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14 Feb 1917 – The Gallant Middlesex


Published in Cape Town in the ‘Cape Argus’ on 12 February 1917

The Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, which narrowly escaped going down in the Steamer Tyndareus off this Coast last week, awoke this morning to find itself famous.

The Middlesex Regiment, needless to state, has a great tradition behind it. It has distinguished itself in many heroic campaigns, but nothing in its Annals resounds more to its credit than the behaviour of officers and men on the occasion signalled by the King’s message of congratulation.

The Steamer Tyndareus was about to call at Table Bay for fuel and supplies. The weather was fine and the majority of the soldiers were watching another transport which was coming along behind, when suddenly a terrific shock was felt and the boat began to fill with water at a great rate. It was a critical moment for everyone on board. Panic or confusion would have resulted in a terrible disaster. But the men, from the highest to the lowest, behaved like heroes. All must have realised their danger. Indeed, they could not fail to do so, for the steamer could be seen to be going down by the head and threatening to take the final plunge at any moment.

The men responded to the commands of their officers as briskly and orderly as on parade and quietly turned up – with death apparently staring them in the face, they burst into song and cheered each other by joining in popular tunes. Boats were lowered quietly and carefully, and with the arrival of assistance all were got off, down to the favourite dogs. It was a magnificent exhibition of coolness, and worthy of the highest traditions, not merely of the British Army, but also of the British maritime service, for it must not be overlooked that the Captain, Officers and seamen of the Steamer displayed equal coolness and were under equally fine discipline.

His Majesty King George, in his message of congratulation to the gallant Middlesex, compares the Officers’ and men’s conduct on board the Tyndareus after the accident, with the behaviour of the heroes of the Birkenhead, whose exceptional coolness and bravery aroused the enthusiasm of the whole civilised world, and caused the King of Prussia to have an account of the incident read to his troops on parade as an example of splendid discipline and courage.

The Birkenhead was also rounding this coast and was in the proximity of Cape L’Agulhas, when she struck a reef. At once the ship began to fill with water. The soldiers and sailors, taken by surprise, and realising the danger facing them, sprang to attention at the word of command as though on land and in safety. There was no confusion, no panic – the Birkenhead, with the Tyndareus, went down at the head, and a well-known picture painted from fact supplied by an eye-witness, shows her with her stern high out of the water just as the Tyndareus is reported to have been at one time.

The great and gratifying difference between the two disasters was that those on the Tyndareus were saved, and the ship was towed into port in a sinking condition, whilst the majority on board the Birkenhead were drowned. They stood to attention to the last, some say, watching with a grim smile the sharks swimming around, and met their death like the brave men they were, without flinching. The loss of life was heavy, the Military loss being 358, and the Naval loss 87, but the story of that tragedy stands today as one of the grandest examples of bravery on record, and it is held in honour by the Navy as well as the Army of Great Britain.

And the coolness and discipline displayed by the officers and men of the Tyndareus have shown that the spirit which held the men of the Birkenhead together, still survives.

A fact which adds lustre to the incident is that the men of the Middlesex Battalion were not old and seasoned soldiers, they were many of them, at all events, young men fresh from civilian life. That they should have so quickly become impregnated with the highest traditions of the British Army and of the distinguished regiment to which they belong, is a wonderful proof of the great qualities of the British race.

My mother quotes this in her book of the letters, but frustratingly does not say which paper it was from. However, Nick Metcalfe told me it was the Cape Argus of 12 Feb 1917. Nick’s family is even more extensive than the Berrymans and he is researching the lives and military service of the 365 men buried in the United States who are commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves. Commission

The evacuation of the troopship SS 'Tyndareus', which struck a mine off Cape Agulhas, South Africa, on 6 February 1917. Oil on board by Stanley Llewellyn Wood (1866-1928), 1917 (c).

The evacuation of the troopship SS ‘Tyndareus’.
Stanley Llewellyn Wood


Posted by on 14 February, '17 in About


12 Feb 1917 – News story: Cape Argus

The evacuation of the troopship SS 'Tyndareus', which struck a mine off Cape Agulhas, South Africa, on 6 February 1917. Oil on board by Stanley Llewellyn Wood (1866-1928), 1917 (c).

The evacuation of the troopship SS ‘Tyndareus’.
Stanley Llewellyn Wood.

Jim Berryman was sailing with the Middlesex Regiment to Hong Kong on the SS Tyndareus.


