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‘Santa Claus’ ship USS Jason docked at Devonport just over a century ago to deliver presents to children whose fathers had been either killed or wounded in the First World War. The cargo ship, designed to carry coal to fuel navy warships, had been involved in another humanitarian mission earlier in the year when she helped to transport refugees from Mexico to safety in Louisiana. She went on to have a long career, not being decomissioned until 1932, and then entering merchant service for a number of years.

Back in the USA, an appeal had been made urging people to donate Christmas presents for the children of Europe. The message to Americans was:
“You can stretch out your hands, across the sea bearing messages of love and hope and sympathy to the children of a war ridden continent – messages from fortunate America to unfortunate Europe.”

The generous American public responded by donating 12,000 tons of gifts, including toys, clothes and boots. The presents were then distributed to children across the UK in time for Christmas by a military charity which still operates to this day, SSAFA. It’s important to note that the project was strictly neutral, with German children also receiving gifts donated in America.


The gun-barrels in the photograph

Interestingly, in the photo of the ship docking, you can see four very large gun-barrels behind the waiting sailors. They are likely to be 13.5-inch barrels which were the main armament of most of the Navy’s battleships at that time.  The 13.5 had replaced the earlier 12-inch gin design in 1912. On the other hand, the first of the new Queen Elizabeth class had just been completed in the same month and they were fitted with the new 15-inch gun that was to be the standard weapon for RN capital ships right through to the end of the line  – the Vanguard which was launched after the end of the Second War.


13.5-inch gun turret on the battlecruiser HMS Lion in June 1916 being repaired after damage suffered in the Battle of Jutland.


The rapid advances in gun design and increases in calibre were an indication of just how fast this technoogy was developing in the years leading up to the Great War. It is almost inconceivable today for such major changes to be made without years of detailed analysis and testing. In fact, the new 15-inch guns were installed in the QE class having effectively been ordered straight from the “drawing board”, and without being fully tested. What is more,  they were not tested during the work-up of the ship after commissioning in accordance with wartime practises.

Perhaps one of our readers could shed some light on which type of barrels are in the photo.

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