Tag Archives: Stoker Petty Officer

CWG: Stoker Petty Officer Wilson Woodbury

Stoker Petty Officer Wilson Woodbury

Wilson John Woodbury was born on 8th December 1888, and was the third of seven children to Daniel and Elizabeth Woodbury. Daniel was a chair maker from Wellington, Somerset, and this is where the family – including six boys and one girl – were raised.

By the time of the 1901 census, Daniel had had a change of career – he was now working as an oil presser. His and Elizabeth’s oldest three boys, Wilson included, had also found work, and were employed as wool spinners.

Elizabeth passed away in 1906, when Wilson was just seventeen years old. This may have pushed him to bigger and better things, and a career. On 13th August 1908, at the age of 19, he enlisted in the Royal Navy a a Stoker 2nd Class. His service record shows that he was 5ft 7.5ins (1.71m) tall, ha light brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. It also noted that he had a tattoo of a cross on his right forearm.

Stoker Woodbury was initially trained at HMS Vivid – the naval dockyard at Devonport. On 9th February 1909, however, he was given his first posting, on board HMS Defence. He spent two years on board the armoured cruiser, and, gained a promotion to Stoker 1st Class.

During the remainder of his initial service, Wilson served on two further ships – HMS Sentinel and HMS Bellona – returning to Devonport between each posting. When he completed his five-year contract, Wilson voluntarily signed up for a further seven years with the Royal Navy.

As war came to Europe, Stoker Woodbury was given a number of assignments, on the battleships HMS Caesar and Lord Nelson, the cruisers HMS Blake and Apollo, and the depot ships HMS Blenheim. Further promotions followed – Leading Stoker in 1915 and Stoker Petty Officer two years later.

Wilson’s oldest brother, James, was serving in the Labour Corps during the conflict. Based in Northern France, he was assigned to the 720th Company, although further detail are unclear. He almost survived the war unscathed, but contracted an illness of some description and died on 3rd November 1918, aged 34 years old. He was laid to rest in the Terlincthun British Cemetery in Wimille, France.

Stoker Petty Officer Woodbury returned home on leave in July 1919. The plan was to meet up with his fiancée who lived in Rockwell Green, near Wellington, but he instead turned up unexpectedly at his brother Fred’s home instead. Wilson said he had returned to Somerset because his girlfriend had broken off the engagement the previous week: the couple had been due to marry when he next came home on leave.

Fred told Wilson that she was not worth it, and they had gone drinking with a friend. Fred later said that on his previous leaves his brother had taken to drinking more than was good for him, but on that evening – Saturday 2nd August 1919 – he did not get drunk.

The following Monday, Stoker Petty Office Woodbury had taken himself down to the railway at Wellington, and been hit by a train. The action was deliberate, as, about his person were three letters. The first was to Daniel.

To My Dear Father,

Sorry to cause you any inconvenience or trouble, and please don’t worry about me, as I’m not fit to worry about. I have had this in mind for about a week. I can’t sleep and can’t eat, as I am broken-hearted, but not insane. This is through love. Now I must exit myself, and I am in great pain. Written at 4:15pm Sunday afternoon…

This is all I have to say in this world. Hoping you and my dear sister will soon forget their

Wilson John Woodbury.

Wilson’s second letter was to his only sister, Ivy. This included details of a parcel left on board his ship, in which was the ring he had given to his fiancée, which he asked that Ivy wear as a memory of him.

Knowing the implications of what he was doing, the third letter was addressed to the jury of the inquest.

My leave expires at 1pm, and my life expires just before by my own hand. I wait to get the chance to put a stop to my life. This would not have happened to bring disgrace on my relations. I am quite sane. Written at 2pm.

On the afternoon of Monday 4th August 1919, Wilson made his way to the Woodford crossing, a short distance from Wellington Railway Station.

…he waited by the side of the line at the crossing for a train, and as the Norther express approached he laid down with his head on the metals, being practically decapitated.

Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser: Wednesday 13th August 1919

The fiancée in question did attend Wilson’s inquest, although the Coroner did not think it was necessary to call her. The newspaper report referred to her, but not by name. She will remain a mystery.

Despite the evidence of his own hand, the inquest found that Stoker Petty Officer Woodbury had committed suicide while temporarily insane. He was just 30 years of age.

Wilson John Woodbury was laid to rest in the cemetery of his home town, Wellington.


CWG: Stoker Petty Officer Christian Belsey

Stoker Petty Officer Christian Belsey

Christian Belsey was born on 12th February 1884 in the village of Preston, Kent. He was one of fourteen children to Joseph and Jane Belsey. Joseph was a farm labourer, and Christian followed suit on leaving school.

