The 100th anniversary of a massive explosion which ripped through HMS Bulwark – killing all but a handful of the 750 sailors on board – has been marked in Portsmouth on Wednesday November 26.
The 15,000-tonne battleship was anchored in the Medway Estuary off the north Kent coast when she was torn apart by an internal blast shortly after dawn on November 26 1914.
Navy investigators quickly discounted theories of a U-boat attack or a Zeppelin raid and focused on ammunition which had been stored in cross-passages. More than likely cordite charges left next to a boiler bulkhead ignited.
The blast was cataclysmic – bits of Bulwark were hurled up to six miles and the pier at Southend shook. A chest of drawers landed half a mile away in the mid and personal effects rained down on the town of Sheerness.
The dead were buried with full military honours. Most were laid to rest in Gillingham, some in Rochester and the occasional one in Portsmouth – Bulwark’s home base. Bodies were still being washed up on Kent shores two months after the disaster.
The wreck remains on the bed of the Medway – just segments of the port and starboard bow. The rest simply vapourised.
One hundred years to the day a short but poignant Act of Remembrance was held at HMS Excellent.
Focal point for the ceremony was a brass plaque in the wardroom which commemorates the loss of the 15-strong HMS Excellent Royal Marines Band in the tragedy.
The Last Post was sounded by two Royal Marines buglers and Naval Chaplain, the Reverand Bernard Clarke, conducted the service.
Wreaths were laid under the plaque by senior Royal Marines commander, Brigadier Richard Spencer, and Commander Martin Evans, Commanding Officer of HMS Excellent.
Rev Clarke said: “The ceremony was all about marking this terrible tragedy and reflecting on the wider sacrifices made by not only the Royal Marines Band Service but the wider Naval family and the whole of humanity during the First World War.”
Press Release; Image: Royal Navy