During this time of remembrance, we should also take a moment to reflect on those brave mariners who perhaps did not join up to serve in the Forces, but continued to sail the ketches and schooners full of cargo round our coasts to keep the country working. Coal, wood, salt, clay, trade around the coast did not stop, could not stop!
Aboard Bessie Ellen, loading and discharging cargo under Capt. Chichester carried on with son Jack as crew, and on Sunday August 4th while the ship was being towed from Kingsbridge to Par, war broke out. On reaching home soon after, papers were received calling Jack for military service. Capt John took the papers to the Customs house where he sent for the recruiting officer. After a strong argument, the Captain declared his son Jack indispensable and threw the papers back at the officer.
Jack continued working aboard the vessel until Good Friday 1917 when he fell foul of the law for wrecking but that’s another story.
The First World War had a mixed effect on West Country shipping. Until 1914, John Chichester always took the family on a summer cruise to Plymouth or Cowes, sometimes even France, but of course these excursions had to cease at the beginning of war.
Memoirs of the period confirm that the extra demands of a war economy on the national transport system kept the vessels busy and freight rates high. A voyage record for 1917 for the ships covered by the Mutual Assurance Association shows that at least then, when unrestricted U-boat attacks were at their highest, the Braunton fleet was largely employed in the Irish Sea, with only a small number of the ships crossing the channel to France for the more lucrative cargos. Only two Braunton Schooners were lost that year. Several vessels were laid up probably due to crewing shortages and because of the shipping boom afterwards, many of them were not brought back into service.
I have in my possession Bessie Ellen’s complete cargo log of her working life under sail. From here I note a few dates of interest and quote from this log:
- 08.09. 1914- Sailed from Glasgow for Alexander Cross & Son 145 tons of Manure in Bags to Barnstaple for a Mr Carter Arriving 19.09 14
From that point, the vessel was laid up until March the following year whereafter she continued to trade in the Bristol Channel and the Cornish Coast.
20.09.15 Vessel Laid Up until April 1916. We would suggest winter weather and small crews could be the reason.
19.10.16 A. Cross shipped from Glasgow 142 tons Manure for Barnstaple, arriving 10 days later 29.11.16. Was this due to weather conditions so late in the year?
10.11 17 – Sailed from Lydney with 136 tons of Coal for Barnstaple arriving by 12.11.17
12.11.18 – Sailed from Cardiff with 142 tons of Coal to Fremmington arriving on 13.11.18
During all this time, Bessie Ellen was under sail alone but sail had its drawbacks. Captain John traded to Goodhorne with clay on a regular contract, having a rendezvous with a steamer which visited London docks every three weeks. In late 1915, the bad weather made Bessie Ellen a day late so Captain John had to wait there three weeks for the steamers return. It was this that confirmed the decision to turn to auxiliary power.
Today, the hull of the vessel is 85% of original timber. Well built ships and strong men continuing in a dangerous livelihood has meant that today we have a freedom and a continuing living heritage in both Bessie Ellen and Irene for us all to enjoy their history.