Category Archives: Royal Naval Reserve

CWG: Seaman Alexander Kennedy

Seaman Alexander Kennedy

Alexander Kennedy was born in Cromore on the Isle of Lewis on 15th June 1895. He was one of five children – four of them boys – to John and Isabella Kennedy.

Living in the remote coastal township, he would have grown up knowing the sea and, when the opportunity arose, he volunteered for the Royal Naval Reserve. His service records show that he enlisted on 12th December 1913; they also note that he was 5ft 6.5ins (1.69m) tall, had blue eyes, a fresh complexion and a scar under his chin.

Seaman Kennedy was kept on a retainer until war broke out the following summer, at which point he was sent to the other end of the country – HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent – for formal training. His time in the navy was then split between the dockyard and the battleship HMS Implacable.

Over the next couple of years, Seaman Kennedy toured the Mediterranean, berthing in Egypt, Malta and Gibraltar between stops back in the ports on the English coasts. By the summer of 1917, he had returned to HMS Pembroke for good.

At that point in the war, Chatham Dockyard was a particularly busy place, and Alexander was billeted in overflow accommodation set up in the naval 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. Seaman Kennedy was among those killed. He was just 21 years of age.

Alexander Kennedy was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in nearby Gillingham, along with the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid.


Seaman Alexander Kennedy
(from ancestry.co.uk)

CWG: Seaman Neil Mackay

Seaman Neil Mackay

Neil Mackay was born on 16th September 1888 in Stornoway, Scotland, the son of Murdoch and Johanna (known as Murdo and Annie) Mackay.

Sadly, little information remains about his early life; most of what can be gleaned comes from his Royal Naval Reserve records. The document confirms that he was 5ft 9ins (1.75m) tall, had blue eyes, a dark complexion and a scar between his eyes.

Neil enlisted as a Seaman on 3rd September 1912 and, over the next couple of years, he travelled the world, visiting Maine in the United States, New Zealand and Newfoundland on his voyages.

When war broke out, he was assigned to HMS Northbrook, a troopship taking soldiers to India; he returned to the United Kingdom on HMS Dalhousie, in 1915, before making the same round trip, this time on HMS Lawrence, later that year.

In April 1916 Seaman Mackay returned to England, and was based at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent, for around eighteen months.

The summer of 1917 was to prove a busy time at HMS Pembroke, and Neil found himself billeted in temporary accommodation in the barracks’ Drill Hall. On 3rd September 1917, the town came under fire from a German air raid; the Drill Hall received a direct hit and Neil was killed. He was just shy of his 29th birthday and had completed five years’ service that day.

Neil Mackay was among 98 servicemen to be killed during the Chatham Air Raid that night. The victims were laid to rest in a mass funeral at Woodlands Cemetery in nearby Gillingham a few days later.


CWG: Stoker James Pye

Stoker James Pye

James William Pye was born on 14th August 1892, the oldest of ten children to James and Florence Pye. James Sr was a carter from Lowestoft, Suffolk, and this is where and he and Florence raised their family.

James Jr sought bigger and better things, and a career: he does not appear on the 1911 census, but, on 8th February 1912, he enlisted in the Royal Naval Reserve as a Stoker. His service records confirm that he was 5ft 7ins tall, had a fresh complexion and blue eyes. He was, by this point, living in Bungay, but no further information is given.

James was officially mobilised on 18th August 1914, and was sent to HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, for training. The following year Stoker Pye was assigned to the armoured cruiser HMS Shannon. He spent nearly two years on board, before returning to Chatham.

The summer of 1917 was a particularly crowded time at HMS Pembroke; additional space for the crews was needed, and the barracks’ Drill Hall was given over to accommodation. This is where James found himself billeted for his 25th birthday.

On the night of 3rd September, Chatham came under attack from a German air raid, and the Drill Hall received a direct hit. Stoker Pye was badly injured and admitted to the Chatham Naval Hospital; he succumbed to his injuries the following day.

James William Pye was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham, Kent, alongside the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid.


CWG: Stoker John Benson

Stoker John Benson

John Benson was born on 29th April 1892, the second of eleven children to Thomas and Annie Benson. Thomas was from Grays, Essex, and this is where the barge captain raised his growing family. While it is likely that John would have also experienced life on the water, by the time of the 1911 census, he was recorded as being a labourer at the town’s brewery.

