World War I 1914-1918
In 1914, on the outbreak of the Great War, despite its members having volunteered and trained for service at sea, the RNVR was mobilised and marched off to the trenches as the Royal Naval Division. This extraordinary decision to use the RNVR as soldiers was not sweetened by the fact that latecomers volunteering further into the war did get the opportunity to go to sea.
Dundee’s 7 officers and 150 men joined Hood Battalion of the Second Brigade, were sent to Belgium for the defence of Antwerp and narrowly avoided internment with the other battalions during the chaotic retreat of the following few days. During this retreat the Division’s Silver Band discarded its instruments, but they were recovered by the Belgians and returned to Dundee in 1920. These instruments still form part of Tay Division’s Silver Band.
HMS Unicorn herself remained in Dundee and had an active war as the headquarters for the Senior Naval Officer, Dundee. HMS Vulcan had arrived in the Tay in 1910 to act as a submarine depot ship and a seaplane base had been started at the Stannergate in 1913; both of these were active throughout the War.
The Naval Reserves played a great and decisive part in both World Wars, and a War Memorial onboard commemorates those of HMS Unicorn’s Company who went to war and did not return. Although Unicorn did not go out to war, her people certainly did. Even more remarkably, she took the surrender of a German U-Boat at the end of World War II, a unique action for a wooden sailing warship.
Unicorn may not have have sailed to war in her designed role, but she certainly served her country well.
A Tay Naval Reserve Memorial Service has been held in the afternoon of every Remembrance Sunday for almost a century, and continues to this day. All are welcome at this moving and uplifting event.