Tag Archives: history

CWG: Sapper Percy Hunt

Sapper Percy Hunt

Percy Rendall Hunt was born on 25th May 1893, one of five children to Walter and Mary. Walter was a carpenter for the railway, and had been born in Newton Abbot, Devon, where he and Mary raised their young family.

When Percy left school, he found labouring work, but soon followed his father into carpentry. He met and married a woman called Ellen; the couple married, and went on to have two children. In his spare time, he volunteered for the Devonshire Royal Engineers and, when war broke out, despite now working in Chipping Sodbury, Gloucestershire, this was the regiment he joined.

Sapper Hunt enlisted on 2nd December 1914; his records show that he stood 5ft 7ins (1.70m) tall, had good vision and was of fit physical development. In March 1915, Percy was shipped off to Gibraltar, spending the next eighteen months in the territory. After a couple of months back in England, he was sent to France. He spent the next two years split between serving on home soil and with the British Expeditionary Force, before being demobbed in March 1919.

Percy returned to his old job with the railways, but, in December 1919, he found himself in court, charged with assault. Caroline Webber, an elderly married woman, was on the beach in Dawlish one afternoon, looking for shells, when a man approached her. According to a newspaper report:

“…suddenly he made a grab at me, put his hand under my clothes, and caught hold of my left knee. I screamed, and he ran away. ran after him because I was determined to see where he went. He went over to the railway wall, and disappeared under the archway of Dawlish tunnel.”

Western Times: Wednesday 24th September 1919

Mrs Webber went to the police, who returned to the police with her, then traced a trail of footprints back to the tunnel. Percy was questioned, but denied all knowledge of the incident, and of knowing Caroline. A plaster cast was taken of one of the footprints that evening, and a match alleged with his boots. Percy was committed for trial, with bail being allowed.

When the trial started in January 1920, the boots were again presented as evidence. However, on questioning, the policeman admitted than there had been a delay in getting the impression, and that “there were some other impressions in the sand at the time”.

For the defence, a number of witnesses saw Percy at work around the time of the incident, and the timings seemed to prove that he could not have had enough time to get to the beach and back to carry out the alleged assault. Based on this defence, the jury found Percy not guilty, and the case was concluded.

After this incident, Percy’s trail goes cold for a few months. The next record is that confirming his death, on 18th September 1920. The cause of his passing is not evident, but he was 27 years of age.

Percy Rendall Hunt was laid to rest in the graveyard of All Saints Church in Highweek, Newton Abbot, not far from his family home.


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.


CWG: Stoker 1st Class George Boyd

Stoker 1st Class George Boyd

George Boyd was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on 1st May 1890, although further information about his early life is not available.

What can be confirmed is that George enlisted in the Royal Navy on 8th September 1908 as a Stoker 2nd Class. He had been working as a labourer for shipbuilder Workman Clark, when the opportunity to better himself was presented. His service records show that he was 5ft 3ins (1.60m) tall, had light brown hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion. He was also noted as having a tattoo of a compass and square on the back of his left hand.

Over the five years of his service, Stoker Boyd served on five different ships, returning each time to what would become his base, HMS Pembroke, also known as the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent. During his time, he was also promoted to Stoker 1st Class.

When his five years’ service was up, George was transferred to the reserve ranks, only to be called up again less than a year later, when war broke out. Stoker Boyd’s enthusiasm for the job may have been waning by this point: his previous Very Good character was noted only as Fair when he was re-engaged, and, in July 1915, while based in Chatham, he went absent without leave, a crime than resulted in six weeks’ detention.

Stoker 1st Class Boyd served on a number of ships during his renewed period of service, although he returned to HMS Pembroke between voyages. He returned there for good on 7th August 1917.

That summer was a particularly busy time for the Royal Naval Dockyard: temporary overflow accommodation was put in place at the barracks’ Drill Hall, and this is where George found himself billeted.

On the night of 3rd September, Chatham came under attack from a German air raid, and the Drill Hall received a direct hit. Stoker 1st Class Boyd was among those to be killed that night. He was 27 years of age.

George Boyd was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham, Kent, alongside the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid. His pension was transferred to his widow, Adelaide Boyd (née Kerr).


