Royal British Legion

Great Yarmouth

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Did You Know

Some interesting and quirky facts about Britain in general and Great Yarmouth in particular. Many are First and Second World War related but not all.

Wives to widows in 5 months

At the time of the First World War, the Admiralty controlled the Coastguard Service. It was maintained primarily as a trained naval reserve which could be drafted into the Fleet instantly in an emergency. At the outbreak of war, many coastguards were on board Royal Navy Reserve ships within hours of receiving their mobilization telegrams. Only men trained in war signals were excluded from the draft as they were needed at Wireless Telegraphy stations and War Signal stations to transmit messages from warships at sea to the Admiralty.

Many Coastguard stations were, therefore, unmanned at the outbreak of war until the Army moved in. They took over the patrols, the sentry posts and the watch-rooms but were not allowed to take naval telephone calls! The Admiralty decreed that at every station one of the women, preferably the wife of the former Station Officer, must take all naval calls. In return she received five shillings a week and the use of her husband's quarters.

Sadly, the wives of most coastguards were widows by January 1915. In the first few months of the war the old ships of the Royal Navy Reserve proved inferior to the ships of the German High Seas Fleet. They also had little defence against the U-boats. The few coastguards left alive were disembarked from their ships and returned to their stations to train Sea Scouts, retired men and new recruits in place of their dead comrades. The soldiers who had originally replaced the coastguards in August 1914 were needed elsewhere - mainly in the trenches.

Coastguard duties now included watching for the landing of spies and saboteurs and the defusing of mines washed ashore. The Admiralty accepted that coastguards could not be sent to sea in time of war, leaving the coastlines defenceless; nor could it afford to pay for a force which it could not use as a naval reserve. After much debate, on 1 April 1923, responsibility for HM Coastguard passed to the Board of Trade with the provision that it should be primarily employed for coast watching and lifesaving.

Thursday's Poppy
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