When war broke out, it’s evident that John wanted to play his part. On 18th November 1914 he enlisted as a Stoker in the Royal Naval Reserve, and was based at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent.

Stoker Benson’s service records show that he was 5ft 3.5ins (1.61m) tall, had blue eyes and a fair complexion. He was also noted as having a number of tattoos on his forearms, including clasped hands, a bird and a lady’s head.

While John was primarily based at HMS Pembroke, he also served at sea; this included two years on board the cruiser HMS Grafton. In July 1917, however, he returned to Chatham again.

The Royal Naval Dockyard was a busy base that summer, so much so that temporary accommodation was set up in the barracks’ Drill Hall: this is where Stoker Benson found himself billeted.

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. Stoker Benson was among those to be killed. He was just 25 years of age.

John Benson was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in nearby Gillingham, along with the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid.


CWG Seaman Alexander Sutherland

Seaman Alexander Sutherland

Alexander Sutherland was born on 20th May 1899 in the Scottish town of Brora. His parents were Peter and Jane Sutherland and he was one of four children, although, tragically, all three of his siblings died before they turned five.

There is little information documented about Alexander’s life: the 1901 census recorded him and his parents living with his paternal grandparents, but give little additional information. Peter died in March 1917, although, again, there is nothing to confirm a cause of death.

The document that provides the most detail about Alexander is his service record. He was too young to enlist when war broke out, but in August 1917, having turned 18, and possibly spurred on by the passing of his father, he joined the Royal Naval Reserve as a Seaman. The record shows that he was 5ft 11ins (1.8m) tall, had fair hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. He was also noted as having a scar on the left side of his neck.

Seaman Sutherlands’s first posting was at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent and he arrived there on 23rd August 1917. The base was a particularly busy place that summer, and Alexander was billeted in some overflow accommodation in the barracks’ Drill Hall.

On the night of the 3rd September 1917, Chatham was bombarded by a German air raid, and the Drill Hall received a direct hit. Tragically, Seamen Sutherland was amongst those killed. He was just 18 years old and had been at the base for just ten days, and on active service for just over a fortnight.

Alexander Sutherland’s body was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham, alongside the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid.


Alexander’s death was particularly tragic for his mother, Jane. She had lost three children early on, and both her husband and last child within six months. Her torment must have been unimaginable.

CWG: Engineman John Henderson

Engineman John Henderson

John Henderson was born on 21st May 1887 in Leith, near Edinburgh. His parents were John William Henderson (known by both of his first names) and Matilda Jane Henderson (known as Jane), and he was one of eight children.

There is little documented about John’s early life and, in fact, the main information about him comes from his service records during his time in the Royal Naval Reserve. Before enlisting he was already involved in shipping in some form – again, however, this is not detailed – but he formally enlisted on 13th August 1915, serving as an Engineman.

John’s records confirm that he was 5ft 4.5ins (1.63m) tall, with blue eyes and a ruddy complexion. He was also noted as having a couple of tattoos on his forearms, including a pair of clasped hands over a heart.

All of Engineman Henderson’s postings were shore-based. He was initially assigned to HMS Columbine, the naval base at Port Edgar, on the Firth of Forth. This was bring constructed at the time, and John was employed as part of that construction process. While here, he was injured on his left hands while laying some cables in April 1916 and lost the tip of his finger.

When he had recovered, Engineman Henderson was transferred to HMS Gunner, the Granton Naval Base in Edinburgh. He spent fifteen months working there, before being assigned to HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent, in August 1917.

The Dockyard was particularly busy that summer, and the large number of extra servicemen meant that John was billeted in temporary accommodation in Chatham Drill Hall.

On the 3rd September 1917, the first night air raid carried out by the German Air Force bombarded the town, and scored a direct hit on the Drill Hall; Engineman Henderson was among those killed that night. He was just 30 years of age.

John Henderson was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham.


CWG: Deck Hand William Clark

Deck Hand William Clark

William Henry Clark was born in Whitby, North Yorkshire, on 15th March 1884 and was the younger of two children to James and Fanny Clark. Fisherman James drowned in September 1885, when the boat owned by his brothers-in-law – Robert and Mark Dryden – capsized.

Fanny and her children moved in with her Robert and her widowed mother, Martha, who was a lodging house keeper. In the spring of 1892, she married quarry labourer William Bennison. Her and James’ two children remained living with their grandmother; she went on to have three children with her new husband.

