As the Centenary unfolds, a range of newspaper and other records will appear here to give an idea of how the war was revealed at home primarily focused on Kent for our purposes .... fairly random. If you have other snippets to share, please let us know using the dedicated email account:
Thankfully, at this early stage of World War 1, our parishes did not lose anyone during November 1914. Of course, this period did see the return of injured soldiers (British and Belgians in the main). You can follow the progress of the European and other theatres through our transcriptions of the relevant London Gazette Despatches from "The Front" which can be found in the left-hand column of this page. The imperial ambitions of Britain and Germany also meant they fought in and around Africa and China (Tsingtau) - so we have included those despatches for those with an interest. It should be remembered that our first local man to die in WW1 (6th September) did so in British East Africa.
This chapter in the story of WW1 is characterised in Europe by the tightening grip of trench warfare and the steady loss of life through barrage shelling, sniping, occasional sorties and retreats across no-man's land. The winter was severe with consequences for the health of soldiers and their protection as mud took on a personality all of its own.
At home, there were real fears of attack all along the east coast, where German cruisers had been active. With Sheerness and Chatham military dockyards and Faversham/Oare Gunpowder Mills nearby, there were also official actions to restrict movements on Sheppey and prohibitions against ownership of potential espionage devices.
Reported in the South Eastern Gazette 10th November 1914: FAVERSHAM. EARLY CLOSING. In consequence of the presence of troops who are billeted in the district, the local Justice made an order on Tuesday [3rd November] closing licensed houses at 9 p.m. in Faversham and the adjoining parishes of Faversham Without, North Preston, Oare, Ospringe, and Luddenham. The order also applies to clubs so far as the sale of intoxicants is concerned.
Reported in the Kent & Sussex Courier 6th November 1914: The United Temperance Federation has prepared a list of places in Kent where the earlier closing of licensed houses has been adopted. The boroughs of Tunbridge Wells, Maidstone, Deal, Hythe, Sandwich, New Romney and Canterbury are closed at ten o'clock, and Gravesend, Rochester, Chatham, Dover, Folkestone, Lydd at nine o'clock. The Petty Sessional Divisions of Tonbridge, Ashford, Sittingbourne, Deal, Broadstairs, Romney Marsh are at ten, and the Petty Sessional Divisions of Sevenoaks, Dartford, Rochester, Ashford (Rural), Elham Home (Rural), Sheerness, Wingham (Rural at nine o'clock.
Reported in the Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald 7th November 1914: "THE COAST RAID. ALARM AT WHITSTABLE AND FAVERSHAM. TROOPS HURRIEDLY SENT FROM CANTERBURY TO WHITSTABLE.
On Tuesday afternoon [3rd November], when the news began to spread of the raid by German cruisers on the East Coast, there was intense excitement at Faversham, Whitstable, and generally along the Kentish coast. All manner of alarming reports were put in circulation, and these had such an effect on some women at Faversham that they wept in the streets. The troops there had been ordered to stand ready, but eventually all that happened was the bringing of their field guns from the places outside the town to the Recreation Ground.
The troops billeted in Canterbury were called out and about a thousand were despatched to the neighbourhood of Whitstable. There were crowds of people in the streets of Whitstable until a late hour of the night, but nothing happened to disturb the customary equanimity of the little oyster town.
Many battleships were seen off Whitstable during the day, and great naval activity prevails at Sheerness."
Reported in the Manchester Evening News 6th November 1914: "THE SPY PERIL. New Order at Sheerness and Sheppey. Lieutenant Colonel H.M.A. Warde, Chief Constable of Kent, issued the following order yesterday [5th November]:
On and after November 10 all residents on the Isle of Sheppey outside (that is, east of the Sheerness Defensible Canal, are to provide themselves with a pass. These passes will be issued by the police.
