Early in the morning of 22 September 1914, three Chatham Division cruisers, HMS ABOUKIR, HMS HOGUE and HMS CRESSY, were spotted by a single German submarine, U9, while on patrol off the Hook of Holland. In little under two hours, U9 had torpedoed and sunk all three ships.
This digital exhibition is a memorial to all those affected by this loss and a resource to help people to find out more.
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. Although only 14 years old the pace of technological change at the turn of the 20th century had left them slower, less well armed and less well protected than their more modern counterparts.
In late July 1914, with the prospect of war looming, Winston Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, mobilised the Royal Navy. The First and Second Fleets, the Navy’s most modern and best trained ships, were sent to their war stations at Scapa Flow and in the Mediterranean whilst the Third Fleet was brought out of reserve with crews brought up to full complement with men from the Royal Fleet Reserve and Volunteer Reserve. HMS ABOUKIR, HMS HOGUE and HMS CRESSY, were despatched from Chatham to Harwich as part of the 7th Cruiser Squadron to support a force of destroyers and submarines patrolling the southern half of the North Sea.
On the 5th August, the day after war was declared HMS LANCE, a Chatham-manned destroyer, fired the first British shot of the war in action in the North Sea against the Koningen Louise, a German minelayer. The next day, HMS AMPHION, a Devonport based scout cruiser, became the first Royal Naval loss of the war – sunk by one of the Koningen Louise’s mines. A month later on the 5th September the Chatham light cruiser HMS PATHFINDER was torpedoed off the East Coast of Scotland – the Royal Navy’s first ship to be sunk by a submarine launched torpedo.
Three weeks later on the morning of the 22 September 1914, HMS ABOUKIR, HMS HOGUE and HMS CRESSY were alone on patrol off the Hook of Holland, bad weather having prevented the destroyers and submarines they were meant to support setting to sea.
In the early hours of the morning they were spotted by a German submarine the U9. At 6.35 am HMS ABOUKIR was torpedoed and began to sink. Thinking she had hit a stray mine – both HMS HOGUE and HMS CRESSY stopped to pick up survivors. By the time it became clear that she had been torpedoed by a submarine HMS HOGUE too had been hit (sinking within ten minutes) – followed shortly after by HMS CRESSY.
Within a period of 90 minutes all three ships with a combined complement of 2,250 men on board, had been sunk by a single 425 ton German U-boat with a crew of 29. 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.
On the 22nd September 1914 the Royal Navy and the people of Britain were brought face-to-face with the grim realities of modern submarine warfare. The Valour, Loss and Sacrifice shown on that day in the face of an often unseen enemy was to continue throughout the war. By November 1918 over 13,000 men of the Chatham Division of the Royal Navy had lost their lives. 8,299 were lost at sea and are commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial – whilst over 4,700 were buried on land in cemeteries across the world.
Chatham News Clippings
Scroll through the names below to discover more about the sailors who were lost and the accounts from those who survived …
WILLIAM JAMES SHRUBSALL, GUNNER, HMS ABOUKIR (LOST)
Gunner William James Shrubsall had been in the Royal Navy for some years prior to the war starting in 1914. He was assigned to HMS ABOUKIR and soon became great friends with the young Midshipman Duncan Stubbs. There is a photograph of the two of them laughing together on the deck of HMS ABOUKIR.
William and his wife Marion had two children and lived in Gillingham.
William Shrubsall, his wife Marion and their daughter, c.1908 © Mr Barry Mack and family
Survivor Kit Wykeham-Musgrave recalled Shrubsall stopping him and his fellow Midshipmen as the ship was sinking telling them to get below and close the watertight doors to the gunroom – even then trying to save what he could of their ship.
It is not known what happened to Gunner Shrubsall in his last moments but his loss was very keenly felt by his family. Shortly after her husband’s death Marion Shrubsall wrote and composed a patriotic song titled ‘Our Country’s Name’. It provides a rousing call to enlist and laments the ‘Dark days come o’er’.
WILLIAM HENRY HESTER, CHIEF SICK BERTH STEWARD, HMS ABOUKIR (LOST)
William Hester was based at the Royal Naval Hospital in Gillingham until the start of the war. In August 1914 was assigned to HMS ABOUKIR as Chief Sick Berth Steward.
William’s letters home to his wife in the first weeks of the war show he was a dedicated family man. In one of his last letters home Hester wrote to his wife Sarah lamenting his distance from her and their two children, telling her ‘I haven’t loved you half enough yet’.
Hester understood the importance of the Navy’s role in the war: ‘we must pack up the enemy…as if our navy went you would not be safe’.
It is not known exactly what happened to Hester that day in 1914, his body was never found. Over a year later, in December 1915, his widow received a letter from the Admiralty confirming that William Henry Hester had lost his life during the sinking of HMS ABOUKIR on 22 September 1914.
