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.
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.
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.
“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.