Alfred James Finlay was born in Croydon, Surrey on 7th September 1893. His mother was Emily Finlay, although there is little more information to confirm details of his early life.
He was working as a shop porter when he was drawn to a life at sea and, on 9th April 1912 he enlisted in the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class. Alfred’s enlistment papers confirm that he was 5ft 5ins (1.66m) tall, had brown hair and brown eyes. While he had a fair complexion, he was also noted to have a scar above his left eye, another on his left thigh, and had a tattoo of a pierced heart on his left arm.
After his initial six months’ training at HMS Pembroke – the shore-based establishment at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent – he was assigned to the cruiser HMS Lancaster, where he spent a couple of months. He had another few weeks at HMS Pembroke, before being sent to another cruiser, HMS Chatham.
Alfred spent more than three years on Chatham, and was promoted to Stoker 1st Class during his time aboard. Returning once again to Kent, his service from here on in seems to have been mainly shore-based: HMS Pembroke in Chatham; HMS Vivid in Devonport; HMS Victory in Portsmouth.
Stoker Finlay returned to HMS Pembroke in the summer of 1917. It was a busy period for the Naval Dockyard in Chatham, and a lot of the servicemen there – Alfred included – were billeted to temporary accommodation at the nearby Drill Hall. It was here that he was sleeping on the 3rd September, when the German Air Force undertook their first night raid over England. One of the bombers scored a direct hit on the Drill Hall, and Alfred was killed. He was just 24 years old.
Alfred James Finlay was laid to rest, along with the dozens of other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, at the Woodlands Cemetery in nearby Gillingham.