Monthly Archives: Oct 2014

Private J.J. Twyman 2nd bn. Royal Sussex – 30th October 1914

On the 30th October the battle for Ypres had been raging for ten days.  The enemy infantry attacks and incessant shelling had failed to break the Allied lines, but the German offensive continued unabated regardless of the cost in men and material.  The professional soldiers of the small BEF had fought doggedly along with French and Belgium troops, but the numbers of BEF were rapidly dwindling.  By the 26th of October it was calculated that the 7th division, fighting to the east of Ypres, had lost around 44% of its Officers and some 37% of other ranks in this short period.


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Until the 26th October elements of the 1st division had been in reserve but now moved forward to support the 2nd and 7th Divisions.


HERENTHAGE CHATEAU – a pre-war drawing

The battalion’s war diary describes entrenching in “chateau wood”, a wood belonging to Herenthage Chateau on 27th October, and the action on the next two days:

YPRES (“POLYGONE” WOOD) 28 October 1914 Moved at 8:00 AM and advanced about two kilometres, the enemy dropping shells in our vicinity during the advance. We halted and entrenched in a wood (“POLYGONE WOOD”) over which a few of the enemy’s high explosive shells burst killing 2 officers horses and wounding 1 officers horse and 1 draught horse, also one man.

In addition, 3 men were wounded when bringing small arms ammunition carts across some open ground up to the Battalion, and sergeant BURGESS (in charge) was knocked off his horse but luckily escaped injury. Private HOLLINGDALE, the driver of a small arms ammunition cart although wounded managed to bring the ammunition up to the Battalion under the fire.

YPRES (“CHATEAU” WOOD) 29 October 1914 At about 5:30 AM an attack was made all along our line, several shells dropping on our position. The Brigade after a while moved back on to “CHATEAU WOOD” and occupied their original trenches. We received valuable information the night before from a spy who must have been on German Staff – he foretold that this attack would be made at 5:30 and the exact spot (crossroads near GHELEVULT).

The morning of the 30th starts with heavy shelling of the 2nd Royal Sussex.  Not a new experience for the men as they had been in France since early August.  The 2nd battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment were part of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division who had landed on 13th August 1914 at Le Havre.  Among the many reservists in their ranks was Lance Corporal, later made temporary Corporal, James John William Twyman , know as John James Twyman (cwgc entry) in the Army.  He was aged 29, with a wife and child.

James John William Twyman was born in Kent in 1885, the second oldest surviving child of James and Agnes Twyman.  One of nine siblings, and with eight brothers.  The family lived in Canterbury.

Judging by surviving records, John James Twyman joined the Army in 1904 and would expect to serve for 7 years, sometimes extended to eight, before being placed on reserve for another five years.  He is likely to have spent time in Malta and Crete before being posted to India where he was in the 1st bn. Royal Sussex at Rawalpindi in 1911, already a Lance Corporal.  He is likely to have returned to England by 1912.

Life takes a new turn for J.J Twyman when he marries Florence Francis Titcombe at St.Peter & St.Paul Mitcham on October 27th 1913.  His wife, Florence, had been born and grown up in Mitcham.  J.J Twyman was working as a chauffeur and valet by this time and gave an address in Scotland.  Florence gave her family address as Baron Row Mitcham.  Their only child, John S N Twyman, was born in 1914, before the outbreak of War.


Mitcham Parish Church

Reservists were mobilized immediately and would have had no more than a few days to get their affairs in order before leaving for France, with many a tearful goodbye.

There are long marches for the 2nd Royal Sussex in August 1914, they are held in reserve outside Mons within sight and sound of the battle.  On 10 September they see action at Pretz where they suffer a number of losses – 19 killed, 85 wounded and a number missing.  On 14 September the diary records ‘First Day – Battle Aisne’ and the Battalion suffers further losses during days of artillery bombardment.  They remain in trenches in Troyon until leaving for Belgium overnight on 15th October, but not before intermittent shelling and sniping had claimed the lives of more officers and men.  They remained in reserve at Boesinghe for four days from 21st October, before being at the crossroads near Gheluvelt on the 30th.  The 2nd Royal Sussex war diary continues:

