REMEMBERING THE THREE CRUISERS.
Remembering the three cruisers this year for the 109th anniversary of the sinking of three Chatham Division cruisers, HMS ABOUKIR, HMS HOGUE and HMS CRESSY.
Britain entered the First World War with the world’s largest Navy equipped with some of the world’s most modern warships and also some of the most obsolescent. These included three 12,000-ton Chatham Division cruisers HMS ABOUKIR, HMS HOGUE and HMS CRESSY.
STORIES OF DESPERATION, Valour, and rescue
The digital exhibition about the sinking’s of HMS ABOUKIR, HMS HOGUE and HMS CRESSY also includes names of sailors who were lost and accounts from those who survived.
Survivor stories help to paint a picture of the horror and confusion that the sailors faced. There are numerous accounts of men holding on to floating planks of wood and other debris. As sailors in the water outnumbered the available flotsam, there are stories of over-crowding and drownings.
One story in particular that resonates the dangers that the sailors faced in the water is that of Midshipmen Duncan Stubbs and Geoffrey Gore-Browne. Both were no older than 15 years old but are remembered for heroically attempting to save the life of a drowning sailor. The two boys let go of the oar that they clung to to assist the gentleman, unfortunately he clung to the boys. In his panic, the older sailor dragged the boys under water repeatedly until a wave washed them all out of sight.
Of the incident, Thomas Arthur Rush, Artificer Engineer of HMS HOGUE recalled ‘I know that several sacrificed their lives for others’.
Being in the water waiting for rescue was the last resort. Samuel Pollard recalled that sailors from HMS HOGUE did not leave the ship until the Captain gave the order “every man for himself”. Once in the water, it could be a long wait for rescue with HMS HOGUE’S Chief Armourer, John Brading stranded in the water for nine hours. Brading was holding on to drift wood, whilst singing the hymn “Fight the good fight with all thy might” to maintain morale. Later, after rescue, his wife walked straight past him in the hospital, not recognising him. His hair had turned completely white due to the shock.
down with the ship
As with Naval tradition, where the Captain hold ultimate responsibility for the ship and all men on board. There are eye witness reports of Captain Nicholson of HMS HOGUE and Captain Johnson of HMS CRESSY going down with their ships.
On Samuel Pollard’s return to Harwich, Pollard made note of the bravery of his Captain (Nicholson), being the last man to leave the ship.
George Woodhead’s story of HMS CRESSY’S fate was recounted in the Yorkshire Evening News, where he recalls:
“As the ship was sinking the captain gave the order: ‘Well lads, look after yourselves. Get anything you can, and get overboard,’
I dived off the quarter-deck and was in the water for three hours surrounded by men who remarked, ‘It’s a long way to Tipperary now’ sang songs, and said to a despairing comrade, ‘Buck up, chum.’
Captain Johnson I saw go down with his ship, standing on the propeller as she sank. He was a typical, well-loved English gentlemen and a good naval officer to boot.”
1,459 men, both regulars and reservists, nearly all from the Chatham Division of the Royal Navy, many with close ties to Kent, were killed. The majority were lost at sea, although some bodies were recovered and buried in cemeteries in Holland. 791 men survived, rescued by the Flora and Titan, two Dutch merchant ships, which hurried to the scene of the tragedy, and Royal Naval warships led by the Chatham-built cruiser HMS LOWESTOFT which arrived some hours later.