5th September 1914

The second casualty from places now within Solihull to die as a result of enemy action appears to be Private William Henry Wright of the Royal Marine Light Infantry (RMLI), also called the Red Marines. He was on board the scout cruiser, H.M.S. Pathfinder, sunk on 5th September 1914 by U-boat U-21 in the North Sea off St Abbs Head, Berwickshire, Scotland with the loss of over 250 men. His name appears in the Birmingham Daily Post 8th September 1914 as one of those missing. This was apparently the first ship ever to be sunk by a locomotive torpedo fired from a submarine.

According to the Royal Navy and Royal Marines War Graves roll on the Ancestry website (available free of charge from computers in Solihull Libraries), William Henry Wright was born in Rowington on 30th October 1895. At the time of the 1901 census, he was still living in Rowington with his parents, John and Anne. John was a general agricultural labourer, who was himself also born in Rowington.

William’s service record (ref. ADM/159/129) is amongst those available to download (cost £3.30) from The National Archives (TNA). It’s also available on the Find My Past website (available free of charge from computers at Solihull Libraries). The service record confirms his date and place of birth, and gives his occupation before enlistment as a works labourer.

He enlisted in Birmingham on 28th April 1913 at the age of 17 years 6 months, giving his father, John, as his next-of-kin. John’s address was given as Chadwick End, nr. Knole [sic], Warwickshire. William’s height was given as 5ft 6¼, and he had grey eyes, light brown hair, with identifying features of a mole on his left side, and a scar on the inner side of his left knee. It was noted that he was able to swim, and that this had been tested at Deal on 11th August 1913. The service record also notes that he was under-age until 29th October 1913 (i.e. until his 18th birthday).

He spent the period 28th April 1913 to 11th March 1914 at the Recruit Depot in Deal, before being transferred to the Chatham Division (other divisions were Plymouth, Portsmouth and Woolwich). He embarked on H.M.S. Pathfinder on 31st July 1914, and the next entry shows that he was “D[ischarged] Dead” on 5th September 1914.

His service record shows that his character was very good, and his ability was satisfactory.

His body was not recovered for burial, and so he is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial, Kent. He is also commemorated locally on the Lychgate memorial at Temple Balsall, and on the war memorial plaque in St Peter’s Church, Balsall Common.

A list of casualties from H.M.S. Pathfinder is available at http://www.naval-history.net/xDKCas1914-09Sept.htm
On the 100th anniversary of the sinking a group of divers plan to lay a wreath on the wreck site.
If you have any more information, or a photograph of Private Wright, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6934

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