Southwick’s Great War heroes remembered

Able Seaman John Skinner from Southwick died when HMS Queen Mary blew up
Able Seaman John Skinner from Southwick died when HMS Queen Mary blew up
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Southwick Society is continuing to honour the town’s Great War heroes in an evolving exhibition at Manor Cottage Heritage Centre.

The Southwick Great War project has been running since 2014 with an exhibition that changes to match the centenary of each year during the First World War.

HMS Hampshire hit a mine while carrying Lord Kitchener to talks in Russia

HMS Hampshire hit a mine while carrying Lord Kitchener to talks in Russia

During the 2016 season at Manor Cottage, in Southwick Street, Southwick, there will be displays about the servicemen who died in 1916, telling the story of each man’s service in the war and something about his previous life and family.

New information will be added month by month as the centenary of particular events is reached.

Nigel Divers, society secretary, has researched and curated the exhibition.

He said: “This is our way of honouring each serviceman who died, so far as we know no Southwick servicewoman was killed, and remembering them as individual people rather than simply a name on the war memorial.

Pilot Lt Gilbert Grune died in 1916

Pilot Lt Gilbert Grune died in 1916

“We have been doing this since August 2014 and the project will continue to mirror the events of the Great War and Southwick’s part in it.

“Ten Southwick men had died between January and the end of May 1916, including not only seven soldiers but also a pilot shot down by German air ace Max Immelmann and two sailors who died when their ships exploded at the Battle of Jutland.

“They were quickly followed by two more sailors, Edward and William Pettett, who died on June 5 when their ship HMS Hampshire hit a mine while carrying the Secretary of State for War Lord Kitchener to talks in Russia.”

The deaths of Edward and William Pettett aboard the Hampshire are particularly poignant. They were brothers in their early 20s, born only a year apart.

They were part of a big family in Southwick and their father was an engineer on a steamship owned by Southwick shipping company Robert Horne Penney and Son.

They signed on in the Royal Naval Reserve on the same day in 1915, went through training together and were both assigned to the cruiser HMS Hampshire as stokers.

They survived the carnage of the Battle of Jutland on May 31. Having returned safely to base, their ship was sent on a special mission only a few days later to take Lord Kitchener to Russia.

The weather was appalling and as stokers, the Pettett brothers would have working in the below decks with little hope of escape if the worst happened. Hampshire struck a mine off the coast of Orkney, broke and sank within minutes with a huge loss of life.

This tragedy for Southwick followed rapidly on that of the Battle of Jutland when both Leading Stoker James Groves of HMS Indefatigable and Able Seaman John Skinner of HMS Queen Mary died when their ships blew up. They were regular Royal Navy seamen who had joined up before the war.

The Rev Miller, the rector of St Michael’s Church in Southwick, held a special service, attended by more than 100 people, in memory of Southwick’s Royal Navy casualties Edward and William Pettett, James Groves, John Skinner and Victor Hine.

The last named man, Victor Hine, is a mystery that the society would like to solve. Although two men named Hine were killed at Jutland, neither had any connection with Southwick and neither had the name Victor, and there is no record of anybody of that name being lost in the war.

Mr Divers said: “We simply have no idea how or why he came to be named at this special service and we would like to find out.”

The Southwick pilot who was killed was Lt Gilbert Grune of The Hall on Southwick Green. His father Edward was a local GP and a pioneer of cine-photography who worked with pioneer local film maker George Albert Smith.

Although of German ancestry, Gilbert joined the Royal Field Artillery, later transferring to the Royal Flying Corps and learning to fly.

He qualified in July 1915 and was shot down over France just eight months later in March 1915, while serving with 8 Squadron.

His father Edward had joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and his brother was serving as an infantry officer. Gilbert had been engaged to marry Muriel Odhams of The Homestead, in Southwick Street, now part of Southwick Community Centre. Her brother Valentine had been killed while serving with the Durham Light Infantry in 1915. After the war, she married John Reith, later Lord Reith of the BBC.

It is believed that about 600 Southwick men served in the war and well over 100 did not return. Southwick’s Great War aims to remember them all and recall something of life in Southwick during the war.

Mr Divers added: “We would always be glad to hear from anybody with any information about Southwick and its people in the Great War.”

The exhibition will be open on Saturdays until September 17 and includes information about the men who died in 1914 and 1915. The cottage opens at 10.30am. Visit southwicksociety.btck.co.uk for information about closing times on particular days.

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