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  • Christina Drummond

H.M.S. Bulwark, 1914

Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1914, HMS Bulwark suffered a large internal explosion, causing the deaths of 736 personnel – there were fourteen survivors after the blast, but two later died in hospital. It is believed that her destruction was caused by the overheating of cordite charges that had been placed adjacent to a boiler room bulkhead – a verdict of accidental death was returned by the Coroner.

HMS Bulwark had been conducting patrols in the English Channel, and was anchored near Sheerness at the time of the explosion, having been there for several days. Many of the crew had been given leave the previous day and returned that morning by 7:00 a.m. – many of the crew were having breakfast, the band was practicing, some were engaged in drill, and others were going about their duties. Thirty-five minutes later witnesses heard what they described as “a roaring and rumbling sound” as flame and debris shot upwards; the ship was seen to lift out of the water and fall back. One eyewitness gave this report to a local newspaper: “My first impression was that the report was produced by the firing of a salute by one of the ships, but the noise was quite exceptional. When I got on deck I soon saw that something awful had happened. The water and sky were obscured by dense volumes of smoke. We were at once ordered to the scene of the disaster to render what assistance we could. At first we could see nothing, but when the smoke cleared a bit we were horrified to find the battleship Bulwark had gone. She seemed to have entirely vanished from sight, but a little later we detected a portion of the huge vessel showing about 4ft above water. We kept a vigilant look-out for the unfortunate crew, but only saw two men."

Many boats were launched from nearby ships in an attempt to find survivors and to retrieve the dead. None of the officers survived and only eleven of them were found for burial. Many bodies were identified by a Cook’s Mate who had been ashore on sick leave; not all were recovered and some washed ashore several weeks later.

Among those who died were:

Row 1: Able Seaman James Williams, Midshipman Geoffrey Bartlett, Private Fred Rudkin (Royal Marines Light Infantry), Boy 1st Class Vincent Wheatley, and Able Seaman Richard Edwards.

Row 2: Stoker Joseph Ellis, Stoker 1st Class Jack Davis, Shipwright 1st Class George Waggett, Telegraphist Leonard Atkinson, Stoker William Gray, Able Seaman James Gale, and Boy 1st Class William Plumbridge.

Row 3: Stoker 1st Class Arthur Willison, Midshipman Kenneth Anderson, Midshipman Norman Harris, Chief Engine Room Artificer 2nd Class George Ogden, Able Seaman Reginald Flowers, Midshipman John McPherson, and Boy 1st Class Harry Jerrom.

Row 4: Engineer Lieutenant Lawrence Wright, Private Harry Arnold (Royal Marines Light Infantry), Henry Averley (Musician, Royal Marines Band), Midshipman Oliver Jagger, Leading Telegraphist Leonard Wort, Electrical Artificer 4th Class William Beckett, and Able Seaman George Colbran.

Row 5: Able Seaman George Wike, Lieutenant Commander John Penrose, Able Seaman Cyril Carter, Lieutenant Douglas Wilson, Lieutenant Edward Finch, Midshipman Richard Chapman, and Ship’s Corporal 2nd Class George Rumney.

“Oh hear us when we cry to Thee, for those in peril on the sea….”

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