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  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone marking the grave of William Thomas Woodward at Nottingham Northern Cemetery 
Photo courtesy of Peter Gillings
Person Details
22 Jun 1880
Bulwell Nottingham
William married his wife Alice née Burgin (birth registered 1883 J/F/M Nottingham) in 1908 (O/N/D Nottingham). In 1911 they were living at 3 Stone Row, Chatham Street, Bulwell; William was working as a miner loader (underground). There were no children of the marriage. They later lived at 3 Stafford Avenue, Hempshill Lane, Bulwell, which was Alice's address at the time of William's death in 1917.
He was a miner when he joined the Royal Navy in August 1898. He was discharged from the RN in 1910 and in 1911 was a miner (loader) underground.
07 Mar 1917
2750247 - CWGC Website
Leading Stoker
Royal Navy
William joined the Royal Navy at the age of 18 on 25 August 1898 on a 12 year continuous service engagement. He served in the following ships and shore establishments: Pembroke II, 25 August 1898-7 June 1899 (Stoker 2nd Class); HMS Endymion, 8 June 1899-25 October 1899 (Stoker, 25 October 1899-September 1902); Pembroke, September 1902-18 December 1902; HMS Northampton, 19 December 1902-14 November 1902; HMS Hawke, 15 November 1902-14 May 1906; Pembroke II, 15 May 1906-4 November 1906; HMS Magnificent, 5 November 1906-31 March 1908 (Leading Stoker, 12 June 1907); HMS (-), 1 April 1908-11 September 1908; Pembroke, 12 September 1908-19 October 1908; HMS Inflexible, 20 October 1908-23 August 1910. He was discharged shore, continuous service expired on 24 August 1910 and transferred to the Royal Fleet Reserve (RFR Chatham B8722). He was mobilised on the outbreak of war and served in HMS Hogue, 9 August 1914-22 September 1914 (ship sunk by enemy action), and then Pembroke (Spey) from 23 September 1914-7 March 1917. His service record was annotated ‘NP 1955/17. DD [Discharged Dead] 7th March 1917 when HMS Spey was sunk in collision.’ His body was recovered and he was buried in Nottingham Northern Cemetery (grave ref. B.10. 19). HMS Spey was an old River Gunboat of 363 tons built in 1876 for service in China to protect British interests. By the turn of the century those Gunboats that hadn’t been scrapped had been converted for other uses at home ports. Since 1900 the Spey had formed part of home defence forces based at Sheerness and in 1905 was converted to a diving tender. She was operating in this role in the Thames estuary between Southend and Sheerness on 7th March 1917. On that Wednesday afternoon, Lt Ernest Humphreys RNR was in command of the diving operations when the winds increased to gale force and the Spey lost an anchor. Humphreys decided to return to Sheerness. While still in the main Thames Channel a larger ship was seen to be coming down river, dead ahead, but not necessarily on a collision course. She was the SS Belvedere – a mud-hopper owned and operated by the London County Council. She carried 1,000 tons of sludge on regular journeys down river on the ebb tide to dump the waste at sea; she then returned to London docks on the flood tide. At about 3.40pm the Belvedere was seen to alter course towards the Spey and the Diving Tender, doing her maximum of 6 knots, responded with two blasts on the siren and turning to port. It was too late to avoid a collision. Although the Belvedere had her engines astern by then she struck the Spey a glancing blow on the starboard side. The forty year-old Gunboat did not recoil well from the jolt. Numerous riveted seams sprung open and the sea rushed in, sinking the ship in about three minutes. Most of the thirty-seven men on Spey knew of the impending collision just before it happened but events moved so quickly, and few could have expected their ship to sink so quickly. Thirteen men got away quickly on the Carley raft and thirteen more managed to safely launch the cutter. The only other boat, a skiff, was the last to leave with only four men aboard. That left seven men to await rescue or take to the water, the two officers, two Royal Marine divers and three seamen. These men probably expected to be rescued by the Belvedere which had lowered one of its own sea-boats and was hove-to about half a mile away. The Second Officer of the Belvedere had been on watch during the accident and his first actions were for the safety of his ship and crew of twenty-three men. He ordered the discharge of