Residents in Sheerness and others who have regular business on the Isle of Sheppey must obtain passes from the police at Sheerness or Sittingbourne respectively. Residents in Sheerness wishing to proceed to places outside the Isle of Sheppey must do so by train and not by road. No persons will be permitted to cross the King's Ferry Bridge by road except those provided with passes."
Reported in the Kent Messenger on 14th November 1914: "SUICIDE.- On Friday last [6th November] Frederick Olds, of Greenstreet, Sittingbourne, remarked to a friend that he had had a dream in which he was told he had come into "millions and millions of pounds." Later that day he walked to the bank of Conger (sic - Conyer) Creek, a mile away, and, having undressed, walked into the water and was drowned. Decease, who was 43 years of age, had been a soldier, and served in the South African War. It was stated at the inquest on Saturday that he had been strange in his manner of late, and had remarked that he sometimes felt "light-headed." A verdict of "Suicide during temporary insanity" was returned."
A fuller account is found in the Faversham and North East Kent News on 14th November:- EX-SOLDIER’S DEATH AT CONYER. “SEEMED STRANGE” AFTER SOUTH AFRICAN WAR. The death of Frederick George Olds, of no fixed abode and ex-soldier and a son of a former tradesman at Greenstreet, who was found drowned in Conyer Creek on Thursday last week, was the subject of an inquiry held in the chapel at Conyer on Saturday afternoon by Mr. C.B. Harris, County Coroner.
William Henry Olds, a cap driver of Folkestone, who did not arrive until the inquiry was practically concluded, identified the deceased as his brother and stated that he was about 40 years of age. He was a single man. Witness last saw him alive about two years ago at Folkestone. He had been in the Army and was in the South African War. After coming home from South Africa he appeared strange in his mind at times. He often remarked that he thought he would have larger sums of money left him.
Ralph John Seager, licensee of the Dover Castle, Greenstreet, said the deceased, whom he had known for about four months, was in his house on Thursday, 15th inst. He said he had dreamt that he would have millions and millions left him and he thought it was coming true as it seemed so real to him. Just before he left he said he felt rather light-headed. He had had nothing to drink and was a very temperate man.
Silvanus Button, blacksmith, Conyer, stated that at 4 p.m. on Thursday he was looking across the Creek when a man, whom he at first took to be a bargeman, came along on the opposite side. He stopped and pulled off his overcoat but when he saw witness looking at him he put it on again and went over on the other side of the sea wall. Witness waited about five minutes but the man did not re-appear. Witness identified the deceased as the man he saw. He did not hear any splash nor anyone cry out. The man was a stranger to him.
George William Smeed, labourer, for Frognal Lane, stated that he was going to dinner at noon on Thursday when he saw a body lying on the mud at the back wash of Conyer Creek, about 30 or 40 feet from the bank. There were footsteps in the mud from the bank where some clothes were lying. The deceased was undressed and appeared to have been in the water just one tide. There was no sign of a struggle.
P.C. Hogg deposed to recovering the body, and produced two Army discharge papers which he found in a hut in an orchard at Teynham where deceased had been sleeping.
Dr. J.P. Henderson said the body was in a wasted condition. There was a lacerated wound over the right eyebrow and another under the left ear, but they were probably caused by fish. The general condition of the body was consistent with drowning. There were no marks on the body and no suggestion of any violence.
The jury returned a verdict of “Suicide during temporary insanity.”
Additional Society sketch: Frederick George Olds, christened on 14th July 1872 in Lynsted, was one of six children (William, Ellen, Florence Emily, Lillian and Gertrude) born to William (b.1838) and Mary Ann (b.1841) Olds. Frederick's father was a master baker in Greenstreet (Lynsted Parish side) in the 1861 and 1871 Census's. In 1881 William had moved to 13 King Street, Gillingham. By 1891, he had taken his family to live in No.1 Farley Place, Folkestone when his son Frederick also appears as "baker". By the 1911 Census, William was a widower boarding in 7 Radnor Park Crescent, Folkestone. Click on image (right) to see larger family tree image.