Splendid Heroism of British Troops


One of the most glorious episodes of the war, away from the actual fighting fronts, has just been revealed by the publication through Reuter’s Agency of the following telegram, which passed between the Naval Commander-in-Chief, Simon’s Town and the Admiralty, on the occasion of the accident to the transport Tyndareus, off Cape Agulhas last Tuesday evening, when the Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment displayed heroism equal to that of the men on the Birkenhead in the same spot, sixty-five years ago.

The message referred to were as follows:-

From the Naval Commander-in-Chief, Simon’s Town, to the Admiralty:-

“The behaviour of the Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, on board the steamship Tyndareus after the accident to that ship, there being a large quantity of water on board, and the ship apparently sinking by the head in a heavy swell, was most praiseworthy, and equal to the Birkenhead tradition of the British Army in the same spot. It was only due to this that no lives were lost in the boats. The ship was saved by the coolness and perserverance of the Captain, Officers, Engineers and Engine Room Staff.”

The following message has been received from His Majesty the King:-

“Please express to the Officers Commanding the Middlesex Regiment, my admiration of the conduct displayed by all ranks on the occasion of the accident to the Tyndareus. In their discipline and courage, they worthily upheld the splendid tradition of the Birkenhead, ever cherished in the annals of the British Army.”

George R.I.

Cape Argus, Monday February 12th 1917.

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Posted by on 12 February, '17 in About


January 1916 – Fox, of the Garhwal Rifles to Ben

Part of a letter written to Ben, probably by Lt E L W Fox of the Garhwal Rifles

I wonder if you have really heard the true yarn of the “Persia” – I don’t fancy you have, so I am going to write it down here in just a few words. “A certain officer”, after jumping overboard a few seconds before the ship sank saw a woman floating about face upwards, and on close inspection discovered she still had room for a few more pints of salt water, so he took compassion on her and towed her about for 20 minutes & eventually got into a boat about ½ a mile away.

I daresay you can guess who it was, and I feel quite sure you will feel very proud of a member of the family who can do a thing like that, anyhow those of us who know about it, and there are not many I am sorry to say, recognise that the Huns havn’t got much of a chance so long as we have lads like this to see this show through-

It’s no good asking Ted about it, as he will of course say it was nothing, or a lie, but I got most of it out of him by degrees & you can take it from me that he gave up 80 per cent of his chances of getting to that boat simply to save someone whom he had never even seen before because she was one of your sex. It doesn’t sound much here & I am afraid I am no good at descriptions, but when it is a matter of everyone for themselves it takes a bit of doing-

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Posted by on 4 January, '16 in About


2 January 1916 – Nell to Jack Fielding

Upton St Leonards

2 January 1916


My dear Jack,

By the time you get this I hope you will have got our wire to say that Ted is safe. We had a wire from him at Alexandria & one from Guildford this morning to say he was alright. I was at the hospital washing up when Gladys and Marjorie came & told me that the Persia had been torpedoed in the Mediterranean & in the evening we had a telephone message to say four boats had got to Alexandria. The nurse came to see us yesterday at tea and she told our fortunes in our cups & she said we were to have some good news from over the sea, of a ship from an ‘E’. Marjorie & Louie went down to Mrs Ridler in the evening & cut the cards & she said it would all come right as the cards were so good round Ted & me, & there were some very anxious thoughts coming just before.

Nell never lost her faith in the uncanny as evidenced by Mrs Ridler’s second sight.

The other notable thing about this letter is the mention of the telephone: the unified telephone service in Britain was just over three years old in the beginning of 1916 and even then it was very limited. However, Jack Fielding Sr was an engineer and a prosperous man and an early adopter of new technology. 


Posted by on 2 January, '16 in About


5 December 1915 – Aunt Dodie to Louie Fielding

This letter is from Nell’s Aunt Dodie to Nell’s sister Louie written on either Sunday December 5th 1915 or Sunday 28th November. Ted had orders to report to the India Office in writing, which he did on Monday 29th December. He was to sail on the SS Persia, leaving London on December 15th.

Belmont, Sunday afternoon

My darling Louie

Are you having a good time? And how does the riding prosper?

