The Signalman

Charles Thomas Sewell was a Leading Signalman on the Light Cruiser, HMS Southampton, during the Battle of Jutland in 1916. Charlie survived the battle and left a concise, but personal, account of the events of 31 May and 1 June in a hand-written memoir that was the starting point for this body of work.

The main events of the battle are told using key words and phrases that have been taken either from Charlie’s memoir or from the record of Naval signals that were sent during the battle. During WW1 signalling methods in battle were a mixture of flag, semaphore and Morse code: both wireless telegraphy and searchlight. Flags had been part of the Navy’s core skills since the Napoleonic Wars and a signalman would be able to read and transcribe messages with ease. It is therefore appropriate that The Signalman takes the form of three ‘flags’ where the narrative on each is notated with a different method of signal communication. 

I transcribed the memoir of Leading Signalman, Charlie Sewell, who was my paternal grandfather.