Tag Archives: Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve

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: Ordinary Seaman Knight Cooke

Ordinary Seaman Knight Cooke

Knight Cooke was born in Vancouver, Canada, on 10th December 1892. He was one of nine children to John and Mary Cooke. John was a tallyman, selling goods by instalments. Knight, however, preferred working with his hands, and when he left school, found a job in a wood mill, as a planer.

When war came to Europe, those in the Commonwealth were asked to play their part. Knight enlisted, joining the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 22nd April 1916. His service records show that he stood 5ft 9ins (1.75m) tall and weighed 135lbs (61kg): he had dark brown hair, brown eyes and a dark complexion.

When he arrived in England, Knight was initially transferred to the 72nd Regiment of the Seaforth Highlanders, although he was quickly moved again to the 13th Field Ambulance. Within a matter of weeks, Knight was discharged under the King’s Regulations that suggested he would not become an efficient soldier.

At this point, Knight’s trail goes cold. It seems that he remained in England, and it seems that he was still keen to play his part. What is clear is that he enlisted in the Royal Naval Canadian Volunteer Reserve at some point in the months after being discharged from the army.

Knight was given the rank of Ordinary Seaman, and was, by the summer of 1917, based at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard at Chatham in Kent. This was a busy, overcrowded place at that time, and Knight found himself billeted in temporary accommodation at Chatham Drill Hall.

On the 3rd September 1917, the German Air Force carried out its first night-time air raid: Chatham was heavily bombed and the Drill Hall received a direct hit; Ordinary Seaman Cooke was among those who were killed. He was just 24 years of age.

Knight Cooke was laid to rest alongside the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham, not far from the Dockyard in which he finally managed to serve.


Knight’s headstone gives his surname as Cook, although his service records – and signature – give the spelling as Cooke.


CWG: Able Seaman Raymond Ellis

Able Seaman Raymond Ellis

Raymond Ellis was born on 10th August 1898, the youngest of eleven children to Thomas and Elizabeth. Thomas was a former army officer from North Wales. He had met and married Elizabeth Moseley while living in Worcestershire in the 1870s, before moving the family to Oxfordshire ten years later. By the time Raymond was born, the family had moved back to Wales again, and were living in Llandygai, not far from Bangor in Caernarvonshire, where Thomas was working as slate quarry inspector.

By the time of the 1911 census, Thomas had found other employment, and was working as the caretaker for a telephone exchange. This is where one of his daughters was employed, and was also where Raymond himself found work when he left school.

War was coming to Europe by this point, however, and, on 23rd September 1915, Raymond enlisted in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve for a period of three years. His service records show that he was 5ft 4.5ins (1.64) tall, had red hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. He was given the rank of Able Seaman and, after a month at HMS Victory – the Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth, Hampshire – was given his first posting, on board HMS Wallington.

Able Seaman Ellis came on shore at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent, on 17th July 1917. The base was a particularly busy place at that point in the war and additional accommodation was desperately needed. Raymond found himself billeted at Chatham 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 Able Seaman Ellis was killed. He was just 18 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 Raymond Ellis was laid to rest.


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.


CWG: Ordinary Seaman William Godwin

Ordinary Seaman William Godwin

William John Godwin – known as Willie – was born on 13th March 1897, the oldest of six children. His parents were railway signalman George Godwin, and his wife Emily. George was born in Monmouthshire, Emily was from Bristol; the couple raised their family in South Wales.

When Willie left school, he found work at a local tinplate manufacturer, and was employed as a cold roll greaser – helping maintain the equipment. War was knocking on Europe’s doors, however, and, in September 1916, he was called upon to do his duty.

Willie joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve; his enlistment papers show that he stood 5ft 6ins tall, had dark brown hair, brown eyes and a fair complexion. It was noted, however, that he had an abscess scar on his right cheek.

Ordinary Seaman Godwin’s first posting was at HMS Victory, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth, Hampshire. Here he undertook his initial training, but in May 1917, he was sent to another shore-based establishment, HMS Pembroke – Chatham Dockyard.

The base was particularly busy when Willie arrived. Temporary accommodation at Chatham Drill Hall had to be set up, and this is where he found himself billeted.

On the 3rd September 1917, the German Air Force carried out one of the first night-time air raids on England: an unprepared Chatham was heavily bombed and the Drill Hall received a direct hit. Ordinary Seaman Godwin was amongst those killed instantly. He was just 20 years of age.

