More than 700 sailors killed as battleship explodes at anchor – Nostalgia

AB George Sillence, from Portsmouth, who lost his life when HMS  Bulwark exploded in 1914.
AB George Sillence, from Portsmouth, who lost his life when HMS Bulwark exploded in 1914.
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With the 100th anniversary of the Armistice still in our minds I am reminded yet again of men of the Royal Navy’s Portsmouth Division who lost their lives not in action but through other incidents.

On November 26, 1914, the pre-Dreadnought battleship HMS Bulwark blew up at anchor near Sheerness, Kent.

Descendants of AB George Sillence, from left: Grandson Reginald; great, great grandson Michael; great, great, great grandson George, and great grandson Gregory.

Descendants of AB George Sillence, from left: Grandson Reginald; great, great grandson Michael; great, great, great grandson George, and great grandson Gregory.

A total of  736 men died when the internal explosion occurred caused by overheating cordite.

Many of the dead were recovered and buried in Woodland Cemetery, Gillingham. I attended and reported on the memorial service held along with 700 descendants back in 2014.

One of those who died was Portsmouth man George Sillence, then of 114, Toronto Road, Buckland. He was 31.

His grandson, Reginald Sillence, informed me of a plaque put up by the city council in the street where George lived and I have dedicated this story especially to George.

HMS Bulwark.

HMS Bulwark.

George was born in Southbourne, near Emsworth, and joined the navy as a boy in 1897.

He was married to Rosina and they had two children, George and Judith.

George followed his father into the navy and went on to serve 22 years. He suffered serious wounds at the Battle of Narvik in northern Norway which ran from April to June 1940. Sadly he is no longer with us to complete the ‘set’ in the family photograph below.

Reginald sent me the photo showing the plaque posted in Toronto Road by Portsmouth City Council to remember those we lost during those momentous and tortuous years. It is close to the house in which his grandfather lived.

Portsmouth Road looking north, about 1935. Two trolleybuses pass in London Road, Hilsea. On the right would be Hilsea Barracks. Picture: Barry Cox Collection.

Portsmouth Road looking north, about 1935. Two trolleybuses pass in London Road, Hilsea. On the right would be Hilsea Barracks. Picture: Barry Cox Collection.

Pictured, from the left, are Reginald; great great grandson Michael; great, great great grandson George and great, grandson Gregory.  

• And so, to the final picture where we’re looking north along London Road, Hilsea, with what would have been Hilsea Barracks hidden behind the trees on the right.

Two trolleybuses are passing and you can still see the tram lines running down the centre of the road, the mode of public transport which preceded trolleybuses in the city.

We know the date, about 1935, as there was but a year of tramway service left to run. In other parts of town the double overhead pick-up wires for trolleybuses were also used by trams.

Here the road is so wide the trolleybus wires are too far apart for trams to use, thus the single wires above the tram tracks.

The bus on the right has its pick up arms stretched to their furthest point without become detached as it overtakes the parked car.