The Newhaven-Dieppe Service

Newhaven and Dieppe Ferries during the First World War

The eight passenger ships on the Newhaven to Dieppe cross-channel service were involved in war work. They were the steam ships Arundel (1900), Brighton IV (1903), Dieppe IV (1905), France (1899), Newhaven III (1911), Paris IV (1913), Rouen IV (1912) and Sussex II (1896). The fleet was jointly owned by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway and the French State Railway. Therefore, some of the ships were requisitioned by the British Admiralty and others by the French Admiralty.

In August 1914, Newhaven became one of the major supply ports to the Western Front. From 12th August, the cross-channel passenger service between Newhaven and Dieppe was transferred to run a limited service out of Folkestone, before being suspended in 1916 until after the end of the war. The Arundel was initially transferred to Folkestone, before being fitted out as a Troopship. The Brighton was requisitioned as a Troopship by the Admiralty in March 1915, before being converted to a Hospital Ship. The Dieppe was initially used for carrying stores and munitions across the channel, before also being converted to a Hospital Ship. The France, which had originally been sold on 3rd November 1913, was bought back on 1st April 1915. She was then chartered by the British Admiralty as a Troopship between 17th July 1915 and 27th April 1919, working between Newhaven and Dieppe and also out of Southampton, Dover and Folkestone. The Newhaven was initially employed by the French Admiralty before being transferred to the British Admiralty and fitted out as a Hospital Ship. The Paris was initially transferred to Folkestone before being converted into a Minelayer, whilst the Rouen was mobilised as an Auxiliary Scout. The Sussex was first employed as a Troopship, but then returned to a passenger service running out of Folkestone.

The Lines of Communication for the BrightonDieppe and Newhaven, held at the National Archives, show they were working as Hospital Ships at the beginning of 1917. Technically, a Hospital Ship is a floating hospital. Most of the ships requisitioned from the railway companies were known as Hospital Carriers. From May/June 1917 the Brighton and Newhaven became Ambulance Transports, meaning they were no longer protected by treaty or entitled to the distinctive livery of a red cross on a white background. They were, however, able to carry troops.

The passenger service between Newhaven and Dieppe resumed in July 1919.

S.S. Brighton IV (1903)

As well as her work as a Troopship and Hospital Ship/Ambulance Transport, the Brighton also carried a number of dignitaries on war business. On 29th November 1914, King George V set sail from Newhaven on board the Brighton for his first visit to the troops on the Western Front. Captain James Ellis, Master of the Brighton, was presented with a gold tie pin from the King, as a souvenir of the occasion. The tie pin was in the form of a “replica of the royal crown in gold with a background of ruby and set with pearls and brilliants”.

On 26th December 1918, following Christmas dinner with his troops in France, U.S. President Wilson and his staff travelled to England on board the Brighton. President Wilson remained as a guest of the King, at Buckingham Palace, until 31st December.

On 29th June 1919, the Brighton returned peace delegates, including the Prime Minister Lloyd George, to Folkestone.

The Brighton continued to work as an Ambulance Transport until March 1920. In the two months after the Armistice, the Brighton also repatriated over 1,000 British POWs.

S.S. Paris IV (1913) as a Minelayer

The Paris was the latest addition to the Newhaven and Dieppe passenger fleet. In November 1914, she was requisitioned by the British Admiralty for mine-laying in the North Sea, particularly off the coast of Flanders. Four guns were mounted on her upper deck and a higher bridge, with a range finder, was built. The mines were carried on the main deck, with a full load weighing nearly 200 tons.

During 1916, she laid mines off the coast of Belgium. During 1917/18, she laid deep mines in the anti-submarine barriers in the Dover Strait and off the coasts of Yorkshire and the North of Scotland.

The Paris returned to the Newhaven and Dieppe service on 6th November 1919.

S.S. Rouen IV (1912)

On 2nd August 1914, the Rouen was taken over by the French Navy and used as an Auxiliary Scout, with the 2nd Light Squadron. She assisted French submarines, and engaged with enemy submarines. On one occasion, the engagement lasted 25 minutes, after which the enemy was presumed to be sunk or badly damaged.

In December 1916, the Rouen was torpedoed when returning from an engagement with an enemy submarine in the Bay of St. Malo. Five men were killed and several badly wounded. Following the attack, she drifted towards Dieppe, but was instead towed to Cherbourg, where she was repaired.

During 1917, the Rouen carried troops between Corfu and Taranto, and then served as a Seaplane Tender until 1919.

She returned to the Newhaven and Dieppe cross-channel service on 12th August 1919.

The ‘Sussex Pledge’

On 24th March 1916, whilst carrying 386 civilian passengers (including several Americans) and around 50 crew, the Sussex was torpedoed, without warning, by German submarine UB-29. Although she remained afloat, the explosion and subsequent panic resulted in 80 casualties, including the loss of 50 lives.

American President, Woodrow Wilson, declared that if Germany continued this practice, the United States would break diplomatic relations. In an attempt to prevent the U.S. entering the war, Germany issued the ‘Sussex Pledge’. This was a promise not to target passenger ships. Also merchant ships would not be sunk until the presence of weapons had been established and then, not without providing for the safety of passengers and crew. The ‘Sussex Pledge’ was rescinded in January 1917, when Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare. This in turn led to the United States declaring war on Germany on 6th April 1917.

Newhaven man, Charles Price, was awarded a bronze medal by the President of the French Council for Foreign Affairs in recognition of his “courage and devotion” in saving the lives of passengers.

By Jenny Flood.

Photographs by kind permission of Newhaven Museum.

Details relating to Captain Ellis can be found in album 41 pages 1-4 and those relating to Charles Price’s award for bravery, in album 6 page 36. Both albums are part of Newhaven Museum’s collection.

The Lines of Communications for the Brighton, Dieppe and Newhaven can be found in the National Archives.

Further Reading

London, Brighton and South Coast Railway’s Part in the Great War in ‘The Railway and Travel Monthly’, April 1919 (ref 33.1.4)

The LB&SCR, Marine Department in the Great War G F Collins in ‘The Brighton Circular’, February 1977 (ref 33.1.4)

A Chronology of the Port of Newhaven, Sussex compiled by A T Saunders

Newhaven-Dieppe Service: The Story of the Cross Channel Ferry Service by Peter Bailey and Claude Feron.

All of these are available to read at Newhaven Museum.