“There is a consolation in knowing that he did his duty fearlessly”

One man after another from Stratfield Mortimer was reported dead or missing. The toll was beginning to tell.

Garth Club

We have received with the greatest possible regret the news of the death of yet another member on the Field of Honour. When war broke out many members volunteered, and have been serving in most of the fighting zones, – in the Persian Gulf, in Egypt, at the Dardanelles, and Salonica, whilst a number have been in France in the thick of the fighting.

The first to give his life was Frank Goodchild, Pte., R.M.L.I. (enlisted 1913), who went down in the H.M.S. “Good Hope” when she was sunk in action off the Chilian Coast, November, 1914. He took a prominent part in all Club doings and entertainments, and was a general favourite – “one of the best,” and greatly missed.

Next came the sad news that Lance-Corp. Chas. Wickens, who joined on the 11th August, and was drafted to France in the 1st R. Berks the following November, was reported missing on the 15th-17th May, 1915. And it is since believed that he was amongst those killed at Festubert or Richebourg. In the long period of uncertainty the greatest sympathy has been felt with his family and his many friends. He earned his stripe very early in his training, and was a most promising young soldier.

Swiftly came the news of the death of Sidney Raggett, Pte. In the R. Montreal Regt., who also joined in August, 1914, and after three months in Canada came home to complete his training on Salisbury Plain. He went out in February, 1915, was wounded in April, but returned to his duty in May, and on the 21st was killed by a stray shot at Richebourg. His Sergeant wrote of him, “I was awfully sorry he was hit, as he was one of the best boys I had,” and Major-General Sir Sam Hughes, in a letter of condolence to his mother, says, “…there is a consolation in knowing that he did his duty fearlessly and well, and gave his life for the cause of liberty and the upbuilding of the Empire.”

Another period of anxiety has been the lot of Harry Steele’s family and of his wide circle of friends and chums. He, too, felt directly war broke out that it was his duty to join, and he and a friend enlisted in the 10th Hants, and had a long training in Ireland and England. He went in July to Gallipoli, and was in the great charge on the 20th-21st August. He was reported missing, and after many anxious months there seems a sad probability that he may have fallen in that heroic effort. But no details are as yet known. He was a regular and loyal member of the Choir and of St. Mary’s Bellringers, and will be long remembered in the village for his clever impersonation of Harry Lauder, and for his realistic acting at the Club entertainments.

Associated with him, and one of his close chums, was Pte. W. G. Neville, whose death we now mourn. He enlisted in the Hants Regt., and went out early in this year. After a long period of suspense, the War Office have now announced, with the usual message of condolence, and also one of sympathy from the King and Queen, that it is feared he was killed in the great advance on the 1st July last. He was a regular bellringer at St. Mary’s, and he also took a keen interest and a leading part in all Club affairs, and his topical songs and really clever acting were always enthusiastically received at our concerts. He, too, will be most affectionately remembered and greatly missed by his many friends.

Stratfield Mortimer parish magazine, November 1916 (D/P120/28A/14)

The right sort

By December 1914 the village of Knowl Hill had given 76 young men to the armed forces. Now it faced the sober reality of the news that several had lost their lives.

Collections for Waifs and Strays Society at Evensong on the 20th, and on Christmas Day at the 7 a.m., 8.30 a.m., and 11 a.m. services. Like others this Society is making a special effort to be helpful at this terrible war time. It hopes to assist some orphan children.

We are much grieved to hear the news about the death of H. Woods, one of our soldiers at the front. We trust there may be some mistake, as there is as yet no official confirmation of the news. He would leave a widow and two little children, for whom we should all feel deep sympathy. We have also heard with deep regret of the death of Mr. Blackman’s soldier son, and of Oliver Reed, an able seaman, drowned when H.M.S “Good Hope” was sunk in the engagement off the Chilian Coast on Nov. 1st. Oliver Reed was a much liked and excellent footballer in this neighbourhood.

We are, alas only able to record this month the names of two new soldiers from our parish, Charles Hopgood and John Light, thus making our list 76; but these two are the right sort. Ought not our number to be at least 100? We hope the excellent letter sent to each household by the Parliamentary Recruiting Committee will be thoughtfully read. Putting off decision to do right is very fatal. The Vicar will most gladly lend the letter to any who may wish to read it.

Knowl Hill section of Wargrave parish magazine, December 1914 (D/P145/28A/31)

An awful sight: a survivor reports the Battle of Coronel

This eyewitness account of the naval engagement off the coast of Coronel, Chile, with the loss of two British ships and over 1500 men, brings home the nature of naval warfare.

