It is truly amazing how the smallest, often really insignificant, things lead to the most startling discoveries and the packs playing cards that turned up in boxes various during the mighty loft clearout at my late father’s former abode were no exception. So fascinating became the subject I am now verging on starting a playing card collection (but will hopefully recover before it takes hold). Apart from a bit of Crib, Solo and the occasional Bridge Evening at school I have never been fussed about playing cards, or playing cards come to that. This apathy stems from my grandmother on my mother’s side who was a card player of some repute not to say one of the first lady chartered accountants! We’d all sit around and joyously open our Christmas presents, then she’d spend the rest of Christmas Day winning them off of us. No prisoners taken, if we lost then they were gone. I got the hang of that pdq and only got robbed once at age seven choosing never to play again. My younger brother (age 5) chose a different strategy and over the coming year taught himself card tricks and the finer points of ‘gaining the advantage’. In later life it made him a formidable card player who could spot someone cheating at a hundred paces. This led to not a few interesting incidents in the pub. Quite who the cards had belonged to I had no idea but I don’t ever recall my father playing cards but me mum did occasionally play bridge. Maybe they were simply acquired and squirreled away.
What especially caught my eye were two packs, one featuring a truly magical semi-naked stunning dancer (hardly surprising) and the other entitled ‘Commonwealth Government Lines’ with a nice period illustration of a ship heading out to sea. Best checkout the dancer first, I felt, as it looked about 1920s, or perhaps a tad earlier, and was clearly of some quality. Studying the cover card very diligently we found that it was entitled ‘The Sixth Veil’ and there was signature in the corner but it was a little indistinct. There didn’t appear to be the makers’ name anywhere so we checked eBay, that font of knowledge that generally throws up something of note or value (well you never know), to try and identify it a bit better. Lo and behold there was a single card advertised in America described as ‘THE SIXTH VEIL by Douglas Wales. Authentic and vintage single named playing card of a partially nude dancer in performance. Probably representing the Dance of the Seven Veils by Salome… Published by Chas Goodall in London, England in the 1920’s. Signed in the lower right corner. Erotic and beautiful…’ It was $9! Well there you go. Being American the exposed breasts were censored by a diagonal bar, was this anyway to treat a work of art? We chuckled. Rechecking our pack with a magnifying glass confirmed that indeed the signature was Douglas’s. Success. Now to date it. There were going to be a few variables here I feared, the history surrounding Salome, the Dance of the Seven Veils thing, style of card and of course the manufacturer.
In days of yore at Halton Infants School we were taught that Salome was the stepdaughter of Herod. She danced at King Herod’s birthday feast and in return for what was, probably, a pretty naughty dance he promised to give her anything she desired. She asked her mother for advice (who had a grudge against John the Baptist for speaking out against her marriage to Herod) so she suggested ‘the head of John will do nicely my dear’. Being a dutiful daughter she performs a dance and asks for JB’s head and, despite his pleas, eventually Herod sends his guards off to the dungeons and they bring it back on a plate. Nice. Its all in the Holy Bible in the Book of Matthew and another reference somewhere else.
A couple of thousand years later (give or take), in 1891, Oscar Wilde wrote the play Salome, possibly based on the play ‘La Princesse Maleine’, written in French by Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck. Wilde’s take was banned in Britain but it premiered in Paris in 1896. In the play the ‘Seven Veils’ are mentioned and a Dance does take place but it was five years after Wildes death, in 1905, the same year that the English version of Wildes play premiered in London, that Richard Strauss turned the play into an opera keeping Wilde’s text and introducing the term ‘Dance of the Seven Veils’, which is most likely based on an earlier story of the Goddess Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of love and war (odd combination) who trots off down the Underworld to visit her sister (who then imprisons her) and has to remove an article of clothing each time she passes through one of the seven gates. She does eventually get rescued and makes it back getting all her clothes (and powers) returned to her on the way out (phew). Taking things a stage further in 1907 Florent Schmitt composed a ballet La Tragédie de Salomé as a commission from Jacques Rouché for Loie Fuller and the Théâtre des Arts. Since then many films and stage plays have been produced and the subject of Salome as a bit of a vixen and woman of ill intent has featured in numerous paintings. As footnote it seems that, in later life, Salome fell through a frozen lake and her head was severed by the sharp ice but I don’t think that is in the Bible. That’s all well and good but we wanted to find out a bit more about Chas Goodall and try and date the card.