On the other hand, we learn that in the 1901 Census, Frederick is recorded as living with this brother (George) in No.1 West Cliff Mews, Folkestone; age given as 26, his occupation is given as "Private Kings Royal Rifles". By the 1911 Census he is no longer a soldier; he is a "stableman", unmarried and boarding with the Edward Terry family in Pavilion Mews, Folkestone. Nothing here suggests a reason for Frederick's later suicide on returning to live in his home community of Greenstreet only three years later.
The Military Man: From his military records we learn a little more about this local man. He was attested in Sittingbourne on 2nd November 1888 when he joined the East Kent Regiment. He is first given the Regimental number of 2893 and then 2902. Curiously, across the top of the record, in red, is a manuscript addition "Discharged Medically Unfit 3.11.88". This sits uneasily with the 1914 newspaper report that says Frederick served in South Africa. Read on!
For his 1888 enlistment, his age is given as 17 years and 8 months and he is a "Labourer" working for David Goodhew, Farmer, Sittingbourne, Kent. His medical inspection (1st November 1888) describes him as 5 feet and 3½ inches with a chest measurement of 30½ inches. Fresh complexion with grey eyes and light brown hair without distinguishing marks. Not surprisingly, he is also Church of England. However, the final medical examination by the "approving" Medical Officer at Canterbury on 3rd November, states that Frederick was "Insufficient physical development". And yet, the Certificate of Approving Field Officer, who signed off the physical assessment concludes "I accordingly approve, and appoint him to 3rd East Kent Regiment." In three short days, Frederick came and went as a soldier.
The next sheet - "Statement of the Services" - summarises: "East Kent, 3rd Battalion, Private. Period of Service in each rank - 2nd November 1888 to 3rd November 1888. "(Discharged Medically Unfit - 3rd November 1888)". Home address: 8 Dover St S'Bourne. Recruiter Sergeant J.C.Back (Boot?), E.K.Regiment.
But Frederick's Army story does not end there....
The Census Record for 1901 does show Frederick as a Private in the King's Royal Rifles. Separate military records (covering Anglo-Boer War records 1899-1902; Source: Military Medal Society of South Africa newsletters) confirm that Frederick did enlisted successfully (Private, Regimental Number 8480). Perhaps he improved his physical development or the urgency of that time meant the threshold was lowered. In the 1891 Census, Frederick is a baker, living with his parents in No.1 Farley Place, Folkestone.
Frederick appears in medal records of those in the 3rd Battalion K.R.R. Corps who earned a medal and clasp for serving in Matabeleland and Mashonoland in 1896 - these provinces became part of what is today known as Zimbabwe.
Later, Frederick was promoted (Corporal. Reg. No. 8480) and is found in 4th Battalion, Kings Royal Rifles Corps
records for those entitled to the Queen's South Africa Medal and Clasps for serving between 1899-1902. That record confirms that Frederick was at this point (1902) moved into Army Reserves. Frederick is also recorded as serving in the Mounted Infantry, Kings Royal Rifles. One 1901 Record states that Frederick was now serving in 2nd Battalion, K.R.R., Detachment Serving with 1st Mounted Infantry Battalion - entitled to clasps for serving in the following Campaigns - Paardeberg, Dreifontein, Johannesburg, and the Relief of Kimberley. Other records (signed in Gosport in 1902) show he was also entitled to the King's South Africa Medal and Clasps and confirm that Frederick has moved into Army Reserves (1901/2).
So, we are left with the a question mark about what it was in his "life's story" that he could no longer live with or which bore him down? Whatever the speculation might be, this is a true personal tragedy. The Society uncovered a further newspaper account (below )
Reported by Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald (14th November) & South Eastern Gazette (17th November). To The Editor. DEAR SIR,- As Her Royal Highness the Princess Mary is anxious that all classes should be represented in the Fund that she is raising for presenting Christmas gifts to our sailors afloat and our soldiers at the front, my Committee would deem it a favour if you could find room in your paper for the enclosed coupon. I may add that the gift will consist of an embossed tobacco box, tinder lighter, pipe, tobacco and cigarettes. I am, dear Sir, Yours faithfully, Yours faithfully, ROWLAND BERKELEY, Hon. Secretary.
