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  • Claire Jordan

For Daddy To See

My new favourite picture.

It appeared in an unknown British newspaper with the caption:

“Stoker T. Taylor of Cadoxton, Barry, has not seen his baby. Mrs Taylor asked us to publish this photograph, knowing he will see it in the newspaper.”

A little bit of digging uncovered the story.

Mrs Taylor is Eliza Jane; she is 18 years old and has been married to Stoker Tom for about six months when she had this picture taken in the autumn of 1914.

The baby is Margery May, born three days into the War itself.

Dad Tom had been at sea for three years by this time and had been stoking aboard the armoured cruiser HMS Argyll since the beginning of the year.

He would be posted to the brand-new sloop-of-war HMS Arabis soon after her launch at the end of 1915.

Arabis was assigned to the 10th Sloop Flotilla, tasked with keeping the North Sea clear of mines.

On 10th February 1916, the Germans sent about 25 torpedo-laden destroyers to Dogger Bank to try to disrupt Allied shipping.

As midnight approached, Arabis and her fellow mine-sweeping sloops Poppy, Buttercup and Alyssum were the only British ships then in the vicinity.

Each of the four little sloops was armed with only two 4.7 inch guns, and two 3-pounder anti-aircraft guns.

They were no match for the two-dozen heavily-armed enemy destroyers now bearing down on them out of the freezing darkness.

At first, the new Arabis-class ships were not recognised by the German sailors and they hesitated to attack, believing them initially to be much more threatening battle-cruisers. The Admiralty had only resurrected the idea of the sloop-of-war.

But seeing that, whatever these little ships were, they were certainly outnumbered six-to-one, they began their attack.

The best chance the little Sloop Flotilla had was to escape, and Poppy, Buttercup and Alyssum managed to flee.

But Arabis, with new dad Tom Taylor frantically stoking the engines, was caught by three of the German destroyers and engaged.

Initially, she fought them off.

But then six of the enemy warships came about and closed in on her.

With all four of her little guns still blazing and the sailors fighting for their lives, she was struck by multiple torpedoes and quickly sank.

About thirty of her 79-man crew were pulled out of the freezing February North Sea by the Germans, including her Commanding Officer, but four of them soon died from exposure.

It was reported that the survivors were kindly treated by their captors, who were moved by the gallant resistance of all on board the Arabis that night.

One of them was Eliza Jane’s Stoker Tom.

We know at least that, whether or not he ever saw his young wife’s photograph placed in the newspaper ‘for Daddy to see’, he did meet little Margery May before his brave death.

For five months after he was lost in this Second Battle of Dogger Bank, Eliza Jane gave birth to their second child, a little boy she named Tom after the father who would, this time, never see him.

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