HMS Glasgow
Nov 9 1910

I will try to give you an account of the action off Coronel on Nov 1st. I wrote most of the events down at the time & have collected others from the yarns of some of the others who were in a position to see.

We left Coronel on the morning of Nov 1 & joined up with the “Good Hope”, “Monmouth” & “Otranto” to the westward of Coronel in the afternoon & then started to speed towards the land, the “Good Hope” being outside ships & the “Glasgow” inside ship. We had got about 15 miles from flagship when we saw smoke on the horizon on the beam towards the land. We altered course down towards it & soon made out 3 German ships “Scharnhorst”, “Gneisenau” & a small town-class cruiser. They saw us at the same time & altered course towards us at once & started to chase us back. We ran back at full speed towards “Good Hope”, & the “Monmouth” & “Otranto” came too. We rejoined “Good Hope” at 5.47 pm, formed single line ahead & proceeded SE to meet the enemy who were then about 12 miles away. “Good Hope” led this time, next to her “Monmouth”, then “Glasgow” & then “Otranto”. The sun was nearly setting& we were directly between the enemy & the sun, which was good for us, as the enemy could not see us properly. We turned 4 points to Port with a view to forcing an action while the light was in our favour, but the Germans would naturally have none of it, & also turned 4 pts. Keeping the distance between us at about 18,000 yds. The sun set about 6.45 & then the enemy chased us rapidly. The light conditions were entirely changed. We were then silhouetted against the afterglow of sunset & they were nearly invisible with a dark cloud behind them & getting more so every minute. By this time a 4th small cruiser had joined up in rear of enemy’s line. At 7.5 they had closed us to about 12,000 yds & they then opened fire, each ship taking her opposite number in the line, thus we had the 2 small cruisers firing at us, the “Otranto” having been ordered to clear out as she was quite useless & if she had stopped it would only have meant sacrificing her to no purpose. We opened fire, all of us, immediately afterwards. We could not see where our shots were falling & after the first 20 minutes were only firing at the flashes of the enemy guns. They, on the contrary, could not have had better conditions & could see where the shot fell. Their first salvo fell short – the 2nd over – about 100 yds & at the 3rd salvo “Good Hope” & “Monmouth” were both hit forward. I will tell you about “Good Hope” first. When she was first hit she took fire & had hardly got the fire under when another shot struck her, in practically the same place & started the fire up again. She was hit all over & after the first ten minutes had many guns out of action including, I think, the for 9”.2 which was one of the only 2 guns she could hope to do much with. She was on fire forward & all along the Port – i.e. the engaged-side. She began to close the enemy & to lose speed & at 7.45 was nearly between the “Monmouth” & the enemy’s flagship & had practically ceased firing. At 7.50 she blew up with a tremendous explosion between the mainmort & after funnel. The flames & wreckage went up quite 250 feet, miles above her mast-heads & after that she never fired another shot & the enemy stopped firing at her also. There could have been practically nobody left alive onboard. When I last saw her she was down by the stern a long way away & the fire was still burning forward. I should say she was rapidly sinking & certainly could never have moved again.

The “Monmouth” was frightfully knocked about early in the action too. Her foreturret took fire & she never got it out & she also was on fire all along her port side & some of the guns were pretty soon out of action. She only had 6 in guns & they were practically useless. There was a big head sea, & ½ a gale of wind, so she couldn’t fight the main deck guns properly, which also applied to the “Good Hope”. She was apparently rather unmanageable as she twice hauled out of the line & came back again. We had to reduce to 9 knots once to avoid masking her fire. She was also badly down by the bows & had a heavy list to starboard also. She ceased firing when the “Good Hope” blew up.