My dear! What a to do you and Jack made over your drive to Gloucester. It really was dreadful. But HOW Jack would laugh if he could hear some of the reports! I certainly had a good old fright from our old post man. I met him the same afternoon and told him Jack was off again and his eyes almost came together and he gasped out “Not in the grey car!” My dear! I almost felt you in the infirmary or something tragic. Then he gave a me a graphic description of it all, the baker’s van in the bank, and the petrol tank whizzing round the bus which had been thrown in the air like a bomb etc. Also how he had to drag himself and bicycle into safety. And I said “But what about the car?” And then he finished up saying “and the car went on!” I wonder if you at all realised the scene? All the people go out of the bus. Martha Ballinger says she has not felt right since. The old post man was the best, and he is an old brick. He said “I did not tell them who I thought was in it!”

What do you think of poor old Ted going off so soon? We are going up for tea this afternoon. Nell and Jane met us coming out of church this morning. Ted and his sister Ben will be coming this afternoon. Nell seems very quiet over it, but I am so sorry he has to go off so soon.

I dare say all my news is stale, but have you heard that Ben Ballinger has joined the Royal Gloucester Artillery. He is so proud of himself but will not be called up yet. I am going to send Eric Robinson’s address in this for you to give Jack who wanted it.

I hope you will forgive the scribble, but you must remember my poor bandaged thumb. I saw Mrs Birchall on Wednesday. Her children went home on Monday trying to make up their minds which they liked best, Captain Periwinkle or Jack Fielding. I called on Mrs Stephens this week, she really was quite nice and I had quite a nice time with her. Angela is very sorry about Nell’s engagement as she had been looking forward to seeing much of Nell and now feels Nell is very much grown up and out of her reach.

Well dear, can’t think of much more. Mrs Powel sends her love to you and Jack. Between you and me I think he [who?] is feeling very Sunday afternoonish and can’t think of anything else to say, but he says “tell Jack he made all the people in the bus bustle out”. I hope Jack will properly enjoy the jokes.

Jane had a new coat on. Quite nice. Kakhi colour. Three quarter. Very plain. And she can wear it with that old skirt she had of the same colour, and that way gets a complete outfit.

Much love to you and Jack

Your loving Auntie Dodie

Dreda and Ben appear in Nell’s photographs that autum and so does “Jane”, but it’s not clear if Dody is referring to Jane Berryman or someone else.

There was still a Mrs Ballinger living in the village in the 1960s probably the daughter-in-law of Martha Ballinger. Martha’s husband Frank had died of tetanus poisoning in 1912, two weeks after working putting in fence posts. Her son Edward had been killed fighting in France in February 1915. Ben Ballinger survived the First World War and worked as a gardener.

Jack Fielding 1915

Jack Fielding 1915

Possibly Louie Fielding c1915

Probably Louie Fielding, c1915

Letter from Dodie - pg 1

Letter from Dodie – pg 1

Letter from Dodie - pg 2

Letter from Dodie – pg 2

Letter from Dodie - pg 3

Letter from Dodie – pg 3


Posted by on 5 December, '15 in About



3 December 1915 – John Fielding to his son Jack

This letter is from Nell’s father to her brother Jack. And many, many fathers since. 

The Fielding Family, 1915. Jack is seated back left, and his father is seated right, with the dog

The Fielding Family, c1915.
Jack is in uniform and his father is seated right, with the dog

Fielding and Platt

December 3rd 1915

My dear Jack

I rather expected a line from you explaining what had happened to the car. I presume you can hardly have been aware, or you would have mentioned it, [but] when I went out to the station I found that the nearside wings were both so badly knocked about that I have had to order new ones, and the petrol box was missing except for a few fragments. Really, it would have been much better to have missed the train than to have caught it at this expense and risk.

My particular object in writing is to warn you very seriously against the tremendous risks you run when driving a car. The losses and damage to the car are one of the last things to be considered compared with the risk to yourself and passengers. And also the people in the road! One of these days, unless you take much greater care, I am afraid there will be a dreadful trouble. And I am very nervous indeed when I remember that you think of having a car, especially as you might be driving at night on not very suitable roads. I would much rather you didn’t, and I hope you will be satisfied to do with your motor bike and be very cautious even with this. You mustn’t think I am faddy. Remember, that you have had a good many incidents latterly upon which my fears are founded.

I have not heard of any damage being done to the omnibus or the baker’s cart, but inquiries are being made about a grey car, and I believe the petrol box is held by one of the Matson cottagers. I confess, I am not keen about asking for it, and I am making no claim on the insurance company because I don’t think it is a fair risk from their point of view.

