NOSTALGIA: Remembering wrecks from the First World War in Eastbourne

The SS Moldavia prior to her loss in May 1918 when she was torpedoed and sunk off Beachy Head

The SS Moldavia prior to her loss in May 1918 when she was torpedoed and sunk off Beachy Head

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A new exhibition raising the profile of under-represented aspects of the First World War, including shipwrecks, is now open at the Redoubt on Eastbourne seafront.

Through the Heritage Lottery-funded Forgotten Wrecks of the First World War project, the Maritime Archaeology Trust is revealing moving accounts of bravery and sacrifice surrounding these sites.

The four-year project aims to bring together personal and family information, while utilising artefact records with historic and archaeological research to uncover the stories of our shores.

More than 700 wartime wrecks are known to lie off the south coast of England. These include largely forgotten ships and craft of all shapes and sizes, all of which were carrying out a myriad of different tasks and activities when they were lost.

The great variety of incidents, often resulting in lives lost, range from severe enemy attacks, to misfortunes caused by bad weather and communication.

The temporary display, which runs until November 2016, features First World War wrecks which have been discovered off the Sussex coast and offers a great chance to view recovered artefacts and learn about some of the lesser-known, but compelling, stories of the Great War.

A spokesperson at the Maritime Archaeological Trust said, “With so many wartime wrecks along England’s south coast alone, the conflict has left a rich heritage legacy and many associated stories of bravery and sacrifice. These underwater memorials represent the vestiges of a vital, yet little known, struggle that took place on a daily basis, just off our shores. Through a programme of fieldwork, research, temporary exhibitions and outreach, the project aims to engage communities and volunteers and provide a lasting legacy of information and learning resources relating to First World War wrecks for future generations.

Among the local shipwrecks off the Eastbourne coast is Braunton, a 4.575 ton 380ft British Merchantman, which rests in a depth of 36 metres.

She was sunk by the German submarine UB29 on April 7 1916. The wreck’s stern is intact and her cargo of munitions, some 1,800 tons of shells and ammunitions, lay scattered all around.

Another is the Cunard liner Alaunia, which was on a return voyage from New York to London on October 19 1916 when she struck a mine laid by the German sub UC16.

At 13,405 tonnes and over 500 feet long, she is the largest wreck on the Sussex coast and although extensively salvaged, large booms and masts lay strewn across the seabed and in the wreckage, more hatches, skylights and portholes can be seen as well as her port anchor still hanging from its chain.

The Mira is also off the Eastbourne coast – the wreck of a British oil tanker built in 1901 which struck a mine on October 11 1917, laid by the German sub UC50. The Mira was full of oil.

Finally, the TR Thompson, built in 1897 and 360ft long, was sunk on March 29 1918 by a single torpedo from UB57. Historians say it struck her on the nose, opened her up like a tin can and she sank in minutes. Some 33 of her crew were killed.

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