H.M.S. Vivacious

This photograph shows Royal Navy crew members from H.M.S. Vivacious and members of the National Association of Local Government Officers (NALGO) who played a football match during the crew’s visit to Solihull in spring 1944. We think the sailors are on the right in the solid-coloured shirts and the NALGO union members are on the left in the light-sleeved tops, but do let us know if you have any further information. The man in the top hat is Councillor James Harold Malley (1891-1955), Chairman of Solihull Urban District Council 1943-45.

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31st May 1916

During the first day of the Battle of Jutland, 31st May 1916, three local men lost their lives in this great clash of 250 warships when the German Navy tried to break a naval blockade in the North Sea. The two days of the battle saw the loss of 25 ships and 8,500 men, three-quarters of whom were British. Despite the huge losses, the blockade held.

Lieutenant-Commander Leonard Hubert Lindner and Ordinary Telegraphist Elias William Wright were killed when their ship, H.M.S. Indefatigable, was sunk after being hit by shells from the German battlecruiser, Von Der Tann, which ripped a hole in Indefatigable’s hull, causing the ship’s magazine to explode and blow the ship in half. Only two of the 1,019 crew survived. According to one of the survivors, the ship’s Captain, C. F. Sowerby, survived the sinking but died of his wounds before he could be rescued.

On the same day Able Seaman Francis Smitten was killed in the same battle, when his ship, H.M.S. Black Prince, was sunk with all 37 officers and 820 men lost.

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1st May 1916

Private Horace Yorke, a former resident of Marston Green Cottage Homes, died on 1st May 1916, serving with the 13th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. He was born in London and was living at the Cottage Homes in 1911, when he was aged 16. We haven’t been able to discover how he came to move from London, or why he ended up in the Cottage Homes (these were built to house children who would otherwise have gone into the workhouse).

It looks as if he originally joined the Royal Navy in December 1914 for the “period of hostilities”. However, he was discharged to sick quarters in April 1915 suffering from “Diptheria Neura[s]thenia” and invalided out of the Navy.

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30th March 1915

On 30th March 1915, 19-year-old Rifleman Leslie Wilson from Catherine-de-Barnes, died of wounds in France whilst serving with the 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade, which had been in France since 6th November 1914, although Leslie joined them on 26th January 1915, according to his medal index card.

On the same day as Private Wilson died in France, Stoker 1st Class, David Bradbury, returning from leave, was fatally injured falling from a train as it passed through Castle Bromwich.

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1st January 1915

The first of the 95 casualties from the Solihull area to die in 1915 was Royal Naval Chaplain, Rev. George Brooke Robinson, who died on New Year’s Day 1915 whilst serving on H.M.S. Formidable. This was the first British battleship to be sunk in the First World War. Rev. Robinson was the most senior Royal Navy chaplain to die in the war, and the fourth of 19 navy chaplains to be die on active service 1914-1919.

Born in Bombay, India on 6th April 1870, George Brooke Robinson appears on the 1881 census, aged 10, at boarding school in Brighton. By 1891, he was living in Cambridge with his widowed mother, Agnes. He studied at Pembroke College, Cambridge, obtaining a B.A. in 1894, and an M.A. in 1898. He was ordained as a Deacon in December 1895 at Worcester Cathedral, and served as curate at Solihull 1895-97. Traditionally, the curate at St Alphege took charge of the Mission Church at Catherine-de-Barnes, which is why his name appears on the village war memorial there. Unusually, the war memorial at Catherine-de-Barnes takes the form of a brass plaque on an oak font.

Image of Catherine-de-Barnes memorial font
George Brooke Robinson’s name on the Catherine-de-Barnes war memorial

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26th November 1914

Ordinary Seaman Gilbert Harold Halstead was one of the 745 men and 51 officers who lost their lives when the battleship HMS Bulwark exploded at 7:50am on 26th November 1914 while anchored near Sheerness. Although sabotage or enemy action was initially suspected, a naval court of enquiry found that the explosion was caused either by a fault in one of the shells stored in a corridor or by the overheating of cordite that had been placed adjacent to a boiler room bulkhead. A list of the casualties was published in the Birmingham Daily Mail on 3rd December 1914.

Gilbert Halstead was born in Solihull on 10th February 1896, the only son amongst the five children of Harold William Halstead and his wife Evangeline (née Thompson).  At the time of the 1911 census, the family was living at 14 Richmond Road, Olton, and 15-year-old Gilbert was working as a gun fittings hardener at a small arms factory, whilst his father was listed as Managing Director of a motor company. Ten years earlier, in 1901, when Gilbert was five, the family was living at Warwick Road, Olton and Gilbert’s father was listed as a carriage maker. Previous censuses show Harold as a wheelwright and apprentice carpenter.

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28th October 1914

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.

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