Henry Wate was born on 15th June 1897, the youngest of seven children (four of whom survived) to Henry and Norah Wate. Henry Sr was from the East End of London. He raised his family in a three-room tenement in White Horse Alley, just off Cowcross Street, next to the busy Farringdon Station.
By the time of the 1911 census, Henry Sr and Norah had been married for thirty years. The head of the household, Henry was working as a rad dealer, while Norah was a housewife. Of their children, William (the eldest) worked as a labourer for a bike dealer, Annie was a packer in a chocolate factory, Nellie was a waitress and Henry Jr was still at school, though only just. Henry’s niece Julia was also staying with them, and was employed as a fancy leather worker.
When war broke out, Henry Jr was working as a carman, carting goods to and from the nearby railway. When the call came, however, he joined up, enlisting in the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class. After a couple of months training at HMS Pembroke – the shore establishment at the Naval Dockyard in Chatham – he was assigned to HMS Wallington. This was a trawler, requisitioned by the Royal Navy to act as a boom/balloon vessel, presumably to tether barrage balloons.
In January 1917, Henry received a promotion to Stoker 1st Class. He returned to Chatham six months later. That summer, HMS Pembroke was becoming crowded and he was billeted at the Chatham Drill Hall.
On 3rd September 1917, the building took a direct hit from a German bomber. Stoker Wate, along with 97 others, was killed instantly. He was just 20 years old.
Henry Wate was laid to rest – along with the others who perished that night – in a mass funeral on 6th September 1917 at the nearby Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham.
Full details of the night raid on Chatham Drill Hall can be found here.
Henry’s older brother William also served in the Great War. Twelve years older than his brother, William joined the Royal West Surrey Regiment in January 1915 as a Private. He was posted to France in July, and ended up serving on the Front Line for nearly four months.
In September 1915, Private Wate fell ill with heart palpitations. Shipped back to England for treatment, he was admitted to the Brook War Hospital in Greenwich, South London. The medical report confirmed that William had had rheumatic fever as a child, and had had an attack of ‘sycope’ (low blood pressure and a loss of consciousness) in 1911. The report concluded that he had heart disease and he was discharged from military service in 1916, as a result of this.
Little is known about Williams post-army life. All that can be confirmed is that he passed away from his heart condition on 23rd November 1918 aged 33. He was buried in St Mary’s Roman Catholic Cemetery in Kensal Green, North London.