YPRES (CHATEAU WOOD – “COALBOX WOOD”) 30 October 1914 In the morning about 10:00 AM the enemy, who probably had learnt by espionage that 1st Division Headquarters were in CHATEAU WOOD, began to “coal box” it with vigour. These shells dropped right along our men’s dugouts. During this bombardment orders were received by the 2nd Brigade to move at once to ZANDEVOORDE to restore the line. Order of march SUSSEX, NORTHAMPTONSHIRES – the other two battalions had moved towards GHELEVULT the night before – route as shown on map 5 and 6. In the first place Colonel CRISPIN endeavoured to take a short cut across country to road east of point E. Headquarters and the leading Company were just off the main road when the enemy opened a heavy shrapnel fire. Colonel CRISPIN’s horse took fright and took him on under this fire. He was shot and killed instantaneously and his horse stopped at a FARM nearby, where he is buried. The Battalion then proceeded under Major GREEN along the main road and turning to the left at HOOGE advanced to point X (map 6). On reaching this point we were shelled a bit by high explosive shrapnel and high explosive percussion shells and received orders to attack and make good the line of the road A. D Company advanced and reached wood B supported by B Company. They were unable to advance farther although reinforced by B on account of very heavy rifle and machine gun fire from the Sun. C Company held the line of the hedge C, but were held up there owing to heavy enfilade rifle fire from the left. On our right we were in touch with the Gordon Highlanders and on our left with the Staffordshires of the 22nd Brigade who were not quite up in line with us. While these Companies held the ground they had occupied A Company assisted by the Royal Engineers prepared a position to hold that night (marked in red map 6).


Map 6 – click to enlarge

31 October 1914 This line was held until midday 31st when the 22nd Brigade reported that our centre had been broken near GHELEVULT and we were forced to leave our position and go back to point D and the ground just north of it. A report was then received that the enemy were advancing in our direction and had sent 2 Squadrons of Cavalry to endeavour to get round our right flank. Consequently 2 Companies and machine guns were sent back to a second position in the direction of YPRES and 2 Companies remained to delay the enemy in the wood D. The enemy came on in large numbers as far as the 5 crossroads. Here we met them and drove him back (3:30 PM). By 5:30 PM the enemy had been driven right back out of wood D and we received orders at 6:00 PM to retake our old trenches – information having been received that the centre near GHELEVULT had been restored by a counter attack made by the Grenadiers.

The whole Battalion advanced with fixed bayonet from the 5 crossroads where they had reformed the two Companies that were sent back to 2nd position having been recalled when we heard the centre was restored.

Orders having been given to advance the Battalion advanced by the track running from D to B wood map 6, while the Northamptonshires advanced by the next track on our left. After reconnoitring we found that the enemy were entrenched in the wood occupied by A and B Companies in the morning, and had 4 machine guns in the belt of trees running from the north-east corner of it, firing down the track and across the open towards 5 crossroads. The enemy’s trenches were well back in the wood and facing north; they also occupied the trenches held by D Company in the morning and had placed a machine gun on the left of that trench. The following plan was made and carried out. D Company were to attack the trench held by them in the morning while the remainder of the Battalion advanced across the open against the German trenches in the wood. The Germans held their fire until we were quite close and then opened very heavy rifle and machine gun fire. Part of the line on the extreme left reached the road and led by Major GREEN and Lieutenant VERRALL got into the ditch on the other side of it. The centre of the line was forced by the enfilading machine gun fire to take cover in a ditch (map 8). The extreme right of the line reached the road and found the ditch on the far side occupied by the Northamptonshires, who went down as far as dotted line on map.


Map 8 – click to enlarge

We then found ourselves compelled to retire. B Company in centre getting back across the open covered by our machine guns. C on the Left and A on the right crawled along the ditch running along the edge of the wood. We got back to the 5 crossroads. D Company came under heavy fire in close order and were driven back. Our machine guns succeeded in silencing the 4 German guns.

We then got orders to entrench the line shown dark on map 9. We reformed the Battalion and commenced digging in this line about 3:00 Am, 1st.

