Local historian Trevor Temple chronicles the individuals associated with Londonderry who lost their lives in WWI.
Dennis, Seaman Gunner John Joseph (Jack), 5711A
HMS Goliath was one of the six Canopus-class battleships assembled by the Royal Navy in the late nineteenth century.
She was laid down at the Chatham Dockyard on January 4, 1897, was launched on March 23, 1898, and was commissioned in March 1900.
In the same year, the ship was despatched to China for a period of three years. The vessel joined the Mediterranean Fleet in May 1905 and then was transferred to the Channel Fleet seven months later in December, and stayed there until March 1907. She was sent to Sheerness as part of the Fourth Fleet, and in 1913 was mothballed and joined the Third Fleet also known as the Pembroke Reserve.
At the outbreak of the Great War, in August 1914, she joined the battle squadron operating out of Devenport and was later sent to Loch Ewe to defend the Grand Fleet anchorage. In September 1914, she was despatched to the East Indies for escort duty against German warships in the region. In November 1914 she took part in the blockade operation against the SMS Konigsberg in the Rufiji River, East Africa, during which crew member Commander Henry Peel Ritchie won the Victoria Cross.
Commanded by Captain Thomas Lawrie Shelford, Goliath was part of the Allied fleet during naval operations in the Dardanelles campaign, supporting the landing at ‘X’ Beach during the landing at Cape Helles on April 25, 1915.
On the night of May 12-13, 1915, she was stationed in Morto Bay off Cape Helles, along with HMS Cornwallis and a screen of five destroyers. Around 1 am on May 13, the Turkish torpedo boat Muavenet, which was manned by a combined German and Turkish crew, eluded the destroyers HMS Beagle and HMS Bulldog and closed on the battleships. Muavenet fired three torpedoes which struck Goliath causing a massive explosion – the ship capsized almost immediately taking 570 of the 700-strong crew to the bottom.
An officer from the nearby battleship Majestic recalled: ‘The sea for an area of half an acre was a mass of struggling, drowning people, all drifting down towards us with the current.’ The current of 4-5 knots in the Dardanelles meant no one could swim the hundred yards to shore. Onboard the Goliath, survivor Midshipman Wolstan Weld-Forester recalled:
‘CRASH! Bang! Cr-r-r-ash! I woke with a start and sitting up in my hammock gazed around to see what had so suddenly roused me. Some of the midshipmen were already standing on the deck in their pyjamas – others, like me, were sitting up half dazed with sleep. A party of ship’s boys crowded up the ladder from the gun-room flat, followed by three officers; one of these, a Sub-Lieutenant, called out: “Keep calm and you’ll all be saved!” Up to that moment it had never dawned upon me that the ship was sinking, and even then I thought it improbable until I noticed that we were already listing to starboard.’
Weld-Forester made his way up to the quarterdeck: ‘The ship was now heeling about 5 degrees to starboard and I climbed up to the port side. It was nearly pitch-dark. A seaman rushing to help lower the boats charged into me and I turned and swore at him. Gradually a crowd gathered along the port side. “Boat ahoy! Boat ahoy!” they yelled; but, as the ship listed more and more, and there was no sign or sound of any approaching vessel, the men’s voices seemed to get a bit hopeless. Inside the ship everything which was not secured was sliding about and banging up against the bulkheads with a series of crashes. She had heeled over to about twenty degrees, then she stopped and remained steady for a few seconds. In the momentary lull the voice of one of our officers rang out steady and clear as at divisions: “Keep calm, men! Be British!”’
Again the ship heeled rapidly and, realising she was going down, Weld-Forester decided he would have to jump for it if he was not to be caught up in the ferocious undertow that would be generated when the ship sank:
‘Raising my arms above my head I sprang well out board and dived. Just before I struck the water my face hit the side of the ship. It was a horrid feeling sliding on my face down the slimy side, and a second later I splashed in with tremendous force, having dived about 30 feet. Just as I was rising to the surface again a heavy body came down on top of me. I fought clear and rose rather breathless and bruised. I swam about 50 yards away, to get clear of the suction when the ship went down. Then, turning round and treading water, I watched her last moments. The noise of crashing furniture and smashing crockery was continuous. Slowly her stern lifted until it was dimly outlined against the deep midnight sky. Slowly her bows slid further and further until, with a final lurch, she turned completely over and disappeared bottom upwards in a mass of bubbles. She had been our home for nearly 10 months – she was gone – vanished – in less than four minutes.’
Among those who died onboard the Goliath was twenty-year-old Jack Dennis, Royal Navy Reserve. He was born around 1894/95, a native of Larne, County Antrim. His father, James, was born at Armagh around 1865/66, worked as a railway engine driver for the Midland Railway, died on April 1, 1919, and was interred in Ardmore Burying Ground. Jack’s mother, Mary, was born at Antrim around 1874/75. Both parents resided at 43, Clooney Terrace, Waterside, Derry.
