Old photos and their history

Cruiser, 1937

This ship looks like a C-class light cruiser, possibly the Ceres subclass. Specifically, it could be either the HMS Ceres or HMS Curlew. “Cruiser, 1937” is written on the back.

C-class cruiser

The Royal Navy built twenty-eight C-class cruisers. Their purpose was to handle the rough conditions of the North Sea. They saw extensive use during the first world war, with no losses. Six were lost during WW2.

There were five subclasses: Caroline, Calliope, Centaur, Caledon, Ceres, and Carlisle.

Ceres subclass

Five “Ceres” C-class cruisers were ordered in 1916 and completed between 1917 and 1918. They were the Cardiff, Ceres, Coventry, Curacoa, and Curlew. The Coventry, Curacoa, and Curlew were extensively rebuilt during the 1930s to become anti-aircraft cruisers.

HMS Ceres

Built by John Brown Shipbuilding & Engineering Company Ltd, the HMS Ceres was launched 24 March 1917 and then commissioned 1 June 1917. During WW1, she served with the 6th Light Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet.

During the time of this photograph, the HMS Ceres was no longer active and part of the reserve fleet. She would not be recommissioned until the outbreak of war in 1939. After the war, the ship was sold on 5 April 1946 to be broken up.

Stolen jewellery

While in reserve, the HMS Ceres played a part in a case of stolen jewels. It was early 1937 and Percival Richard Sparkes and Arthur Thomas Doidge, two Plymouth dockyard labourers, pleaded guilty to receiving stolen goods.

They’d been paid in gold watches for aiding teenagers John James Burns and Ronald Howard Hockaday. This carpenter’s apprentice and yard boy had liberated £100 of merchandise from the broken window of a pawnbroker’s. Hockaday, working onboard the HMS Ceres, had asked Percival and Arthur to help hide the jewels.

The loot, taken from Abraham Robins, consisted of:

  • 11 wedding rings
  • 22 gold dress rings
  • 4 gold signet rings
  • a gold keeper ring
  • gold locket and chain
  • a silver purse
  • a silver cigarette-case
  • 8 gold wristlet watches
  • 7 silver wristlet watches
  • a metal wristlet watch
  • and 4 pocket watches

Only too happy to aid police and prove good character, Percival and Arthur revealed their hiding places at the dockyard. Most had been buried in a tin beneath a gun shield. Aboard the HMS Ceres, a silver purse had been placed in a locker and Arthur’s workman’s box contained a ring.

HMS Curlew

Built by Vickers (Barrow-in-Furness, UK), the HMS Curlew was launched on 5 July 1917 and commissioned 14 December 1917.  She served with the 5th Light Squadron of the Harwich Force. After becoming an AA ship in 1938, she participated in the Norwegian campaign of WW2 and was sunk by German Aircraft on 26 May 1940. If the photo is of the HMS Curlew then it may show evidence of her conversion to an anti-aircraft cruiser.

Thank you to Steve Pain for his help identifying the ship.

For further details on C-class cruisers:




Photos of C-class cruisers can be found on the Imperial War Museums website:


For the story of Plymouth’s stolen jewellery, see the Western Morning News and Daily Gazette of 1937. It is covered by:

  • Story of Buried Jewellery. 25 Feb, 1937, p.3.
  • Buried Jewels in Dockyard. 4 Mar, 1937, p.11.
  • Hidden in Dockyard. 6 Apr, 1937, p.4.
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