My grand father’s elder sister, Bertha Sarah May Swatton, married a career sailor in 1912, a chap called Herbert Rogers, hence my great uncle by marriage. He was born on 28th November 1888 on Jersey in the Channel Islands and had served in the Royal Navy since 1908 when he was 18, when he stood a manly 4ft 11 and a half inches tall!
His service record card still exists, below, and there were two obvious items that stood out that I thought deserved a bit more investigation.
The first was the abbreviation “DD” on the last line of his service which I quickly discovered is the standard code used by the Royal Navy and the Royal Marines for being killed in service, the charming “Discharged Dead”. But I will come to that later.
The second was the note at the bottom of the page, “Rendered meritorious service at wreck of “Delhi” Dec 11”. It turns out this was a well-documented shipwreck because the SS Delhi was carrying royalty, Princesses Alexandra and Maud, granddaughters of King Edward VII. Again, I will return to that later but I will start with going back to the beginning of Herbert’s service and catalogue the ships in which he served.
HMS Hercules – 28 Mar 1904 to 8 July 1904
Launched in 1868, by the time Herbert joined her, the Hercules was an elderly ship serving as a depot ship on the south coast. Here, Herbert would have done his basic training.
HMS Caesar – 9 July 1904 to 6 March 1905
Herbert’s first real posting was to an altogether different kind of ship. HMS Caesar, commissioned in 1898, was a pre-Dreadnought battleship and was flagship of the Channel Fleet.
HMS Frequent – 7 Mar 1905 to 18 March 1905
It would appear Herbert hitched a brief ride on HMS Frequent to get to his next posting which would take him rather further afield.
HMS Powerful – 19 March 1905 to 21 Jan 1907
HMS Powerful, was a large cruiser, commissioned in 1897 and, by August 1905, five months after Herbert joined her, she was flagship of the Australia Station based at Freemantle Western Australia. During his service aboard Powerful, Herbert was promoted Ordinary Seaman.
HMS King Alfred – 22 Jan 1907 to 15 Jan 1908
Herbert’s next posting was to HMS King Alfred, an armoured cruiser commissioned in 1903, which was serving as flagship on the China Station. During his service aboard King Alfred, Herbert was promoted Able Seaman.
HMS Hawke – 16 Jan 1908 to 13 March 1908
It isn’t clear but I suspect the relatively short stay on HMS Hawke was for Herbert’s passage home from China because his next posting was at a shore station in England.
HMS Victory I & Vernon – 14 March 1908 to 19 Feb 1909
This was a training and education establishment which specialised in training naval staff in the management and deployment of mines and torpedoes. The accommodation and classroom facilities were housed in the hulls of three old 19th century warships, each connected to the next via wooden walkways.
HMS Enchantress – 20 Feb 1909 to 24 Feb 1910
Herbert’s next posting seems a little odd, because after spending a year at an establishment specialising in the technical training for mines and torpedoes, he was assigned to the steam yacht HMS Enchantress, the vessel made available for the personal use of the First Lord of the Admiralty.
At the time, the First Lord was Reginald McKenna and it was he who launched the Dreadnought arms race with Germany prior to World War 1.
HMS Albermarle – 25 Feb 1910 to 14 Dec 1910
After a year on what was essentially a glorified pleasure cruiser Herbert joined HMS Albermarle, a pre-Dreadnought battleship attached to the Channel Fleet and based in Portsmouth.
HMS Prince of Wales – 15 Dec 1910 to 2 Nov 1912
When Herbert transferred to the Prince of Wales she had just finished repairs after an explosion in one of her stokeholds in July of that year. Just as Herbert joined the ship, her command was taken over by Rear Admiral John Jellicoe, later commander of the Grand Fleet and First Sea Lord. Shortly after, she set sail for Gibraltar and in the spring of 1911 undertook a major refit there. She was still on the Gibraltar station when she responded to the distress calls of the P&O steam ship Delhi. The Delhi was en route to Bombay (Mumbai) carrying 100 passengers including the Duke and Duchess of Fife and their daughters Princesses Alexandra and Maud, granddaughters of King Edward VII. At about 1am on the morning of 13th Dec 1911 in thick fog and heavy seas the ship ran aground two miles south of Cape Spartel, just west of Tangier near the Strait of Gibraltar.
Three warships responded to the Delhi’s wireless distress calls, the French cruiser Friant, first on the scene, and HMS Duke of Edinburgh and HMS Prince of Wales.
Three crew of the Friant were drowned when their boat capsized as they tried to rescue passengers from the wreck.
When the Duke of Edinburgh arrived, its commanding officer Admiral Cradock took one of its lifeboats alongside the Delhi and attempted to take the royal party to shore but the small boat capsized in the heavy sea and the bedraggled royals were hauled from the sea by some of the sixty or so sailors sent on shore to assist the rescues.
Further attempts to take passengers off by boat were abandoned in favour of a breeches buoy, anchored at one end on the beach and fired by rocket across to the ship.
The accident was big news in the press at the time, I suspect solely because of the royal involvement, and the chance it offered to the press to describe princesses escaping from the sea half naked – even the press in 1911 couldn’t resist a bit of lurid titillation!
I think it’s great though that the press reported that “owing to having left the vessel with few clothes” the princesses were “confined to their beds, awaiting the arrival of luggages”… because they couldn’t possibly have borrowed some clothes! Obviously there is no account of a lowly seaman like Herbert but in order for him to have his “meritorious service” recorded I would guess he was one of the shore party that assisted in the rescues. Maybe he was even one of those who pulled a drowned rat princess or two from the sea.
HMS Vernon – 3 Nov 1912 to 13 Feb 1913
After two years with HMS Prince of Wales, Herbert was posted back to shore station HMS Vernon for more training. It was during his posting to Vernon that he married Bertha Swatton on Boxing Day 1912.
HMS Good Hope – 14 Feb 1913 to 30 June 1913
Two months after his wedding he was posted again, this time to HMS Good Hope, an armoured cruiser identical to the King Alfred on which he had served six years earlier. But his stay aboard was short, before he was transferred to a specialist minelayer ship where presumably he was to use his training at Vernon.
HMS Latona – 1 July 1913 to 8 March 1915
HMS Latona, launched in 1890 as a cruiser, was reclassified as a specialist mine-layer in 1910. In 1913 it was part of the mine-layer squadron attached to Second Fleet.
Aboard Latona, Herbert was promoted to Leading Seaman and then transferred for the last time.
HMS Princess Irene – 9 March 1915 to 27 May 1915
HMS Princess Irene was an ocean liner built in 1914 or the Canadian Pacific Railway and requisitioned by the Royal Navy on completion and converted to an auxiliary minelayer.
In May 1915, Princess Irene was moored on the Medway Estuary in Kent near Sheerness, being loaded with mines in preparation for deployment on a minelaying mission. At 11:14 GMT on 27 May, Princess Irene exploded and disintegrated. A column of smoke hung over the spot where Princess Irene had been, reaching to 1,200 feet (400 m). A total of 352 people were killed, including 273 officers and men, and 76 dockyard workers who were on board Princess Irene.
Wreckage was flung up to 20 miles (32 km) away, with people near Sittingbourne, 10 miles away, being injured by flying débris, and the Isle of Grain the other side of the Thames estuary being showered with body parts.
The official record of the disaster stated it was an accident probably due to faulty mines.
No part of Herbert’s body was ever found but his name is included on the naval memorial in Porstmouth.
In typical blunt fashion, his service record ends simply with “DD”… Discharged Dead.