Stoker 1st class, William Heathcote Gee, from Shirley, was on board the destroyer H.M.S. Falcon on 28th October 1914 when it was hit by a German shell, which killed one officer and eight men, including William Gee. Another officer and 15 men were wounded. The Dover Express, 30th October 1914, reported that the bodies of those killed were taken to the mortuary at the Prince of Wales Pier, Dover. The newspaper noted that the ship had been based in the town for several years and the crew were well known in the town.
William Gee’s service record is available on Find My Past (accessible free of charge from computers at any Solihull library, using your Solihull Library Card). The service record gives his date of birth as 28th November 1890, place of birth as Birmingham, and lists his previous occupation as a farm labourer. He joined the Royal Navy on 28th February 1913 for an initial short service engagement of five years, to be followed by seven years liability with the Royal Fleet Reserve. The prefix of his service number, SS/113658, shows his enlistment for short service.
He served as Stoker 2nd class on H.M.S. Victory II from his initial engagement until 15th August 1916. This was a shore establishment and was a training depot for the Royal Naval Division. It was also known as H.M.S. Crystal Palace. He then transferred to H.M.S. Minerva II 16th-28th Aug 1913, and then H.M.S. Dido II 29th Aug-31st Dec 1913, before moving to H.M.S. Attentive II from 1 Jan 1914. He was promoted to Stoker 1st class on H.M.S. Falcon, which he joined on 28th February 1914, exactly one year after his initial engagement. He served on this ship until he was “discharged dead” on 28 Oct 1914, exactly 18 months into his initial engagement. His service records notes he was “killed in action off Belgian coast”. His physical description was recorded as 5ft 7¼, with dark brown hair, blue eyes, a fresh complexion and a mole on the back of his neck. His conduct was noted as “very good”.
The Royal Navy and Royal Marines War Graves Roll confirms his date and place of birth but lists his mother as Emma Gee, Brook House Farm, Shirley, Nr Southampton, Hants [sic]. This could lead to some confusion for researchers, as his mother actually lived at Brook House Farm, Shirley, Solihull! This is is a good indication of why you should, wherever possible, try to confirm information in other sources. William is recorded at Brook House Farm, Shirley, Solihull on the 1891 census, aged 4 months and was still there 20 years later, with his siblings and his parents, William and Emma Gee. He was described as aged 20, born Shirley, and his occupation was “Farmer’s son, working on farm”.
He is commemorated on Shirley War Memorial in St James’s churchyard, and at the Royal Naval Cemetery, Haslar, Gosport.
If you have any more information about William Heathcote Gee, or his family in Shirley, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel: 0121 704 6934