Ritz Hotel, Piccadilly, London, W. - 7th November, 1914
P.S.- I enclose copy of her Royal Highness's appeal.
PRINCESS MARY'S SAILORS' AND SOLDIERS' CHRISTMAS FUND.
For many weeks we have all been greatly concerned for the welfare of the sailors and soldiers who are so gallantly fighting our battles by sea and land. our first consideration has been to meet their more pressing needs, and I have delayed making known a wish that has long been in my heart for fear of encroaching on other funds, the claims of which have been more urgent.
I want you all now to help me to send a Christmas present from the whole nation to every sailor afloat and every soldier at the front. On Christmas-eve when, like the shepherds of old, they keep their watch, doubtless their thoughts will turn to home and to the loved ones left behind, and perhaps, too, they will recall the days when as children themselves they were wont to hang out their stockings wondering what the morrow had in store.
I am sure that we should all be the happier to feel that we had helped to send our little token of love and sympathy on Christmas morning, something that would be useful and of permanent value, and the making of which may be the means of providing employment in trades adversely affected by the war. Could there be anything more likely to hearten them in their struggle than a present received straight from home on Christmas Day?
Please, will you help me?
[This Fund was later extended in 1915]
The East Kent Gazette reported on 7th November 1914: "THE BUFFS IN ACTION – Lieutenant R. McDougal, The Buffs, whose death in action was reported last week, was a brother of Captain McDougal, of Loyterton, Lynsted
Reported in Kent Messenger 9th November 1914: FOORD - LINCOLN - November 9, at St. Peter and St. Paul's, Lynsted Edward Alfred Foord (b.25th January 1877 - Maidstone; parents Alfred Foord) to Ella, younger daughter (b. 1879) of the late John Lincoln, of Maidstone.
This was Edward's second marriage, after the untimely death (early 1911 in Maidstone) of his first wife Clara (nee Knight, father Walter of Upper Clapton, Hackney). Edward's first marriage took place on 7th July 1906. In 1911, Edward appears as an Ironmonger's Assistant - there are no records of military service.
South Eastern Gazette - 10th November
YOUR KING AND COUNTRY NEED YOU
Lord Kitchener has obtained 900,000 recruits, and only 100,000 are needed to make up the first million. So take your place in the ranks, young man, at once, and enlist at the nearest recruiting office, for the sake of your King and Country.
Published in The Liverpool Echo on 11th November 1914: A CASE FOR INQUIRY. At Sittingbourne to-day [11th November] Antony Steiner (21), who said he was born in England, of Bohemian parents, was charged with failing to register himself.
Steiner had been employed as a mechanic at the Eastchurch naval aviation school, and his movements aroused suspicion. He had spent several years in Belgium, and speaks French and German. He claimed to be a British subject. He was considered to be a dangerous person to be at large, and was remanded for inquiries.
Voluntary, but coercive instrument to drive up recruitment through peer and family pressure.
Reported in The Times of 11th November 1914 - "November 1914,
Dear Sir, or Madam,
We desire to draw your attention to the enclosed form, in which you are asked to state the names of those of your household who are willing to enlist for the war. By filling in and posting the householder's return without delay, you will render material assistance to the War Office. The names returned will be entered in a register, and the nearest recruiting officer will arrange to attest those registered as their services are required.
There has been a generous response to the appeal for men for the new Armies, but the number of recruits, thought large, does not nearly meet the nation's need. In order to maintain and reinforce our troops abroad and to complete the new Armies which we hope within a few months to throw into the field, we need all the best the nation can give us of its youth and strength.