The 1901 census recorded young William working as a rivet heater in the local iron shipyard. He progressed in his work and, by the next census in 1911, remained living with his grandmother and uncle, but was working as a boilermaker in the shipyard.

When war broke out, William was called upon to play his part. While he had done engineering work, he also worked with his Uncle Robert on his fishing boat; this meant he was placed on reserve in the Royal Navy, and was not formally called upon as a Deck Hand until November 1915. Full details of his service are not available, but it is clear that he was based at HMS Pembroke – the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent – by the summer of 1917.

HMS Pembroke was a generally bustling place, but by the summer of 1917, it had exceeded capacity to the point where temporary accommodation was set up. William found himself billeted at The Drill Hall, away from the main barracks.

On the night of 3rd September 1917, Chatham suddenly found itself in the firing line, as the German Air Force launched a bombing raid. One of the bombs landed squarely on the Drill Hall, and Deck Hand Clark was killed. He was 33 years of age.

Ninety-eight servicemen perished during the Chatham Air Raid that night. They were buried in a mass funeral at the Woodlands Cemetery in nearby Gillingham. This is where William Henry Clark was also laid to rest.


Deck Hand William Clark
(from britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

A local newspaper had reported on William’s father’s death:

FATAL COBLE ACCIDENT: SURVIVOR’S NARRATIVE

We append the personal account of Robert Dryden, who was capsized along with his two comrades, James Clark and Mark Dryden, in the fishing coble Ann Maria… off Robin Hood’s Bay, on the morning of Saturday, the 19th inst. The tale tells of the marvellous escape of the narrator and of the sad drowning of his two mates, who each leave a widow and two children. The survivor, who is a stout and healthy fellow, had his left leg amputated some years ago, and a wooden support substituted. The following is his account:

“We were coming in from the fishing grounds on Saturday morning in our coble under a three-reefed sail, with two hundred herrings. There was a stiff breeze blowing form the south-east, with occasional squalls, and it was very dark. We should be, I reckon, about two miles from land… I had just gone into her head to see how she was coming for the land, leaving Mark at the helm, when a puff of wind took her on the starboard quarter and sent her over. We were floated out, and she sank directly, each of us catching hold of an oar.

“Just then a steamer passed us, and we shouted, but could not get their attention, and we all swam about, talking to each other, and I told them to keep their hearts up. We all had knee boots on, and, poor Jim, I think he must have been caught by the cold, for about twenty minutes after he sank. He was a fine fellow, as fine a fellow as you would meet in the streets.

“Shortly after he had gone, poor fellow, a tug boat passed us with a black and flesh-coloured funnel. I was too exhausted to shout much, and had to swim across her bows to keep clear. When she had passed, poor Mark had disappeared. I could then see the land, and with the sea beating on my left shoulder I set out for it…

“I was very disheartened after losing my mates, and all I had – for the coble belonged half to me and half to my brother – nets, money, and, all together, about £60 had gone…

“After a long swim, I neared the shore, and swam for the Blue Rock, because I could not swim further to a calm spot. I found myself on the rock after being, I think, knocked senseless by the seas. I climbed the cliff – it’s a bad coast about here – and walked for about two miles before I met anyone…

“I was several times almost in despair when in the water, and was much distressed at having to return with such a sad tale… It’s a great loss to me. Jim was my brother-in-law, and was 29 years of age, and Mark was my cousin, and 23 years old. It’s thirteen years since I had my other narrow escape, and I would sooner go to the poor-house than go through such another time of it.”

By this melancholy accident, two families have been plunged into deep grief and dire poverty, and deserve the sympathy and practical support of all kind and well-to-do-people.

Whitby Gazette: Sunday 26th September 1885

CWG: Stoker George Bell

Stoker George Bell

George Joseph Bell was born on 9th October 1890 in South Shields, County Durham. He was one of four children – all boys – to George and Eleanor Bell. George Sr was from Chatham in Kent and worked as a boilermaker for a shipbuilder.

Both of George Jr’s parents died when he and his siblings were in their teens. Times were definitely harsh for them: George’s older brother Robert was a coal teemer – unloading the carts at the Tyneside docks. His younger brother, Matthew, was a pit pony driver for the Bolden Colliery. George himself was a pressed glass manufacturer.