Sarah Hester struggled to support her children on a war widow’s income and, after some time with family in Devon, remained in the Medway area for the rest of her life. William and Sarah’s son Albert tragically died whilst serving in the army during the Second World War, just two decades after his father.
Transcript of letter:
My Own Darling S
Just a few lines Dear to let you know I am alright & keeping quite well, my limbs quite ache for exercise, should not I love to go for a walk and find at my destination May Road, I shall be very glad when this is all over and I know you will, the women suffer just as much as us men perhaps more, for the majority know only to well what their lot will be if their husbands are taken from them, I am very  pleased to think that you will get something if anything were to happen to me,9/ you and 2/ for each child, though I hope Dear you will never want it as I want to come back, absence makes the heart grow fonder & I haven’t loved you half enough yet, then there is our Bert and Babe they have seen me so seldom that they hardly know me & I want to be amongst you so that in the future I shall be able to give you all a very  good time, but we must pack the enemy up first my Dear before we settle down, as if our navy went you would not be safe, look at all the suffering of the people where the fighting is taking place, looting and burning the villages, we cannot have that in England Dear can we, so we must not pack up until we know it is safe to do so, It was such a nice day on Sunday where we were that I should have loved to be transmitted by wireless to you & then go for a walk, but I must wait, though longer than I should like to  I hope Dear the time will pass a little quicker for you, and you mustn’t worry to much or else when I do see you I shant know you, you will remember me to all Home when you write & I hope Pollie will soon be better, it was very kind of Bessie to send Butter, also remember me to Mrs A, Kiss Bert and Babe for me Dear I wish when we go in at Harbour to buy them something, Babe’s engine, and I suppose Bert and ship, I must now close Dear hoping this will soon be over and that I shall soon be able to see you, I got stamps safe, many thanks Dear I must say goodbye for the present with find love & xxxxxx from your ever loving Husband Harry xxxxxxxxxxxx for the Kiddies.
JOHN WILLIAM QUESTED, HMS ABOUKIR (SURVIVED)
John Quested was assigned to HMS ABOUKIR but his rank is not known. He survived the sinking on 22 September 1914 but it is not known how. His descendants have a photograph of John in naval uniform but no details of his time in the Navy. He was apparently picked up by SS Flora.
JOHN ‘DUNCAN’ STUBBS, HMS ABOUKIR (LOST)
John ‘Duncan’ Stubbs was 15 years old when he and his fellow cadets at the Britannia Royal Naval College, Dartmouth received the order to mobilise. Duncan had excelled in his education at the Royal Naval College in Osborne and during his 1st term at Dartmouth. He is remembered as the ‘golden boy’ in the family and was a natural leader, becoming Cadet Captain during his first year at Osborne.
Duncan’s father Thomas and his mother Margaret were living south of Middlesbrough when they received a postcard from the college stating their son had been mobilised. Thomas Stubbs, a solicitor and a Captain in the Territorial Army, was mobilised the same day. Thomas went on to keep a diary of the events during the first weeks of the war, eventually recording his son’s fate and providing a moving insight into how this family felt the loss of their eldest son.
Duncan was assigned to HMS ABOUKIR as Midshipman. On that day in the North Sea he managed to escape his sinking ship and swim with his fellow cadets, eventually reaching HMS CRESSY. They were beginning to dry off when she was also torpedoed. The young cadets made it to the deck and into the water once more. Duncan and his staunch friend Geoffrey Gore-Browne clung to an oar together. ‘Kit’ Wykham-Musgrave, also a Midshipman of HMS ABOUKIR, watched as his friends let go of the oar and tried to help a drowning sailor, he reported that the sailor clung to the boys and in his panic dragged them under water repeatedly until a wave washed them all out of his sight. Duncan’s body was never found.
His mother and father found out about the sinking via a newspaper article – not knowing if their son was alive or dead. On 23rd September they received a telegram from the Admiralty reporting their son was not among those saved. His father’s diary entry the following day encapsulates their loss ‘Another terrible day. I don’t know how we got through it. Many letters from friends but awful…’
From letters written by those that survived that day his family began to piece together his last hours. Lieutenant Hughes, of HMS ABOUKIR, wrote to describe how Duncan had gone below to ensure his friend Riley could escape even as the ship was sinking fast. He also spoke of their son’s friendship with the ship’s Gunner William Shrubsall, who also died that day. Duncan was always cheerful and Hughes remembered how his laughter could be heard all over the ship as he talked with Gunner Shrubsall whilst on watch.
A couple of weeks later, the last letter Thomas had written to his son, dated 16th September, came back un-delivered and marked ‘Ship Lost’. His diary ends with a brief entry on 23rd October exactly one month since they learnt of his death.
Gunner William James Shrubsall and Midshipman Duncan Stubbs laughing together on the deck of HMS ABOUKIR.
Images supplied by Great Niece, Mrs Alice Barrigan and family.