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


CWG: Seaman Thomas Ginn

Seaman Thomas Ginn

Thomas Albert Ginn seems destined to remain one of those people whose lives are lost to time. He was born on 4th February 1895 in Cape Fogo on the island of Fogo in Newfoundland. His father was Walter Scott Ginn, but beyond that, no concrete information remains.

What is clear is that, when was broke out, Thomas joined the Newfoundland Royal Naval Reserve as a Seaman. Sent to Europe, he found himself based at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard, at Chatham, Kent.

He was billeted in the Drill Hall, which had been set up with temporary accommodation during 1917, when the barracks themselves became overcrowded.

On the 3rd September 1917, the German Air Force carried out one of its first night-time air raids on England: Chatham was heavily bombed and the Drill Hall received a direct hit. Seaman Ginn was badly injured and died of his wounds in hospital the following day. He was just 22 years of age.

Thomas Albert Ginn was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham.


Seaman Thomas Gunn
(from westernfrontassociation.com)

Another young man from Fogo, Seaman Albert Cluett, also died during the bombing raid; given the remoteness of the Newfoundland town, it seems very unlikely that he and Thomas did not know each other.


CWG: Able Seaman Robert Peters

Robert Peters was born on 27th May 1893 in Dundee. Little information remains documented about his early life, but he was one of at least four children to John and Agnes Peters, and had two sisters, one called Mary, and an older brother. The family lived in towards the west of the city centre, in the now-spartan Annfield Road.

The bulk of the information about Robert comes from one document – his Royal Navy Service Records. He enlisted as an Ordinary Seaman on 4th April 1912, but, because of his work as an iron turner, he seems to have been put on reserve until hostilities broke out two years later.

While on reserve, he received the training that all reservists would have done, which meant that, when he was formally called into action in June 1916, he did so at the rank of Able Seaman. Robert’s service records also show that he was 5ft 5ins (1.65m) tall, had dark hair and brown eyes.

Able Seaman Peters first posting was at HMS Victory – the Naval Dockyard in Portsmouth. After a couple of months’ additional training, he was assigned to HMS Wallington, a depot ship based on the Humber Estuary.

After a year on board, Robert transferred to HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent. The base was a busy place that summer, and temporary accommodation was set up at the Dockyard’s Drill Hall. This is where Robert found himself billeted.

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; Able Seaman Peters was among those killed instantly. He was just 24 years of age.

Robert Peters was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham. His parents had passed away before the war, and so his sister Mary was confirmed as his next of kin.


Able Seaman Robert Peters (from findagrave.com)

CWG: Seaman Francis Crocker

Seaman Francis Crocker

Francis Thomas Crocker was born on 5th February 1895 to Job and Irene Crocker. One of eleven children, the family were born and raised in the small Newfoundland town of Trout River.

Sadly, there is little documentation about Francis’ life. What is clear, however, is that, when war broke out, he volunteered for the Royal Naval Reserve.

By 1917, Seaman Crocker was based at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent. The base was overly busy that summer, and Frances was billeted in temporary accommodation in the town’s Drill Hall.

On the 3rd September 1917, the first night air raid carried out by the German Air Force scored a direct hit on the barracks and Drill hall; Seaman Crocker was killed instantly. He was just 21 years old.

Francis Thomas Crocker was laid to rest, along with the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham, some 2500 miles (4000km) from his Canadian home.


CWG: Stoker George Simpson

Stoker George Simpson

George Wilfred Simpson was born early in 1882, the second of seven children to Robert and Mary Simpson. Robert was a shipbuilder from Yorkshire, and the family were raised in Thornaby, on the River Tees near Middlesbrough.

Details of George’s early life are a bit patchy, but when he left school he found work as a warehouseman. He met Florence Unwin, who was born in Stockton-upon-Tees, and they married in the spring of 1906. They young couple set up home in the town and went on to have four children, all boys.

When the war came to Europe, George wanted to do his part. His full service records are not available, but he enlisted in the Royal Naval Reserve as a Stoker at some point during the conflict. By the summer of 1917, he was based at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent.

The base was a particularly busy place at that point in the war and additional accommodation was desperately needed. Stoker Simpson found himself billeted at Chatham 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 Stoker Simpson was killed. He was just 35 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 George Wilfred Simpson was laid to rest.

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.