There are societies and clubs and reference stuff about everything on the web, its astounding. We soon discovered that Chas Goodall & Sons was founded in Soho in 1826 but as the business grew they moved to larger premises behind Great College Street, Camden, a former gun factory. By the 1830s they were producing over two million packs of cards a year, three quarters of the countries playing cards, and employed over a 1000 people. When the card tax was reduced from one shilling to threepence in 1862 output trebled and between Goodall and their then rival company, De La Rue, they produced two-thirds of all English playing cards. They introduced ‘Linette’ backed cards and were one of the first to use the new printing process known as chromolithography which produces those vivid and bright colours. With the outbreak of World War I production dropped and, finding no successors, the company merged with De La Rue in 1922. Despite this the Goodall brandname continued in use for quite a few years. The design of all cards produced today are largely unchanged from those designed by Charles Goodall in 1874. Production was now split between the De La Rue works at Bunhill Row and the Camden Works. In 1940 the old De La Rue printing works was destroyed in an air raid. Although in a state of disrepair the Camden Works survived until 1970 when it was sold to the Post Office and partially demolished. After the war, De La Rue’s playing cards were printed by the up and coming Waddington Company based in Leeds and in 1963 the two companies merged to become The Amalgamated Playing Card Co. De La Rue finally sold their interests to Waddington’s in 1969 which has now become Britain’s main playing card manufacturer but still retains the face designs and styles of Goodall.
We now knew all about cards but the illustration was to cause some problems. We could find out nothing about Douglas Wales apart from a few references to 1920 and ‘30s illustrations for cigarette advertisements. He was clearly a jobbing artist. Was the illustration based on a performer from an early production of Salome or Dance of the Veils? We checked the stars that played Salome on the stage along with Gustave Moreaus, famous for his painting of ‘Salome dancing before Herod’ and Audrey Beardsley who did the illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s play but every enquiry drew a blank then, as an aside, we took a look at dancing and found an image that was amazingly similar to our card. It was by F Matina but dated ‘around 1930’ so it seemed our seller’s information was a bit awry. It was also lunchtime! Checking a ‘sad card guide’ we discovered the cards we have are a design known as GD10 and ran from about 1922-1938 so that fitted. It seems then that our cards are from that period and Douglas Wales’ illustration is a fine take on Matina’s original. So the card was actually printed by De La Rue in Woodall style and quality so probably at Camden and sometime after 1930 and based on a work by Matina.
With all this new found knowledge on dating playing cards sorting the mystery ship, the original pack of cards we found which prompted this research, was going to be a doddle. Go to the Ace of Spades and there it was ‘De La Rue & Co London. Date? Well the Duty is thruppence and the ship is clearly from the Commonwealth Government Lines so all we needed to do was have a look at the history of the Line and bingo. We were in for a big surprise.