HORACE BRAMALL, ENGINE ROOM ARTIFICER, HMS ABOUKIR (LOST)
Horace, son of George and Alice Mary Bramall lived in Sheffield until he was mobilised for war in 1914. He drowned in the North Sea after HMS ABOUKIR was struck by a torpedo from German submarine U9. He was 22 years old.
FREDERICK PERCIVAL SACKER (SURVIVED) & THOMAS JAMES SYNES (LOST), HMS ABOUKIR
Frederick Sacker and Thomas Synes* were both reservists in the Chatham Division.
Frederick initially joined the Militia in 1906, stating he was 18 years old (he was actually 16). His family life was somewhat turbulent, his parents separating and the death of a sibling led to him running away to the Militia.
Frederick and Thomas joined the Navy together in 1906 and served in HMS BEDFOR that hit a coral reef in 1910. As the ship sank slowly Frederick managed to salvage two chipped coffee cups that his family still have today.
Both men transferred to the Royal Fleet Reserve in 1911. Frederick worked as a mechanic on the London Underground during this period and Thomas was a Boilermakers Assistant prior to the war. Thomas married Frederick’s sister Ethel Amelia in 1912.
Both men were test mobilised and assigned to HMS ABOUKIR in July 1914.
Frederick was a good swimmer but, along with many of his fellow sailors, Thomas could not swim. So on 22nd September, as their ship sank, Frederick and Thomas clung to each other. After some time Frederick realised he couldn’t save them both and had to let Thomas go, knowing he would drown.
Frederick’s heart-breaking decision was made worse knowing that Thomas and his sister Ethel had one child and had lost a baby girl (aged 2 months) in 1913. Ethel was also 8 months pregnant when she was widowed. A month later their son was born and Ethel named him Harry Aboukir Synes in memory of his father. Frederick later married Susan Gosling whose son Ernest Alfred Gosling had died on HMS PATHFINDER in 1914.
Frederick went onto serve throughout the remainder of the war. His naval records highlight the haunting effects the events of the 22nd September had on him. Having previously had a relatively trouble-free career in the Navy, from 1915 he was frequently in detention cells for ‘breakout’ from the Naval Barracks and other misdemeanours.
During the war Frederick’s two brothers Arthur and Harry fought in the army. Arthur died at the Somme but Harry also survived.
Frederick left the Navy in 1919 and married his second wife Dora May in 1933.
Mrs Ethel Groves, Daughter of Frederick and Dora Sacker, remembers her father never spoke of his war experiences; save for on one occasion when she complained about her name Ethel. Her father then explained the events of 22nd September 1914 and that she had been named for her Aunt whose husband drowned that day.
CECIL KNELLER, BUGLER, R.M.L.I., HMS ABOUKIR (SURVIVED)
Bugler Cecil Kneller, aged 15, was asleep in his hammock when HMS Aboukir was struck by U-9’s first torpedo. He survived that day by swimming his way to a mine buoy and clinging on until HMS Cressy’s cutter picked him up.
Once on board HMS CRESSY he joined many of the ABOUKIR’S young Midshipmen in the sick bay. He had begun to dry off when the CRESSY was hit. Once again Kneller found himself in the water, this time holding onto a rum cask until he was picked up by the SS Titan three hours later.
Cold and exhausted Kneller was taken to shore at the Hook of Holland and detained in a fort for the night. Days later he and other survivors were eventually brought home, arriving at Chatham station to crowds looking for loved ones.
Cecil’s mother and father had been sent a telegram that day stating there had been no trace of their son. They joined the crowd at the station hoping to see their boy but missed him as he was rushed into an ambulance car and taken to the Royal Naval Barracks.
On arriving home some hours later his parents found Cecil sitting in the living room arm-chair. Cecil’s story of survival was reported widely in the local newspapers. Cecil described that day in September as ‘an awful time’ but insisted he was keen to ‘get back to duty as soon as possible’.
WOODMAN GEORGE TRIGGS, SHIP’S CORPORAL 1ST CLASS, HMS ABOUKIR (LOST)
Woodman joined the Royal Navy in 1893 after moving to London from Cornwall aged 17. In 1895 he qualified as a Navy Diver and won the China Medal for his role in supressing the Boxer Rebellion whilst serving in HMS DAPHNE. After 12 years continuous service he was discharged and joined the Royal Fleet Reserve as a Ship’s Corporal.
When war began in 1914 he was assigned to HMS ABOUKIR and wrote to his wife shortly before the sinking. In his letter he explains that he released some prisoners from the ship’s cells shortly before she sank.
Woodman did not survive in the aftermath and a friend later posted the letter to his widow and children dating the card 10/10/1914.
HENRY MCWHIRTER, PENSIONER SHIPWRIGHT, HMS ABOUKIR (SURVIVED)
Henry McWhirter worked as a carpenter at the Royal Naval Hospital, Gillingham until the start of the war. After his experiences on 22nd September he became a patient at the very same hospital. His story was widely reported on in the local press. The image shows McWhirter in his hospital bed on the day he met the King and Queen during their visit to see the wounded in October 1914.
