Steam Yacht Rosabelle enters WW1 service in 1915 under the command of Ernest Brady
Converted for service in 1915 and used for chasing submarines under the command of RNR Lieutenant Ernest Brady, later, Captain Brady RNR
Transcripts of letters written by Ernest Brady and provided by Patrick Brady, grandson of Ernest Brady
Below are transcripts of letters written by Ernest George Henry Brady from 7th February 1915 onwards to his brother, Noel, who he addresses as ‘Old Man’. The letters concern his taking command of the Steam Yacht Rosabelle which had been requisitioned and converted for use in the War from its private owner Theodore Pim.
As an Officer in the Merchant Navy, Ernest had obtained his commission as Sub-Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve in 1894, and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1905. In 1908 he had retired from his life in the Merchant Navy to get married to Constance Helen Farmer, ‘Connie’; Ernest took a job with the Weston-Super-Mare Pier Company. At the outbreak of war he reported for duty. Later, in 1917, he was promoted Captain R.N.R. (Active).
This correspondence was mainly to his brother Noel, who thankfully had kept it.
The 614 ton Steam Yacht Rosabelle was built in 1902 at Leith, and was well known in Wivenhoe because, besides the fact that it was home to many of her crew, her regular winter laying-up berth was on the wall downstream of the Quay.
Letter to Noel Brady, dated 7th February, 1915 from Ernest Brady, on board the SY Rosabelle, R.Y.S.
Dear Old Man.
Just a line to tell you of the yacht etc. I arrived here (Brightlingsea) at 5-4 and found the late Captain Wenlock, waiting to meet me. I had wired to him. He and his two mates are accepting commissions in the R.N.R. and will remain with the ship. I like him. He is a man of about my age and holds an Extra Master’s Certificate. He at once offered me a room at his house and he and his wife have made me very comfortable. Any orders from the C in C at Chatham had not arrived, so I telegraphed to that effect to the Yacht Patrol Office at Admiralty. Rather a score for me as they cannot now say that anyone but themselves is responsible for delay in sailing.
Wenlock reported the yacht ready for sea so I gave him orders to raise steam today to be ready to sail at 10am tomorrow, as I want to be off at once when papers from C in C arrive, so as to have daylight round to Dover.
The said papers will contain information of our mine fields and of open channels and will inform me what mark buoys and light ships and beacons have been removed.
The yacht is a beauty. The owner (Pim) is Commodore of the Royal Thames Yacht Club and a member of the Royal Yacht Squadron, so you may imagine what his yacht would be, and is. Her gross tonnage is 555 Tons. She will make a very fine “flag” ship for a patrol squadron.
I hope to arrive at Portsmouth on Tuesday. And expect she will be at least a fortnight, and possibly a month in Dockyard hands getting alterations, guns and wireless etc. so I hope to get a weekend at home. I fully intend to keep command if I can. But I do not want Grove to move in the matter.
I got a reply wire later last night from Admiralty.
“Wait for sailing instructions.”
Yacht Patrol Admiralty.
So I have documentary evidence as to delay. We spent this morning on the yacht and I made an inspection of her throughout.
My address till further notice is HM Yacht Rosabelle
c/0 GPO London.
I have written to mater, Connie and Laybourne. I have asked the latter to pay whatever seems the Pier Coy is allowing me by a quarterly cheque. )I expect I shall now receive at least 5/- a day extra pay for Command from Admiralty which will be useful.
I was awfully grateful to you and glad to see you on Friday night. It was good to see Jim and very good of you to meet me.
Wyvenhoe and Brightlingsea are quaint places, full of Mr W Jacobs people.
Don’t forget to let Harry Morris know I have got this job. He will be pleased.
With love dear old man.
Your affectionate brother
Letter to Noel PW Brady dated 16th February, 1915, from Ernest Brady on HMY Rosabelle at Marrim’s Yard, Cowes.
Dear Old Man
Thanks for your note received at home yesterday. ………….
I got back last night and have had a busy morning. The Portsmouth dockyard is so busy that all the arrived yachts are having alterations etc. done by contract at the various big yacht yards. I am in clover over here but can get little work done as we are the last comer and earlier arrivals are getting attention first. Also labour is so scarce.
