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What is the greatest mishap caused by someone not realising the clocks had moved forward or back?

What is the worst thing that has happened by someone not changing their clocks? Eugene Byrne offers a contender for the biggest mishap…

A painting of the Coniston, a ship that befell tragedy
Published: March 22, 2022 at 6:14 am
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Governments everywhere have long tinkered with the clocks, usually to save energy and maximise daylight for agriculture – hence the introduction of British Summer Time in 1916.

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The UK government has made periodic changes ever since, but mishaps from people not remembering the clocks have changed are usually trivial things like Sunday footballers turning up an hour late.

However, one possible contender for the biggest accident is the loss of the schooner Coniston in 1917. It was coming in to Millom in Cumbria from Ireland with a cargo of timber, and onlookers on shore could see the ship was in trouble but were unable to help because of heavy weather. Coniston was later found overturned on a sandbank, with all five people aboard dead or missing. It was suggested that the schooner might not have turned turtle had its master entered the channel an hour later, but the tide tables he was using were printed in Greenwich Mean Time, while his watch would have been set to British Summer Time.

Eugene Byrne is an author and journalist specialising in history

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This Q&A first appeared in the April 2022 issue of BBC History Magazine

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