April 2003:
Paddle Steamer Products of War

April 2003:
Paddle Steamer Products of War

At Christmas in 1924, the year in which Kingswear Castle was built, the great British novelist and poet, Thomas Hardy, (pictured above) wrote:

Peace upon earth!” was said. We sing it,

And pay a million priests to bring it.

After two thousand years of mass,

We’ve got as far as poison-gas.

Well, in the eighty or so years of Kingswear Castle’s subsequent life, there have been plenty of other wars fought across most corners of the globe, some using horrendous force beyond even Hardy’s imagining. Some have been fought for justified moral reasons, others for a political expediency disguised as a moral truth. And some have involved the use of paddle steamers, some of which joined the destruction of lives and property in war to become casualties.

The German paddle steamer Dresden burnt out on the River Elbe in the Second World War.

The P & A Campbell excursion paddle steamer Brighton Belle called up as a war time minesweeper and sunk off Dunkirk in 1940.

British paddle steamers have also sailed in the waters of Iraq, as four of the London County Council Thames 1904 paddlers (pictured above), Alleyn, Christopher Wren, Edmund Ironside and Fitzailwin, were sold, around 1909, to Iraq’s former incarnation, Mesopotamia, for further service. I think it unlikely that any of these still exist, in any original form, today and I have no direct knowledge of what happened to them. But, given that the hull of another of these steamers, the Ben Johnson, was still in existence in Switzerland until only a year or so ago, as the Waldstatter, I suppose that there is a possibility that they, or their hulls, are still in Iraq, and, if so, might be joining, or have already joined, any of their more modern counterparts on a voyage downwards to the bottom of the sea in bits, after the impact from missiles.

Fortunately, no British paddle steamers have been called up yet for this war in Iraq although our office has received a letter from the Government instructing us to release any service reservists in our employ to go off to fight.

Thomas Hardy is now long dead but, nearly eighty years after he penned his wry little observation on life, I wonder what he would have thought of the current conflict, where world opinion is, on the one hand, pretty much united in condemning Saddam Hussein, but, on the other, pretty much divided in controversy, dissent and anger about an American and British invasion of an Arab state, with all the consequences that come with it, both expected and unexpected, of a war waged on the basis that the greater might will eventually win.