I may with luck get back to Portsmouth for my guns and to commission the ship by the end of the month. But it is more likely to be the middle of March.
I have received a card from the Committee of the Royal Yacht Squadron today making me an honorary member of the club during my stay at Cowes. As the club is about the most exclusive in the world I feel Honoured.
With love to you all old man,
I am ever
Your affect. Brother
Letter to Noel Brady at Ferryside dated 22nd February, 1915, from Ernest Brady on board HMY Rosabelle at Cowes.
Thanks for your letter received this morning. ……………………….
Connie is staying with me on the yacht for a few days and is delighted with her.
The dockyard people here do not expect to finish their part of the work on the yacht till about the 10th March. And then we will go over to Portsmouth and be detained there some days, getting our guns, ammunition and naval stores and doing gun trials etc. I do not think I am at all likely to be turned out of the Command now. I shall be glad to get out of dockyard hands and get to sea on patrol duty.
With love to you all
Your affect. brother.
Note. My father George told me that his mother said the bath on the Rosabelle was gold plated.
Photo Postcard, presumably sent to Noel, with note on back (Undated), from Ernest Brady.
One of our new guns. They are on “High Angle” mountings, and can be used against air-craft as well as against shipping or sub-marines.
The guns are six pounders Hotchkiss – quick firing. (See photo)
Letter to Noel Brady from Ernest, 2nd April 1915, on board HMY “Ariane” at Southampton; the Ariane, was also to be in the Patrol.
Thanks for your letter yesterday. Connie goes home by the 9:15 train tomorrow and I sail for Portsmouth at noon. I expect to sail for Plymouth on Monday or Tuesday and hope to start on Patrol duty on Wednesday or Thursday. Address in future c/o Flag Officer, Plymouth.
I don’t know yet which ship I will have on patrol, but it will be “Ariane” or “Rosabelle”. They are equally good. The Rosabelle is the faster but the Ariane is the better gunned and has a good search light too. As I have fitted out (and will have commissioned both) I am about equally attached to both, and whichever I have will be content. I feel and believe I am going to have my chance.
I’m afraid the weather is not going to favour you at Brighton as it has changed here today to wind & wet.
Connie joins me in sending love to you old man.
Your affect. brother
Letter to Noel Brady on Tuesday 20th April 1915 from Ernest Brady on board HMY “Ariane”, c/o Flag Captain Devonport.
Dear Old Man.
I was glad of your letter of 4th from Brighton, – a fortnight ago – but I’ve not had much time for private affairs in the interval. I am coaling tonight and off again in the morning. All has gone very well so far and I am proud of my ships and shall be sorry now if I exchange back to the Rosbelle as I am quite settled here now with ship and officers and men, the patrol area and my fleet. The latter is to be increased and better armed, and all will be fitted for sweeping too.
Falmouth is my sub-base and I go in every Saturday afternoon with my two divisional leaders to meet on my (“Flag”) ship to draft any weekly report to the C-in-C at Plymouth, and to arrange for the next week’s work. So if you happen to run down for a weekend look out for me and come off and see me and my junk for an hour. If I change back to the Rosabelle my sub-base would be Newquay instead of Falmouth. I think you have been to Falmouth occasionally to see Mrs Bradford.
I was very glad you did so well on the range.
I can’t give you any details but this Patrol is going to be worked up to be very efficient. I am keenly interested, enjoying the work, the experience and the Command and I am as fit as a fiddle.
Hope you are better and quite rid of the cold and cough mater told me of.
With love old man to you and all.
Your affect. brother
Note from Patrick: There were evidently about 25 trawlers on the Patrol.
Letter to Noel Brady from Ernest, on board HMY Ariane, on patrol, dated Thursday 22nd April 1915
Dear Old Man.
Just a line to tell you that I received orders by signal yesterday to exchange back to “Rosabelle” at first opportunity. So Newquay will in future be my sub-base, not Falmouth.
I am escorting a ship from 10’ South of Lizard to Plymouth across my present patrol area and should arrive at 8 this evening. I believe Rosabelle is at Devonport and if so I shall signal that I am ready to exchange tonight.
