Remembering the WWII seamen who braved Hellfire Corner bringing coal to the south

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Pill box at Rye Harbour, where seamen risked their lives
and the British feared invasion

Boating enthusiasts in the South East of England are constantly reminded about the battles that have taken place or have been expected in this corner of the country. The wartime relics are so many that almost the only time we can’t see them is when they’re obscured by foul weather.

But last night, the evening before Remembrance Sunday, I was pleased to see a repeat of the BBC Coast series programme covering the Channel Islands and Dover.

It was well worth watching as usual, but this particular transmission included an interesting segment about the brave Navy and merchant seaman of the convoys carrying essential supplies such as coal through the Dover Straits during World War II.

As every British schoolchild knows, the sea separating Britain from Continental Europe is just 21 miles wide, and so the convoys could be hit by land-based guns based in occupied France, and were very vulnerable to attack by both fast German E-boats and aircraft while passing along the coasts of Kent and Sussex.

See the programme here on the BBCi player – though I gather readers in the USA aren’t able to see this material.

There’s also an interesting summary of the big guns used by both sides at the Wikipedia.

Pierhead painter Reuben Chappell watercolour arrives at the NMMC

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The Jane Slade watercolour by Reuben Chappell

Mrs Adams presents the painting to museum staff

The National Maritime Museum Cornwall has been presented with a watercolour of the Jane Slade by Reuben Chappell. The donation came from Mrs G Adams, whose husband was given the painting by Ernie Slade of Slade’s Boatyard, and came with book entitled Practical Navigation.

The museum’s notes on the painting reveal that the Jane Slade was named after the only woman shipbuilder in Cornwall, and that she who took control of her family’s business on her husband’s death in 1870. Her legacy lived on through successive generations of shipbuilders, repairers and mariners and in this ship named after her. Jane’s story inspired Daphne du Maurier’s first novel The Loving Spirit.

Reuben Chappell (1870-1940) is one of this country’s best known pierhead painters. An artist who spent his entire working life making portraits of ships for seamen, his work is in the best tradition of pierhead painting painted not for galleries or art collectors, but for the men whose lives and livelihoods were intimately entwined with the subjects of the painting.

Chappell lived and painted in Cornwall from 1904 until his death in 1940.

The book dated 1852 is believed to have been owned by Jane Slade’s son Thomas, one-time captain of the schooner. Inserted inside are four pages which relate to Thomas receiving his Master Mariners Certificate headed Plymouth School of Science and Navigation – these are an extremely rare find.