CWG: Chief Writer James Warne

Chief Writer James Warne

James Edwin Warne was born on 4th August 1884, in Portsmouth, Hampshire. He was one of four children to shipwright Edwin Warne and his wife Elizabeth.

The naval life was all around him and, straight out of school, James sought out a career in the service and, on 28th December 1899, aged just 15 years old, he enlisted. His service records show that he was just 5ft 2.5ins (1.59m) tall, had dark brown hair, brown eyes and a dark complexion. Initially taken on in the role of Boy Writer, he was sent to HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent, for training.

Over the next couple of years he learned his trade, serving on a couple of ships, but also at HMS Pembroke and the nearby base in Sheerness, HMS Wildfire. When he came of age in 1902, he was formally inducted into the Royal Navy. His records show that his time in the navy were standing him in good stead – he had grown 5ins (13cm) in the previous couple of years.

James was afforded the rank of 3rd Class Writer. This was a mainly clerical role, James would have been involved in the day-to-day welfare concerns for the crew. Over the next twelve years, he honed his trade, serving on a handful of vessels, but being mainly based in Chatham and Sheerness.

By the time James’ initial period of service came to an end in August 1914, he had risen through the ranks to 2nd Class Writer (in 1906) and 1st Class Writer (four years later).

It was while James was based in Sheerness that he met Emily Jane Hayes. She was the daughter of a naval boilermaker; the couple married in 1906, and went on to have four children: Leonard, Jenny, Edwin and Phyllis.

When war broke out, James’ contract with the Royal Navy was renewed, and he was promoted to Chief Writer. He became permanently based at HMS Pembroke, and the family set up home in Nelson Road, Gillingham, not far from the Dockyard.

In the summer of 1917, HMS Pembroke was an overcrowded place. This was compounded by two events: men who had been earmarked to join the HMS Vanguard had been forced to remain at the barracks after the ship had been sunk at Scapa Flow, while an outbreak of ‘spotted fever’ in the barracks meant that the sleeping accommodation had to be increased in an effort to avoid further infection.

This would have increased Chief Writer Warne’s workload and hours, and he slept on site, in temporary accommodation set up in the barracks’ Drill Hall.

On the night of the 3rd September, the German Air Force conducted the first night time raid on England. Chatham came in the firing line, and the Drill Hall received a direct hit.

Given the proximity of the dockyard to the family home, Emily must have known something was wrong, and could only have hoped that her husband was not involved. Sadly, Chief Writer Warne was among those to be killed. He was 33 years of age.

James Edwin Warne was laid to rest in Gillingham’s Woodlands Cemetery – again, walking distance from the family home – along with the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid.


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