The 1911 census recorded Robert, George and Matthew boarding with the Easter family; renting a room in a three-bedroomed house on Commercial Road, South Shields, within spitting distance of the docks and river.

George was, by this point, courting a young lady a few doors down from him. Harriet Shield was the daughter of one of the dock labourers; the couple married at St Hilda’s Parish Church on 30th November 1912.

War was coming to Europe, and on 18th December 1914, George enlisted to play his part. His service records show that he stood 5ft 5ins (1.65m) tall, had blue eyes and a fresh complexion. He was also noted as having tattoos of a heart and his initials on his left forearm.

George joined the Royal Naval Reserve – this suggests that he had previously had some sea-going experience, although there is no specific evidence of this. He was given the role of Stoker, and was sent to HMS Pembroke – the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent – for training.

Stoker Bell’s first posting – and where he spent to most of 1915 – was on board the seaplane tender HMS Engadine. He returned to Chatham that November, before being assigned to the minesweeper HMS Gentian two months later.

After five months patrolling the North Sea, Stoker Bell returned to HMS Pembroke in June 1917. The Dockyard was a busy place that summer, and temporary accommodation was needed quickly. Chatham Drill Hall was brought into service, and George found himself billeted there.

On the 3rd September 1917, the German Air Force carried out its first night air raid: Chatham was heavily bombed and the Drill Hall received a direct hit; Stoker Bell was among those killed instantly. He was just 27 years of age.

George Joseph Bell was laid to rest alongside the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham.


CWG: Engineman Thomas Carmichael

Engineman Thomas Carmichael

Thomas Carmichael was born on 19th December 1888, the older of two children to George and Elizabeth – Lizzie – Carmichael. George was an engine fitter from Hull, Yorkshire, and this is where he and Lizzie raised their young family.

Little further information is available for Thomas’ early life. He married a woman called Annie, but no documents remain to confirm when their wedding was. The couple settled in Hull, and went on to have two children, a girl and a boy.

War had his Europe by this point, and Thomas enlisted in the Royal Naval Reserve. He joined the Royal Naval Reserve as an Engineman on 16th May 1916, serving primarily at the shore-based establishments of HMS Pembroke (the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent), HMS Gunner (the Granton Naval Base in Edinburgh) and HMS Vivid (the Naval Dockyard in Devonport).

Engineman Carmichael arrived in Chatham in August 1917. The Dockyard was particularly busy that summer, and the large number of extra servicemen meant that Thomas was billeted in temporary accommodation in Chatham Drill Hall.

On the 3rd September 1917, the first night air raid carried out by the German Air Force bombarded the town, and scored a direct hit on the Drill Hall; Engineman Carmichael was among those killed. He was just 28 years of age.

Thomas Carmichael was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham. Tragically, the Navy Death Records state that he was Buried as unidentified in one of the following graves: 516, 522, 642, 735, 935, 937 or 948.


CWG: Deck Hand William Littlewood

Deck Hand William Littlewood

William Alfred Littlewood was born on 19th April 1882, the oldest of four children to Henry and Mary. Henry was a labourer for the gasworks in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, and the couple raised their family in the town.

William also found work with the local gasworks, and this is who he was employed by when, on 19th December 1903, he married Evelyn Harriet Youman. The couple set up home near the centre of the town, and went on to have four children.

When war broke out, William was keen to play his part. On 17th August 1914, he enlisted as a Private in the Army Service Corps and, within a couple of week, was in France. He spent six months on the Western Front, before returning to home soil. The reason for this return to England was an inflammation of the middle ear, and the resulting deafness led to his discharge from the army in June 1915.

William was not to be deterred, however, and within a matter of weeks, he had enlisted again, this time volunteering for the Royal Naval Reserve as a Deck Hand. Over the next two years, he served on a number of different ships, each time returning to HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent.

In August 1917, Deck Hand Littlewood disembarked HMS Acteon, and returned to his shore base. The Dockyard was particularly busy that summer, and the large number of extra servicemen meant that William was billeted in temporary accommodation in Chatham Drill Hall.

On the 3rd September 1917, the first night air raid carried out by the German Air Force bombarded the town, and scored a direct hit on the Drill Hall; Deck Hand Littlewood was among those killed instantly. He was 35 years of age.

William Alfred Littlewood was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham. Tragically, the Navy Death Records state that he was Buried as unidentified in one of the following graves: 516, 522, 642, 735, 935, 937 or 948.