The Loss of HMS Hampshire in 1916
The Lincolnshire connection.
The armoured cruiser HMS Hampshire was built on the Tyne by Armstrong Whitworth and launched on 24th September 1903. When the Hampshire was commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1905 she joined the Channel Fleet and was then transferred to the Mediterranean in 1911. From 1912 to 1914 she served in the Far East, but was recalled to home waters in 1915.
On 31th May 1916 the Hampshire served in the 2nd Cruiser Squadron at the Battle of Jutland, returning safely to Scapa Flow in the Orkneys on 3rd June. Two days later, despite appalling weather conditions, the cruiser set sail for Archangel in northern Russia with the War Minister, Lord Kitchener, and his staff on board. Kitchener had considerable prestige overseas and he had been chosen to discuss the future conduct of the war with the Tsar and the provision of military and financial assistance to Russia.
The Hampshire experienced considerable difficulties in making headway in the storm and she was only one and a half miles from land when there was a sudden explosion on her port side. The ship’s crew tried to launch the lifeboats, but they were hindered by the heavy seas and the failure of the ship’s electrical generators. The Hampshire sank within 15 minutes and, although a few crew members managed to take to the cruiser’s emergency rafts, most were forced to jump into the freezing, stormy waters.
Out of the 662 men on board the Hampshire, 650 were lost. Among the dead were Kitchener and all of his staff. The War Minister was not killed in the explosion, as some survivors recalled having been ordered to “Make way for Lord Kitchener” and some reported seeing him on the upper deck. Over 100 bodies were subsequently recovered, but Kitchener’s body was not among them. The 12 men who survived the disaster had managed to reach the rocky coast of the Orkney Islands on the Hampshire’s rafts. One of the youngest of the men who died on the Hampshire was a 17 year old sailor called Edgar Purnell, who came from Ruskington in Lincolnshire.
Although various theories were put forward to account for the loss of the Hampshire, it was subsequently established that the ship had struck a mine laid by the German submarine U75 on the night of 28th May 1916.
This tribute to Lord Kitchener in verse was written a few days after the loss of the Hampshire by the Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges.
Document reference: 9 FANE 1/1/4/15.
Among those who died on HMS Hampshire was Able Seaman Edward Cecil George, who was educated at Christ’s Hospital School. He was the son of Mr E George of “Aintree”, St Catherine’s, Lincoln.
Stoker Wilfred Chambers Lowe was another victim of the sinking the Hampshire. He was the son of William and Annie Lowe, who lived at 40 Queen Street, St. Botolph’s, Lincoln.