The Commonwealth Government Line was formed in Australia in 1914 to help move the stocks of wheat and wool stranded there. Often referred to as the Australia Government Line on account of its ‘sponsors’, the initial fleet was made up of 23 ex-enemy vessels and a few purchased from Britain. By 1918 they had 64 vessels but in 1921 the company was allegedly making a loss. The Board of Directors proceeded to sell the ships and by the end of 1925 only seven ships remained including ‘The Bays’. Involving a bit of political (mainly) and industrial intrigue, mixed with a bit of skulldugerry no doubt, a tender for the remaining ships was accepted from White Star. It appears the true paper value of the remaining ships was around £8 million however the Australian PM, Stanley “Spats” Bruce ‘generously’ marked the value down 70% in line with his ‘pro-British anti-Australian ownership policy’ which eventually led him to become the first Prime Minister to be voted out by his own electorate and thus allowing his political party to collapse. He wasn’t popular but strangely quite well-to-do! White Star duly paid deposit of just over a half million pounds but then, rather oddly, Aberdeen-White Star Line defaulted on payment as the major shareholder Lord Kyslant declared himself bankrupt. Then even odder Aberdeen Shipping stepped in and formed the Aberdeen & Commonwealth Line. The Commonwealth Government Line finally went in 1928. So what was the ship? Barely visible without a magnifying glass at the bottom of the card it states that the type of ship illustrated is a ‘New Fast Twin-screwed geared-turbine steamers of 13,850 tons’ and provides the ‘Quickest route, lowest fares & freight unsurpassed 3rd class accommodation to Australia’.
Checking up the list of vessels owned by the Line it soon became apparent that the illustration, as described, was a ‘Bay’, a 13,850 ton cargo-passenger liner built for the Commonwealth Government Line in the early 1920s primarily for use on the Britain to Australia shipping route to increase capacity of the popular assisted-migration and to help with the export of Australian produce. Five of the type were built in the Vickers Shipyard, Barrow-in-Furness and by W Beardmore at Dalmiur on The Clyde in the early 1920s and costing £1,250,000 each they were quite advanced for their day. At 530 ft long and drawing 29 ft 11½ they displaced 23,320 tons with oil burning boilers powering four 9,000 hp geared steam turbines driving twin screws, giving a service speed 15-16 knots fully loaded. The vessel’s passenger accommodation was originally configured for 723 third class passengers (in cabins of two, four & six berths) and up to 12 first class passengers in six two berth cabins (reserved primarily for use by Government officials). Crew accommodation met the requirements of the Australian Navigation Act of 1921 meaning that they were far superior than those provided on British registered vessels of the period! They were also equipped with six cargo holds including extensive refrigerated space designed specifically for frozen meat, dairy produce and fresh fruit exports. The five ‘Bays’ were named, Esperance, Hobsons, Largs, Moreton and Jervis Bay. As the ‘Bays’ were all completed around 1921-22 to launch the new service then the playing cards would have to be after then. As the Commonwealth Government Line had gone by 1928 that leaves quite a small window so, assuming they were promotional cards, 1921-23 would be a reasonable guess. Now the name Jervis Bay rung a few bells. Its history is remarkable.
Built with re-enforcing to take on the role of a Q-ship in the event of another war TSS Jervis Bay was finally launched from the Vickers shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness on 18th January 1922 following delays caused by shipbuilders’ strikes. She sailed from London on her maiden voyage on 26th September 1922 under Captain W.R.Chalpin for Fremantle, Australia, via the Suez Canal arriving on 27th October where she disembarked 113 passengers. She then left the same day for Port Melbourne where a further 231 passengers landed and thence onto Sydney arriving on 6th November where the last 325 passengers went ashore. In September 1926 she became the first ship on the Britain to Australia route to be equipped with a short-wave radio transmitter enabling ship to shore contact throughout the voyage. All seemed well and this became her route however, along with her four sister ships, the strong unions of the Australian crew and ports played havoc with the scheduled sailings and after steadily mounting losses the Directors, through the Australian Government, as already discussed, sold all five ships. She left Fremantle on her last voyage back to Britain on 16th June 1928 where she then continued to operate under the Aberdeen and Commonwealth Line with less troublesome British crews. In 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War, Jervis Bay and Esperance Bay (now re-named Arawa) were requisitioned by the Navy, converted to Armed Merchant Cruisers and kitted out with eight six-inch old WWI Admiralty guns and a couple of three inch anti-aircraft guns.
