The Signalman (part 2)

I have finished the 2nd flag in a new body of work that I have titled The Signalman. The work is for a new group exhibition, The Archive Project@ The Cello factory . The exhibition is at The Cello Factory, 33-34 Cornwall Road, Waterloo London SE1 8TJ from Thursday 4 May 2017 – Friday 12 May 2017.

The starting point for my work is a personal archive – a journal that was written by my grandfather, Charles Thomas Sewell, who was a Leading Signalman on the Light Cruiser, HMS Southampton, during the Battle of Jutland in 1916. He survived the battle and left a concise, but personal, account of the events of 31 May and 1 June. The main events of the battle are told using key words and phrases that have been taken either from my grandfather’s memoir or from the record of Naval signals that were sent during the battle. The Signalman takes the form of three ‘flags’ where the narrative of each is notated with a different method of signal communication. Each flag commemorates a different part of the battle. 1. The beginning, 2. The day action and 3. The night action.


The semaphore code on Flag 2 spells out, ‘Urgent. Have sighted enemy battle fleet.’ It is part of  signal 497 that was sent from HMS Southampton to the Commander in Chief of the Battle cruiser fleet at 16.38 GMT on 31 May 1916. The original message was sent by wireless telegraphy and announced the first sighting of the enemy during the day action at the Battle of Jutland.


Flag 2: Day action

Urgent. Have sighted enemy battle fleet.

Wed 31 May 1916, 16.38 GMT

Signal Method: Semaphore

Linen, felt, cotton, wire, brass

Written by Charlie Sewell in his memoir:

‘Incidents in the action were taking place very rapidly; we in HMS Southampton with our squadron ahead of HMS Lion had a close view of most events, some discouraging. At about 4.30pm we sighted the enemy battle fleet and reported the fact to Admiral Jellicoe in HMS Iron Duke…. In order to obtain the disposition and composition of the enemy battle fleet Commodore Goodenough led his Light Cruiser Squadron in between the lines and it was for all the staff on the upper bridge a very thrilling experience.




9 thoughts on “The Signalman (part 2)

  1. ellymo70

    Hello Debbie

    I was very interested to read about your work about your grandfather Charles Thomas Sewell. I am also a Sewell and we have a family tree showing that we were from either Essex or East London (Mile End Road).

    The family tree shows 4 brothers who were taken into care probably in the 1800’s and my family tree is from 2 of the brothers and we have been trying to find the other two. My nephew is doing all the research

    However, I just wondered if you had a family tree which may show up one of the missing brothers. Interesting.

    Best wishes



    1. debbielyddon Post author

      Hi Elaine,

      This is very interesting. We haven’t really delved back very far but this is what I know: My grandad Charlie Sewell was born in 1894 in Clapham, London. He had two brothers, William and Ernest. His father was John Sewell who was born in 1860 in Northampton. I doubt it’s the same branch of the family …. but who knows! Debbie x

  2. Pingback: The Signalman (part 3) | debbie lyddon

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