A Poppy
A Poppy

Memorials & Monuments
on the Isle of Wight
- Events - Loss of HMS Bulwark -
- 26 November 1914 -


HMS Bulwark was destroyed by an internal explosion on 26 November 1914 while at anchor at Sheerness, with the loss of almost all its crew, including a number of men from the Isle of Wight.

Event details


Saturday, November 28, 1914 Page 3


H.M.S. Bulwark (Captain Guy L. Sclater), a battleship of the "London" class, was blown up at Sheerness on Thursday morning, with the loss of between seven and eight hundred lives, the disaster being due apparently to an internal magazine explosion. There are only fourteen survivors. The news was officially announced by Mr. Churchill in the House of Commons, on Thursday afternoon. He said : "I regret to say I have some bad news for the House. The Bulwark, battleship, which was lying in Sheerness this morning, blew up at 7.53 a.m. The Vice and Rear Admirals who were present have reported their conviction that it was an internal magazine explosion, which rent the ship asunder. There was apparently no upheaval in the water, and the ship had entirely disappeared when the smoke had cleared away. The loss of the ship does not sensibly affect the military position, but I regret to say the loss of life is very severe. Only 12 men are saved, and all the officers and the rest of the crew, who, I suppose, amounted to between 700 and 800 persons, have perished. I think the House will wish me to express on its behalf the deep sympathy and sorrow with which the House has heard the news, and the sympathy we feel with those who have lost their relatives and friends." (Hear, hear).
The theory now advanced for the loss of the Bulwark is that the explosion was caused by the accidental dropping of a shell while taking ammunition on board.
Although the Bulwark was a Portsmouth ship, a considerable number of her men belonged to Chatham.
The men lost include the band of H.M.S. Excellent, of Portsmouth (15 members), under Mr. Shofield, who were drafted to the unfortunate ship on the outbreak of the war. Several accounts speak of the band as playing when the disastrous explosion occurred. This was for the breakfast of the second part of the Ship's company, which was then in progress. Eight of the band were married.
It is stated that it would be practically impossible for submarines to get inside the boom at Sheerness.
All the survivors are Portsmouth men.
According to particulars furnished for the County Press Roll of Honour, William James Sandy, of Shorwell, and Henry M. Brett, of Ningwood, were members of the crew of H.M.S. Bulwark. Sandy is one of three brothers in the King's service, the others being in the R.M.A. and R.G.A. respectively.
Warrant Officer F.C. Sheath, youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. W.W. Sheath, of Macrocarpa Lodge, was one of the ill-fated crew, and F.R. Merwood, a married man, of Northwood, is also believed to have been on the ship.


Saturday, December 5, 1914 Page 6

Eng.-Capt. Walter K. Williams, M.V.O., who was among the victims of the disaster to H.M.S. Bulwark last week, was for several years at the Royal Naval College, Osborne, where he was very popular. He had the honour of acting as tutor to the Prince of Wales and Prince Albert in the College engineering workshops at Kingston and was decorated with the Membership of the Victorian Order whilst serving at Osborne in October, 1910. Eng.-Capt. Williams was serving as engineer of the Blanche, when this ship, with the Swallow and Sparrow, landed a naval brigade, under Comdr. Lindley, assisted by native troops, at Vitu, Zanzibar, in August, 1893, to punish a robber chief, Fumo Omari. His fortified strongholds at Pumwam and Jongeni were stormed and captured with great gallantry. Eng.-Capt. Williams took part in the operations and received the General Africa medal (Vitu clasp). He was promoted in January, 1912.
Capt. Herbert Claude Morton, R.M.L.I., who was lost in the Bulwark, was a step-son of Mr. G.F. Werry, of Cowes. He got his step in 1907, and possessed a medal for active service in China. His body, which was amongst the 28 recovered on which the inquest at Chatham was opened on Saturday, was claimed by Col. Barrett, Royal Marines, of Starr-hill, Rochester, the deceased's father-in-law. The funeral of Capt. Morton took place at Rochester on Tuesday, the procession from the Royal Naval Hospital, Gillingham, being headed by a firing party of 100 men belonging to the Royal Marines, followed by the band of the Chatham Division. The first part of the service was conducted in Rochester cathedral by Dean Storrs.
Several Osborne Naval College cadets were lost in the Bulwark.
Among the Island men who lost their lives in the disaster was Pte. Harry Webster, R.M.L.I., who, although a native of Leicester, resided at 33 Tennyson-road, Cowes. He leaves a widow and three young children. He formerly served at the Royal Naval College, Osborne, and married a daughter of Mr. J. House, whose two sons (Messrs. J. House [1], who is in the Navy, and V. House) are well known in Island football circles. The deceased had served on the Bulwark for about 18 months.
Artificer Frank Merwood, of Northwood, who was lost on the Bulwark, was only married last Easter. The deepest sympathy is felt for his young widow, who is the daughter of Mr. Pearce, a Parkhurst Prison official. The deceased was a member of the Cowes Conservative Club.
Two Yarmouth men - Chief Boatman of Coastguards Henry Chapman and Able Seaman William Butler - lost their lives in the Bulwark. Chief Boatman Chapman has been stationed at Yarmouth for some years and was held in the highest respect. He was a fine, stalwart specimen of a British sailor and of a genial and neighbourly disposition. He leaves a widow and a family of five young children, with whom very sincere sympathy is felt. Quite a gloom was cast over Yarmouth when the sad news was published, as the deceased was widely known and generally esteemed.
A.B. William Butler is a son of a former chief boatman of Coastguards at Yarmouth, who recently removed to Southampton. He was a scholar at Yarmouth National-school and is well known locally. His father and three brothers are serving in the Navy. He was a very promising young man and his death is much deplored. Whilst at Yarmouth he was a popular member of Dr. Carlyon's Boys' Club, and Dr. Carlyon received a letter from him two days after the disaster occurred, in which he humorously remarked that he was hoping to get leave at Christmas, 1915!
1st Writer Walter Finlay, son of Mr. Finlay, of Avenue-road, Shanklin, formerly chief boatman of the local Coastguard, was lost in the Bulwark. A fortnight before the disaster he was drafted to another vessel for a short time, but unhappily he had returned to the ill-fated vessel before she was blown up.