The casualties during these two days were Lieutenant Colonel CRISPIN killed, Major GREEN wounded also Lieutenant LOUSADA and 2nd Lieutenants CROFT, MARILLIER and SHAW and 394 Other ranks killed, wounded and missing. Most of these casualties occurred on the afternoon of the 30th. Major GREEN was shot in the forearm during the night attack and 4 subalterns were killed on the afternoon of the 30th.



J.J Twyman had not survived, and with no known grave his name appears on the Menin Gate. His widow, Florence was re-married before the war ended to Herbert Webb., and they spent the rest of their lives in Mitcham. Florence ensured her first husband’s name was added to the Mitcham War Memorial.


Their son John S N Twyman died aged 16 in 1930. He was buried on 11 July 1930 at Church Road Cemetery, as was Florence and Herbert Webb in turn.

Private 9728 F. G. Lawson 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers – 24 October 1914

At first light on the 24 October the look outs of the various sections of the companies of the 2nd Bn. Royal Scots Fusiliers would wake any sleeping men and prepare for yet another German attack.  The 2nd RSF had been holding about a mile of the front between Reutel and Pozelhoek for three days.

The 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers had landed at Zeebrugge around the 6th October 1914.  They were in the 21st Brigade ot 7th Division, together with the 2nd Wiltshires, 2nd Yorkshires (Green Howards) and 2nd Bedfordshires.  In less than a fortnight, they played an important part in the defence of Ypres.

It had started as an advance and reconnoitre on 20th October with the 2nd RSF and 2nd Wiltshires passing through Becelaere but unable to reach Terhand.  Enemy shelling had forced them back to their starting point, advance turned to desperate defence as German infantry attacks in the afternoon were driven back with heavy enemy losses.

Heavy shelling of the Brigade’s positions continued on the morning of 21st of October, a night attack had been repulsed by the 2nd RSF on their front.  Enemy penetration of the line between the 2nd RSF and 2nd Yorkshires in the afternoon forced a temporary retreat of D Coy into the grounds of Pozelhoek Chateau who then checked the enemy advance.

Heavy shelling resumed on the morning of the 22nd of October.  An enemy attack in the afternoon was not pressed home and around 5pm Major Ian Forbes with part of D and C coy 2nd RSF attempts to reoccupy positions relinquished 24 hours ago.  Captain Frank Fairlie is shot dead while taking the surrender of about 30 Germans.  Houses in Pozelhoek are still not cleared of Germans.


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On October 23rd, a second attempt was made by D coy to reoccupy their original positions with the aid of C coy 2nd Berfordshire, but the Germans were there in strength and they were beaten back by machine gun fire with Bedfordshire taking many casualties.  Repeated German attacks on the RSF front had died away by late afternoon.

Overnight there was heavy fire on the right of the 2nd RSF, the enemy had got round C coy flank but in the ensuing fight 40 German prisoners were taken.  The 24th October would become a day of crisis at this part of the front, a chaotic day where the 2nd RSF hold out , but the 2nd Wiltshires are surrounded and either taken prisoner, or are killed.

In the last few days, Frederick George Lawson (CWGC entry), private 9728 2nd RSF, will have experienced thirst, hunger, fear and nervous exhaustion.  Like many others, his life’s journey will come to an end in this part of Flanders, a journey that started 22 years ago in Tooting.

Frederick George Lawson was born in early 1892, the fifth and youngest child of William Walter and Ellen Mary Lawson.  Frederick was one of five brothers. Ellen was a widow when she married William Lawson and Frederick’s older step-brother William Richard Lough remained part of the family.

Frederick’s first home was in Trewint Street, Earlsfield, but the family had moved to Lambeth before Frederick was ten, where his parents were shopkeepers.  By around 1910 the family had settled in Cavendish Road, Colliers Wood.  Frederick had already left home, he had joined the Royal Scots Fusiliers as private 9728, probably in October 1908 , when not yet eighteen (Private 9731 James William Ambrose from Tooting enlisted on 17/10/1908 ).  His movements between the 2nd and 1st Battalions are not known, but in 1911 he was in South Africa with the 1st RSF and is counted in the ranks at Roberts Heights Pretoria Transvaal.  The date of his return to England is not known, nor if his is given any leave.  His fate is settled when he is posted to the 2nd Bn. RSF and arrives in Ypres in October 1914.

