Today’s sailors joined relatives of some of the 547 men lost 100 years ago to remember a Naval tragedy in Lyme Bay.
Exactly a century to the minute that some of the victims of HMS Formidable were laid to rest in Lyme Regis, 130 people gathered for a service of commemoration.
In 1915, the Dorset town became the focal point both of rescue efforts – and a nation’s grief after the battleship was torpedoed in Lyme Bay.
Most of the battleship’s crew went down with the ship, but some of her survivors – plus some of the dead – were brought ashore in Lyme Regis, whose inhabitants provided all the care they could.
Six victims of the tragedy were buried with full military honours in the grounds of St Michael’s Church – the focal point of the centenary service of commemoration, organised by the Royal British Legion.
Naval Regional Commander Cdre Jamie Miller was joined by six sailors from Plymouth reservist unit HMS Vivid, Lyme Regis’ mayor Cllr Sally Holman, Royal British Legion standard bearers from across Dorset as well as Liverpool, 12 standards from various Royal Naval Association branches, and members of the Western Front Association as the Rev Jane Skinner led the act of worship before wreath layings.
Also present were relatives of some of the Formidable men lost – Stokers William Eley and Alfred Draper, Engine Room Artificer Louis Wyers, Bosun William Gosney and Lieutenant Trevor Tatham – plus the great grand-daughter of one of the survivors, Leading Seaman Aaron Norris.
“Since being interred in 1915, these men have never been forgotten and are honoured at a grave-side ceremony every Remembrance time as much sons of Lyme as those who were killed that came from the town itself,” said former LET(WE) Vernon Rattenbury who lives in Lyme Regis and has researched the town’s Great War dead.
Formidable was an aged battleship on patrol in the Channel when she was torpedoed twice by German submarine U-24 barely two hours into 1915.
She went down in a little over two hours, about 35 miles from Lyme Regis.
Some of her crew were rescued by the light cruisers HMS Diamond and Topaze as well as by the trawler Provident from Brixham.
More than 70 men took to the battleship’s sailing pinnace, which drifted away in the darkness.
The boat was soon swamped with water which made it difficult to row for those who could, as they had to bail sea water continuously with their boots. It was 11pm on New Year’s Day before the boat reached Lyme Regis.
Of the 71 men originally in the boat, 48 were brought ashore alive, six were dead, and three men subsequently died. The rest had succumbed to their ordeal in the Channel and had been buried at sea by their shipmates.
Of the nine dead, three were repatriated to their home towns, the remainder were interred at St Michael’s Church on January 6 1915 following a service led by the Bishop of Salisbury.