The Death Of My Uncle.

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A few months ago I was at home chatting to my eldest brother who'd come with a few old photos and stuff that had belonged to my dad. Among them was a scroll that related to the death of my dads elder brother, John. I couldn't remember ever hearing any mention of an elder brother and thought my dad was an only child. My brother told me that my dad was devastated when he was killed serving on H.M.S. Hogue, not long after the start of WW1. Some people like to speak of their loss but others, like my dad, keep it bottled up inside them. From the details I had I decided to see if I could find anything on the Internet. I found some articles on the subject but was amazed to find a detailed report from the captain of the submarine that had sunk the Hogue and killed my uncle John. My dad called his first child, John. I didn't know if anyone would be interested in this but, because it's Armistice Day, I decided to put it on. Personally, I found it very sad to discover how he'd died and was thankful that my dad didn't have a computer as it would have added to his grief to learn all the details of his brothers death. This is the report that I've assembled from various sources.
H.M.S. Aboukir, H.M.S. Hogue, H.M.S. Cressy.

Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, H.M.S. Hogue, Aboukir and Cressy was assigned to the 7th Cruiser Squadron, a blockading force of the Royal Navy, tasked with patrolling the Broad Fourteens of the North Sea in support of a force of destroyers and submarines based at Harwich which blocked the Eastern end of the Channel from German warships attempting to attack the supply route between England and France.

The squadron came to public attention when on 22 September 1914 the three cruisers were sunk by one German submarine while on patrol. 1,450 sailors were killed and there was a public outcry at the losses. The incident eroded confidence in the government and damaged the reputation of the Royal Navy at a time when many countries were still considering which side they might support in the war.

On 21 August 1914, Commodore Roger Keyes, commanding a submarine squadron, also stationed at Harwich, wrote to his superior Admiral Sir Arthur Leveson warning that in his opinion the ships were at extreme risk of attack and sinking by German ships because of their age and inexperienced crews. The risk to the ships was so severe that they had earned the nickname "the live bait squadron" within the fleet. By 17 September the note reached the attention of First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill who met with Keyes and Commodore Reginald Tyrwhitt, commander of a destroyer squadron operating from Harwich, while travelling to Scapa Flow to visit the Grand Fleet on 18 September. Churchill, in consultation with the First Sea Lord Prince Louis of Battenberg agreed that the cruisers should be withdrawn and wrote a memo stating: 'The Bacchantes ought not to continue on this beat. The risks to such ships is not justified by any services they can render'. Vice Admiral Frederick Sturdee, Chief of the Admiralty war staff, objected that while the cruisers should be replaced no modern ships were available and the older vessels were the only ships that could be used during bad weather. It was therefore agreed between Battenberg and Sturdee to leave them on station until the arrival of new Arethusa-class cruisers then being built.
The Hogue, Aboukir and Cressy were without any destroyer escort while patrolling the Broad Fourteens when they were spotted by Kapitänleutnant Otto Eduard Weddigen, in command of German Submarine U9. Although they were not zigzagging, all of the ships had lookouts posted to search for periscopes and one gun on each side of each ship was manned.
From that day on much has been written about the events that killed so many. The following is an extract from the memoirs of Kapitänleutnant Otto Weddigen, written in 1914.
"I am 32 years old and have been attached to the submarine flotilla and have been most interested in that branch of the navy. At the outbreak of the war our undersea boats were rendezvoused at a series of harbours on our coast of the North Sea. I was married on 16 August 1914 at the home of my brother in Wilhelmshaven to my boyhood sweetheart, Miss Prete of Hamburg. My bride and I wanted the ceremony to take place at the appointed time, and it did, although within twenty-four hours thereafter I had to go away on a venture that gave a good chance of making my new wife a widow.
Kapitänleutnant Otto Weddigen and his Wife
I was soon cruising off the coast of Holland. I had been lying in wait there only a few days before the morning of 22 September arrived, the day on which I fell in with my quarry. I had sighted several ships during my passage but they were not what I was seeking. English torpedo boats came within my reach but I felt there was bigger game further on.
It was ten minutes after 6 on the morning of last Tuesday and I had been going ahead partly submerged with about five feet of my periscope showing. Almost immediately I caught sight of the first cruiser and two others. I submerged completely and laid course so as to bring up in the centre of the trio. They were near enough for torpedo work but I wanted to make my aim sure, so I went down and in on them. I soon reached what I regarded as a good shooting point. I then loosed one of my torpedoes at the middle ship. I discovered that the shot had gone straight and true striking the ship under one of her magazines, which in exploding helped the torpedoes work of destruction. I later learned that the ship was the Aboukir. She had been broken apart and sank within minutes. The Aboukir had been stricken in a vital spot and by an unseen force; that made the blow all the greater. Her crew were brave and even with death staring them in the face kept to their posts, ready to handle their useless guns.
H.M.S. Aboukir