His story began when HMS ABOUKIR was struck and he swam to HMS HOGUE. Moments after he climbed up onto her deck she was also struck. McWhirter then turned to HMS CRESSY, reaching her just as she was torpedoed. He floated in the water, unhurt, until HMS CORIANDER’S boat picked him up. As he climbed across onto HMS LENNOX’S ladder his foot was crushed between the two vessels.
CHRISTOPHER (KIT) WYKEHAM-MUSGRAVE, MIDSHIPMAN, HMS ABOUKIR (SURVIVED)
When the ship was hit Kit managed to slide down the side of the ship into the water, he swam to HOGUE and seized the ropes slung down her side – along with Henry McWhirter (Shipwright).
When HOGUE hit he took to the water again and swam for the Cressy. He was in the sick bay of Cressy with other cadets from the ABOUKIR (Gore-Browne, Cooke, Stubbs, Pleydell-Bouverie and Riley) and Cecil Kneller, thinking of lying down, when she was hit too. He made for the deck with the others.
In the water he clung to a plank alone and watching his friends Stubbs and Gore-Browne struggle with the drowning sailor unable to help. Riley also disappeared. He was eventually picked up by one of the Dutch vessel SS Titan. He was later transferred to a Destroyer that brought him to Harwich.
A telegram arrived informing his parents he was unharmed and at Harwich – one of the first to be sent out.
Live Bait Squadron features an extract from a letter he wrote to his Grandmother on 25th September recalling his struggle (pp.101-102). The author of Three Before Breakfast met and interviewed him in 1979.
He survived the rest of the war and SWW. He served on HMS VANGUARD and survived her accidental explosion only because he was on sick leave. Other cadets Claude du Mauleverer, Christopher Cooke and Alistair Wilson were also assigned to HMS VANGUARD one month after the sinking in 1914. They all died during the explosion on 9th July 1917.
He went onto serve on HMS INFLEXIBLE and left the Royal Navy in 1929. He returned to active service in 1944 and became a Commander. He died in 1989 aged 90.
JAMES SYDNEY LENCH, ABLE SEAMAN, HMS CRESSY (LOST)
James’s family were based in London, his first wife died young leaving behind a daughter Gabriel Violet. He later married Annie Elizabeth Elliston and had another five children.
James joined the Royal Navy in 1888. He purchased his discharge in 1897 and later joined the Royal Fleet Reserve in 1901. Prior to the war he was a foreman at a Chemical Works in London.
His wife Annie was told of the sinking by a neighbour shouting ‘Mrs Lench have you seen the evening paper? Your husband’s ship has gone down’.
James was among those lost from HMS CRESSY. James had written to his wife only three days before the sinking saying he would write again soon.
Annie Lench’s brother Arthur Edward Elliston also died that day on HMS CRESSY, aged 31. Both men are remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial.
James’s death meant Annie was left with five young children and a step-daughter to support on a very tight income. In 1915 Henrietta and her brother Sydney, being the eldest children, were sent to the Naval Children’s Homes in Chatham.
During the Second World War Annie and James’s son Albert died on HMS ELECTRA in 1942. The war at sea brought this family much sadness. Annie Lench lived with her daughter Henrietta until her death in 1961, aged 89.
GEORGE WOODHEAD, HMS CRESSY (SURVIVED)
A Wakefield Man’s Thrilling Story of North Sea Mishap
(Printed in the Yorkshire Evening News – Tuesday, 29, September 1914)
‘Those who were lost crossed the River Jordan with smiling faces and a cheer on their lips. They died the true death of British tars. As the ship went down the guns were still firing, and one chap, smoking a cigarette at his post said: ‘I will have one last draw’ and so doing went down with his ship – a brave fellow’
In picturesque language such as this a Wakefield hero of the recent North sea disaster – Seaman Woodhead, of HMS CRESSY – told to a ‘Yorkshire Evening News ‘ representative probably the most vivid and complete account of all that happened to the ABOUKIR, the HOGUE, and the CRESSY.
As he sat today at the fireside in his home at 3 Portobello Road, Sandal, with his three merry little youngsters whooping with delight at his return he sighed heavily, and looking at the children fondly exclaimed: ‘It’s a bit of luck and the fact that I never lost heart that brought me through safe. Seven hundred of my shipmates – good and staunch fellows – paid the last of their mess. Ninety per cent of them were married men’ – and here he smiled sadly and stroked the head of his youngest child.
IN THE DANGER ZONE
‘It’s a bit of luck’ he murmured again, and then braced himself up for the story, which is as follows:-
Our ship, along with the Aboukir and the HOGUE, were on patrol duty at the time. We knew we were in the danger zone from information we had received, but our protection from submarines is a torpedo boat flotilla, and for a certain reason it was absent at the time.