What I want to impress upon you is this. That whenever you see other traffic in front, consider it as a danger signal and at once get your car in hand to be able to stop within a yard. Until you do this, you are a danger to the public. The best drivers are the most careful ones and those who will not take risks. I don’t know whether you have a driving licence or not, or whether one is required for a bike, but if anything happened and you haven’t a licence, it would be awkward.

Now to change the subject. Keble[?] writes to say he has a chill and so is prevented from seeing you again. But did you write to him? If not, you had better do so and say you have heard from the office, etc. I hope Louie is enjoying her visit The weather here will not help her much. We had a post card from Marjorie, but I don’t know her next address and it will be no use sending her present one. Mother is much better but has not been out. Nor do I see much prospect in view of the fog and the damp.

How are you situated financially? Let me know. I expect you have had rather an expensive time lately.

Love to Louie and yourself,


It's not clear if this is the car that Jack crashed, but it came from Nell's 1915 photograph album

It’s not clear if this is the car that Jack crashed, but the photo was in Nell’s 1915 photograph album


Posted by on 3 December, '15 in About



November 1915 – Nell to Jack Fielding

My dear old Jonathan,

I am so glad you are pleased to get one of your sisters engaged at last. The worst of it is that Father won’t let it be made public for six months. As you can imagine it is jolly hard to keep it a secret as lots of people seemed to know about it before it ever came  off. Ted wants me to go down to Guildford with him this weekend and spend Saturday in town and do a theatre. But if we aren’t publicly engaged Father might not let me go. I do hope he will as it would be such fun.

Do you realise I am working? I’m learning shorthand and type writing & and getting really quite brainy. I have done all my work and Mrs Tyler isn’t here to tell me what else to do so I am improving the shining hour by writing to you. I spent the weekend in Cheltenham with Ted and Jane in their rooms. It was a rag.

They had a concert on Friday and as the programme was too short, Ted sang some George Robey songs in costume and conducted the rag orchestra and it was a great success and there was a precious account of it in the Echo. We want to get him to come over here and do something at the hospital…

I am so glad you know Ted. It is rotten that Marjorie doesn’t. How funny it must not be to know your sister’s fiasco (sic).  I don’t know when it will come as it was only born this week and I think it is going to be trained first.

Yours to a cinder,


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Posted by on 7 November, '15 in About


1 November 1915 – Pauline Fielding to Jack Fielding

Excerpt from a letter from Nell’s mother to her brother.

I wonder if you will be very surprised to hear that Ted Berryman is in love with Nell, he spoke to Father yesterday, it is arranged that if they are in the same mind at the end of the six months they may be formally engaged then, & in the meantime nothing is to be said to anyone about it, but I do not see how it is to be kept secret for so long. What do you think about it, I like Ted very much but Nell is very young for him, however I feel sure he will be very good to her.

My mother, writing in the 1980s, said:

The six months edict lasted exactly a week, during which Ted collected Nell every day from her typing school and gave her lunch at the Gloucester Club… John Fielding, who also lunched at the club, realised that everyone else must see how things were and bowed to the inevitable, as much as to his own relief as that of the young couple.

The Berryman family were delighted.

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Posted by on 1 November, '15 in About


Report from Jim’s Commanding Officer – 10 Oct 1915

One thing that comes through from the letters is how differently the brothers coped with the War, with the two already in the services (Ted in the army, Paul in the navy) fully engaged and understanding how it was being waged, and the younger two who signed up in 1914, Jim and Topher, finding it harder to adapt to. The eldest, Richard, is always veiled in what he writes to his mother and it is impossible to tell how he reacted to the horrors he must have dealt with as a medic. 

I am grateful to Robert Clark of for the following information.

By October 1915 Jim had been in training for a year, first in the Public Schools Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment and, once he had received a temporary commission, in the 18 (Service) Battalion (1 Public Works Pioneers). Pioneers battalions were a new idea in the British Army, intended to provide skilled labour which would relieve other infantry battalions from non-combat roles. In September 1915, the Battalion was training on Salisbury Plain. However, a medical board convened on 23 September decided that Jim was unfit for general service for a month. Shortly afterwards, he received an adverse report from his C.O. which would see him leave the Battalion a month before it was due to leave for France. 

