Frank Hanna

Frank Hanna, who served in these two small ships, has a special place in history. A contemporary journalist believed he was the first person to obtain a command through Winston Churchill's Mates scheme, set up to promote outstanding men from the "lower deck." Before then it was almost impossible for sailors from the ranks to become officers. His nephew Michael Hanna, the author of the research on this website, was born in 1926. Although Michael never met him, he absorbed stories about Frank from an early age.

Frank Hanna joined the Navy as Boy Seamen (2nd Class) in 1900. He was ambitious and in July, 1912, was promoted to Warrant Officer, the most senior rank a man of the lower deck could reach at that time. Neither ambition nor ability could help him now. He would remain a Gunner (T) until he retired – or so it seemed.

However, in October of that same year Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, announced that 100 carefully selected young warrant officers and petty officers would be commissioned early in their careers. Frank seized his chance and, after being accepted for the new scheme by the Selection Board, successfully completed the necessary courses and received the King’s Commission early in 1913 as Mate, a rank equal to Sub Lieutenant but one which distinguished officers from the lower deck from the better off and better connected young men who had entered the service in the usual way as officer cadets.

On the outbreak of war in August, 1914, Frank was serving in Torpedo Boat Number One, a small craft that patrolled the East Coast from her base in Immingham until she moved to Newhaven to work in the Channel. On promotion to Lieutenant in June 1915, Frank was appointed to the 6-inch gunned monitor M30, a ship in which he saw action off the Gallipoli Peninsula and with the Smyrna Patrol.

Lt. Frank Hanna, on left, on board Monitor M30
Following the sinking of M30 by Turkish gunfire in 1916 Lieutenant Hanna joined the “bulged” cruiser Grafton that provided fire support for the troops engaged in the Salonica campaign. After Grafton was torpedoed Frank Hanna was given command of PC68, a naval craft altered while building to resemble a coastal tramp steamer, which operated as SS Telford, a submarine decoy vessel (or Q boat), in the western approaches until February, 1918, and then as a convoy escort until the end of the war. In this craft Frank contracted tuberculosis, an affliction which led to him being invalided from the Navy post-war and, eventually, to his death.

A journalist from an unknown paper visited PC 68 in 1918, as the ship’s log records, and his report, while concealing the true identity of the ship for security reasons – he names it as the “Innocent Babe” - gives a description of her commanding officer. He wrote:

“The Captain of the “Innocent Babe” was one of the mates promoted under the Churchill-Battenberg scheme, the first, if I am right, to hold a command. If the others are made of the same stuff, the sooner they are given commands, too, the better. In him the lower deck has distinctly “made good.” Of Irish blood, he spent nearly all his life in London. He was studying for the Civil Service when his father died; the loss changed the world for the boy, and he “packed up and went into the Navy.”

The writer continues: “The officers said of him ‘that he liked things done smartly’. Looking at his own way of doing things, it was easy to believe. There was never any hesitation about a movement he made – it carried out swiftly a quick decision. He had ‘eyes all down his coat’ and was a judge of men, in which a sense of humour aided him. He was medium height and medium build, pale of face and blue grey eyes: his age was perhaps 35 and his rank lieutenant.”

Frank, who was invalided in 1921, died in 1933 holding the rank of Commander and was buried in Arundel.

After serving in the Navy himself from 1944 to 1947 Michael Hanna found his historical interests focussing on the naval side of WW1 and the part his uncle's ships played in it during the early years of the conflict. A study of the ships' logs soon threw up important questions. Why were the ships built? What was their function? Why were they based where they were? What were the wide ranging operations in which they were assigned minor roles? In the two histories of these small ships the author tries to find answers to these questions.

Two Small Ships was researched and written by Michael Hanna and co-ordinated by The Two Small Ships (WW1) Society: the founding members are Michael Hanna, his daughter Lynn Hanna, his niece Clare Hanna, the local historian and graphic designer Chris Matthews who designed the two small ships site, and Dr John Edwards who built the original sister site All members are listed in the Contact section of this website.

1 comment:

  1. What a fascinating story. It cant have been an easy life.. My grandfather died on a ship off South Africa in the first world war and my dad served on mine sweepers in the north Atlantic in WW2 so the history of the war at sea has always fascinated me. Thanks for sharing this story
    Marion Edwards