- Leading Seaman Harry Wilson
- Petty Officer Alfred Eaman
- Leading Seaman Nicholas Odgers
Whilst the Army had conducted its operations on land, the Royal Navy had been as equally active upon the sea. Unlike ‘Tommy Atkins’, ‘Jack Tar’ had more or less mobilised for war on Wednesday the 29TH of July 1914, and just before the official outbreak of war, on the 8TH of August, the Royal Navy had undergone a ‘practice’ mobilisation during the weekend of Saturday and Sunday 25-26TH of July when the whole of the British Home Fleet had been assembled in Weymouth Bay, off the bustling seaside town Weymouth where hundreds of recalled Royal Naval and Royal Marines reservist had been savouring their last sips of peace time ale in the town’s numerous watering holes before returning to their ship’s which had sailed the next day, the same day that their counterparts in the German High Seas Fleet had been recalled from exercise in Norwegian waters, to their war stations at Rosyth and Scapa Flow, in the far north of Scotland, where the numerous warships had hastily refilled their coal bunkers and taken on stores and ammunition to enable the ships to sail at a moments notice should the need arise.
At the outbreak of war the general opinion had been that the German High Seas Fleet would break out into the North Sea, where the Royal Navy would thrash the Germans to a pulp much in the tradition of Nelson with the French fleet at Trafalgar. This momentous encounter had never happened, and much to the chagrin of the British public and indeed the men of the Home Fleet [later renamed the ‘Grand Fleet’], who were to spend two years of their time ‘swinging round the buoy’ at Scapa, until the inconclusive Battle of Jutland at the end of May 1916.
Nevertheless, on the 28TH of August the morale of the British public and the Royal Navy had been uplifted by the antics of the light forces belonging to the Harwich Patrol. On that day, led by Commodore’s Tyrwhitt, and Keyes, the Force’s cruisers, Arethusa, and Fearless, along with the 1ST and 3RD Destroyer Flotillas, had daringly swept out into the North Sea in an attempt to draw out enemy naval forces based at Heligoland Bight into the sights of the big guns of Admiral Sir David Beatty’s battle cruiser force. The ruse had worked, the German Navy losing three of its heavy cruisers [the Mainz, Koln, and Ariadne], along with a destroyer and over a thousand officers and men, at very little cost to the attacking force. Less than a month later, however, the tables had been turned when a single German submarine had sunk three British warships in a single day.
The three large British cruisers, steaming in line abreast through the lens of Unterseeboot Nine’s periscope on that Tuesday morning of September the twenty second must have appeared in her commander’s eyes as a culmination of all his wildest dreams. He may perhaps for a few moments believed that he was indeed dreaming after the many days of fruitless patrolling of an empty North Sea following the beginning of the war in August. He may also have scanned the horizon for the tell tale plumes of smoke which would have been belching from the funnels of escorting destroyers, to his amazement there were non, all he could see were a few innocent fishing trawlers going about their business. He may have thought how can the British Navy be so foolish, or arrogant? Three of their large cruisers taking no evasive action as would be expected in hostile waters, and unbelievably no escorts, sheer madness. Moments later he had ordered his crew to action stations and began plotting a course that would bring his 6oo tons ‘boat’ into a position of interception.
The three ships were a trio of 12,000-ton cruisers of the Cressy Class, which had been built between 1901 and 1902. Armed with two 9 inch, and a battery of six inch guns, prior to the war the three cruisers, Aboukir, Hogue, and Cressy had either been in reserve, or were being used as training ships, however upon the mobilisation of the fleet on August 4TH 1914 they had been hastily re-commissioned with crews of Naval and Royal Marine reservists stiffened with a sprinkling of regular Royal Naval ratings and formed by the Admiralty into Cruiser Force C, which had been dubbed by the rest of the fleet as ‘the live bait squadron’, and given the perilous task of patrolling the Southern North Sea off the coast of Holland.