I shall be sorry to leave this ship, just as I have got all in tune. The ship’s company startled me this morning by conveying to me through the 1st Lieutenant their regret on hearing that I am leaving and their best wishes for me in the other ship. Rather nice of them, especially as I had to deal faithfully with some of them for leave breaking.
But as this change back has been hanging over my head for so long I am glad in a way that it is settled now, and I want to get settled again – for good I hope.
With love Old Noel.
Your affect. brother
Letter to Noel, at Ferryside, Twickenham from Ernest at 12 Regent Terrace, Penzance dated 12th October 1915, postmarked Penzance 1.30PM, 12 OC 15
I am at home for a few days leave while my ship is re-fitting at Falmouth. And I am celebrating the event by having an acute attack of sciatica and rheumatism, which is annoying and has upset our plans.
The Rosabelle is to have three six pounder Hotchkiss guns taken out and heavier guns put in. I was quite satisfied with the old armament but have to accept the new arrangement.
I posted two copies of the photograph of the Rosabelle’s crew to Frencham on Saturday. One is for mother and the other for you if you care to have it. Of late the German Sub-marines have given our area a wide berth, and in any case they have been considerably thinned out. But we expect a return of them soon and are making preparations to meet them.
So far it has been only ships, well armed, but disguised as harmless merchant vessels, which have had luck with them. A type of ship I advocated from the first. It is not their game to come up and give fight to obviously armed patrol vessels.
Of course they can torpedo us at any time, but so far they not thought us worth it. From the 17th of this month we go into winter routine for all patrol vessels, four days at sea then two in port.
And we’ll be glad of it in our area, round the Scillies and Cornish Coast. The trawlers of course make better weather of it than the yachts. Of course the patrol is continuously kept up, we have relief ships to make it so.
Connie and our boy are well and seem very happy here. We have very comfortable rooms and a very jolly and motherly landlady, everything spotlessly clean, cooking and catering excellent, very economical and nothing a trouble. All most pleasant. With love to you all.
Your affect . brother
Letter to Commander Brady, HM Yacht Rosabelle, The Naval Base, Penzance, Cornwall from Theodore Pim, Snowdenham Hall, Bramley, Surrey.
Dated 21st December (1915) – Post-marked 27 DE 15, Guildford.
Dear Commander Brady,
I am very sorry I have never had the pleasure of meeting you, but you are such a long way off at Penzance. I have never been able to get down, and you were absent when I was back on board the Rosabelle.
I hope that they make you comfortable on board my little ship; we are very fond of the Rosabelle and have done many thousand miles in her, and hope if you bring her home not too much gone to pieces, that we may yet get another cruise in her, but all this depends on the war, which I am sorry to say shows no sign of ending.
With very best wishes to you, in which my wife joins.
Note from Patrick Brady: With the letter was a photograph of SY Rosabelle (by Beken of Cowes) .
Another copy of the photograph, presumably sent by Ernest to his brother Noel, has a note added:
The Rosabelle as she was as a Yacht. She will look very different as an armed Yacht for Patrol Service.
Length 192 Ft. Beam 26 ½ ft.
Tonnage gross 525 Tons.
Letter to Noel Brady, dated 24th January 1916, from Ernest Brady on HMY Rosabelle at Penzance.
Many thanks for your letter received yesterday and for your remembrance of George on his birthday – and for your good wishes for him and your cheque for his banking account. You are a very generous God-father. The little man is now three feet in height and weighs 2 stone 9 lbs. He has 16 teeth and begins to talk quite nicely and he is fit and well and merry and bright, like his mother and to whom is due all credit.
Please thank Grove for his continued interest in my application for transfer. I have carefully studied the King’s Regulations to see how they deal with such a case as mine, and it seems to me that such a case was never contemplated. However I would sooner let the matter drop. We have applied and have been refused, and I don’t think that my future prospects would be improved by persistence now. I ought to have written to you before on the subject but during the last two or three months my job has not left me much time or inclination for anything else. Our beat, the Cornish Coast and Scilly Isles in Winter for small craft takes the cake.
No, my old shipmate is Gathorne Cookson. I expect the VC man was a cousin.
My pal is on transport service in France.
With our united love to you all.
I am ever
Your affect brother
Note from Patrick Brady: Ernest was worn out, and his eyesight was suffering, and he had applied for a quieter posting. However, as my father George (Ernest’s son) said, the Admiralty, in their infinite wisdom, posted him to the Dover Patrol. Noel had written to his MP, Grove, to see if this could be changed.
