Shields sailor died alongside Lord Kitchener
Today Meg Hartford concludes the story of Robert Brotherton Black, her grandfather's brother, who was killed, alongside Lord Kitchener, serving in the Royal Navy, just days after the Battle of Jutland.
Meg had previously revealed how Robert, a petty officer stoker, has been aboard HMS Hampshire when she was assigned to the Grand Fleet in 1915.
The following year, she was part of the 2nd Cruiser Squadron, present at the Battle of Jutland, on May 31, 1916, although she did not engage the enemy.
“Immediately after the battle she was ordered to carry Lord Kitchener and his staff from Scapa Flow, in the Orkneys, to Archangel, on a diplomatic mission to the Russians,” reveals Meg.
“On June 6, 1916, the weather in the Orkneys was bad, gale force winds were blowing, so it was decided the Hampshire would sail through the Pentland Firth, to shelter from the worst effects of the wind. As she met with her escort vessels, the destroyers Unity and Victor at 5.45pm, the gale became stronger and the wind changed direction, so that the convoy were heading directly into it.
“The escort ships were unable to keep up with the Hampshire and some two hours later, the Hampshire was between The Brough of Birsay and Marwick Head, off Orkney mainland, when she struck a mine, and an explosion ripped through the ship, causing her to heel to starboard.
“The explosion holed the cruiser between the bows and the bridge, and the lifeboats were smashed against her side by the heavy seas as the crew attempted to lower them. About 15 minutes later, the Hampshire sank by the bows, with the loss of 655 crew and seven passengers, including Petty Officer Robert Brotherton Black and Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War. Only 12 crew managed to reach safety.
Robert’s body was not recovered for burial.
“A small piece in the Sunderland Echo of June 12, 1916, gives details of an official notice and letter that his widow, Ethel, would have received.”
Ethel and Robert had no children, and Ethel did not remarry.
“I remember her 35 years later, living in Priory Grove, Sunderland. She was great friends with my grandmother, and they visited each other regularly. In fact, my grandmother stayed with her for several weeks while our house, in Brookland Road, was repaired after suffering bomb damage in World War II.”
Ethel died in 1978, aged 88.
“As a child, I remember the adults talking about the Battle of Jutland. I took little notice except to look it up in my atlas. Over 50 years later, what they were saying finally made sense to me as I discovered my great uncle’s naval career and sad end.”
Two other local men, says Meg, were lost in the same disaster.
Meanwhile, following an appeal by Alex Close for information relating to his great great grandfather James Morgan, who died on the first day of the Somme, Pamela Siegel and Joyce Plusnet have been in touch to say they have some information which may help with Alex’s research.
If Alex would kindly get in touch with me, I will pass on the contact details.