The cruiser force had been at sea since the twentieth having never sighted a trace of the enemy. At 06-00 on the fateful morning Cruiser Force C were steaming in a north north easterly direction with the flagship Aboukir under the command of Captain Drummond on the left or port side of the formation at a speed of around seven knots, in an perilous slice of the North Sea between the coast of Norfolk and the then neutral Holland known as ‘The Broad Fourteens’, an area of choppy shallows, minefields, the German U–Boats corridor to the Atlantic, and likely pace for meeting the fast hit and run cruisers of the Kaiser’s navy, some 30 miles west by south of the Dutch port of Ymuiden.
Despite these dangers there had apparently been no cause for concern on the British part, the commander of the squadron having ordered the low on fuel escorting force of escorting destroyers back to their base at Harwich, another was to have taken their place later in the day. Each ship had a complement of almost 2000 officers and men, in addition, each vessel had been carrying twelve teenage naval cadets under training.
The nearest British warship had by this time come within range of the submarine’s torpedoes, the angle of attack perfect. The bow doors of the two forward tubes were opened, and the eyes of the crew in the crafts cramped control room were all on their captain in the few moments before he had given his order to fire, the wait seemingly eternal. At last he had given the order to release their projectile. With a hiss of compressed air the first torpedo had left its tube, the boat shuddering in its wake as it had sped loaded with 616 pounds of high explosive at nearly forty miles per hour towards its intended target.
Whether anyone in the cruisers had seen the wake of the torpedo as it had sped towards the Aboukir, is not know, in the event no avoiding action had been taken and she had been hit by a single torpedo on her port [left] side, the resultant explosion lifting the ships bow out of the water following this the crew had been piped onto the upper deck and an attempt had been made in getting the ships boats away, but only one had been launched. Thinking his ship had struck a mine, the Captain of the stricken ship had signalled the other two Cruisers to close and assist, but he had soon realised that it was a torpedo attack and ordered the other ships away, but too late. The Aboukir had lingered for perhaps twenty-five minutes until the ship had eventually rolled over and floated bottom up until she had slid beneath the water some minutes later.
Having seen his first victim off, the commander of the German submarine had then turned his sights on his next target, H.M.S. Hogue. Stopped dead in the water barely three hundred yards distant, the Hogue had arrived at the scene at 06-45, her captain [Captain Nicholson] had ordered his vessel to stop and lower the ships boats to pick up survivors from her stricken sister. Shortly afterwards she too had been hit, this time by two torpedoes which had detonated amidships near to one of the ships ammunition magazines which had caused a huge explosion which had torn the ship in two, the mortally wounded ship sinking in barely ten minutes.
A survivor from the Hogue had later stated that there had been little panic or excitement amongst the crew when their ship had been hit, and how many of them had casually gone below to fetch their hammocks, which if tightly lashed, were a good substitute for the lifejackets, which had not been readily available.
The firing of the two torpedoes had upset the trim of the U Boat, and a short while afterwards her conning tower had broken surface momentarily, an opportunity no to be missed by the gunners onboard the mortally wounded Hogue who had managed somehow to fire on their attacker, unfortunately without effect.
U9 had then headed for the Cressy. She too had stopped and lowered boats but had got underway again when she had spotted the submarines periscope. At about 07-15 the submarine had fired two torpedoes at the Cressy [Captain Johnson], one had just missed her but the other had hit her on her starboard side, at this time the cruiser had fired on the periscope of U9, but again with no visible effect. This hit to the cruiser had not been fatal.
Fifteen minutes later, with all his forward torpedoes used up the commander of the submarine had ordered his vessel turned round so that her stern was facing the enemy and had fired his last projectile from one of the two stern tubes, this hit had exploded the Cressy’s ammunition, which had sent her to the bottom of the North Sea within fifteen minutes, leaving nothing but a mass of debris and the bobbing heads of countless floundering men hoping to stay alive, the time was 8am.