He wanted bigger and better things, however, and after his older brother Charles had sought out a life in the Royal Navy, he followed suit. Christian enlisted on 28th June 1904; his service records show that he was 6ft (1.83m) tall, had brown hair, brown eyes and a fresh complexion.

Stoker 2nd Class Belsey was based out of HMS Pembroke, the Royal aval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent, and this is where he returned to in between voyages. His first posting was on board the destroyer HMS Acheron, on board which he spent six months.

Over the twelve years of his initial service he was assigned to six different ships, rising through the ranks to Stoker 1st Class (in 1906), Leading Stoker (1911) and Stoker Petty Officer (1912).

When war broke out in August 1914, Christian was back in Chatham; he was soon assigned to HMS Laertes, a destroyer based out of Harwich, which patrolled the North Sea. She was involved in the attempt to head off the German attack on Yarmouth and Lowestoft in April 1916, during which, two of Christian’s colleagues, Stoker Ernest Clarke and Stoker Petty Officer Stephen Pritchard, were awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for their bravery under fire.

After three years on board Laertes, Christian was transferred to HMS Redgauntlet. He served on board for eighteen months until, in October 1918, he fell ill.

Admitted to a hospital in Samford, near Ipswich, Suffolk, Stoker Petty Officer Belsey was suffering from pneumonia. Sadly, the lung condition was to get the better of him, and he passed away on 25th October 1918, at the age of 34 years old,

Christian Belsey was brought back to Kent for burial. He was laid to rest in Faversham Borough Cemetery.


CWG: Stoker Petty Officer Gilbert Clark

Stoker Petty Officer Gilbert Clark

Gilbert John Clark was born in Bedminster, Somerset – now a suburb of Bristol – on 6th January 1884. He was one of eleven children to Jonah and Elizabeth Clark. Jonah was a coal miner from Devon, who travelled to find work. He and Elizabeth left Devon for Somerset in the early 1880s, before moving to Glamorgan, South Wales in 1891. This seemed not to last long, however, and, by 1895, the family were living back in Bristol.

The 1901 census recorded Jonah and Gilbert’ older brother, William, working the mines. Gilbert, however, have found different employment, working instead as a labourer for a brick maker. This did not turn out to be a long term career for him, however, and, on 25th August 1904 he enlisted in the Royal Navy as a Stoker 2nd Class.

Gilbert’s service records show that he was 5ft 3ins (1.6m) tall, had black hair, dark brown eyes and a dark complexion. His was also noted to have a number of tattoos on his left arm, including a woman’s head, a figure of a woman and a cross with a man, crossed hands with a flower, a snake heart and an arrow.

Stoker 2nd Class Clark enlisted for a period of twelve years, and was initially based at HMS Vivid, the Naval Barracks in Devonport. After his training, he was given his first posting, on board HMS Barfleur. He quickly transferred, however, and in April 1905 was assigned to the battleship HMS Vengeance.

Gilbert’s three years on Vengeance were mixed. During that time, he spent two separate periods in the cells. The first, in February 1906, was for desertion, and resulted in ten days in the brig. The second, in August that year meant he was locked up for a further five days although the misdemeanour this time is not documented. This second period in the brig seemed to bring Gilbert to his senses, however, and the rest of his time on board Vengeance seems blemish-free, and even gave him a promotion to Stoker 1st Class.

The remainder of Gilbert’s twelve years’ service saw him assigned to a further eight vessels; between voyages he returned to the Devonport Naval Base. He also received a further two promotions: Leading Stoker in May 1912, and Stoker Petty Officer in February 1914.

War was imminent, by this point, and, at the end of his initial contract, he volunteered to remain in the Royal Navy for the period of the hostilities. After a six month posting in Devon, Stoker Petty Officer Clark served on three more vessels. It was while he was on board HMS Bacchante, however that he fell ill with influenza. The ship was moored at the Royal Naval Dockyard in Chatham, Kent, at the time and he was admitted to the RN Hospital in the town.

Sadly, Gilbert’s influenza turned to pneumonia and proved too much for his body to bear. He passed away from the lung conditions on 13th February 1919, at the age of 35 years old.

Gilbert John Clark’s body was brought back to Somerset for burial. He was laid to rest in the graveyard of St John the Baptist Church in Peasedown St John, where his parents were then living.


CWG: Stoker Petty Officer Oliver Marchant

Stoker Petty Officer Oliver Marchant

Oliver Marchant was born in Beaminster, Dorset, on 21st September 1874. One of eight children, his parents were agricultural labourer William Marchant and his wife Hannah. Oliver’s parents had been born in Devon, and this is where they moved the family back to.

When he left school, Oliver and his older sister found work as a farm hands. They were employed at Compton Pool Farm, and were fortunate enough to be able to live in. Oliver ended up working on the farm for three years, becoming a groom in the process. A more secure career beckoned, however, and, on 11th January 1894, he enlisted as a Stoker 2nd Class in the Royal Navy.