Letter to Noel dated 25th May, 1916, from Ernest Brady, at Esplanade Hotel, Dover
I was of course sorry to miss meeting you yesterday, but glad you did not fail to keep your appointment with Lily on your wedding day on my account. I could not give you longer notice of my coming as I did not know till very late when I could leave the Rosabelle.
I am here now as assistant to the Captain-in-Charge of Patrols and Sweepers. Captain Vansittart Howard is an old man and he tells me he wants me to relieve him of a great deal of his work. I am comfortably billeted at this hotel and have today with Captain Howard at his office. It’s a big job and I have a lot to learn but I hope to cope with it successfully. I applied for a change as I found I badly needed it. I asked for Avonmouth or some place near home. But of course one can’t expect to pick and choose in war time.
It was most kind of Miss MacDonald coming to Paddington with your note to meet me. Please thank her again for me. I can’t tell you any details of our work here of course. But you will understand it is important and near the heart of things.
With love to you all,
I am ever
Your affect. brother
Letter to Noel Brady dated 28th June 1916 from Ernest Brady at The Esplanade Hotel, Dover
Thanks for your letter this morning. I hope you will be able to run over to see me some weekend. But do not trouble to tell Struthers or Sanders of my being here. At present I find social engagements rather a nuisance. I have to call on all seniors from the Admiral downwards and on their wives, and this place is full of “brass hats”. And it is difficult to manage in reasonable calling hours. I lunched yesterday with my Chief, Captain Howard and his wife and today with another of the staff, so I am being made welcome. I have an awful lot to learn and pick up here, and the Patrol and Sweeping Department has grown to a very big thing here and we run it. Captain Howard is worn out and wants help badly and I naturally want to prove of real help as soon as possible. He seems to think I shape fairly as he talks of taking some leave next month – when most of his work and responsibility will fall on me. Yes it was disappointing that I could not get to Avonmouth but for interest and opportunities of doing good service Dover is hard to beat. I feel it was rather a compliment to be sent here. Phillimore gave me a certificate to the effect that I had done my duties in the Rosabelle with great zeal and very much to his satisfaction. I also had a letter via Admiralty and Foreign Office and Embassy at Home, from the Italian Minister of Marine thanking us “for the rescue and very kind treatment of the crew of the SS Unsone (The ship’s name is not easy to read in the letter)
Let me know in advance when you can run over and remember you will require a pass or registration ticket to enter or leave Dover. I wish I could join you all at Frensham next Saturday. Give our dear old mother a birthday kiss for me.
Your affect. brother
Note from Patrick Brady: I have attached this letter because of the reference to the rescue of the Italian ship, evidently by the Patrol.
The following is quoted from “A Memoir”, an extract from Weston-Super-Mare Gazette of 8th June 1929, following the death of Ernest George Henry Brady on May 25th 1929.
On the outbreak of the war he reported for duty and was entrusted with the task of fitting out H.M.Y. Rosabelle and Arianne equipped for submarine chasing, and was given the command of the former. The strain ultimately affected Capt. Brady’s eyes, and he was ordered by the Naval doctor to apply for a short term of leave to rest them. He applied and the Admiralty ordered him to report to Dover in 24 hours to take over the duty of second in command of the Dover Trawler Patrol. The work of the Patrol including as it did the setting of the lines of nets from coast to coast, the mine sweeping, the marshalling of traffic up and down Channel, and across Channel, has been so fully chronicled that it is not necessary to say more. In 1917 Commander Brady was promoted Captain R.N.R. (Active).
The Armistice found him sadly strained and broken in health and with increasing eye trouble. He returned to Weston to take up his old work, and he entered with enthusiasm into the work of reorganisation at the Pier. But the eyesight grew worse, and not-withstanding all that medical science could do, he felt constrained to relinquish his post in 1925. He then moved to Henfield, Sussex, to be near his family, where he has since lived.
Patrick Brady, grandson of Ernest George Henry Brady
Note: See also extracts of speeches given on 29th October 1917 in the Houses of Parliament to applaud the efforts of men as Capt Ernest Brady – Click here