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Hospital + Troop Ships Exhibition

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An exhibition showing how the ships and crews of the Mercantile Marine met the need in the First World War to transport troops from Britain, its Empire and Allies to fronts around the world and bring home the wounded. 'Hospital + Troop Ships' is on until Sunday 31st May, admission free, on board a ship in central London.

In 1914, 43% of the world's merchant ships, some 20 million tons gross and the largest fleet in the world, was owned and operated by Britain and the Dominions. Keeping Britain in business, the ships brought in food and raw materials, exporting industry's output to the world. Those roles became even more vital in the War but from the shipping lines' passenger fleets, ocean liners to ferries were taken up as troopships and hospital ships. Troopships took soldiers from Britain, Canada, South Africa, India, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere to the fighting on the Western Front, in the Dardenelles, Middle East and Africa, as well as bringing labour for non-combat units from the West Indies, South Africa, Mauritius, India, China and Fiji. Troopships too brought the American forces to Europe from June 1917. Around 100 merchant vessels served as hospital ships. Some became ambulance transports, carrying the wounded and sick on to further treatment in Britain or elsewhere. Others were hospitals afloat, treating casualties brought directly from the battlefield. Indicative of the task of these ships, their crews and medical staff is that Britain itself had 7,000 military hospital beds in 1914; 200,000 in 1916 and 364,000 by the time of the Armistice in 1918. Moreover, hospital ships were no less at risk from mine or torpedo, 16 hospital ships being lost to enemy action.

The Dardenelles and Gallipoli campaign

Displayed in the exhibition together with film; photos; paintings; large-scale ship models; uniform; medals; surgical instruments; ships' fittings and more, are extracts of the diary of Kathleen 'Kitty' Mann. From serving in a Brighton military hospital as a member of the Territorial Force Nursing Service, in July 1915 Kitty left with other nursing sisters on HMHS Salta for the eastern Mediterranean to nurse and evacuate casualties from the first Gallipoli landings, subsequently transferring to two Australian hospital ships, HMAT Ulysses and Marathon. After home leave and now as Matron of the hospital ship HMHS Devanha, Kitty again sailed for the Dardenelles in October 1915. Her diary tells of dealing with casualties during the Allied withdrawal which began in December 1915 following the failure of the Gallipoli campaign in which some 44,000 Allied troops were killed and 97,000 wounded. Enemy casualties are estimated as 86,000 dead and 167,000 wounded. Coming home in HMHS Britannic in October 1916, Kitty's return to civilian life was short-lived since she joined Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve as a Sister and embarked for France on 16th June 1917, serving until demobilised on 26th July 1919.

National recognition and honours

Because of the Mercantile Marine's service and sacrifice in the First World War, its flag, the Red Ensign, has been displayed on the Cenotaph in Whitehall since its erection in 1919, recognising it as the 'Fourth Service' alongside the Royal Navy, Army and Royal Air Force. Further, HM King George V decreed in 1928 that the Mercantile Marine was to be known as the 'Merchant Navy', conferring the title 'Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets' upon Edward, Prince of Wales. The appointment is held now by HM The Queen.

Admission and travel

Admission is free

'Hospital + Troop Ships' being open to the public from 11 am to 5 pm on Sundays and Mondays only from 5th April* to Sunday 31 May 2015 inclusive, on board HQS Wellington, moored on the Victoria Embankment, London WC2. Opposite Temple station on the Underground's Circle and District lines, the ship is a short walk from the Strand and its 4,6,9,11,13,15,23,26,76,87,172 and 341 'bus services.

Using London River Services, the ship's mooring is midway between Blackfriars and Embankment piers.


*To mark the Gallipoli centenary and ANZAC Day, the exhibition will be open on Saturday 25th April (11 am to 5 pm) when there will be 3 commemorative ceremonies in London: a Dawn Service at Hyde Park Corner, a service at The Cenotaph and a service at Westminster Abbey. However, 'Hospital + Troop Ships' will be closed on Sunday 26th April because of the London Marathon, reopening on Monday 27th April.


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