Entering service, crewed mainly by members of the Royal Navy Voluntary Reserve, under Commander Harris, HMS Jervis Bay was involved in a couple of incidents involving the anchor. On the first occasion, whilst at Scapa Flow prior to taking up convoy duties, the anchor fouled a cable badly damaging the windlass and she was forced to sail back to Tyne for repairs and where attempts were made to fit larger guns but sadly the mountings were found to be inadequate. In a twist of fate, taking her place on escort duty was the Rawalpindi which was sunk a few weeks later by the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Returning to service she was in collision with HMS Sabre, her anchor tearing the side out of the destroyer and almost causing it to sink, so it was back again for more repairs. All shipshape HMS Jervis Bay now set course for Freetown, Sierra Leone, picking up supplies at Dakar on the way. In January 1940 she finally took up duties protecting the Africa Convoys between South Africa and England. In February Captain Harris was taken ill and was replaced by Commander Blackburn under whose command the longest tow in the history of WWII was undertaken. He was sent to locate the stricken freighter Hartismere, under tow by the liner Queen of Bermuda, in the South Atlantic reaching it on the 19th February. The tow back to Freetown at ‘sitting-duck’ speed took 10 days and earned the crew the congratulations of the C-in-C. for retrieving the disabled freighter.
On the 1st April, Captain Fogarty Fegen took command and sailed her to Dakar and thence across the Atlantic to commence convoy escort duties based in Hamilton, Bermuda, and thus became the first ‘warship’ to tie up in Hamilton Harbour. Born to Irish parents in Southsea, Captain Fegen entered service at the age of 12 joining the Osborne Royal Naval College. Two days after the outbreak of WWI his ship, HMS Amphion, hit a mine and sunk. He survived and went on to serve on destroyers and commanded Torpedo Boat 26. In 1918, whilst commanding HMS Garland, he was awarded the Sea Gallantry Medal. Between the wars he served in training establishments for young officers and men. He was Divisional Officer at the training ship HMS Colossus at Devonport and Dartmouth being promoted to Commander on 30th June 1926 then serving as the Commander of the Royal Australian Navy’s College at Jervis Bay, exactly the place his current ship was named after. On his return to Britain he commanded the cruisers HMS Dauntless, Dragon and Curlew serving in the Reserve Fleet, held an appointment in the Anti-Submarine Division of the Admiralty, and then at Chatham, before becoming Executive Officer on the cruiser HMS Emerald in 1939. In 1940 he was promoted to Captain. He was now 49.
From Hamilton she escorted convoys to Halifax, Canada, and, on one occasion, back to Bermuda until mid July when she sailed for Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, where she went into dry dock for ‘degaussing’ which was completed in early September 1940 and she moved to Halifax to commence Atlantic Convoy escort duties. Convoy duties meant escorting the merchantmen halfway across the Atlantic where they would be met by Royal Naval vessels. This first stage was extremely dangerous as the U-boats and German naval vessels would wait, safe from the heavy protection provided on the later part of the voyage.
