Benjamin Corker was born in Liverpool on 23rd June 1893, one of four children to James and Mary Corker. James was a railway foreman and porter from Helsby in Cheshire, who had moved to the city to get work.
Mary passed away in 1906, and this may have been the spur that got Benjamin moving. On 14th March 1910, he enlisted in the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class, for the set term of twelve years’ employment.
Benjamin’s service records shed a little more light into his life. He was noted as being 5ft 10ins (1.78m) tall, with brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. At the time that he enlisted, he was working as a capstan man for the railway, moving trucks in the goods yard using a rope device similar to that found on ships at the time.
The section on wounds, scars and marks notes that he had “tattooed tombstone, wreath and ‘in memory of my mother’, 3 crossed fishes, heart anchor and cross” on his right forearm; on his left were “heart flag, wreath flag, ‘mizpah’, KJ and two dots and indistinct letter C”. He also had a mole under his chin. The Hebrew word mizpah (remembrance, or emotional bond) is intriguing, and suggests that, while Benjamin was baptized at St Cleopas Church in Toxteth, there may have been Jewish heritage in his family line.
The last noteworthy entry on Stoker Corker’s naval records is that he had given his date of birth as 23rd June 1890, three years older than he actually was. He would have been 17 – and therefore underage – at the point he enlisted, which shows either a drive to follow his dream, or to escape some other reality.
Whatever his circumstances, Benjamin boarded HMS Acheron in Liverpool, and sailed from there to the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent, for formal training at HMS Pembroke there. After three months he was given his first formal posting on board the battlecruiser HMS Indomitable. He spent eighteen months on board, and received a promotion to Stoker 1st Class in the process.
After a further spell of training in Chatham, Stoker Corker was then assigned to HMS Hibernia, another of the Royal Navy’s battleships. He spent more than five years on board, through to the summer of 1917.
Benjamin then returned to Chatham to await his next posting. HMS Pembroke was a busy place that summer, and, with its barracks having reached capacity, the glass-roofed Chatham Drill Hall was used as temporary accommodation. This is where Stoker Corker found himself billeted.
By this point in the war, the German Air Force was trying to minimise the losses it had suffered during daytime raids. Instead, it trialled night flights and, on 3rd September 1917, Chatham was bombed. The Drill Hall received a direct hit, and Stoker Corker was killed along with close to 100 others. He was just 24 years old.
The victims of the Chatham Air Raid were buried in Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham. Benjamin Corker was also laid to rest there, and lies within walking distance of the naval dockyard in which he had served.