If we are to repair, as far as may be humanly possible, the innumerable wrongs inflicted on our Allies; if we are to avoid for ourselves the ills which they have suffered; if we are to maintain for our children all that we hold dear - honour, freedom, our very life as a nation - we must fight with the courage and endurance which won for us the struggles of the past.
Every man, therefore, who is eligible will ask his own conscience whether, in this emergency, it is not his duty to hold himself ready to enlist in the forces of the Crown.
The difficulties and dangers which confront us have never been so great; we await the issue with confidence, relying on the spirit and self-sacrifice of our fellow-countrymen to prevail.
We are, your obedient servants,
A. BONAR LAW,
The form asks for the the name, age, condition as to marriage and children, and occupation of each of the male persons between 19 and 38 years old residing in each house willing to enlist for the war only. Space is provided for particulars of those who have already enlisted.
Reported in South Eastern Gazette - 19th November 1914
"OVER 500,000 GERMAN CASUALTIES ADMITTED.- The German official lists of casualties - killed, wounded, and missing, officers and men - give a total of 509,000. One list alone contains 29,281 names.
Most of the names in the latest lists are from September, some thousands even from August, and only a few from October.
BRITISH LOSSES. 57,000 OF ALL RANKS TO END OF OCTOBER.- In reply to a question put by Mr. John, Mr. Asquith says, in Parliamentary papers.
The British casualties in the western area of the war up to October 31 are approximately 57,000 of all ranks. The Government are not in a position to estimate the losses of the other Allied Powers, nor those of the enemy."
18th November Meeting of Kent County Council - Reported on 24th November in South Eastern Gazette.
"THE WAR AND EDUCATION.
Alderman Berry, in presenting the report of the Education Committee, mentioned that Sir Mark Collet had temporarily undertaken the position of Chairman of the Higher Education Sub-Committee, in the absence of Mr. d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, who was on military service. The Council would, he was sure, wish Mr. Goldsmid good luck in the work he had undertaken.
The Education Committee, Alderman Berry continued, had done its best in the very trying circumstances since the outbreak of the war, to carry on education in the county on normal lines, although no less than 30 per cent. of the staff had joined the colours, and eight per cent. of the elementary teachers. There had also be a great strain on the medical staff, but things had now settled down, and the Committee were carrying on the whole of the work with the exception of the dental section, which stood over. With reference to school buildings, they encountered difficulty owing to the urgent needs of the naval and military authorities, but the only serious trouble was at Sheerness, where they were faced with a possible expenditure of several thousand pounds to provide temporary buildings for the children. Repeated interviews took place with the Board of Education, but the Committee got no help until Lord Harris took up the matter at the War Office. Arrangements were then made which cleared away the difficulties. All the new work undertaken had been carried on, and the Committee had done something to meet the needs of the moment by starting classes in ambulance work, invalid cookery, etc., in conjunction with local committees. They had also offered 30 additional scholarships at Wye College. As to the education of the children of Belgian refugees, it was decided as far as possible to treat them as though they belonged to the country. The Committee was doing something also to help the young soldiers billeted or encamped in the county by an extension of the evening school work. At Maidstone French classes had been started for the noncommissioned officers and men of the R.A.M.C., and classes for the West Kent Yeomanry, which were to be taken by a Belgian Professor from Antwerp residing in Maidstone. Instruction was being given, too in camp cookery, map reading, and the care of horses....."
Reported in the South Eastern Gazette on 28th November: KENT AUTUMN ASSIZES OF 24th November:David Leonard Roberts, 18, postman, pleaded guilty to stealing a postal packet, the property of the Postmaster-General, at Sheerness, on September 11th - Mr. Horton Smith, who prosecuted, said prisoner was employed as a postman at Sheerness, his wages being 16s. per week. In consequence of suspicions which fell upon him, a packet, containing pills, was made up and posted. It never reached its destination. On the prisoner's lodging being searched 18 letters were found, as well as the cover of this particular packet, and four £1 postal orders. - Mr Dickens, for the defence, urged that prisoner had previously borne an excellent character, and that if he were discharged he would promise to join the Army.- The mother said the prisoner was her only means of support; but, in answer to the Judge, she consented to his joining the Army if he were liberated.- his Lordship said that, having regard to prisoner's previous good character, and his expressed desire to do his duty as a citizen to the country, he should only pass a nominal sentence. He would be bound over to come up for judgment if called upon.