10 October 1915

In accordance with verbal instructions from the from the General Officer Commanding Division, I beg to forward a report on the undermentioned officer.

This officer’s state of health has been more or less unsatisfactory during his service with this Battalion. I do not consider him likely to do well on active service whilst this Battalion was stationed at Rayleigh he had a months sick leave. He has a curvature of the spine which gives him an excuse for avoiding anything he does not care for. I would strongly recommend his transfer to a Reserve Battalion. [Emphasis in the original].

This was followed by another letter on the 12 October sent to the War Office.

Headquarters Salisbury Training Camp

I recommend that this officer should be transferred to another formation, and his promotion should be delayed. I shall be glad if another officer may be appointed to take his place in the 18 Middlesex Pioneers at an early date.

Major-General Herman Landon
Commanding 33 Division

Ouch, just ouch. I am curious how much of this correspondence he himself saw, and what he told his mother Gertrude, that stickler for hard work and duty who took so much status from having five serving sons.

Jim was transferred to the 25 / Middlesex, a reserve battalion formed in October 1915 and he joined them on 23 October in Hornchuch in Essex. Life would have followed a mundane patter of training new recruits and it must have been hard for him to watch them depart for the front. 


Posted by on 12 October, '15 in About


12 September 1915 – Gladys to Jack Fielding, about Ted


Sept. 12th 1915-

Dear Jack,

We have been wishing you were home this week, we had a real old pre-war madcap of it on Friday- & longed for you & Marjorie. Captain Davis is now at the camp on Sneedham’s Green & he asked us to a tea party on Tuesday & we had a jolly time of it & played “up jenkins” on his bath for a table!

Two other officers – a Captain Berryman & Mr Culverwell were at the party, both very jolly & both home from the front- They belonged to the Indian army & were wounded & are now temporarily attached here. Well – during tea someone said what a pity we couldn’t have a fancy dress ball or some such jollification in the old Y.M.C.A tent! So we suggested our house as a trifle more feasible & so we fixed it up then & there for the Friday evening! The only other guests were Auntie, Bertha & the rector & Mrs Williams, who are staying at Belmont & Helen Fox.

We all dressed up & at 8 our guests arrived & were rigged up variously as greek, pirate & turk! Captain Berryman is a great sport, you’d like him awfully, he simply kept us in fits, Father was nearly ill & Auntie kept on gasping “I can’t laugh any more!” I hope he’ll still be here when you get your next leave.

Aileen Vinicombe & Margaret Walker are staying here too so we were quite a jolly party. I really think you would lose your heart to Margaret, she is one of the most taking little persons I know. A bit like little Marion only much more in her.

The rector came late & when he did make his appearance he came solemnly in pyjamas, & carrying a baby’s bottle & a candle, a beautiful dressing gown, night cap/& walking round the room, still very solemn, he at last found Babs to whom he presented the feeding bottle!

We had a very nice photo arrive yesterday from Oxo in his officer’s kit. He is attached to the 2nd Gloucesters. Did you hear we have a cart for Nobby. A ralli car in neutral coloured wood, upholstered in grey- It is quite smart & runs beautifully. So the C.O. looks kindly on you, don’t be overcome by his blandishments whatever happens!

I suppose it’s no good thinking yet about another leave but I do hope it won’t be so long on the way this time.

We had all the clerks from the office here yesterday, several of them said “We want Jack here today”. So we did & so we do so can’t you get down again soon. How about your teeth by the way – oughtn’t they to be seen to?

Must go now as I’m due at the camp.

Much love


Ted met four sisters at a tea party on Tuesday 7th September at the camp at Sneedhams Green outside Gloucester. The Fielding sisters had been invited to tea by an officer returning hospitality who asked Ted to come along to help him entertain them. As Gladys says in her letter to her brother, this led to the party on Friday the 10th at their house above Gloucester. 

The sisters were still in mouring for their grandfather and were not sure what to wear. Nell, aged seventeen and the youngest but one, compromised with a white blouse and a black skirt and tied her dark hair back with a black ribbon. 

Their father John Fielding owned an engineering works in Gloucester. He and his wife Pauline had five daughters including Gladys who wrote this letter to their only son, her brother Jack.

Ted in 1915

Ted in 1915

Nell c1915 aged 17

Nell c1915 aged 17

Fielding Family and Friends c1915

Fielding Family and Friends c1915

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Posted by on 12 September, '15 in Ted Berryman