Ninety-nine years ago tonight the British warship HMS Hampshire sank just off the coast of Orkney, in the north of Scotland, leading to the loss of 737 men, including Britain’s Secretary of State for War, Earl Kitchener.
The ship was taking Kitchener to Russia for secret talks when, at about 7.45pm, she hit a mine in atrocious weather conditions and sank in about 15 minutes.
For many years it was thought more than 600 men were lost, including Kitchener, but now our Kitchener & HMS Hampshire Memorial project has discovered the true figure to be 737.
This week we issued a press release – reproduced below – to mark the anniversary and to announce, and explain, this shocking new death toll figure.
Our project is to “better remember” all the men who were lost by building an HMS Hampshire commemorative wall, engraved with all the men’s names, alongside Orkney’s Kitchener Memorial, which we plan to restore.
There is still an annual memorial service for Earl Kitchener at St Paul’s Cathedral, London, this year on Sunday 7 June. You can find more about this on the Kitchener Scholars website: http://kitchenerscholars.org/copy-of-memorial-service-at-st-pauls-cathedral-1-1
Kitchener & HMS Hampshire Memorial press release: 4 June 2015
Volunteers working on a planned commemorative wall to more than 700 men lost on HMS Hampshire in the First World War believe they have identified all the men on board, 99 years after the sinking.
The warship sank off the coast of Orkney on 5 June 1916 while taking Earl Kitchener, Britain’s Secretary of State for War – famous for the “Your Country Needs You!” recruitment posters – to Russia for secret talks. There were only 12 survivors.
Ten years later the Kitchener Memorial, a 48-feet high stone tower overlooking the site of the sinking, was unveiled on cliffs at Marwick Head, on the Atlantic west coast of Mainland Orkney. It has a plaque which only makes brief reference to the men lost with Kitchener.
But those working for Orkney Heritage Society’s Kitchener & HMS Hampshire Memorial project want to “better remember” all those lost by building an arc-shaped low wall, engraved with their names, alongside the memorial.
It was long believed that 643 men died after HMS Hampshire hit a mine in stormy weather but recent research by Orkney historian Brian Budge discovered the names of more than 730 men who were lost, with many of the additional names being part of Kitchener’s party.
Now project committee member Andrew Hollinrake has researched online and travelled from Orkney to spend hours digging through hundreds of files at The National Archives in Kew, London, to arrive at a final figure of 737 men lost, including Kitchener. Part of his research involved untangling two family names which had been wrongly joined together.
Andrew explains: “Brian Budge had compiled a list of names from various sources including the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. This included 723 members of the ship’s complement, and most of Kitchener’s party. But more than one source referred to other, previously-unnamed civilian staff on the mission to Russia, suggesting that there were as many as 13 accompanying Kitchener.
“One of the party, Kitchener’s personal servant, was named by many sources as Henry Surguy-Shields. I discovered that this was an error, and the name listed had been a misreading of a press bulletin naming Henry Surguy and “—- Shields”, with a dash in place of Shields’ forename being mistaken for a hyphen, and so misread as a double-barrelled name.
“I visited the National Archives and, after sifting through several large volumes of documents relating to the sinking, I found not only a detailed list of the sailors lost, but also a complete list of Kitchener’s party. This included William Shields, a former soldier, valet to Lt Col Fitzgerald, Kitchener’s military secretary.
“Also listed was Frank West, personal servant to Sir H.F. Donaldson, another key member of the mission as a technical advisor to the Ministry of Munitions. I was already on the trail of West, since I’d found a reference to him in a family tree published on Ancestry.co.uk, but it was good to confirm his presence from an official, primary source!
“We’re now fairly sure we have the complete list, bringing the total to 737.”
The proposed commemorative wall’s arc shape was chosen following a public consultation. Planning permission for the wall, a little over a metre high, is being sought from Orkney Islands Council.
The project team also plan to restore the existing Kitchener Memorial to its original condition, retaining its iconic profile.
The restored tower and the commemorative wall are to be officially unveiled at events marking the centenary of the sinking on Sunday 5 June 2016. Relatives of those lost, including Kitchener, are expected to attend.
Anyone who wishes to donate towards the £200,000 cost can do so online at justgiving.com/orkneyheritagesociety/. The project committee is also applying for grants towards the cost and has already secured a £50,000 grant from Orkney Island Council’s Community Development Fund.
Neil Kermode, leading the project for Orkney Heritage Society, says: “As the centenary of the loss approaches, we believe the hundreds of men who died deserve to be better, and appropriately, remembered. The project committee is working hard to get grants towards the cost but we will also rely on public donations. We would be grateful for any help, large and small.”
Anyone without computer access who wishes to donate may send a cheque, payable to Orkney Heritage Society, to Orkney Heritage Society, PO Box 6220, Kirkwall, Orkney, KW15 9AD.