Volunteers working on a planned commemorative wall to more than 700 men lost in HMS Hampshire in the First World War believe they have identified all the men on board, 99 years after the sinking.
The warship, with at least 100 Portsmouth men in her, sank off the coast of Orkney on June 5, 1916, while taking Lord 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 48ft-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 bears 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 the Devonshire-class cruiser Hampshire hit a mine in stormy weather, but new 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 at Kew, 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 says: ‘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 company and most of Kitchener’s party.
‘But more than one source referred to other, previously-unnamed civilian staff on the mission to Russia, suggesting 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 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’s 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 HF 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 after public consultation. Planning permission for the wall, a little over a metre high, is being sought from Orkney Islands Council.
The project team also plans to restore the existing Kitchener Memorial to its original condition.
The tower and the wall will be unveiled at events marking the centenary of the sinking on Sunday, June 5, next year.
Anyone wishing to donate towards the £200,000 cost can do so online at justgiving.com/orkneyheritagesociety.
The project committee is also applying for grants and has secured £50,000 from Orkney Island Council’s Community Development Fund.
Neil Kermode, who is 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.’