When the 2nd Wiltshires are overwhelmed in early morning of 24th October by the massed German attack, both D and C coy 2nd RSF are forced out of their trenches and the wood north of the Reidelbeek becomes the new line of defence.


Area around the Reidelbeek

Every available man is in the firing line. Lieutenant H.W.V Stewart, with a RSF platoon and some stragglers, shoots 11 of the enemy from behind a hedge and prevents two machine guns from being brought into action.  News that reinforcements to defend the wood were at hand brings some relief.  A further attack in the afternoon is only driven back by a bayonet charge led by Lt. C. E. G. Mackenzie.  The German attack dies away not long after 4.30pm.  (Lt.  Mackenzie was killed on the following day.)

There is no respite for the 2nd RSF until the 21st Brigade is briefly in reserve on 27th October a few miles to the rear at Hooge.  Since the 17th October the battalion’s causalities numbered 8 officers and about 500 other ranks.

Frederick George Lawson had not survived.  He was Initially reported as missing, and then after some delay his death was recorded as 24th October 1914 for official purposes.

This is the first blow for the Lawson family, in less than a year a second son, Herbert Lawson, will be killed while serving in the East Surrey Regiment.  Before the war ends, Ellen is widowed a second time when William Walter Lawson dies in the summer of 1917, and is buried on 25 June 1917 at Church Road Cemetery.

When the time comes to honour the war dead, Ellen ensures the names of her two sons appear on the Mitcham War Memorial and on the “Roll of Honour” at Christ Church Colliers Wood.


Ellen continued to live at 27 Norfolk Road Colliers Wood until at least 1926. but had moved to 111 Tynemouth Road, Gorringe Park, by 1929.  Ellen receives the most unexpected communication from the Imperial War Graves Commission at her new address.  It’s now 16 years since Frederick George Lawson’s death, but his remains have been uncovered and identified at a location close to Becelaere Church together with another Royal Scots Fusilier, Private 9187 F.C. Lynn.


They are buried side by side at Kemel No. 1 French Cemetery.  Ellen asks for a simple inscription to be added to the headstone: “ At Rest “.  Frederick George’s Journey is now finally over.

Lawson_ F

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Ellen is now 79 years old, she will live to be 82, and passes away early in 1933 and is buried on 1st February 1933 at Church Road Cemetery.  Other members of the Lawson family will remain in Mitcham for many years.

Footnote: The discovery of Frederick Lawson’s remains near the Becelaere Church brings his official date of death into question.  Becelaere was in German hands from 19th October 1914.  When Frederick died, and who originally buried him remains an open question.


Becelaere on a 1917 Trench Map – Click to enlarge.

The area was devastated by the war and re-built in the 1920s.


pre-1917 photo


After 1917

The Church today:


Private 10753 L.R. Bradshaw 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers – 20th Oct. 1914

On the 19th October 1914 Mitcham born Leonard Ralph Bradshaw, private 10753 of the 1st Royal Welsh Fusiliers, was advancing toward the enemy at Kezelberg just two miles from Menin. The 1st RWF lead the advance of the 22nd Brigade.  It’s his first experience of being under fire. The Brigade’s left flank comes under heavy shell fire and some rifle fire.  Orders are received to abandon the attack on Menin and swing from facing south to face east and take up new positions as air reconnaissance reported the approach of strong German columns from the north east and east.  By the end of the day the 1st RWF were close to Zonnebke.

On the 20th October 1914 the 7th Division had orders to hold its line at all cost until nightfall. This will be Leonard Ralph Bradshaw’s first and only serious hostile action of the war.  The pre-war regulars had been trained to march and in the art of accurate rapid fire better than any other army in the field, but the time for marching had stopped, and the shooting began.

By 1914, Leonard Ralph Bradshaw had been in the 1st RWF for nearly three years.  On 11th February 1911, he had made his way to Kingston to join the special reserve and was assigned to the 3rd Bn. Royal Sussex Regiment.  Judging by this army number, Leonard Bradshaw had joined the Regular Army in the last quarter of 1911, attesting in London.  The RWF had many men from outside of Wales.  It’s not known if he served in India before the war, or whether he was in the 1st RWF when stationed in Malta at the beginning of 1914, or if he spent time in the 2nd battalion.  He was in 1st RWF, part of the 7th Division, when they landed at Zeebrugge on the 6th of October.  He was now 24 years old.

