Theophilus Jones, a private in the Durham Light Infantry, achieved the unfortunate distinction of being the first soldier to be killed on British soil during the First World War.
The 29-year-old was hit during the
bombardment of Hartlepool on December 16, 1914, and the König class
SMS Grosser Kurfürst was one of several warships
which were responsible for the first major home attack of that
For many years the ship's bell lay
almost forgotten in a Bristol garden but now it is coming up for
sale through Atlantic Crossing Auctions in
Southampton on March 22, one of the most interesting of the many
First World War items which are being consigned to auctions in the
100th anniversary year of the conflict starting.
Steve Booth, who has run the company
independently since 2005 and holds two sales a year, said: "We went
down on a call for some furniture from a ship
called Leviathan and the lady mentioned there
was a bell in the garden and we thought automatically it would be
from the same ship.
"It took about 20 minutes to find it
because the garden was rather big, then my colleague called me from
the other side and said 'there it is' - in a bush. It took about
half an hour to get it out and we saw the name on the bell and
realised it was quite important. I wasn't sure about the ship at
the time but did research later and found out its
Kurfürst (Great Elector) also fought at Jutland in 1916
and at the end of the war it was interned at Scapa Flow but
scuttled with the rest of the German fleet in 1919.
Mr Booth added: "It was salvaged in
1938 and went to the scrapyard in Rosyth - this is where the
connection with the ship's furniture comes in. The Bristol lady's
grandfather had gone to Rosyth to buy some furniture from a ship
called Leviathan, which was owned by the United
States Line but had previously been the Hamburg America Line
ship Vaterland, which had been ceded at the end of
the First World War to the Americans.
"The grandfather had wandered round
the scrapyard after buying this furniture and spotted the bell. He
bought it and it sat in the family home's garden down through the
Only one other German ship's bell of
this type is known in the UK, Steve said, and it now stands outside
the church of St Michael on the island of Eriskay in the Outer
Hebrides. That bell belonged to SMS Derfflinger, which
also took part in Jutland and the December 1914 bombardment,
although Derfflinger was off Scarborough and Whitby
rather than Hartlepool.
"I've been in contact with the church
to try to get theirs for a future sale but they call the
congregation to church with it every Sunday... so it's unlikely
I'll get it," said Mr Booth. "It's the only other one I've heard
of. I think the reason was that by the time these things ended up
at scrapyards round about the mid 1930s, with the rearmament
programme going on before the Second World War, they were melted
down and the metal was reused, so certainly any of these bells are
"One or two made their way back to
Germany in the middle of the last century as presentation pieces,
but by and large they went to the smelting yard."
The bell is estimated at £6500-7000 in
the 300-lot auction on March 22, with viewing from 11am on the day
of the sale or by prior arrangement.
It takes place at the Avenue St Andrew's
United Reform Church Hall in Southampton. Contact Mr Booth at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07766
Look out for a round-up of First World
War highlights sold at auctions so far in 2014 in a future issue of
ATG's printed newspaper.
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