[Society Postscript: In the 1911 Census, David Leonard Roberts (occupation - telegraph boy) is found living in his parent's house at 41 Shakespeare Road, Gillingham. His younger sister, Ellenor, was also at home.
David was as good as his word. He joined as a private with the Queen's Own (Royal West Kent) Regiment, 1st Battalion - Regimental Number, L/10573 - with whom he served in France until he died of wounds on 23rd April 1915. He body was buried in Saint Sever Cemetery, Rouen, Department de la Seine-Maritime, Haute Normandie, France [Plot "A", Row 8]. A the time of his death, his next of kin was given as his mother, Florence Emily Roberts, now living at 23 Old Road, Chatham. No further war records have been found.]
SITTINGBOURNE. GAOL INSTEAD OF THE TRENCHES.
At the Sittingbourne Police Court on Friday, before Messes. G.H. Dean and H. Payne, Michael Donelly, a private in the 5th Battalion Royal Dublin Fusiliers, was charged with wilfully smashing a plate glass window at the Golden Eagle public house, on the 2nd inst., doing damage to the extent of £5. The evidence showed that prisoner, while under the influence of drink, deliberately put his fist through the window. An officer stated that prisoner was addicted to drink. He was a strong young man, and might be a good soldier if he could be kept from drink. Prisoner had been selected for a draft who were ordered to the Front, but owing to this occurrence the draft had to go without him. The same thing happened in Cork, but whether intentionally or not the officer did not know. Prisoner, who said he wanted to go to the Front, was sentenced to six weeks' hard labour. Reported in South Eastern Gazette of 8th December 1914.
Reported in The Times on 24th November 1914 - "Letters Home: EFFECT OF A HEAVY SHELL. An officer attached to the Royal West Kent Regiment tells the following story of the result of the Germans' heavy shells:-
There is a man in this regiment here now who had an experience. He was standing with another man behind the trenches when one burst. One man was never seen again, even in bits, and an enormous hole was made; but the other fellow was found hanging head downwards 15ft. up a tree. They got him down, and found his rifle among the branches; and except that he couldn't speak or hear for two days he was none the worse and is now back with his company....."
PETTMAN - WILES: William Thomas Pettman (b. 1889; parents William Henry Pettman) married Doris Mary Wiles (b. 1891 (Q4); parents William Henry Wiles, Hay Trusser) in Lynsted. Doris was born in "Claxfield" (given by her in the 1911 Census, when she was living in "The Red House", Westgate on Sea, as a kitchen maid in the home of Arthur F.C. and Susan Eleanor Tollemachie). It is probable that she was in fact born in 5 Claxfield Villas, Greenstreet, as "Greenstreet" was given as her birthplace by her parents (1901 Census, 9 years old). Her parents are also shown at this address in the 1911 Census. One of five sisters, her only brother was William Edward (b.1888) who became a butcher's assistant in Greenstreet (no military record confirmed).
The East Kent Gazette reported on 28th November 1914: " GREENSTREET. MEN WITH THE FORCES. It is stated that no fewer than 150 men from the parishes of Teynham and Lynsted are now serving with His Majesty’s forces. Of this number about 90 men are from Teynham, and the rest hail from Lynsted."