Before joining the Army, Leonard Ralph Bradshaw had spent his entire life in Mitcham.  Born in 1890, the fifth child of Henry and Eliza Bradshaw, he was one of ten siblings and had five brothers.  At the outbreak of war the family had been in Mitcham for over thirty years and were living at 30 Chapel Road, off the Lower end of Church Road.  A road, with its old dwellings, that has long since disappeared during redevelopments.


Chapel Road, Mitcham

Whether Leonard Ralph Bradshaw had time to think of family and home on 20th October 1914 is debatable, like the men next to him, he is in a fight for survival.


The Battle of Ypres – click to enlarge

The 1st RWF are manning hastily dug rifle slits outside Broodseinde. The 2nd Queens, are to their left and the 1st South Staffs to their right.  The town of Zonnebke is about 1000yds to their rear, and the 22nd Brigade reserves are further back. The 21st Brigade are to 22nd Brigades’s right, in front of Polygon Wood and Gheluvelt.  All battalions come under heavy and sustained attack on October 20th 1914.

The 1st RWF suffered in the morning as their positions were heavily shelled and were under infantry assault after noon.  Rapid fire repulsed these attacks.  The Germans resumed their attack along the entire front in superior numbers on the morning of the 21st of October.  The 22nd Brigade were badly enfiladed by artillery and machine gun fire from early morning.  In the afternoon the German infantry got within 200 yards of the 22nd Brigade.  The entire Brigade had suffered heavily and the 1st RWF were withdrawn under cover of darkness at the end of the day.

In reserve on 22nd October, the 1st RWF numbered a little over 200 officers and men.  With so many men killed, wounded, taken prisoner or missing, one of the surviving officers, wrote:

“I do not know the losses of the rank and file. After the bombardment we found it impossible to use many of the rifles and we had to hammer our bolts open with entrenching tools; our maximum rate of fire was about three rounds a minute”.

Like many others, private 10753 Bradshaw was first posted missing, but his death would be accepted as taking place on the 20th October 1914.  As with many other casualties of the 1st RWF his name would be added to thousands of others when the Menin Gate is created as a lasting memorial to the casualties from the forces of Australia, Canada, India, South Africa and United Kingdom who died in the Salient.


In common with many other families, the Bradshaws would live with the possibility of losing more sons throughout the Great War.  Claude Bradshaw had been on the RNVR and served on HMS Indomitable from 1917 until demobilised in 1919.  An older brother Harry Bradshaw was conscripted in 1916, aged 36.  Harry was finally discharged unfit from the 12th Royal Sussex on 3rd November 1917, his health broken by long exposure in the trenches during the winter of 1916, ironically while in the Ypres sector.

After the end of the War, Leonard Ralph Bradshaw’s elderly parents ensure his name is added to the Mitcham war memorial as “BRADSHAW L. R.”.  They remain at 30 Chapel Road Mitcham into their old age.

Flanders October 1914

The “race to the sea” was to culminate in Flanders in October 1914.  The last attempt by Allied and German forces to outflank each other and force a decisive breakthrough led to simultaneous advances and a series of bitterly contested actions in which superior German numbers forced the Allies into the fiercest of defensive battles.

A sketch map made by boy soldier William J Hayman who served with Royal Engineers shows the movement of British Forces as they withdraw from the Aisne early in October moving north, and the landing of the 7th Division at Zeebrugge on the 7th of October.


Antwerp was yet to fall and elements of the 7th Division had advanced towards Ghent via long marches and train by 12th of October.  The deteriorating situation at Antwerp led to their withdrawal, and by 14th October the hungry and tired troops of the 7th Division had reached Ypres.  They made contact with French troops of 87th Territorial Division who were already in the town, and other British units who had reached Ypres on the 13th.

The Germans had briefly been in Ypres for one day on 7th October 1914 when about 8,000 cavalrymen and soldiers of an Imperial German cavalry division had arrived.  They either took what they wanted or paid  with useless pre-printed German coupons and then left.

