John Thomas Abrey was born in Earl’s Court on 12th August 1867, the middle of five children to John and Anne Abrey. John Sr was a carpenter and labourer from Suffolk, and Anne was from Suffolk. By the time they married, however, the couple had settled in London.
When he left school, John Jr found work as a printer, but he was after bigger and better things and, on 4th October 1882, he joined the Royal Navy. He was only 15 at this point, and so was given the rank of Boy 2nd Class. His service document record that he was 5ft 2ins (1.57m) tall, had brown hair, brown eyes and a sallow complexion.
John received his training at HMS Ganges, the shore-based establishment near Ipswich, Suffolk, and gained promotion to Boy 1st Class. He then spent six months on the training ship HMS Impregnable, before being given his first posting on HMS Minotaur. He served aboard for just over a year, during which he turned 18, and so was formally inducted in the Royal Navy, and was given the rank of Ordinary Seaman.
At this point, John signed up for a period of ten years and, over that time, he served on board seven further ships, and was promoted to the rank of Able Seaman.
On 25th May 1890, John married Christiana Ann Hamshaw at All Saints Battle Bridge in Islington. Christiana had been married and widowed twice, and had two teenaged daughters. The couple settled down – as much as a sailor can – and had two children of their own, John and William.
In August 1895, having completed ten years’ naval service, Able Seaman Abrey was stood down to the Royal Naval Reserve. Over the next few years, he maintained this service, while finding work as a labourer.
When war broke out, John was recalled to active duty and, over the next three years, served on a number of vessels. Between each assignment, however, he returned to HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent, which had become his base. It was here that he was barracked in the summer of 1917.
It was a particularly busy for the base, and temporary accommodation was set up in the Drill Hall; this is where John was billeted.
On the night of 3rd September 1917, Chatham suddenly found itself in the firing line as a wave of German aircraft bombed the town. The Drill Hall received a direct hit, and Able Seaman Abrey was amongst those to be instantly killed. He had celebrated his 50th birthday the month before.
John Thomas Abrey was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham along with the other servicemen who had perished during the Chatham Air Raid that night.