the ship’s load and 1,000 tons of sludge and mud were dropped through the ship’s bottom into the sea. That operation took six valuable minutes during which time the wind had blown Belvedere well away from the Spey. The Belvedere’s sea-boat was lowered and rowed towards the now sunken Spey but the crew were soon exhausted in the gale. They did meet the skiff and take one man from that before returning to Belvedere, unable to find any more survivors. Other Naval vessels were in the vicinity and a search and rescue operation was soon under way. The City of Belfast, an Armed Boarding Ship, actually saw the Spey sink and radioed the news to Sheerness Signal Station. The emergency tug immediately left for Sheerness and, from Southend pier, came a destroyer. None of these ships had any success, however, although they searched long into the evening using searchlights. Spey’s skiff was eventually blown on to mud flats off the Isle of Grain at about 5.30pm. The three exhausted survivors waded ashore and were thankfully found by men of the nearby RN Air Station. The Carley raft also drifted on to the Grain mud flats later the same evening but all thirteen men had died. The raft must have been swamped soon after leaving the Spey but continued to float, although half submerged. The men had all succumbed to the wet and cold. The cutter, however, was a good sea-worthy boat and the thirteen men who got away from Spey in that all survived. They had to constantly bale-out as waves broke over them but, by five o’clock, they had reached the safety of Sheerness Dockyard. The other seven men’s bodies were found at intervals much later. A Coroner’s Inquest into the deaths of the sailors was held at the Royal Naval Hospital, Gillingham on 10th, 12th and 17th March 1917 and found that death was due to drowning following a collision at sea. What the Admiralty made of it in their enquiries is not known. Dover Express - Friday 30 March 1917 NAVAL MEN DROWNED. The Chatham Coroner on Monday concluded his inquiry respecting thirteen naval men who lost their lives through exposure and submersion on a raft on which they took refuge when their ship, an old naval vessel, was sunk in a collision. Witnesses said the raft was not sighted until four hours after the disaster, and then it was impossible to render help. The jury returned a verdict of accidentally drowned, and tendered sympathy to the bereaved relatives. They added a rider expressing their opinion that such rafts should in future be provided with flags that can be seen in the daytime, and with lights that will burn more than an hour in the night. War time restrictions prevented the Dover Express from identifying HMS Spey. The case was researched by the Chatham Dockyard Historical Society in 1993. Courtesy of sussexhistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=4924.0
Nottingham Daily Express, 28 September 1914: 'Born in Bulwell on 22nd June 1880, the former miner joined the Royal Navy on 25th August 1898, signing on for twelve years. Transferring to the Royal Fleet Reserve on 24th August 1910, he was mobilised on 2nd August 1914. He survived the sinking of H.M.S. Hogue on 22nd September 1914. And took part in a recruiting rally held at Bulwell Market Place shortly afterwards, on 26th September 1914.' Nottingham Evening Post, 'Roll of Honour', 7 March 1918: “WOODWARD. – In loving memory of my dear son-in-law William Thomas Woodward, leading stoker, drowned at sea March 7th, 1917. Not forgotten. – Mother.” Nottingham Evening Post, 'Roll of Honour', 14 March 1917: “WOODWARD. – Drowned in a collision at sea, on March 7th, William Thomas Woodward, leading stoker, 3, Stafford-avenue, Hempshill-lane, Bulwell. Funeral Thursday, [15th March 1917] Bulwell, at 3. – From his sorrowing wife and mother.” Nottingham Evening Post notice (abridged), 7 April 1917: 'Leading Stoker W Woodward, 3 Stafford Avenue, Hempshall Lane, Bulwell, drowned in a collision at sea.' His photograph was published in the Nottingham Evening Post on 9th April 1917. Above items courtesy of Jim Grundy's facebook pages.
Remembered on


  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone marking the grave of William Thomas Woodward at Nottingham Northern Cemetery 
Photo courtesy of Peter Gillings
    William Thomas Woodward - Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone marking the grave of William Thomas Woodward at Nottingham Northern Cemetery Photo courtesy of Peter Gillings