There was a notice inserted in the Liverpool Echo on the second anniversary of his death. The little poem moved me to want to find out a little more about this chap.
What were the circumstances of his death ?
'HMS Hogue', an armoured cruiser, was one of three sister ships on patrol in the Atlantic without any escorting destroyers. They were in a line abreast, about 2,000 yards apart and were not expecting a submarine attack. The submarine U-9 surfaced, spotted the British ships and moved to attack. She fired one torpedo at one of the sister ships which began to sink. The other two ships, thinking the other had hit a mine, moved towards the fated ship throwing overboard anything that would float to aid the survivors in the water. Having stopped and lowered all her boats, HMS Hogue was struck by two torpedoes. The sudden weight loss of the two torpedoes caused U-9 to broach the surface and Hogue 's gunners opened fire without effect before the submarine submerged again. The cruiser capsized about ten minutes after being torpedoed as all of her watertight doors had been open. The third sister ship attempted to ram the submarine but did not hit anything and resumed her rescue efforts until she too was torpedoed and capsized.
The Rev. W. F. P. Ellis, curate at St. Andrew’s, Wolverhampton, who was chaplain on H.M.S. Hogue, told a thrilling story of the sinking of the three ships, and his subsequent rescue.
He said that at half-past six on the Tuesday morning he was awakened by his servant telling him that the Aboukir was sinking. He said, “Then the Hogue was struck by torpedoes twice in rapid succession, and I believe each one blew a hole in the cruiser about the size of a small room. As far as I can gather, one of the torpedoes went almost through my cabin. The ship gave a lurch and everybody knew she was done for. As a matter of fact, she sank in about five minutes. There was no panic. It was simply wonderful how everybody behaved. Everybody was wonderfully calm, and as the ship went down men jumped overboard, and made for pieces of wood or anything else available. I am a very poor swimmer, and there was a heavy swell on. The waves being about 10 feet high, I knew I couldn’t swim in sea like that, and I simply went down with the ship. I felt myself being sucked down quite a long way.
The first thing that I knew when I came up was that a spar hit me on the nose. I caught hold of that spar, and by chance, almost a miracle, one might say, there came along another spar. I got hold of one under each arm, and crossing them in front of me, 1 was able to float for a time. I had been in the water about twenty minutes or more when I came in contact with a small steam pinnace. I floated around it but the sides were about two feet high, and I could not get in by own exertions. At last a man looked over the edge of the pinnace, and seeing me exclaimed, 'My God! it’s a parson.’ I was pulled inside, and was thankful for the rest. As we drifted about we picked up others, and took in as many as we could. We took in so many that the pinnace began to make water. There were too many on board, and it seemed certain that we should go down. However, a steam packet came up and took us on board.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ellis said, the Aboukir and the Hogue had disappeared, but the Cressy was firing away rapidly at the submarines. The sea was thick with men on pieces of wood and anything that would keep afloat. Suddenly those in the packet saw that the Cressy had been torpedoed. There was a dense black cloud, and it was apparent in the end that she was struck three times.
Some of the men with me had swallowed a large quantity of water, and we had to apply artificial respiration to get them round. We sang hymns and also songs such as ‘It’s a long, long way to Tipperary’, anything, in fact, to keep our spirits up. After about four hours we were picked up by a Dutch ship, and were very well treated. Mr. Ellis’s injuries consist of a damaged finger, a cut on the nose, and many bruises. He intends to go back as soon as can get a ship.
No eyes may see me weep
But deep within my aching heart
His memory I shall keep
Even though I'm not related and obviously never knew William, I hope that, by recalling his story, his memory can remain a little longer.