Ypres, now known by its Flemish name of Ieper, had a history which stretched back to medieval times and had been a centre for the wool and cloth trade.  The medieval Lakenhalle (Cloth Hall) and St. Martin’s cathedral were notable landmarks.


Cloth Hall just before before the 1st German bombardments in October 1914

In 1914 the official language of the city was French and the town was known by its French name of Ypres, as were most places in the locality.  It was a prosperous place with a population of about 17-18,000.  To the soldiers of the BEF it was always “Wipers”

Ypres in October 1914 found itself at the centre of the strategic ambitions of both the Allies and the Germans.  It was an obstacle to the Germans reaching Calais, while if the Allies could advance across Flanders, they could threaten the German supply lines.

The German Command planned a trap for Allied forces in Flanders in October 1914.  The anticipated eastward advance by British and French forces was to be checked by a German Army recently transferred from Lorraine, the superiority of German numbers was not expected by the Allies.  Simultaneously, a strong German attack was to be made westward along the Belgian coastal plain, with additional troops released from the siege of Antwerp, to make a breakthrough to the Channel ports.

Only the determined and costly resistance of the remnants of the Belgian Field Army, supported by French Marines, held the Germans back in a series of actions known as the Battle of the Yser.

On the 14th, Belgian engineers began to prepare the defence line on the Yser. Belgian and French forces were to hold a twelve mile line north of Ypres, from Nieuwpoort on the coast, to Diksmuide which was first attacked on 16th October.

After a desperate struggle, King Albert of the Belgians agreed to a policy of last resort to open the sea defences at Nieuwpoort to flood the low lying battle area.  The Belgians managed to open the sluices at Nieuwpoort on the nights of 26–29 October during high tides, steadily raising the water level until an impassable flooded area was created about 1-mile (1.6 km) wide, stretching as far south as Diksmuide.

The Germans launched another large attack on the Yser on 30 October. The final attack, planned for the next day was called off, when the attacking Germans became aware of the flooding of the land in their rear. They withdrew in the night before 31 October.  But Diksmuide did finally fall in 10th November 1914.

By the 16th of October elements of the 7th Division of the BEF were placed on the Zonnebeke road one mile East of Ypres.  By the 19th of October, the British 3rd Cavalry Division and 7th Division were east of Ypres on a line between Langemarck – Poelcapelle – Zonnebeke – Gheluvelt – Zandvoorde with the French holding the line to the immediate north of Ypres.ypresoct21

It will be the 7th Division who hold off repeated German assaults to the east of Ypres, while British I Corps to the north-east will meet with massed concentrations of German troops around Langemarck in what is now called the “Battle of Langemarck” in the opening stages of the First Battle of Ypres.





H.M.S Hawke is sunk – 15th October 1914

It is just three weeks since the sinking of the Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy on 22nd Sept. 1914.   The crew of Unterseeboot U9 are treated as heroes in Germany and the entire crew are awarded the Iron Cross.


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A commemorative medal is stuck with the bust of the U9 Captain, Lieutenant Otto Weddingen, and a wealth of propaganda material produced: postcards, posters etc.


The Royal Navy court of inquiry seeks to apportion blame, but the Navy has to come to terms with the reality of the threat of Germany’s submarine warfare.  Enemy submarines appear in the Channel at the end of September, and the Admiralty decides to mine the entrance of the Straits of Dover in early October.

On land, German forces occupy Bapaume on 26th September and the struggle with French forces rages in the Artois.  On the 3rd October the BEF begins to leave the Aisne and move northwards.  By 4th October the Germans occupy Lens and Baileul.  Antwerp is under siege.

The bulk of the Belgian Army is trapped at Antwerp and the Admiralty is heavily involved in the expedition to aid the defence and evacuation of Antwerp.  Antwerp capitulates on the 10th October.  Much of the Belgian Army had successfully retired, but part of the RND becomes interned in Holland while others would escape to Ostend, which is in turn evacuated between Oct 11-13.

More submarine raids take place in the channel between Oct 12-13 and overseas transports have to be diverted.  Ghent is evacuated on the 12th, the allies occupy Ypres on the 13th.  Bruges is occupied by the Germans on 14th, and on the 15th both Zeebrugge and Ostend are occupied by the Germans.


