On December 30, 1915, the cruiser HMS Natal was lying at anchor in the Cromarty Forth. Several wives and children of officers were on board watching a film plus nurses from the hospital ship Drina.
About 3.25pm an explosion ripped the ship apart. She capsized in five minutes. Many thought a German U-boat had torpedoed the ship.
But an investigation revealed it was caused by internal combustion, possibly faulty cordite.
The number listed as dead or missing was between 390 and 421 including seven women and three children, one of the rare occasions a naval ship in service included civilian losses.
Close by was the cruiser HMS Achilles and a member of her company was former Portsmouth man Herbert Tanner. He witnessed the disaster and in later years related to his daughter June Silver what he saw.
He said: ‘We were finishing Christmas celebrations and waiting for the duty cutter to be called to take the officers’ luggage ashore.
‘About 3.15pm there was a loud explosion and our ship shook. Someone shouted that the Natal had blown up and everyone rushed to the lifeboats.
‘They were lowered and rowed to the scene to rescue anyone in the water. The fire was so fierce it melted the steel mast which bent over. Then the ship turned over with the four funnels horizontal in the water. Some of those trying to swim away from the Natal were sucked into the funnel openings.
‘One of the Natal’s boats, with about 60 people in it, was still attached to the ship by a rope which could not be cut. Suddenly A-turret crashed on to the launch sinking it and taking everyone with it.’ Herbert remembered a man floating past and on his back was tattooed the Lord’s Prayer, magnified by the water.
Herbert was born in Florence Road, Southsea, in 1890 and his father was in the navy. Herbert joined in 1905 aged 15.He retired in 1930.
He and his wife lived in Torrington Road, Hilsea, and Shadwell Road, North End. In 1958 they moved to Priorsdean Crescent, Leigh Park. Herbert died at the age of 96.