Most of the survivors had eventually been picked up by two Dutch Trawler’s, the ‘Flora’ and ‘Tritan’ which had taken them into the nearby port of Yuimden in neutral Holland, more had been picked up by two British sailing trawlers and later transferred to Royal Naval Destroyers had taken the men into Harwich. In due course the Admiralty had revealed the extent of the tragedy and a list of the men who had survived the sinking had appeared in ‘The Times’ of Friday October 9TH 1914. Of the nearly two thousand men who had been serving in the three warships at the time of their loss, sixty officers and one thousand four hundred seamen had been lost, and only seven hundred and seventy five men had been saved, [352 men from the Hogue, Aboukir had 235 survivors, and Cressy had only 188 saved], less than the complement of a single ship. Amongst those missing; 233319 Leading Seaman Harry Wilson.
Born in Scarborough on the 14TH of March 1889, at No 40 Candler Street, Harry had been the second of two sons of Ellen Addrinah, and Joseph Wilson, a ‘Checker’ with the North Eastern Railway Company [Harry’s Parents, Joseph Wilson and Ellen A. Burnett had married at St Mary’s on September 27TH 1884]. A pupil of Gladstone Road Infant and Junior School from the age of five, Harry had eventually won a scholarship to the Municipal School [the equivalent of today’s secondary modern school], which had been
Located in Westwood [now an annex of Yorkshire Coast College], beginning his studies there at the age of twelve in 1901, nevertheless, he had remained at the ‘Muni’ only until the following year. 
Harry had joined the Royal Navy on the sixteenth of January 1905, at the age of sixteen years. At the time he had stood just over five feet tall, with a ‘fresh complexion’, blue eyes and brown hair, his previous occupation being recorded as ‘Schoolboy’. Delegated to the Chatham Division in Kent, Harry had initially been drafted to the divisions training ship, H.M.S. Emerald, an old armoured Frigate of 9,210 tons, with the rating of Boy Second Class and a wage of sixpence a day. On August 17th he had been promoted to a Boy first class and had remained in the Emerald until January 27TH 1906, when he had been drafted to a training ship at Devonport [Plymouth], H.M.S. Impregnable where he had remained until May 23RD 1906.
The following day he had joined his first sea going warship, ironically one of the ships that had been lost at the end of his naval career, H.M.S. Hogue. At the time the vessel had been acting as a boys training vessel with the 4TH Cruiser Squadron in home waters, Harry had remained in this ship until September 9TH 1906.
By the summer of 1914 a veteran of over nine years service in the Royal Navy, and with the clouds of war looming on the horizon Leading Seaman Harry Wilson had joined his final warship, H.M.S. Aboukir, at Chatham. At this time the twelve-year-old cruiser had recently been brought out of the Reserve Fleet and the ship was being made ready to take her place in the Home Fleet, and eventually ‘the live bait squadron’.
Whether Harry Wilson had gone down with his ship or had perished in the sea after the disaster is not known. Many bodies of British seamen had been found washed up onto the Dutch coast for weeks afterwards, but as far as I am aware Harry was not amongst them. Like so many of the officers and men who had lost their lives on the twenty second of September nineteen fourteen and in the years to follow whose only known grave is the sea the name of Leading Seaman Harry Wilson, killed in action at the age of twenty five years, is commemorated with 8,499 other casualties of the ‘Great War’ [along with10, 000 from the Second World War] on Panel 1of the Chatham Naval Memorial in Kent.
Wilson’s name can also be found engraved into a broken and fallen headstone in Manor Road Cemetery [Section K, Border, A, Grave 11] which also commemorates his Father who had died after ‘a long and painful illness’ at the family home at No 104 Moorland Road on Thursday July 6TH 1916 at the age of sixty four years, and his Mother who had passed away on Sunday November 29TH 1936, at the age of seventy eight years at No 65 Moorland Road, where she had been living with her youngest daughter Elsie [born 1890], and her Husband, Frank Gordon Yeoman.