Oliver’s service records show that he signed up for a period of twelve years. He was 5ft 4ins (1.62m) tall, had dark hair, brown eyes and a ruddy complexion. He was initially posted to HMS Vivid – the Royal Naval Base in Devonport – but soon found himself at sea on board HMS Endymion. He spent a year on board and, during this time, was promoted to Stoker 1st Class.

Over the remaining period of his service, Oliver served on five further vessels, returning each time to HMD Vivid as his base. His hard work paid off, and he was promoted to Leading Stoker and Petty Officer Stoker by the time he renewed his service contract in 1906.

During his time in between sea voyages, Oliver met Alice Honeywill; the couple married in August 1904 and set up home in Newton Abbot. They did not go on to have any children.

Back at sea, and over the next eleven years, Stoker Petty Officer Marchant served on a further eight vessels. In between times, he was based at the barracks in Devonport, and it was here that he returned in November 1917, when he fell ill.

Oliver had contracted tuberculosis and, after a short time in hospital, he was discharged from the Royal Naval on medical grounds, as the condition had rendered him no longer fit enough undertake his work. He returned home to Newton Abbot.

At this point, Oliver Marchant’s trail goes cold. He passed away at his home in Newton Abbot on 4th January 1919, at the age of 44 years old. While the cause is not recorded, it seems likely to have been the result of his lung condition. He was laid to rest in the town’s cemetery.


CWG: Stoker Petty Officer John Harriss

Stoker Petty Officer John Harriss

John Thomas Harriss was born on 22nd February 1878, one of seven children to George and Mary. George was a jeweller, who moved the family from London to Weston-Super-Mare when John was three or four years old.

Following in his father’s footsteps was not something John was going to do, and the move to the coast seemed to have sparked an interest in the sea. He enlisted for twelve years’ service in the Royal Navy in March 1900, working as a stoker.

After initial training at HMS Pembroke in Chatham, Kent, Stoker 2nd Class Harriss was assigned to HMS Terpsichore and, over the length of his service, he worked on a further ten vessels. During this time, he was promoted a couple of times, reaching the role of Leading Stoker by 1911, while he was serving aboard HMS Magnificent.

With war imminent, when John completed his period of service, his term was extended until the end of hostilities. He had, by the beginning of 1914, attained the rank of Stoker Petty Officer, and was assigned to HMS Russell.

After the start of the war, this ship was assigned to the Grand Fleet and worked on the Northern Patrol, and in November 1914, she bombarded German-occupied Zeebrugge. The following year, HMS Russell was sent to the Mediterranean to support the Dardanelles Campaign, though she did not see extensive use there.

On 27 April 1916 HMS Russell was sailing off Malta when she struck two mines laid by a German U-boat. Most of her crew survived the sinking, though 125 souls lost their lives. Stoker Petty Office Harriss was one of the survivors; his service records note that he was ‘commended for [the] great coolness shown on the occasion of the loss of HMS Russell’.

Brought back to the UK, John contracted pneumonia, and spent time at home with his family, in Weston-Super-Mare. It was here, sadly, that he was to succumb to the lung condition, and he passed away on 7th June 1916. He was 38 years old.

John Thomas Harriss lies at rest in Milton Cemetery in Weston-Super-Mare.


CWG: Chief Stoker William Thorne

Chief Stoker William Thorne

William Henry Thorne was born on 28th July 1881 in the Somerset village of Milverton. He was the oldest of five children to farm labourer Henry Thorne and his wife Mary.

William was a young man with a keen sense of adventure. In February 1900, he joined the Royal Navy as a Stoker. After his initial training in Devonport, he was assigned to HMS Thunderer and, after six months, joined HMS Hood, where he spent the next two years.

Over his twelve years of his service, Stoker Thorne served on six further vessels, attaining the rank of Stoker Petty Officer.

In 1907, William had married Mabel Cross, a young woman from Taunton. While her husband was away from England – the marriage certificate gives his address as ‘on the high seas’ – she set up home near the centre of town. The young couple went on to have two children, twins Phyllis and Doris, who were born in 1911.

Back at sea, and Stoker Petty Officer Thorne’s terms of service were extended in 1912, so that he would continue to be a part of the Royal Navy until the cessation of hostilities. He served on a further six vessels and was promoted to Chief Stoker in June 1917.

It was while he was serving on HMS Griffon in the autumn of 1918 that William fell ill. Brought back to shore, he was admitted to the Military Hospital in Taunton. There is nothing to confirm the illness he contracted, but it was one he would succumb to. Chief Stoker Thorne passed away on 29th September. He was 37 years old.

William Henry Thorne lies at peace in the St James Cemetery in his home town of Taunton.