I was on the deck about half-past six in the morning when I heard a fellow shout ‘ look at the ABOUKIR.’ I looked and saw she had a list on the port side as if she had been mined. The bridge is the proper place to direct one’s gaze in such circumstances to find out whether there is trouble and, looking there, I saw something really serious had really occurred. Then the word was passed round: ‘ We are surrounded by submarines!’ How we wished the torpedo flotilla had now been here, for we could not defend ourselves.
MEN CLASPING EACH OTHER’S HANDS
Looking again to the ABOUKIR I saw as the ship was sinking all the men standing round the rails on deck, clasping each other’s hands, and so passed the ABOUKIR.
We were close to her and stood stationary to rescue her men. Then the HOGUE got two or three torpedoes right through her, and she went down in, as near as I can tell, about ten minutes. Then I heard that a submarine was going round our bow. As it got round it fired.
For some reason a man was shot out of the conning tower of the German submarine mentioned. I actually saw this there is no doubt about it. He had a lifebuoy on. With regard to this incident it is suggested that in order to provide more air for the submarine to enable her to discharge more torpedoes the Germans sacrificed a member of their crew.
Ahead was a trawler flying the Dutch flag, but as soon as it saw our ship – the last of three – going down it pulled down the Dutch flag and hoisted up the German colours. But we were not done for yet. Some of our men were up rigging cheering as they went, but others were blazing away at the port guns. As the German flag went up we fired at the trawler, and when she was hit she went sh—, and burst into flames. This led us to think that she had petrol aboard, which she was supplying to the submarines.
SANK TWO SUBMARINES?
We immediately sighted another submarine making for us, and we fired at her. At this time the ABOUKIR was upside down. Well our ship managed to account for two submarines of that I am sure – and had the satisfaction of having turned the trawler in a blaze. The torpedo struck us between the stoke- hole and the engine room and there was a explosion. Many must have been killed by the torpedoes, both those in the water and on the ships.
I should say there were about half-a dozen submarines, which we had been informed were sighted off the Dutch coast a little time before.
CRESSY’S CAPTAIN’S ORDERS
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.
At this period Woodhead was visibly moved by his recollection.
HOW HE WAS SAVED
Woodhead then went on to say: – I managed to get hold of a piece of timber, and though not a good swimmer managed to keep myself afloat until I drifted towards a cutter and was hauled in. From there I was transferred to the Flora and I firmly believe that had not the torpedo boat flotilla arrived at that moment the Flora would have come in for trouble.
GRATITUDE TO THE DUTCH
On our arriving in Holland we were taken about three hundred miles inland, and but a few miles from the German frontier. I wish to make known along with all my fellows the large heartedness of the Dutch people, and their liking for the English. I am on ten days leave and my desire, along with that of the whole of the men who were saved is to ‘get our own back o- and a big bit more.’
WILLIAM STEVENS, HMS CRESSY (SURVIVED)
Private Stevens, having survived the sinking of his ship, shared his experience with the Gravesend & Dartford Reporter.
He recalled that as he watched the HOGUE sink he saw a submarine about 500 yards away. The ships gunners fired and Stevens claimed this destroyed the submarine’s periscope and conning tower. Of course this did not happen as the U9 remained unharmed, but in the confusion of the attack several survivors thought they had witnessed the same thing.
Stevens recalled a young Bugler named Ellingham remaining very calm and saying ‘I suppose it is our turn next’. Once in the water, Stevens watched as Captain Johnson clung to a piece of wood with several other men and recalled his ‘bravery’ as he let go and disappeared. Stevens described his Captain as a ‘proper old father to us and everyone on the ship’.
After swimming for four hours, Stevens was picked up by a cutter containing Captain Nicholson of HMS HOGUE. He described the awful scene of the men struggling in the water ‘like a flock of sea gulls’; recalling that ‘as they went under nearly every one gave a final shout’.
He reported that there were five German submarines present during the attack and insisted that ‘Such a thing will never occur again during this war’.
ARTHUR EDWARD ELLISTON, SAILMAKERS MATE, HMS CRESSY (LOST)
Arthur Elliston was mobilised and assigned to HMS CRESSY along with his brother-in-law James Sydney Lench. Neither survived that day. Arthur’s sister Annie Lench lost her brother and husband in one day. Arthur’s mother Elizabeth Elliston and his wife Lilian were also bereft. He died aged 31 and is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial.
ROBERT WARREN JOHNSON, CAPTAIN, HMS CRESSY (LOST)
Captain Johnson was the most senior Officer to lose his life that day in 1914. He had lived a distinguished career in the Royal Navy and was the son of Vice-Admiral J. Ormsby Johnson. Prior to the war Johnson had been in command of the 7th Submarine Flotilla in Dundee.
He was assigned to HMS CRESSY on 1st August 1914 and soon won the admiration of his crew. Survivors claimed he was like a father to the men and that ‘everybody of the ship, from the highest to the lowest thought the world of him’.
