Monday, 22 September 2014

The loss of HMS Aboukir, Hogue & Cressy

Major T D H Stubbs was stationed in Newcastle with his Battery, with his family in lodgings in Jesmond.

From his diary:
Tuesday 22nd September 1914
I had been out with the Battery on the moor, and I wrote several postcards, one to my mother another to Lucas I remember, in both of which I told how our little Duncan had been getting on.  Madge, Hugh, Peggy, Katharine came on to the moor while we were drilling, it was a lovely day and we were all so jolly and happy, little did we think that our dear Duncan had that morning given his life for his country when the Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue were torpedoed in the North Sea off Holland. 

I went down to 84 St Georges Square about 5pm to take Madge and Katharine out for a walk, as I entered the gate Mr Bell, the owner of the house, had a newspaper in his hand which he shewed to Mrs Grieg, he was very white and looked much distressed when he saw me.  I guessed in a moment, he asked me to go into the house and then asked the name of the ship our boy was on.  I told him.  He shewed me the paper in which the stop press news stated in a couple of lines that the Aboukir had been struck by a torpedo.  Nothing further.  I wired the Admiralty for news and he very kindly took the telegram.  I then went out having left Madge writing a letter without telling her until I could get more certain news. 

I met Grieg and we got another paper which published an official report that the three vessels had been struck and that a considerable number had been saved and lists would be published as soon as possible.  We arranged not to tell Madge anything about it for the moment and to keep newspapers from her.  I returned to camp and waited for news.  While in the Mess tent Mr Bell came to say that Madge had received a telegram from Averil asking whether we had news and consequently she knew that the Aboukir was lost.  I immediately returned to St Georges Terrace to be with her. 

I wired Mrs Wilson the mother of one of the other boys asking if she had news and stayed that night at St Georges Terrace.  Neither of us slept and the suspense was too terrible, Mrs Wilson wired about 1.30 am to say she had no news yet.

Madge was his wife.  Hugh and Katharine were his children, aged thirteen and nine.  Peggy Richardson of Guisborough was the eighteen-year-old daughter of Madge's sister Averil.  Lucas was a fellow solicitor in the firm of Lucas, Hutchinson & Meek.

HMS Aboukir was hit by a torpedo fired by the U9 submarine under the command of Otto Weddigen at 6.20 am on 22 September 1914.  HMS Hogue was hit at 6.55am and HMS Cressy at 7.20am.

Duncan was fifteen years old.  He was senior midshipman on board HMS Aboukir and when the ship began to sink he went below to rouse another midshipman who had not been awakened by the explosion.  He and the other boys swam from the Aboukir and while in the water he and Midshipman Kit Wykeham-Musgrave tried to save a drowning marine, holding him up for a considerable time.  They reached the Cressy and got on board.  They were swaddled in blankets and drinking cocoa when she was hit.  They took to the water again.  Duncan was a strong swimmer.  He was last seen with another boy taking the oar to which they were clinging to go to the help of a seaman who was beginning to sink.  They were drawn under with the drowning man.
The loss of the cruisers is being remembered today at the Historic Dockyard Chatham.  Of the men and boys who lost their lives 1,264 were from the Chatham Port Division.

When the Last Post is played by buglers of the Royal Marines 1,459 poppy petals will fall, each petal commemorating a life lost.

For more, see the website of the Live Bait Squadron

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