HMS Hawke

In the North Sea, sweeps by the Grand Fleet cruiser forces offer German submarines new targets.  Part of the British First fleet was at sea when attacked by Unterseeboot U9 on 15th October at about 10.30pm.


U9 track – click to enlarge

The10th Cruiser Squadron was on patrol off Aberdeen, deployed in line abreast at intervals of about 10 miles.  Hawke stopped at 9:30 am to pick up mail from sister ship Endymion.  After recovering her boat with the mail, Hawke proceeded at 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph) without zig-zagging to regain her station, and was out of sight of the rest of the Squadron when at 10:30 a single torpedo from the German submarine U-9 (which had sunk three British cruisers on 22 September), struck Hawke, which quickly capsized. T he remainder of the squadron only realised anything was amiss, when, after a further, unsuccessful attack on Theseus, the squadron was ordered to retreat at high speed to the northwest, and no response to the order was received from Hawke.  The destroyer Swift was dispatched from Scapa Flow to search for Hawke and found a raft carrying one officer and twenty-one men, while a boat with a further forty-nine survivors was rescued by a Norwegian steamer. 524 officers and men died,including the ship’s captain, Hugh P. E. T. Williams, with only 70 survivors (one man died of his wounds on 16 October).

News broke in the papers on the 16th and 17th of October with an announcement from the Admiralty.  Before the casualty lists appear, all next of kin will fear the worse. Two Mitcham men are among the many reservists onboard HMS Hawke.



George Francis Drewett (CWGC entry) had been in the RMLI, and was a veteran of the South African War.  George was born in Maidstone, Kent, in 1878, the third child of Samuel and Kate Drewett.  George is aged about 10 when the family moves to Southwark, where he is still living when he joins the Royal Marines on 17th September 1895 as private 9628.  He is not quite eighteen, and gives his trade as a “Waiter”.

George serves on the Excellent between 1897-8, and then for four years on the Thetis from Feb 1898 until June 1901.  He is landed for the defence of Durban in 1899, and serves in the Delagoa Bay Squadron.  George is on board HMS Thetis which is sent from the Cape to St.Helena as a guardship, where Boer prisoners, including General Cronje and wife, had been taken.

George is discharged on 26 June 1901.  Within a few months of leaving the Marines, George marries Harriet Elizabeth Gosnell at St.Thomas’ Lambeth on 24th November 1901.  He has changed uniform, and is now a Metropolitan Police Officer.  George works and lives in Lambeth before moving his family to Mitcham in about 1908.  By the end of 1913, George and Harriet have six children.  But George had not severed his links to the military, he had joined the Royal Fleet Reserve in 1903, and attends annual drills for the next ten years.  The outbreak of War shatters whatever hopes and ambitions the family had for a happy, peaceful and prosperous life.

George attends his final annual drill in July 1914, he is immediately mobilised in August 1914 and is posted to HMS Hawke on 6th August. He is lost in the sinking of HMS Hawke. George Francis Drewett’s name appears on the Chatham Naval Memorial, and the Mitcham War Memorial as “Drewett G.F.”.

Harriett Elizabeth Drewett and children continue to live at 85 Fernlea Road, Mitcham for many years after the War.  Harriet is believed to have been buried in Sutton Cemetery in 1962.


The second Mitcham man on HMS Hawke was reservist George Harry Newton His connection to Mitcham is not clear.

George Harry Newton (CWGC entry) had been born and brought up in Thame.  Both is parents Caleb and Sarah had been born in Long Crendon, as had all of George’s six surviving siblings.  George gives his date of birth as 8th July 1884 when he joins the Navy on a “Short Service” enlistment on 30th June 1905 as a/b SS968.  George serves on the Swiftsure, Pembroke, Cressy and the Endymion before he is transferred to the RFR on 1st July 1910.  His whereabouts between then and the outbreak of War are not known, nor is his connection to Mitcham, as stated by the CWGC.  He is posted to HMS Hawke on 7th August 1914.  George Harry Newton’s name appears on the Chatham Naval Memorial, and as “Newton G.H.” on the Mitcham War Memorial.