As the ship began to sink Captain Johnson remained calm, giving the men survival tips until the last moments. Private William Stevens recalled seeing his Captain standing, in full uniform, on the fore bridge until the ship finally sank.
Reports indicate that Johnson and others clung to a plank of timber for two hours, the captain trying to reassure the men that help was on its way. He estimated the Royal Navy destroyers would arrive in an hour. Minutes later, as he made way for another man on the timber, Captain Johnson slipped into the water and was washed away in the swell. The men around him were simply too cold and exhausted to help.
RONALD JAMES BAKER, STEWARD, HMS CRESSY (SURVIVED)
John Baker remembers his Grandfather talking about the day HMS CRESSY sank and he nearly drowned. When the ship was torpedoed Ronald and a friend were standing on deck. His friend was smoking a pipe watching the destruction around them. This friend could not swim and Ronald never saw him again. His fellow Stewards Willy Brampton, Arthur Mitchell and Samuel Smith all drowned that day. Ronald remembered seeing sailors tying themselves to chains to ensure they drowned quickly.
Ronald was picked up and arrived back in Harwich presumed dead until a friend gave him life-changing attention. Ronald went onto build a career in the Navy eventually becoming a Lieutenant Commander.
Thirty three years later Ronald taught his John to ‘tread water’ telling him ‘this is how I survived in the North Sea’.
THOMAS AND JAMES HUSSEY, PRIVATE ROYAL MARINES, HMS CRESSY (LOST)
Thomas and James were brothers; often mistaken for twins they looked so alike. Both men were in the Royal Marines and based in Chatham. They lived next door to each other in Chatham.
Assigned to HMS CRESSY on the outbreak of the war, both men died on 22 September, it is not known precisely what happened to them. They each left behind a wife and seven children. Their loss was reported in the local newspapers, highlighting the devastating loss felt by local families.
HARRY BRAY HARRIS, HMS CRESSY (SURVIVED)
Harry was born in Lambeth but grew up in the family home in neighbouring Brixton – south London. His father had served in the Royal Navy 1859-62, including the Second Opium War and worked at the local waterworks. Harry volunteered in 1897, for 12years, and his service started in 1900 – his stated trade was ‘gardener’.
Harry had 12 years active service, on a variety of ships, and served in the Channel and the Mediterranean Fleets. He visited New Zealand and the South Seas on a research ship and served on a Cressy class ship, HMS SUTLEJ – a boys training ship on the North America and West Indies station. He may have visited Canada with the future King George V. He passed his Petty Officer
exams. Harry went on to the Fleet Reserve in Chatham in Oct 1912.
He re-joined and was sent to the HMS CRESSY at the outbreak of the First World War Family history has it that when the CRESSY was sunk he managed to hang on to a cupboard for 4/6 hours before being rescued. Also that he was sent to convalesce in South Shields were he met his future wife Jennie; from a family of Tyne river pilots.
Harry spent the remainder of the war based at Dover and was demobbed in May1919.
He married in south London 3months after demobilisation by which time he had become a postman working in Mayfair. Harry and Jennie had 3 sons, moving to Ilford, Essex. The eldest joined the regular Navy serving at the Battle of the River Plate; the next was Aircrew and his youngest was conscripted into the Navy at the end of the Second World War.
Jennie died in 1936 and Harry continued to work in the post office until his retirement – having been called on to assist the Government during the 1926 General Strike and receiving an Imperial Service Order in 1946. He died of cancer in 1952 aged 70 and is buried in Horley (Surrey) New Cemetery – where his youngest sister had relocated.
GEORGE WILLIAM EMPTAGE, PETTY OFFICER, HMS HOGUE (LOST)
‘War will be declared with Germany at Midnight tonight…’
After an early life as a servant, George joined the Royal Navy in 1893. He became a Petty Officer in 1902 and after 12 years service transferred to the Royal Fleet Reserve in 1905. George was married to Frances Anne and they had two children by 1909. During his time in the fleet reserve George worked as a postman.
On the outbreak of war Emptage was assigned to HMS HOGUE. Prior to HMS HOGUE leaving Chatham George wrote to his wife Frances. In his letters George states that should he not return his watch and medal should be passed to his son, George. His last letter concludes with a moving goodbye to his family, closing with:
‘trusting that I shall see you all again…Good night and God Bless you all’.
Only a few weeks later, on 22 September 1914, George lost his life in the North Sea. It is not known exactly what happened to him that morning. He is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial.
P/O G W E
My Dear Frances
After wishing this afternoon. War. Will be declared with Germany at midnight tonight I also went and made out 2.£.10s.0d for you to receive on the First of august I thought it the best way after all we are leaving H here tomorrow Wednesday for an unknown destination so I do not know when I shall get another chance should anything happen it is my earnest wish that George is to have my watch and chain also my medal The remainder of my property clubs and everything I leave entirely to you to do what you like with we are fully prepared for anything now. so what will happen I don’t know once again I say look after the children and kiss them for me hoping and trusting that I shall see you all again is my earnest wish so goodbye for the present. Hoping that you are all well
I close and remain your loving husband
George. W. Emptage.