[1] Joseph Alfred House, who was killed 3 Sep 1919 and is commemorated at the Archangel Memorial, Russian Federation.


Saturday, December 12, 1914 Page 8

We have again to report the deaths of a number of gallant Islanders while fighting for their country. Amongst those who perished by the sinking of H.M.S. Good Hope was George B. Owens, clerk to Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock. He was the only son of the late Dr. John Owens, of Winton-street, Ryde, and some years ago was a well-known Ryde footballer. In addition to those already mentioned, the following lost their lives in the disastrous explosion on H.M.S. Bulwark : Lieut. Henry J. Lock, R.M.L.I., a nephew of the late Capt. Campbell Lock, R.N., Ryde; Pte. Albert Jones, R.M.L.I., third son of Mr. and Mrs. C. Jones, of Newport-street, Ryde; Reginald P. Warman, a married man living at 6 Lower Bettesworth-road, Ryde; and Thomas Henry Treacher, second son of Mr. J.G. Treacher, of Freshwater Bay. Amongst those killed with the Expeditionary Force are Pte. S.F. Munford, 1st Hants Regiment, of Ryde, and Rfn. Eustace Kite, 2nd Rifle Brigade, son of Mrs. Brading, of Victoria-road, Newport.

Among those who died (H.M.S. Bulwark) with Isle of Wight connections :

Rank or Rating, Service
and Name
Place of residenceReferencesWhere commemorated or buriedFurther information
Leading Seaman, R.N.
Henry Milton Brett
Shalfleet CWGC record ...
Seaman, R.N.R.
William Butler
Yarmouth CWGC record ... Gillingham (Woodlands) Cemetery, Kent
Petty Officer Stoker (Coastguard), R.N.
Henry Chapman
Yarmouth CWGC record ... Chatham Naval Memorial
Stoker 1st cl., R.N.
Edmund Harpwood Chessell
Ryde CWGC record ...
Writer 1st cl., R.N.
Walter James Finlay
Shanklin CWGC record ... Biographical information (& for his brother Colin Douglas Finlay)
Biographical information (& for his brother Roy Norman Finlay)
Private, R.M.L.I.
Albert Jones
Ryde CWGC record ... Ryde Cemetery (additional inscription) [RSHG]
Lieutenant, R.M.L.I.
Henry John Lock
Axminster, Devon CWGC record ... Chatham Naval Memorial
Mechanician, R.N.
Frank Rolland Edgar Merwood
Northwood CWGC record ...
Serjeant, R.M.L.I.
Frederick Rendall
Newchurch CWGC record ... Gillingham (Woodlands) Cemetery, Kent Biographical information
Stoker 1st cl., R.N.
William James Sandy
Shorwell CWGC record ...
Gunner, R.N.
Frederick Charles Sheath
Ventnor CWGC record ... Biographical information
Petty Officer, R.N.
Thomas Henry Treacher
Freshwater CWGC record ... Gillingham (Woodlands) Cemetery, Kent
Blacksmith's Mate, R.N.
Alfred John Tweddell
Ryde CWGC record ... Gillingham (Woodlands) Cemetery, Kent
Able Seaman, R.N.
Reginald Percy Warman
Ryde CWGC record ... Biographical information
Private, R.M.L.I.
Harry Webster
Cowes CWGC record ...

Others mentioned in reports
Captain, R.M.
Herbert Claude Morton
Rochester CWGC record ... Rochester (St. Nicholas) Cemetery, Kent
Bandmaster, R.M.
Edward Schofield
Portsmouth CWGC record ...
Captain, R.N.
Guy Lutley Sclater
Odiham CWGC record ... Odiham Cemetery, Hampshire
Engineer Captain, R.N.
Walter Kent Williams
Haverfordwest CWGC record ...

Further information :

Report of the accident

Disasters in Medway

HMS Bulwark

HMS Bulwark and HMS Irene Memorial, Gillingham

Casualty list (scroll down to 26 November)

Acknowledgments :

Janet Griffin for newspaper and other research

Page updated : 12 August 2014 (added to website)


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