Tag Archives: Engineman

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: 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: Engineman Thomas Cropley

Engineman Thomas Cropley

Thomas Samuel Cropley was born on 16th November 1882 in the Suffolk village of Mutford. The fifth of eight children, his parents were Robert and Hannah Cropley. Given Mutford’s proximity to the Hundred River Hundred and the coastal town of Lowestoft, it is little surprise that Thomas’ father was a ropemaker. Hannah was also employed, the 1901 census recording her as a monthly nurse – helping women during the month after childbirth.

Thomas’ location to the coast made fishing an ideal choice of work for him, and when he left school he followed his three older brothers into the trade. Indeed, he listed his trade as a deep sea fisherman on his marriage records.

As a young man, he had met bricklayer’s daughter Edith Tuttle, and they tied the knot on 29th May 1906. The couple set up home in Factory Street, Lowestoft, and went on to have seven children.

Sadly, little information on Thomas’ wartime service remains documented. His knowledge of boats and the sea made the navy an obvious option for him, and he enlisted in the Royal Naval Reserve.

Engineman Cropley was assigned to HMS Pembroke – this Royal Naval Dockyard at Chatham in Kent. While it is likely that he served on ships as well, this is certainly the base to which he returned.

Thomas found himself based here in the summer of 1917, which was a particularly busy place at that point in the war. Additional accommodation was desperately needed and he found himself billeted at Chatham Drill Hall, away from the main barracks.

By 1917, the German Air Force had suffered huge losses during the daylight bombing raids it had been undertaking. It was imperative for them to minimise these losses, and so a new tactic – night time raids – was employed.

The first trial of this approach was on the night of 3rd September 1917, and Chatham suddenly found itself in the firing line, startlingly unready and fundamentally unprotected. One of the German bombers landed a direct hit on the Drill Hall, and Engineman Cropley was killed. He was just 34 years old.

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, too, is where Thomas Samuel Cropley was laid to rest.


The lives of Thomas’ family outlines a lot about living conditions in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with a large number of his relatives dying young.

His father was 68 when he died in 1916; Hannah had passed away fourteen years before, when she was 56 years old. Of his siblings, two did not survive childhood, one died their 20s, one was aged 40, while three reached their late sixties.

Thomas’ widow died in 1921, at the age of 35; their two youngest children died before their first birthdays. Of the other five, one was 31 when he died, while the others lived much longer – one was in their mid-70s, two in their eighties, and the oldest reached her hundredth birthday. A varied legacy indeed.