P.S/ I sent you 10/= on Tuesday night hope you will get it alright.
Good night and God Bless you all
THOMAS ARTHUR RUSH, ARTIFICER ENGINEER, HMS HOGUE (SURVIVED)
Thomas arrived home on 26 September 1914 after surviving the sinking of his ship HMS HOGUE. He spoke to reporters from the Chatham, Rochester & Gillingham News who printed his story on 3 October 1914.
Thomas’ account provides an insight into the events and impact of that day.
Thomas was sleeping in his bunk when he heard shouts that HMS ABOUKIR was sinking. Rousing from his bed he dressed and went to help on deck. They had just finished lowering the ships boats when HMS HOGUE was also struck. Thomas recalled two of the ships steamboats floating out of their holds as the ship sank, allowing for many lives to be saved.
Rush dived into the water with all his clothes on – hoping they would keep him warmer. As the ship sank he was drawn underwater by the vortex. On surfacing again he grasped an oar, moments later a Royal Marine also took hold of it so Thomas had to let go.
Thomas then went onto grasp various flotsam, giving up some to other struggling sailors. He floated like that for some time before joining several others on a large spar. Thomas reported some struggling with several men falling off into the water. He managed to hold on and watched the scenes around him.
He recalled the ‘heroic work’ of the young Midshipmen in assisting others in the water. He appears to reference the incident where Midshipmen Duncan Stubbs and Geoffrey Gore-Browne drowned trying to help a sailor stating ‘I know that several sacrificed their lives for others’.
After some time he was picked up by the Dutch Steamer Flora and taken to Ymuiden. Once in Holland he was billeted to a hospital with his fellow ratings, the Officers were taken to a nearby hotel.
When speaking to the reporters Thomas showed them his pocket watch that had stopped at the moment he entered the water at 07:10am.
WALTER CHARLES ELLINGHAM, PETTY OFFICER GUNNERS MATE, HMS HOGUE (SURVIVED)
Walter Ellingham joined the Royal Navy in 1899. On the outbreak of war with Germany he was assigned to HMS HOGUE as Gunner’s Mate. Walter survived the sinking on 22 September 1914 and wrote to his wife Rose as soon as he got to land to let her know he was safe.
‘I don’t know if you have heard of loss yet, but I am thankful to say I am quite safe and well in every-respect, although our ship lies at the bottom of the ocean.’
Walter’s first letter is brief, explaining that he is in Jmuiden, Holland but will soon be moved to Amsterdam. Walter thought there were around 150 Officers and ratings with him at that time, mentioning several individuals specifically.
Two days later on 24 September 1914 he wrote again to his wife, this time explaining in more detail the events of two days before and how he and the other survivors have fared since.
Walter and the other survivors had been taken to a depot camp in Gaasterland, Holland. His letters report of their kind treatment by the Dutch and that there were 280 men with him, of which 150 were from HMS HOGUE. Walter relays the story of his survival – how he clung to a piece of timber and, with five other men, swam for HMS CRESSY. They quickly saw that she too had been hit and began to swim for a Dutch steam boat nearby. Walter was then transferred to the Dutch Steamer Flora and taken to Holland.
Walter’s letter reports that the gunners of HMS CRESSY managed to sink two submarines, highlighting the confused reports emanating from the tragedy. His letter also alludes to the shock the men felt at such a devastating loss to the Navy.
‘We can hardly realise it yet that our ships are at the bottom…’
Walter concludes his letter by asking how his wife is faring and contemplates on the effects the aftermath will have on those at home.
‘Chatham and the district must have been in an awful state, as all are Chatham ships, as you know, in fact the Chatham ships have felt the brunt of the war so far.’
Walter continued to serve in the Royal Navy until he was discharged aged 50 in 1931.
JOHN BRADING, HMS HOGUE (SURVIVED)
An account by John Matthews:
John Brading was my grandfather and what I know of him is through my mother. I never knew John as he died in 1938, seven years before I was born. My mother, Ena Matthews died in 1970.
Apprentice to a Blacksmith, John was not always paid due to the Blacksmiths drinking habits. On finishing the apprenticeship he left the Blacksmiths to join the Royal Navy. He travelled the world visiting glamorous places in the Pacific Ocean such as Tahiti. A cupboard at home contained numerous fishing reels, rods and lines, together with a number of swordfish swords, of different shapes and sizes, trophies from his time abroad.
Many years later, and with a world war looming, he spent the summer of 1914 on the south coast of England constantly swimming as practice, least his ship be sunk. He also memorised escape routes through the ship on which he was serving, in the event of the ship turning over. At the time of the war John would have been 45 years of age.
John was on the HOGUE when torpedoed. He was rescued by the Cressy only to be shipwrecked a second time. All three ships were sunk within an hour.