Three of Jack’s brothers died young: Charles, on July 23, 1897, aged four-and-a-half years; James Anthony, on November 15, 1897, aged 10 months; and Stewart Gerald, on August 24, 1915, aged 14.
Jack was also the brother of Mary Florence – who possibly married Jack, second son of John Noble, cattle dealer, 21, Chamberlain Street, Derry, at St Columb’s R.C. Church, Waterside Derry, on January 31, 1924.
Jack Dennis’s name is recorded on the Plymouth Naval War Memorial, Devon, and commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.
He was engaged for over four years with the Cunard Company, and his last position, before being transferred to the Goliath, was wireless operator on the Aquitania.
RMS Aquitania was a Cunard Line ocean liner designed by Leonard Peskett and built by John Brown & Company in Clydebank, Scotland. She was launched on April 21, 1913, and sailed on her maiden voyage to New York on May 30, 1914.
Aquitania was the third in Cunard Line’s “grand trio” of express liners, preceded by the RMS Mauritania and RMS Lusitania, and was the last surviving four-funnelled ocean liner.
Widely considered one of the most attractive ships of her time, Aquitania earned the nickname ‘Ship Beautiful’.
Doherty, Leading Seaman John, 197551
John Doherty, Royal Navy, died onboard H.M.S. Goliath, on May 13, 1915.
Aged 34, he was the son of John and Bridget Doherty, Daisy Hill Cottages, Boom Hall, Culmore Road, Londonderry. His name is recorded on the Plymouth Naval Memorial, Devon, and commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial.
Hutchinson, Private Robert, PLY/10742
Robert Hutchinson, Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMR/IC/93), was drowned on H.M.S. Goliath, on May 13, 1915.
Aged 32, he was a member of Great James Street Presbyterian Church, and son of Dublin-born, Fanny Hutchinson. She resided at 125, Creggan Road, Rosemount, Londonderry, and possibly died on November 28, 1929. Her husband, Robert, was born at County Londonderry 1845/46, and worked as a carpenter.
Private Hutchinson was also the brother of Fanny – who was born at County Tyrone 1879/80, worked as a biscuit packer circa 1901, and married James Douglas; the brother of Lizzie – who was born at County Tyrone 1870/71; the brother-in-law of William Moore – who was born 1870/71, and worked as a baker circa 1901; and the uncle of Lavina Moore – who was born 1898/99.
Private Hutchinson’s name is recorded on the Plymouth Naval Memorial, Devon, and commemorated on the Diamond War Memorial. He had been in a previous engagement off the German South West African Coast on board the Goliath.
Attrill, Private Richard, 8528
Richard Attrill, 2nd Battalion Hampshire Regiment, was born at Sandown, Isle of Wight, enlisted at Newport, Isle of Wight, and died of wounds at Alexandria, Egypt, on May 15, 1915.
He was a resident of 30, Albert Street, Londonderry, and his remains are interred in Alexandria (Chatby) Military and War Memorial Cemetery.
A description of the transportation of wounded soldiers to Alexandria during the Gallipoli campaign can be found in John Laffin’s book Damn The Dardanelles!: ‘Some of the transports had brought animals to the peninsula – now their stalls, still uncleaned, became “wards.” Soldiers told to act as orderlies on these casualty ships were so aghast at the serious hideousness of some of the wounds that they refused to lift the men from their stretchers; this produced a chronic shortage of stretchers on land.
‘Some transports had been fitted to double on the return journey as reasonably well-equipped hospital ships, but when they were only half full – mostly with lightly wounded men – somebody ordered them to steam for Egypt. Others, packed with seriously wounded, were denied permission to leave...
‘One transport took 1,600 wounded, including 300 stretcher cases, to Alexandria, while just four doctors worked heroically to treat them. On another small ship the wounded lay uncovered on the deck all the way to Egypt – a journey of three nights – and in other ships the wounded were accommodated in holds without ventilation.
‘A New Zealander wrote that what he witnessed during the first few days of the campaign was “like nothing so much as a scene from the Inferno.” It was such a scene aboard the animal transport ship Lutzow, which took hundreds of seriously wounded men to Egypt; the only medical officer aboard was a veterinary officer who did valiant work in treating as many soldiers as he could possibly handle.
‘In Alexandria, hospital staff were appalled at what they discovered when they boarded the ships. Many men were filthy and bloody, just as they had left the battlefield days before; their wounds were gangrenous and septic, their bandages unchanged; on ships where there had been insufficient or no medical staff, there were soldiers with broken limbs still unset. Perhaps 300 men were taken off the ships dead, and others died soon after. In Egypt both hospital accommodation and staff were pitifully inadequate...’