS Ganges shore training establishment before they were assigned to the HMS Impregnable and their ranks upgraded from Cabin Boy Class 2 to Class 1.

James and Phillip served together until August 27th, 1915 when James, all 4 feet, 11 inches of him with light brown hair and blue eyes, was transferred to the HMS Queen Mary, a then modern battlecruiser. On May 31, 1916, young James was on board the Queen Mary when she engaged in the largest naval battle of World War 1 - the Battle of Jutland. The Queen Mary, equipped with more modern rangefinders, fired off about 150 shells and did significant damage to the German vessels she faced but she soon became the target of the powerful SMS Seyditz. The Queen Mary's turrets were hit in quick succession by 12 inch shells which caused explosions in the Queens Mary's magazines. She listed to her port side and sank (see photo above right of the sinking of the HMS Queen Mary).

James Little Triggs was one of 1,266 men on board when the Queen Mary went down. Only 21 survivors were picked up after the ship sank. Sadly, one of those survivors, Humphrey Durrant, died shortly afterward of wounds he had suffered during the battle. Humphrey was the only casualty of the Queen Mary to be buried in a grave.

Today, the wreck of the Queen Mary, discovered in 1991, rests partially upside down on the sand of the ocean floor at a depth of about 60 metres. Debris and and equipment lies quietly in the sand all around. Her little Cabin Boy, Class 1, James Little Triggs though lost, is not forgotten.

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