Adelaide Kerr was an interesting character in her own right. Born in Belfast on 9th June 1893, she was one of three children to labourer Joseph Kerr and his wife Elizabeth (or Lizzie).

Adelaide married James Stephenson when she was just 17 years old, and five months before the birth of their first child, James Jr. The couple went on to have a second child, Joseph, although he tragically passed away when just a year old.

James also passed away, 27th February 1916, aged just 23 years old. Intriguingly, his place of death is Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast, but there is no record of why he was imprisoned, nor the cause of his death.

It seems that Adelaide needed support and, within a few months of James’ death, she had married George. After he too died during the air raid, she went on to marry a third time, to Samuel Buller. The couple tied the knot in March 1918, and went on to have a son, William, that September. Tragedy was to strike again, however, when he passed away in December 1923, having just turned five.

There is no further information about Samuel, and time passed for Adelaide as well. She outlived her remaining son, James, who died in Belfast in 1979. At some point Adelaide emigrated – records do not confirm when, nor whether Samuel left Northern Ireland as well – and she passed away, at the age of 90, in the Australian hamlet of Paschendale, some 219 miles (352km) from Melbourne.


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: Able Seaman John Clements

Able Seaman John Clements

John Clements was born on 22nd March 1891 in the Lanarkshire town of Airdrie. He was one of seven children to John and Catherine Clements.

There is little concrete information about John Jr’s life. When he left school, he followed his father and two brothers, David and George into the mining industry, working at the New Orbiston Colliery, walking distance from home.

When war broke out, however, John Jr wanted to play a bigger part and – probably to Catherine’s horror – he enlisted in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve at the same time as two of his three brothers also joined up.

Information about Able Seaman Clements’ service is scarce. All that can be confirmed is that, in the autumn of 1917, he was based at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent.

The base was particularly busy at that point in the war, and John found himself billeted in overflow accommodation in the barracks’ Drill Hall.

On the night of 3rd September 1917, Chatham was bombarded by a German air raid, and the Drill Hall received a direct hit. Able Seamen Clements was among those killed. He was just 26 years old.

John Clements’s body, along the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in nearby Gillingham.


Able Seaman John Clements
(from britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)

John and Catherine’s second son had been killed, but, as the local newspaper reported, there seemed to be more trauma ahead:

Private George Clements, Cameron Highlanders, aged 23… is officially posted missing in recent operations in France. He has seen a long period of active service, and previous to enlisting, was employed in the… Hattonrigg Colliery.

Private David Clements, Royal Irish, the eldest son [of John and Catherine] is in hospital in Yorkshire suffering from ‘gassing injuries’. This is the third occasion upon which he has been wounded; fortunately, he is making a satisfactory recovery. He is 28 years of age and was employed in the… New Orbiston Colliery.

Bellshill Speaker: Friday 14th September 1917

Thankfully, George was found and David recovered and John was to be the only casualty of the conflict for the Clements family.


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 1st Class Alexander McLean

Stoker 1st Class Alexander McLean

Alexander McLean was born in the village of Bowling, on the River Clyde near Glasgow, on 7th February 1893. There is little documented on his life, other than that his parents were Duncan and Margaret (Maggie) McLean.

When he left school, he fond work as a caulker at the local docks; war came to Europe, however, and he wanted to play his part. on 11th November 1914, he enlisted in the Cameron Highlanders as a Private. His service records show that he was 5ft 4ins (1.63m) tall, weighed 118lbs (53.5kg), had dark brown eyes, grey eyes and a fresh complexion.

Private McLean’s time in the army was a brief one, however, as his entry exam identified him as medically unfit, and that he would not be an effective soldier.

Alexander was not to be deterred, however, and he soon enlisted in the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class. There is little information about his life at sea. At some point he was promoted to Stoker 1st Class, and he was certainly based at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent, by the summer of 1917.

That was particularly busy time for the base, and temporary accommodation had been put in place at the barrack’s Drill Hall: this is where Alexander found himself billeted.

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, Stoker 1st Class McLean was amongst those killed. He was just 24 years old.