Also commemorated on the stone is another of Harry’s younger sisters, Ada, the Wife of Percy Tindall who had died on March 16TH 1919 at the age of twenty-six years.
Harry’s name is also to be found inscribed on a ‘Roll of Honour’ dedicated to the 152 fallen parishioners of St Mary’s Parish Church in Castle Road, where he had been baptised on the 21ST of April 1889. The memorial had been erected after the war, and had been unveiled before a packed congregation on Sunday the fourth of December 1921 by Colonel the Honourable John Dawnay, and dedicated by the then Vicar of Scarborough, Canon C.H.H. Cooper, it is located on the North Wall of the Church. His name can also be found on a memorial in St Columba’s Church, located on the corner of Dean Road and Columbus Ravine.
Of the three warships the Cressy had suffered the highest loss of life. Out of a complement of almost two thousand men, only 188 had been saved. Amongst those lost; 192106 1STClass Petty Officer and Gunnery Instructor Alfred Eaman.
Alfred had been born at Scarborough on the 14TH of July 1881 and had been the second of three sons of Sarah and Joseph Eaman. His service record, which is held in the Public Records office at Kew [Reference ADM188/329], shows he had enlisted at the age of sixteen into the Royal Navy on the 6TH of January 1897 for a period of twelve years [prior to this his occupation is listed as being a ‘shop boy’]. Beginning with the rating of Boy Second Class, he had subsequently been rated Ordinary Seaman on the fourth of July 1899, Able Seaman on the 24TH of February 1901, Leading Seaman on the 5TH of February 1905 and passed educationally as Petty Officer on the 3RD of March 1908. At the time of the disaster Alfred’s address, quoted in the Scarborough Mercury had been No 45 Hoxton Road but I have been unable to find anyone of that name living at that address in the Scarborough Street Directory for 1914. There was however a Herbert Eaman, a Joiner by profession, living at No 30A Hoxton Road, whom I believe was Alfred’s younger Brother. Aged thirty-two years at the time of his death Alfred Eaman’s body was also never recovered, and he too is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial, [Panel 1].
Also lost; 179652 Leading Seaman Nicholas Odgers.
‘Nick’ Odgers had been born at St Mawes in Cornwall on the 21ST of December 1878 and according to his service record [PRO Ref ADM 188/298] had begun his service with the Royal Navy at the age of sixteen years on the 15th of May 1894, [prior to this date he had been employed as a labourer]. Another Boy rating, he had subsequently been rated to Ordinary Seaman on the 21ST of December 1896 and to Able Seaman on the first of July in the following year, on the 21st of August 1906 he had been rated to Leading Seaman. Prior to the war Nicholas Odgers had served from the 17TH of November 1913 to the 31ST of July 1914 with the Scarborough Battalion of the Coast Guard and had lived at the coastguard cottages.
Obviously, not a native of Scarborough, Leading Seaman Odgers is, nonetheless, commemorated on the war memorial atop Olivers Mount, his name can also be found on one of the smaller ‘Roll’s of Honour’ located on the North interior wall of St Mary’s Church, which I believe had once belonged to St Thomas’s Church in East Sandgate. He is also commemorated in his ‘Home port’ of Devonport on the Naval Memorial [Panel 1] standing on Plymouth Hoe, which commemorates more than 7,000, officers and men of the Great War, and almost 16,000 from the Second World War who have no known graves except the sea.
