CWG: Stoker 1st Class John Hammond

Stoker 1st Class John Hammond

John William Hammond was born on 24th March 1899 in the Kent coastal town of Gravesend. One of eight children, his parents were James (who was known as Robert) and Margaret Hammond. Robert had been an army man all his life: by the time John was born, he had retired from the Royal Field Artillery and was supporting his family with his Corporal’s pension.

The 1911 census records the family of nine as living in a small terraced house on the outskirts of Gravesend. Robert had found employment as a customs watcher (or collector).

When he left school, John found work at the docks, labouring to bring in some extra money for the family. By this time, war had been declared, and, keen to do his bit for King and Country, on 13th January 1916 he volunteered for the Royal Navy as a Stoker.

John’s enlistment papers give a little more insight into him. He was recorded as standing 5ft 6.5ins (1.69m) tall, with brown hair, blue-grey eyes and a fresh complexion. His was noted as having vaccination marks on his left arm and a scar on his left knee. But the most telling part of his service papers is that he gives his year of birth as 1897: he was sixteen years old – and underage – when he joined up, so adding two years to his age ensured he was accepted.

Stoker 2nd Class Hammond’s first posting was just down the coast at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham. He spent five months there, learning his trade, before being given his first ocean-going assignment.

John’s first ship was the battleship HMS Swiftsure which, over the next eleven months, acted as convoy support for the Atlantic shipping lanes. By the time he arrived back in Kent in April 1917, John had travelled to and from Africa and had been promoted to Stoker 1st Class.

Back at HMS Pembroke, Stoker Hammond had had an unblemished record. This changed when, in August he was detained for 21 days, although his misdemeanour is not clear.

During that summer of 1917, the Naval Dockyard was a busy place. When its barracks reached capacity, Chatham Drill Hall was called into use as temporary accommodation and, having been released from detention, this is where John found himself billeted.

The German Air Force was suffering significant losses during the daylight raids it carried out. In an attempt to stem the flow of casualties, the decision was taken to trial night time raids and, on 3rd September 1917, Chatham found itself in their line of fire. The Drill Hall that Stoker Hammond was sleeping in received a direct hit, and he was killed. He was just 18 years old.

The 98 servicemen who perished during the Chatham Air Raid that night were laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in nearby Gillingham. This, too, is where John William Hammond was buried.

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