Reported by South Eastern Gazette of 1st December: "RECRUITING MEETING. A public meeting and smoking concert organised by the Sittingbourne and Milton recruiting sub-committee, of the Kent Territorial Force Association took place in the Drill Hall, Sittingbourne, on Saturday evening [29th November], when there was a numerous attendance. Colonel M.C. Hackett (4th Royal Dublin Fusiliers) presided, and the band of the Battalion was in attendance and played selections of music at intervals. The speakers were Mr. J. Pratt, M.P., for Linlithgow, and Mr. Granville Wheler, the Member for the Division. Songs were rendered by officers and men of the 4th Royal Dublin Fusiliers."
Reported in the Birmingham Daily Post on 31st December 1914. The coroner for the Sittingbourne district (Mr. C.B. Harris) yesterday resumed his enquiry into the circumstances of the loss of H.M.S Bulwark (right) in the River Medway on November 26. One of the recreation rooms of the Royal Naval Hospital was used for the purpose. Thirty-nine bodies have been recovered and identified. 736 men were lost.
There were in attendance Rear-Admiral Gaunt (commodore of the Royal Naval Barracks, Chatham), Mr. G.W. Ricketts (representing the Admiralty), Surgeon-General J.J. Johnstone, and Major Cooper Key (his Majesty's Inspector of Explosion).
After the jury had answered to their names the Coroner reminded them that the enquiry had been adjourned from time to time. He had hoped to proceed at once to its conclusion, the Home Secretary having acceded to his request that they should have the assistance of the Inspector of Explosives but, unfortunately, there had been a misunderstanding, and he was afraid the early part of the evidence, which ought to be given before the later part, had not been arranged for.
Mr. Ricketts explained that he was instructed late the previous evening. He had not understood it was the duty of those instructing him to ensure that the witnesses should be there. He had, however, thought they would be in attendance. There was no desire on the part of the Admiralty to conceal anything, and the witnesses would be sent for.
The Coroner thereupon intimated that he must adjourn the sitting until two o'clock in the afternoon.
When the Court resumed at the appointed hour.
"EVERYTHING SEEMED ALIGHT."
Lieutenant Benjamin George Carroll (assistant coaling officer at Sheerness) said he was passing down the harbour in a boat at 7.50 on the morning of November 26. The Bulwark was lying in Kithole Reach [Kethole Reach]. There was nothing alongside her. Just as he was noticing a signal indicating the number of tons of coal aboard her he suddenly saw a spurt of flame abaft the after barbette turret. Then a whole volume of flame seemed to rush towards the after funnel. The whole interior of the ship appeared to be blown into the air, and everything seemed alight. He observed no disturbance of the water. It was quite calm and there was no tide. He at once turned his boat back to render all possible assistance, and was able to pick up one or two, including an officer. He was convinced that it was an internal explosion. A small portion of the forepart of the ship remained visible.
The Foreman: Did you form any opinion as to what had probably happened? - Yes, I calculated that a magazine or magazines had blown up.
And that the explosion was internal? - Almost certainly internal.
The Coroner: You say you saw nothing external?- Nothing, and I was certainly not more than 300 yards from the ship. Witness added that there were in all eleven magazines, and the force was sufficient to explode all. The 12-inch charges were in brass cases, and he did not see how possibly the throwing away of cigarette ends could have had anything to do with the explosion. When ammunition was brought aboard a man-of-war it was at once passed down below. It was quite true they had men smoking aboard, but there was no reason why a gunner should take out charges.
A Juror: If during the breakfast interval magazines are kept open, and ammunition is left on the upper deck, or 'tween decks, do you think there is a possibility of such an explosion as this? - No, the ammunition is in all cases fastened down, and you cannot open it without a key. You might throw 150 cigarette ends about, but the charges could not be reached unless they were first opened, and there is no reason to open a case until it is wanted for the gun. In no circumstances would the charges be taken out. The charges are in the casemates, and a ship's company do not smoke in the casemates. I do not think it possible the explosion could have been caused by lighted cigarette ends.
INJURED SERGEANT'S STORY.