The British Newspapers had of course had a field day in the wake of the triple sinking; The ‘Scarborough Mercury’ had been no exception. In the edition for Friday September 25TH 1914 the newspaper had included photographs of the three missing seamen and in addition an extensive article containing much exaggerated information, which had allegedly come from the mouths of survivors;
‘A British Naval Reverse - Three Cruisers sunk - Though not officially announced in England survivors assert that as the Cressy was sinking she succeeded in accounting for two German submarines. Though the Press Bureau states that only one submarine was concerned other reports state that five were engaged [Opinions differ as to their number]. Some place it as low as five. Other Seamen were positive there were a dozen. The white wakes of the periscopes frothed into view on a wide front. The Germans came along with the courage of full speed. Two or three of them were out of the water enough to have their conning towers awash. With real British cheers the gunners fell to their work on their guns. ‘There’s one’, ‘there’s another’, were the grunts as the submarines were spotted. Guns were worked with calm and deadly haste, but alas the submarines were too many. They were all around us at once said a survivor’
Shortly after the sinkings came the recriminations, and a search for a likely scapegoat for the loss of three of His Majesty’s warships. Answers to embarrassing questions, such as ‘why were the three large and too old warships there in the first place? had been asked for from the First Sea Lord, Winston Churchill who had blustered in his usual way but he had not come up with a reasonable explanation. Subsequently the Admiralty had stated that they had maintained the patrol on the grounds that destroyers were not able to maintain the patrol in the frequent bad weather and that there were insufficient modern light cruisers available.
A court of enquiry had eventually been set up and had found that while some blame was attributable to all of the senior officers involved, Captain Drummond, [in the Aboukir] for not zigzagging and for not calling for Destroyers. Rear Admiral Campbell, who should have been in command of the squadron in the Cruiser H.M.S. Bacchantes, for being absent on the day, and for a very poor performance at the enquiry at which he had stated that he did not know what the purpose of his command was. Blame had also been placed on the shoulders of Rear Admiral Christian, who, in the Cruiser H.M.S. Euryalus, had taken temporary command of the force in Campbell’s absence. He had elected to return to port due to a lack of coal and weather damage to his ships wireless and had not made it clear to Drummond that he could summon destroyers if he had needed them. The bulk of the blame however had been directed at the Admiralty for persisting with a patrol that was dangerous and of limited value against the advice of senior sea going officers. One of whom, a submariner himself had written;
‘Those three old cruisers which were sunk yesterday had been expected to be sunk everyday for weeks by us and our commodore had repeatedly warned the Admiralty that it was madness to allow ships to patrol up and down the North Sea practically on the on the same course and at the same speed. The North Sea is no place for big ships. I only hope the person responsible for putting them there gets hung’…
For the German Navy, however, Tuesday 22ND of September 1914 had been a day of resounding victory. The U9 had returned to her base at Heligoland and had been greeted by a heroes welcome. Her Captain, Kapitan-Leutnant Otto Weddigen had eventually received from the Kaiser the Pour Le Merit Order, the German equivalent of the Victoria Cross. On his next foray into the North Sea, Weddigen, once again in U-9, had sunk another unit of the Royal Navy on the 15TH of October 1914. The vessel had been the 7,350 ton cruiser H.M.S. Hawke, which had reportedly sank very quickly, taking most of her crew of almost a thousand officers and men with her [only two officers and twenty men had survived the sinking]. The submarine had also attacked another cruiser, H.M.S. Theseus, albeit without results. Otto Weddigen had eventually been transferred to U-29 in which he had captured off the French coast the British cargo vessel S.S. Adenwen on the 11TH of March 1915. His luck, however, had eventually ran out shortly after noon on the 18TH of March, when U-29 had been rammed and sunk by the British battleship H.M.S. Dreadnought, following an attempted attack, in the North Sea, on the 1ST Battle Squadron, there had been no survivors from the submarine.
U-9 on the other hand, had survived the war, the only one of her class to do so. Following the departure of Weddigen she had served for the remainder of the conflict in the Baltic, and had been surrendered there on the first of November 1918, she had subsequently been broken up in 1919, a very ignoble end for a very gallant vessel.
 Residing in Scarborough at No.26 Trafalgar Street West at the time of the 1901 Census the Wilson family had consisted of Joseph aged 46 years, Ellen 42 years, Herbert 13 years, Harry 12 years, Elsie 10 years and Ada aged 8 years. All had been born at Scarborough.