The Harbour Canteen visitors’ books contain 42,000 stories – although most of them are as yet untold. Here are just three of the stories we do know.
George Sanders won the Victoria Cross while serving with the West Yorkshire Regiment during the Battle of the Somme.
On 1 July, 1916, Corporal Sanders found himself isolated with 30 men after advancing into enemy territory near Thiepval. He organised his defences, detailed a bombing party and made it clear that his men’s priority was to hold the position.
The following day he repelled an enemy attack and rescued some prisoners they were holding. After further action he and his men were relieved after 36 hours. They had no food and water, having given it all to the wounded on the first night.
Corporal Sanders received his VC from the King at Buckingham Palace on 18 November 1916, which suggests that his entry in the book was made as he was returning from France for the ceremony.
You can see the entry here.
In 1913 Hugh Trenchard was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) to become assistant commandant of the Central Flying School, a job that reflected his interest in aviation.
He was promoted to Brigadier General and commanded the RFC in France from summer 1915 to early 1918 when he returned to England to become Chief of the Air Staff following the formation of the Air Council.
The initials CAS feature after his entry in the visitors’ book he signed in the Harbour Canteen, and it was in that role that he helped establish the Royal Air Force on 1 April 1918 through a merger of the RFC and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS).
Trenchard made his visitors’ book entry as he was about to leave for France to inspect air squadrons and assess the air situation, but he had locked horns on a number of occasions with Air Secretary Lord Rothermere and had already offered his resignation from the post.
Five days after signing the book, on 10 April, he was told that the War Cabinet had accepted his resignation. It was perhaps the last time that he used those initials that year.
Trenchard took on the command of the newly-formed Independent Air Force but in February 1919, Winston Churchill, Minister of War and Air, invited Trenchard to return as CAS, a position he held until his retirement in 1929.
Roger Keyes had an important role as Vice Admiral of the Dover Patrol, the huge fleet of warships and auxiliaries that worked tirelessly to keep troop and freight ships safe in the Channel.
He had taken over the command of the Dover Patrol at the start of the year and by introducing new tactics he quickly achieved impressive results, sinking five U-boats in one month.
It is likely that his entry in the visitors’ book was made during an inspection of the harbour rather than before or after travelling to France. Two months later, on St George’s Day, 23 April, he masterminded the famous raids on the German submarine pens at Zeebrugge and Ostend.
You can see the entry here.