The HOGUE Survivors List shows:-
“Brading, John, Chief Armourer (Pens) 160478, Slightly Injured”
John hit the bilge keel whilst jumping off the side of one of the ships and damaged his legs/pelvis. According to his daughter Ena, he was in the water for 9 hours 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.
During the war years the family home for John, Flora (John’s second wife), Bert (son from John’s first wife) and Ena (my mother) was in Gillingham. Subsequently they moved to Edwin Road, Rainham living initially in a shed at the bottom of the garden whilst a bungalow was built. Flora Brading (nee Flora Coffin) was from the Isle of Wight, and John met her at a party in 1900 celebrating the Relief of Mafeking. Flora died in 1932 aged 58 and John in 1938 aged 69.
HENRY ‘HARRY’ ALLEN, PETTY OFFICER STOKER, HMS HOGUE (LOST)
Henry Allen’s father, Charles, was in the Royal Artillery from 1855 and posted to India, where Henry was born in 1874. Initially Henry followed in his father’s footsteps and is known to have been based in the Royal Artillery Barracks Woolwich in 1891. Henry married Louisa Brattle in 1896 and had three children. By that time Henry had joined the Royal Navy as a Stoker. Louisa died and he later re-married in 1913.
Henry was assigned to HMS HOGUE, it is not known exactly what happened to him that day but he lost his life on 22 September 1914 and is remembered on the Chatham Naval Memorial.
JOHN BRANDON, COOPER, HMS HOGUE (LOST)
James Brandon was born in Ireland in 1872 and married his wife Mary whilst assigned to HMS HYDRA in 1896. Together they had four children; Margaret, Norah, Edward and Stephen.
John was assigned to HMS HOGUE at the outbreak of the war and died on 22 September 1914. It is not known precisely what happened to him that day.
His widow was left to support their four children, the eldest of which was 15 years old. As a consequence, Edward and Stephen were sent to a Catholic school after their father’s death. In his later years, Edward told his family that he had a hard existence there and tried to leave with his brother, only to me sent back again.
SAMUEL POLLARD, ROYAL MARINE LIGHT INFANTRY, HMS HOGUE (SURVIVED)
Samuel Pollard, of the Royal Fleet Reserve, was assigned to the Royal Marine contingent of HMS HOGUE.
His memories of that day are recorded in an interview he gave to the Gravesend & Dartford Reporter on 19 September 1914.
Once his ship had been hit Samuel noted that ‘not one man left the ship until the order was given: ‘Every man for himself’’. He had been throwing timber over the side for the men of HMS ABOUKIR when he heard the order and dived into the water. He swam along with a plank of wood until too many others grasped it and it sank.
Samuel made for HMS CRESSY and, seeing Midshipman Glen Kidston in the water, encouraged him to swim for the remaining cruiser. When HMS CRESSY was also hit he started to fear the worst but kept swimming until he was picked up by a launch boat. When the destroyer flotilla arrived HMS LOWESTOFT’S launch boats began transferring men to the ship. However, a submarine was sighted and the ship raced away with the flotilla until it was safe to return.
On his return to Harwich, Pollard made note of the bravery of his Captain (Nicholson), being the last man to leave the ship.
CHARLES WILLIAM EDWARDS, HMS HOGUE (SURVIVED)
Charles William Edwards was born on December 26th, 1892, in Walworth, London. He was one of ten children of John and Annie Edwards and the only one who left London when he joined the navy in 1911.
After only three weeks on VICTORY II, he went to sea on HMS RENOWN as a trainee stoker. Following his initial training he was on HMS ALBERMARLE as part of the 3rd Division, Home Fleet, at Portsmouth. When she was paid off at Portsmouth Dockyard for a refit on 30 October 1911, he joined HMS Eclipse. Two years on the cruiser HMS Duke of Edinburgh followed before he was posted to HMS HOGUE on the 1st of August 1914.
As a survivor of the sinking of the HOGUE he was awarded a war gratuity. His naval career then continued. In 1917 he was posted to HMS dolphin, a submarine base and training facility located at Gosport near Portsmouth. Unfortunately, there are no logs for HMS Dolphin to tell us what was happening on the base, but Charles William Edwards could have been taking submarine training courses. He continued to serve as a stoker on submarine support ships, which was very ironic in the light of his being on the HOGUE which was torpedoed by U9.
His strength and courage were exemplified by two events also ashore in civilian life. On one occasion he single-handedly stopped a runaway horse in Portsmouth High Street and on another he formed a human chain to rescue a boy from drowning off Southsea.
In January 1920 he married Beatrice Maud Stevenson in Portsmouth. They had four boys. Two of whom went on to join the Navy and had distinguished service of their own. The other two joined the Army and the eldest son was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for bravery in the Battle of Regalbuto, Sicily in 1943 and later took part in the Normandy Landings on D-Day.
Charles William died in 1947. He was awarded the British War medal, the Victory medal and the 1914-15 Star, otherwise known as the ‘Holy Trinity’.
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