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Armistice Day 2014

Armistice Day with a heightened significance. One hundred years. None of those that clung to life in the trenches, or at sea, are with us now, who fought in the ‘Great War’. George Garrett could well have been one of those to lose his life; torpedoed twice, taken prisoner aboard the famed German destroyer The Kronprinz Wilhelm, forced to sign a declaration against taking up arms again and interned only to escape from a camp in Argentina, the very place he had returned from, giving up his youthful days roaming the countryside and living as a beachcomber just prior to the war breaking out. In 1914 he signed on officially as a Stoker with The Potaro, the ship he sailed on back from Argentina to join up with the war effort. He’d been a stoker for some time after being discovered as a stowaway among the hay bales on a tramp steamer bound for Argentina that he’d snuck aboard from the Liverpool docks. He’d secretly cried with the pain of those early days at the stokehold furnace. But he was a big lad, and soon enough his frame filled out to match the task in hand. He served the whole of the 1914-18 war at sea, which in the early days of submarine warfare must have been a life filled with terror for all the seamen above and below decks.

There were 9068 deaths recorded of servicemen from Liverpool during WW1. The worst day, with the highest casualties for Liverpool, wasn’t Passchendale, or the Somme, but the 7th May 1915, when the RMS Lusitania was sunk with the loss of 1,198 lives. The fate of The Lusitania, blown out of the water off the Irish coast by a torpedo from German U-boat U-20, brought home to a wider public the dangers at sea in wartime, already keenly felt by those who spent their daily working lives on the water. Prior to that moment merchant vessels had neither armed protection nor escort. The Lusitania sank in 18 minutes. Not one stoker working in the depths of the ship would have survived, even if they had sought to make it out, which the majority of them, through pride and honour, and due to the closing of the below deck water tight doors which may have operated, would not have attempted to do. German U-boats sank 6,924 allied vessels during WW1. A 1922 War office report lists British Merchant Navy losses in WW1 at 14, 661. Garrett was awarded two medals, and later sought official confirmation that he’d been forced to sign a declaration against taking u arms, maybe to guard against German spy accusations during the red scares that followed the peace.

Garrett, in helping to organise the unemployed demonstrations of ex-servicemen in Liverpool in the early 1920’s, leading the Liverpool contingent on the First Hunger March in 1922, and in many instances throughout his life campaigning for employment and better wages and conditions for all those at sea and on land, never forget the treatment and suffering of the working classes during WW1. In remembrance of those who died one hundred years ago, maybe this is still the best tribute we can still pay.
Last modified onMonday, 17 November 2014 19:09
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