I could see the Cressy and Hogue, turn and steam full speed to their dying sister. Soon, the other two English cruisers learned what had brought about the destruction so suddenly. I sent a second charge at the nearest oncoming vessel, which was the Hogue. The English were playing my game. The attack on the Hogue went true. She lay wounded and helpless on the surface before she heaved, half turned and sank.
H.M.S. Hogue.
The third cruiser, Cressy, knew the enemy was upon her and she sought as best she could to defend herself. She stood her ground as if more anxious to help the many sailors who were in the water than to save herself. When I got within a suitable range I sent away my third attack. This time I sent a second torpedeo after the first to make the strike doubly certain. Both torpedoes went to their bulls-eye. At once she began sinking by her head, then careened far over, all the while her men stayed at the guns looking for their invisible foe. They were brave and true to their country's traditions. Then she suffered a boiler explosion and turned turtle. With her keel uppermost she floated until the air got out from under her and she sank with a loud sound, as if from a creature in pain. The whole affair had taken less than one hour.
H.M.S. Cressy.
Having done my appointed work, I set course for home. I reached the home port on the afternoon of the 23rd and on the 24th went to Wilhelmshaven to find that news of my effort had become public. I then learned that my little vessel and her brave crew had won the plaudit of the Kaiser, who conferred each of my co-workers the Iron Cross of the Second Class and upon me the Iron Cross First and Second Class."
Kapitänleutnant Otto Weddigen.
Crew of U-Boat 9. Prior to receiving their Iron Crosses. Welcomed home as hero's.
Crew of U-Boat 9, wearing their Iron Crosses.
In the space of one hour, forty-nine days after the start of World War 1, the Royal Navy lost three ships and 1549 men. For the majority of the men, their grave is the sea. Ten bodies, five from H.M.S. Aboukir, four from H.M.S. Cressy and one from H.M.S. Hogue were recovered from the sea and taken to The Hague General Cemetery in the Netherlands. Eleven bodies, five from H.M.S. Aboukir, three from H.M.S. Cressy and three from H.M.S. Hogue, were also recovered from the sea and taken to 's Gravenzande General Cemetery in the Netherlands. In those cemeteries their bodies were either buried or their names engraved on a Special Memorial.
Kapitänleutnant Weddigen continued service with the submarine and on 15 October 1914 he torpedoed H.M.S. Hawke. She sank in a matter of minutes taking with her 527 men. On 12 March 1915 he sank three British Steamships, the Andalusian, Indian City and Headlines. However, on those occasions there was no loss of life.
Kapitänleutnant Otto Eduard Weddigen died on 18 March 1915 while in command of U-Boat 29. On patrol at Pentland Firth, Scotland, he surfaced after firing a torpedo at H.M.S. Neptune. Unfortunately, it was in front of H.M.S. Dreadnought and before he could submerge it was rammed by the powerful battleship. The U-Boat sank, taking with her the entire crew. Their grave is also the sea.
H.M.S. Dreadnought.

U-boat 29. Sunk by H.M.S. Dreadnought.

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I am a new member, so firstly might i say "hello, there, and i'm very pleasedto have found such a wonderful web site, and therefore been able to have made your acquaintance..."

I must tell you, out of all of the different topics, and forums i have already perused, I really felt deeply moved by your 'topic' , and feel it most appropriate of you to have posted it on this date, it must have been heart wrenching to read thru all of this information, which you were all to aware your father had kept this knowledge locked in, and i agree, if the internet was at the time available, it would have done nothing but cause terrible pain and heartache for those it concerned.

I also would like to add, the amount and quality of the vast treasure of information you have come across regarding your family history, is breathtaking, to say the least. I feel it of great importance, also to make a point of re-telling even the most sad, and tragic, but also brave and heroic of stories, concerning those many brave souls that were lost fighting for their king and country, i am nearly 40 myself, and my Grandparents have all now passed on, but i have many stories i treasure, and have passed on to my children, and have tried to document in various types of media, as much of the history concerning my fore bearers, as i have been humanly able to, in the hope that my off spring will at some point, will be interested enough, as i am, and will feel the need to share the stories, and wonderfully different lives of all those who came before us, and keep these ancestors alive. Because if it wasn't for wonderful people like yourself, who care enough to document, and re tell these tales, they will be all but gone and forgotten forever.