We had the 2 small ships firing at us. Their shooting was quite excellent, their shots falling all around us the whole time within literally 5 yds of the ship. We were hit 5 times in all by whole shell. Once aft above the armoured deck, where a hole was torn 6 ft square, once each in 2 bunkers on the waterline so we had 3 holes with water coming in. We had to shore up the deck aft to prevent it bursting & flooding the mess deck. Another shot hit the 2nd funnel, low down, broke up & cut a lot of steam pipes but didn’t do much real harm. The 5th went through the Captain’s pantry, which is next my cabin, crossed the passage & went on into the Captain’s cabin & wrecked it. I felt that one arrive as it is just below the conning tower where I was. “Monmouth” kept away after “Good Hope” blew up & we kept half way between her & the “Good Hope”. It was quite dark by then & we were firing at the ships we could see. They could not see the “Monmouth” then as she was not firing & every time we let a gun off we got the fire of the whole German squadron on us. Why we weren’t sunk twenty times over, I don’t know, as none of their shots fell very far away. They kept on firing at us & we came to the conclusion that it wasn’t good enough. “Monmouth” had by this time got away to Starboard & we followed her. I left the conning tower then & went on the bridge so that I could find out where we were off to & was up there quite quiet 5 minutes before I noticed the 8 in shells were dropping close to us. We asked the “Monmouth” who was steering it & if she could steer to the Westward but she said she had to keep stern to sea. We then asked if she could go it W & got no answer. The enemy was coming up fast by this time so we had to leave her. We could do [no] good by stopping & should only have been sunk ourselves. We went off to the westward at full speed, & soon lost sight of the enemy who pursued “Monmouth” & must have sunk her. (This was about 8.30 pm & at 9 enemy started firing again.) We counted 75 flashes of guns & they also used search lights looking for us. We worked round to the southward at 20 knots with a view to warning “Canopus” who was coming up 200 miles away from that direction & succeeded after some trouble as the enemy jammed our wireless signals. They chased us, judging by the strength of the wireless signals all that night & then chucked it. We mercifully had the legs of them. We went as fast as we could to the Straits & then to Stanley (Falklands) where we arrived yesterday morning & coaled & left again same evening. We are off to the Plate now to join up with some big ships “Defence” “Carnarvon” etc. We shall have to dock, I think, & certainly must get some oil as it knocks 3 knots off our speed without oil fuel. We had 4 men slightly wounded & they are all back to duty now. After the action for the next 2 or 3 days we kept on picking up shell splinters & very nasty wounds some of them would have made. The men were splendid, grumbling just as they do at battle practice. There was no panic & no expending of ammunition uselessly. I got a sea on me before I went into the conning tower, so started wet through but it didn’t make much difference as the spray was coming over the ship the whole time. All the gun telescopes were wet & so the gunlayers could hardly see to sight the guns. As to the damage we did to the enemy it is hard to form an estimate. I saw a small fire in both the enemy ships (armoured cruisers) but it was quickly put out. We got one 6 in shell on to the 2nd armoured cruiser & also one on to our opposite number. At one time that ship left the line & ceased firing, her place being taken by the 4th ship, so I have hopes we did her some damage. Under equal conditions we could sink them both. IT was a very trying experience for the men being under heavy fire & unable to return it, but, as I said before, they all behaved splendidly, even the young ones showing no signs of panic. We were steaming alongside one another for an hour first. When we started towards them we all knew it was hopeless & I was thinking how devilish cold the water would be & hoping a shell would get me first as being the pleasantest way out.

We had a trying time running away south. I could not get any sights owing to the spray coming over the ship & only discovered when we found C Pillar eventually, that my compass had altered 7 degrees on easterly courses, luckily it hadn’t altered on southerly ones. It was a lovely thing to find out just as we were going through the Straits in a blinding snowstorm. We anchored near the Cape of Virgins & waited for the “Canopus” & went on to the Falklands with her, arriving with very little coal indeed. Luckily we had enough to get there or else we must have been caught. We shall have to dock I expect for the hole in our stern, probably at Bermuda or the Cape. Anyway, I don’t suppose they will send us south again into the bad weather while we are damaged like this. We all want to be in at the death of those ships. I had a lot of friends in the “Monmouth” & I fear none are saved; most of them married men too. Thank goodness I am not. The blowing up of the “Good Hope” was an awful sight. I shall never forget it till I die. Something must have exploded their magazine, I think. We ought to arrive at the Plate the day after tomorrow & want will happen to us then I don’t know. I daresay we shall be turned on to hunt the “Karlsruhe”. I hope we may get her. We would stop her breath all right & it is high time somebody did.

Eyewitness account of the naval action off Coronel, Chile (D/EX1159/5/8)

Horrible news

The naval Battle of Coronel, fought off the coast of Chile on 1 November 1914, was one of the Royal Navy’s less successful encounters in the war. Admiralty official Henry Vansittart Neale’s wife Florence was distressed at the earliest reports. HMS Canopus, mentioned here, missed the battle but went on to glory in the Battle of the Falklands.

5 November 1914
Dot very anxious and no wonder. Hope Charlie is safe. Awful battle going on. Germans coming up & up to trenches…

Horrible news. Our two battleships by Chile done for, Cape Good Hope & Monmouth. Captain Cradock did not wait for “Canopus”.

Diary of Florence Vansittart Neale (D/EX73/3/17/8)