Saturday, 28 January 2012

What's in a Name : Part Two

Last time, I mentioned there was a family name which was deserving of its own separate post. That is because it is a story worth telling in its own right; a World War One story with a bittersweet ending. A story of a HMS Cressy-Class naval ship in the North Sea. The year: 1914.


My great-grandfather had served with the Royal Navy from 1899 through to 1907. He later served with the Royal Fleet Reserve from 1907 to 1912, and again from 1912 to 1917. When World War One broke out in August 1914 he was posted to HMS Hogue.

HMS Hogue was a Cressy-class armoured cruiser built by Vickers Ltd., in Barrow-in-Furness, England in 1902. At the beginning of WWI she was assigned to the Grand Fleet's Third Cruiser Squadron. Along with two other cruiser warships - RMS Aboukir and RMS Cressy - HMS Hogue patrolled the Broad Fourteens off the Dutch coast about twenty miles north of the Hook of Holland. They were dubbed the "Live Bait Squadron" because of their vulnerability to German attack.

Although the patrols were supposed to maintain 12-13 knots and zig-zag, the old cruisers were unable to maintain that speed and the zigzagging order was widely ignored as there had not yet been any submarines sighted in the area. Much discussion at the time centred around the inclement weather conditions coupled with the widely-felt opinion that there were insufficient modern light cruisers available for the task.

At around 0625 hours on the 22nd of September 1914 a German U9 (Unterseeboot) fired a single torpedo at HMS Aboukir which struck her on her port side. Captain Drummond ordered her to be abandoned and she sank within half an hour of being hit. The U9 fired two torpedoes at HMS Hogue, who had stopped to pick up rescuers, that hit her midships and rapidly flooded her engine room. RMS Cressy had also stopped the ship to lower boats to rescue the crew of Aboukir. The U9 attacked Hogue from a range of only 300 yards and it only took ten minutes to sink as U9 headed for HMS Cressy. At about 0720 hours however, the U9 fired two torpedoes, one of the which hit Cressy on her starboard side. The damage to Cressy was not fatal but U9 turned around and fired her last torpedo which hit Cressy sinking her within a quarter of an hour. Survivors were picked up by several nearby merchant ships and a Lowestoft trawler.

Source: Collier’s Photographic History of the European war. New York, 1916
Sketch by US Navy artist, Henry Reuterdahl
According to one website I researched, Kapitanleutnant Otto Weddigen of U9 was awarded the Iron Cross 1st and 2nd Class and every member of his crew got the Iron Cross 2nd Class. Back in Kiel, U9 was sent on a lap of honour around the entire German High Seas Fleet. But what of the crew of the three RFR warships he sunk? More than 1400 men were lost in an hour, many of which were reservists or cadets. About 837 men were rescued, including my Great-Grandfather. He was helped to safety by his Commander, Reginald Arthur Norton.

And it's here we come to the family name. In November 1914, less than two months following the U9 disaster, my Great-Uncle was born. He was named Reginald Norton Humphries. I did not know anything about the namesake or why the Norton name held such significance until I made email contact with my second cousin in 2003. He is my Great-Uncle Reginald's grandson, and like his grandfather and father before him, he also carries the Norton name.

My Great-Uncle, Reginald Norton Humphries 1915

There are countless websites which are dedicated to the demise of the "Live Bait Squadron" and also, the Admiralty reports. The report of Commander Reginald A Norton, late of HMS Hogue, can be found at www.firstworldwar.com/source/cressycommander.htm  and www.worldwar1.co.uk/despatches/hogue.html

Part of Commander Norton's report here follows:
"After ordering the men to provide themselves with wood, hammocks, etc., and to get into the boats on the booms and take off their clothes, I went, by Capt, Nicholson's direction, to ascertain the damage done in the engine room...While endeavouring to return to the bridge the water burst open the starboard entry port doors and ship heeled rapidly. I told the men in the port battery to jump overboard, as the launch was close alongside, and soon afterward the ship lurched heavily to starboard. I clung to a ringbolt for some time, but eventually was dropped on to the deck, and a huge wave washed me away...I was picked up by a cutter from the Hogue..."

Norton's report in its entirety makes for very interesting reading, as does all reports made by others such as Commander Bertram Nicholson, late of HMS Cressy, and the fascinating volume Source Records of the Great War.

5 comments:

  1. That's a fascinating account Debra - I loved reading it.

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  2. I love stories like this!

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  3. Thank you Ann & Anne for your lovely comments. Glad you both enjoyed this story, it is one of my favourites. xx

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  4. Hi Debs I found it interesting because i am researching Captain reginald arthur Norton. was your Norton captain of the laurentic in 1917. If so i would love to find a photo of him, as my great uncle went down with the ship.
    How do I get in touch with you?
    are you on face book?
    Irene

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  5. Hello Irene, Capt Reginald A Norton was on the Laurentic in 1917, yes. I tried, in vain, to find any photographs of him. I had no luck whatsover. That is all I know of him, apart from his transcribed reports on the internet. Sorry! xx

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