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


CWG: Stoker 1st Class Albert Cairns

Stoker 1st Class Albert Cairns

Albert Cairns was born on 22nd October 1894, one of ten children to Wilson and Maria Cairns. Both of his parents were born in Northern Ireland, and flax dresser Wilson raised his family in the capital, Belfast.

When he left school, Albert began shop work, but he wanted bigger and better things. On 2nd March 1912, having already been a volunteer in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, he enlisted in the regiment full time. His service records show that he was 5ft 4.5ins (1.64m) tall, weighed 125lbs (56.7kg) and had blue eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion.

Private Cairns’ army service was brief, however, as, on 23rd March he was discharged for “having made a mis-statement as to [his] age on enlistment.”

Undeterred, six months later, Albert tried again, this time enlisting in the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class. His determination was clear, as he lied about his age again, giving his year of birth as 1893. This was overlooked (or at the very least not checked), and he was sent to HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent, for his training.

In February 1913, Stoker Cairns was assigned to the cruiser HMS Blonde. He spent the next two years on board, and was promoted to Stoker 1st Class.

For all his desire to serve, Albert’s military career was a chequered one. Over the period of five years, he served on four ships, returning to Chatham after each voyage. His character began as Very Good, but as time went on this slipped to Good and then to Indifferent. On four separate occasions he was detained for going AWOL, and he spent a total of 159 days in the brig.

In May 1917 he was returned to HMS Pembroke; that summer was a busy time for the base, and Stoker 1st Class Cairns found himself billeted in overflow accommodation set up in the barracks’ Drill Hall.

On the night of 3rd September, Chatham came under attack from a German air raid, and the Drill Hall received a direct hit. Stoker Cairns was among those to be killed that night. He was 22 years of age.

Albert Cairns was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham, Kent, alongside the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid.


Tragically, Albert was not the first boy of that name to be born to the family. Albert Wilson Cairns was born in 1888, but died when only a toddler.

Wilson and Maria also had three sons called Wilson: the first, born in 1889, died at the age of two. The second was born in 1892, but passed away at the age of seven months.

The third Wilson Cairns was born in 1896. He went on to become a mill labourer, before joining the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in February 1913. Just like his older brother had done before him, however, he had lied about his age, and was soon discharged. Two years later he tried again, and this time succeeded in joining up.

Private Cairns was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, and soon found himself in France and in the thick of it. Fighting in the Battle of Ancre, he was killed on 23rd November 1916. He was just 20 years of age, and was laid to rest in the Waggon Road Cemetery near Beaumont-Hamel.

Private Wilson Cairns
(from findagrave.com)

The Belfast Telegraph reported on Albert’s death, and noted Wilson’s death ten months previously. It also confirmed that Wilson and Maria’s oldest son, George, had also been wounded, and was recovering in a convalescent camp.

The same newspaper ran a number of messages of condolence for Albert, including one from his loving sweetheart, Katie Rollins.


CWG: Seaman George Gunn

Seaman George Gunn

George Gunn was born on 15th October 1891, the middle of three children to William and Hughina Gunn. The family lived in the hamlet of Skerray on the North Scottish coast.

Sadly, there is little information about George’s life. When was broke out, he enlisted in the Royal Naval Reserve, which suggests that he had experience of going to sea, although this is likely, because he lived in a coastal village.

George’s service records show that he was 5ft 10.5ins (1.79m) tall, had grey eyes and a fresh complexion. Under ‘personal marks’ the document noted that he had a dimple in his chin.

Seaman Gunn spent most of his time on land; he was initially posted to HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent. In June 1915, however, he was assigned to the minelayer HMS Orvieto, and spent the next year patrolling the North Sea.

By the spring of 1916, George was back in Chatham; by August he was on the move again, this time to London, where he spent twelve months at HMS President, the Royal Naval Base in London. He returned to HMS Pembroke on 3rd September 1917, a move that was to prove fatal.

The base was a particularly busy place that summer, and George was billeted in overflow accommodation in the barracks’ Drill Hall.

That night, Chatham was bombarded by a German air raid, and the Drill Hall received a direct hit. Tragically, Seamen Gunn was among those killed. He was just 24 years old and has been at HMS Pembroke for a matter of hours.

George Gunn’s body, along the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham, more than 500 miles from home.


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.