Pools sailor died alongside war boss in explosion

HMS Hampshire
HMS Hampshire

A Hartlepool sailor who died alongside Britain’s Secretary of State for War will feature on a commemorative wall now under construction.

Adolph Coles Charlton was aboard HMS Hampshire when the ship struck a mine on June 5, 1916. The lieutenant was one of 737 to drown, as was Lord Kitchener.

“Only a few of the bodies were ever recovered. No memorial stone could mark the watery grave of most of the sailors,” said local historian Bill Hawkins.

“But now, in Scotland, a group of volunteers are working to mark next year’s centenary of the sinking with a memorial wall. Adolph will be remembered on that.”

Adolph, son of clothing shop worker Alfred Coles Charlton and his wife Catherine, was born in Hartlepool on May 1, 1891. He was one of at least four children.

By the time of the 1911 census Adolph was living in London with his older sister, Bertha, where he was listed as a student mariner apprentice.

A year later he qualified as a First Mate in the merchant navy and, when war broke out in August 1914, he became a sub-lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve.

“Adolph went on to join HMS Hampshire, a Devonshire-class armoured cruiser which had been launched in Newcastle in 1903,” said Bill.

“He was one of six Freemasons who were members of the crew. Kitchener was also a member, as were some of his staff.”

Hampshire was part of the China Station when war was declared and, in late August 1914, she sailed to the Bay of Bengal to track a German light cruiser.

The vessel, Emden, had been attacking British shipping – and Hampshire remained in the area until Emden was finally destroyed on November 9 by HMAS Sydney.

“In January 1915, Hampshire was assigned to the Grand Fleet, where she escorted shipping in the White Sea,” said Bill.

“The ship was at the Battle of Jutland on May 31, 1916, but did not engage. It was the largest naval battle of the war and more than 6,000 British sailors died.”

Immediately after the battle, Hampshire was ordered to carry Lord Kitchener and his staff from Scapa Flow to Archangel, on a diplomatic mission to the Russians.

But bad weather hampered the voyage and at 7.40pm on June 5, 1916, the ship hit a mine between The Brough of Birsay and Marwick Head, off Orkney mainland.

“The explosion holed the cruiser between the bows and bridge, and the lifeboats were smashed against her side as the crew attempted to lower them,” said Bill.

“About 15 minutes later she sank with the loss of 737 lives.

“Only 12 crew managed to reach safety – but Adolph was not one of the lucky ones.”

Adolph, of 7 Northgate in Hartlepool, left £517 to his widowed mother Catherine following his death – the equivalent of around £30,000 today.

“He is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial and, from next year, will also be remembered on a new memorial being built in the Orkneys,” said Bill.