Apologies, if i have seemed to ramble on. I was very impressed with what i have seen already on this site, and felt the need to let you know, that someone, somewhere, is reading and sharing your stories, and in essence, keeping your ancestors alive!

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Welcome to Nottstalgia, Kennylovestuna. I look forward to reading your posts and sharing your memories. I'd like to thank you for your nice words which I really appreciated. There are a few posts on here where people, including myself, have stated that they wish they had spoken to their parents about their history and kept a record of it. I was going to film my mum and I in conversation but it kept being put off for one reason or another and by the time we'd arranged something definate, she became ill and passed away. It's really good to read that you're keeping a record of your history, something that your children will really appreciate as they get older. Oh, another thing, please don't ever apologise for 'rambling on' as Nottstalgians come on Nottstalgia to read posts like yours.

In my original post (#1) I've noticed that, on the third line, the word should be 'devastated'.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I've found this article regarding 'The Death Of My Uncle'. What an utter disgrace. Is nothing respected anymore?.

An insult to our war dead: Dutch vessels ransack sunken British warships containing the bodies of 1,450 sailors for scrap metal

Dutch salvage vessels are illegally ransacking three sunken British cruisers in an attempt to find valuable scrap metal, it has emerged.
Looters have enraged the British naval community by scouring through the remains of the three warships sunk in the First World War and which are the final resting place of 1,450 sailors.
Netherlands police are now attempting to end the looters' activity, which has seen them use heavy-duty claws on cranes to tear through the shipwrecks 22 miles off the Dutch coast.
According to The Times, the Ministry of Defence and the Dutch Cultural Agency have condemned the disturbance of the war grave.
Vice-Admiral John McAnally, president of the Royal Naval Association, urged the metal hunt to stop in telling the paper: 'Leave our sailors alone. Let them rest in peace.'
The three ships were sunk off the Dutch coast on September 22, 1914, after being hit by torpedos from a German submarine.
HMS Aboukir was struck at 6.20am, while its fellow British warships Hogue and Cressy were also unable to avoid the German torpedos.
An estimated 1459 British soldiers aboard the armoured Royal Navy cruisers perished during the attack by the German U-9 sub.
The Times reported that local dive operators raised the alarm about the illegal salvage after seeing the damage to one of the North Sea's most popular diving sites.
Netherlands coastguard officials confirmed that salvage vessels were on the site and that they had been found with pieces of wreckage, but the destruction has not been stopped.
Marine conservationists and maritime historians have now warned Britain of the scavenging in a letter to the Ambassador to the Netherlands.
It has been alleged that two ships in the port of Scheveningen, the MS Bernica and MS Bela, are the ones responsible for the raids.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence said: 'We do not condone the unauthorised disturbance of any wreck containing human remains.'
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Michael, in your first post you mention Admiral Sturdee. His grandson became 1st Sea Lord in 1984 having been Commander-in-chief of the Fleet. I know this because I was his Marine driver for four years

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Thanks! i so Love to Ramble, and i love to read even more! - this really is the most amazing site, everything i have seen on here so far is either inspiring, tear-jerking or just damn brilliant.. its written straight from the heart! - thats what i love to read the best!

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With it being Remembrance Day tomorrow I decided to search for more information regarding the Dutch salvage vessels (#7). What I did find was an article that really saddened me. On September 21st, descendants of the sailors from the three ships met in Chatham, home of the 7th Cruiser Squadron in 1914, for three days of commemorations in Chatham and the Hague area in Holland. The reason I felt so sad was because I knew nothing about it and I wished that I could have been there. I would have felt proud to have been there on behalf of my late father. Below is the article regarding the commemorations.

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Michael , don't know if you have this in your family snaps but this would appear to be your uncle from the Evening Post 25th Sept 1914.


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I don't know how I missed this thread last year. Very sad and poignant Michael.

My granddad was also in the RN during the first world war. He ran away to sea at the age of 15, and was brought back home to get his parents permission which, to his mother's dismay, his father gave stating it would make a man out of him.

Grandad never really spoke of his time in the Navy during the war, and I wish now I had asked him more, though I do know he was on a ship which was torpedoed, and he was one of the lucky ones to escape.

Only the other day Mum was telling me that he was due to sign up for another 3 years in 1938 but he declined and came out of the Navy as by that time he had a family and could see the way things were going.

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  • 1 month later...

Michael I have just read your thread about the death of my uncle. To be honest it brought a lump to my throat, l was so moved by the content and it's presentation. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to read it.

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i too missed this thread last year micheal a very moving story perhaps ifyou contacted the evening post they could tell you who sent in the photpgraph and you might discover a long lost relitive micheal

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  • 2 years later...

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