John Albert Budd, a sergeant of the Royal Marine Light Infantry, who was sergeant of the guard on the Bulwark on the morning of November 26, was the net witness whose evidence had to be taken, but, the sergeant being still confined to the ward suffering from a broken leg and burns, it was found necessary for the coroner to leave the inquest room and take his deposition at the bedside. The jury delegated one of their number to represent them, and Mr. Ricketts also was present. After the sworn testimony had been concluded, the Coroner read over his notes to the whole jury.
Sergeant Budd said: I joined the Bulwark on mobilisation. The shop was moored at 17 buoy in Kithole Reach at 7.50 on the morning of November 26, and I was finishing breakfast in Y3 casemate on the port side of the second deck. I saw a sudden flash aft. It moved forward. I turned aft, and at that instant the decks seemed to open, and I fell. I remember coming up in the water with great force. Rising to the surface, I looked round and saw that the ship had gone. I heard no explosion. I had not expected that the vessel would go to pieces so quickly. I was finally picked up in a service boat.
The juror who attended the beside on behalf of his colleagues put several questions with a view to ascertain whether there had been any liberty men ashore overnight, as certain statements had been made in the newspapers.
Witness was certain no leave was "piped."
THE VIEW OF THE COURT OF ENQUIRY.
Rear-Admiral Ernest Frederick Augustus Gaunt, the president of the Admiralty Court of Enquiry which sat to investigate the fatality, was next examined. he stated that an exhaustive and scientific investigation took place by direction of the Department. The whole question of ammunition was gone into. The Court was satisfied that nothing came alongside the Bulwark on the morning of the 26th. There was nothing to show that the explosion was external, but the evidence pointed to its having been internal.
The Coroner: Was there any evidence of treachery? - No.
Was there any evidence of loose cordite in the passages? - There was no evidence of loose cartridges in the cross ammunition passages.
What relation had that fact to the possible cause of the explosion? - I do not think it had any.
There must have been ignition somewhere? - All the evidence we had was that the explosion occurred aft, but there was no proof of the actual cause. There was nothing to give an idea of any sort of treachery. Questions were asked, and we were satisfied it was most improbable there could have been any treachery. There were many possible causes, but no direct evidence, and there have been many theories which were untrue. You may exclude the possibility of a shell having been dropped. The Court came to the unanimous conclusion that there was accidental ignition somewhere.
Mr. Ricketts: Are you entirely satisfied that it was an accident?- Yes, entirely satisfied.
Commander Wilton, and officer representing the Admiralty, said the Board had been able to trace every cartridge on board the Bulwark, and there was no evidence of loose cordite.
A juror: We should like to know how the ignition occurred?
The Coroner: That is the puzzle which we cannot solve.
THE JURY'S VERDICT.
This concluded the evidence, and the Coroner summed up. He informed the jury that it was it possible to discover exactly how the ignition was caused, but the idea that there was any external cause was negatived. He pointed to what had had been said as to the absence of outside disturbance in the water. If the jury were prepared to endorse the views set forth in the evidence their duty would be simple, and they would have no difficulty in coming to a conclusion.
The Foreman at once consulted with his brother jurors, and then announced that their unanimous verdict was one of "Accidental death." In making known the decision arrived at, he said the jury had given serious attention to the matter. Whatever might be said outside they had to act on the evidence, and the verdict agreed upon was the only possible one that could be returned.
Reported in The Times on 16th December: The Court of Inquiry which was appointed to inquire into the loss of His Majesty's Ship Bulwark has not reported, an it is clear from the evidence which has been produced that the explosion which caused the loss of the ship was due to an accidental ignition of ammunition on board the ship.
There is no evidence to support a suggestion that the explosion was due either to treachery on board the ship or to an act of the enemy.
The Society account of this Luddenham casualty, Petty Officer Chief Stoker Henry Burley (died 22nd January 1915), sheds further light on the significance of Sheerness as naval port and the high level of fear there was about invasion across the North Sea and Channel.