Having successfully escorted convoy HX72 HMS Jervis Bay left Halifax on 28th October as the only armed escort for the 37 ship Convoy HX84. Waiting out in the Atlantic for the Convoy was the German pocket battleship the Admiral Scheer, kitted out with eleven inch guns and whose captain, Captian Krancke, had been tasked with destroying as many Convoys as possible. At fifteen miles the Jervis Bay spotted the then unidentified battleship and without hesitation broke from the Convoy ordering them to scatter, laid smoke, and headed straight for it. They signalled the ship twice but got no response and when it suddenly opened fire it was quickly realised that they were up against the enemy. Undeterred the Jervis Bay set full speed ahead and, although its guns were hopelessly out of range, as it closed, opened fire with everything it had, intent on deflecting the attention of the Germans away from the convoy. One account states that ‘they threw everything apart from the ship itself at the Scheer’. For Captain Krancke the element of surprise had been well and truly lost and in the failing light it was now looking likely the convoy would escape if they didn’t stop the attacker. Despite having scored a couple of direct hits to her foredeck Krancke couldn’t believe that the Jervis Bay was still making way and at about five or six miles ordered the Scheer to come about broadside ordering all guns be brought to bear on the still approaching, and firing, Jervis Bay. As they got the range the overwhelming fire power of the Scheer was too much for the poorly armoured Jervis Bay. Undaunted, despite taking several more direct hits including three to the bridge, the first taking Captain Fegen’s arm off and the second virtually destroying what was left of the bridge the Jervis Bay still kept coming. Despite his injuries Captain Fegen drove the ship and his courageous crew on. Another hit took out one of the front gun positions and the third to the bridge killed Captain Fegen but the crew kept firing and somehow the ship still kept going until a further series of direct hits brought her to an abrupt halt but she kept firing until she started to heel over and the remaining crew abandoned ship. She finally sunk by the bows an hour later at position 52.26N/32.34W. The engagement had lasted over an hour. The Scheer had fired 335 shells and only a full-on 24-minute broadside finally stopped the Jervis Bay. 187 of her crew, including Captain Fegen were dead or missing but the diversion allowed the convoy time to scatter. The Jervis Bay’s shells had never even got close.
Watching the action was Captain Sven Olander and the crew of the Swedish ship Stureholm who, despite their neutrality, waited in the darkness until the Scheer had set off in pursuit of the, by now, widely spread out convoy, turned his ship and headed to the last position of the Jervis Bay and over the next few days managed to pick up 68 survivors although three died later from their injuries. In total 198 men were lost from the Jervis Bay. The Scheer managed to catch and sink five ships from the convoy with a loss of 253 merchant seamen. What is certain is that without the courage of the captain and crew of the Jervis Bay the majority of the ships of Convoy HX 84 would have been lost. For his actions Captain Fegen was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross which was presented to his sister in 1941 by King George IV at Buckingham Palace. In Australia and in the ports she visited the name of HMS Jervis Bay and her crew is highly revered and memorials were set up.
The Admiral Scheer was finally sunk during a raid by Avro Lancasters of Nos 1 and 3 Groups on the night of 9-10 April 1945 while in dock at Kiel. Esperance Bay (renamed Arawa) survived the war and was scrapped at Newport, Monmouthshire in 1955. Hobsons Bay was renamed Esperance Bay 2 and was scrapped in 1955 at Faslane. Largs Bay survived the war as a troopship and along with Moreton Bay was finally broken up at Barrow in 1957 which also marked the end of the Aberdeen and Commonwealth Line.
There you go, who would have though a couple of packs of cards could lead to so much interesting stuff? I still don’t know how my dad came by them, if they were originally even his. He was born in 1927 so he probably wasn’t playing cards until at least 1937 and I’m sure he wouldn’t have been allowed the Salome pack anyway. He did like ships though. My grandmother was definitely a card shark and she did travel a lot so could well have owned the Commonwealth Government Line pack. As for the Salome pack, maybe she won it in a game! Whatever, there is more to a pack of cards than meets the eye. Now what was that song ‘Deck of cards’ all about? I bet Max Bygraves never looked at the illustration.
http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/history/stories/synopsis.aspx?customid=81 Salome opera synopsis. The story without having to go to the opera.
http://www.wopc.co.uk/goodall/index.html History of the Goodall company
http://www.wopc.co.uk/delarue/index.html …and the history of De La Rue
http://www.internet-promotions.co.uk/archives/caithness/jervisbay.htm interesting well researched stuff concerning Jervis Bay crew from Caithness.
http://www.hmsjervisbay.com/ HMS Jervis Bay website lots of information.
http://www.hmsjervisbay.com/Story/HX84_OrderOfBattle.php Convoy order of battle.