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  • Photograph published 8 September 1914 in the Nottingham Evening Post. Courtesy of Jim Grundy, facebook pages 'Small Town Great War Hucknall 1914-1918.'
Person Details
05 Aug 1896
Ernest was the son of Joseph and Hannah Rockley who had seven children; Minnie (b. 1893), Ethel (b. 1894), Ernest (b. 1896), Frank (b. 1898), Percy (b. 1900), Mary (b. 1902) and Lewis (b. 1906). With the exception of their youngest child, Lewis who was born in Basford, Nottingham, all the children were born in Leicester. In 1901 Joseph (35, b. Basford), a carpenter, and Hannah (30, b. Broughton, Notts) were living at 7 Asfordby Street, Leicester with their five children; Minnie (7), Ethel (6), Ernest (4), Frank (2) and Percy (6 months). The youngest child, Percy, died later that year when he was less than a year old (death registered J/A/S). By 1911 the family was living in Nottingham at 1 Osbourne Street. Joseph and Hannah had been married for 20 years. Their six surviving children were still living at home; Minnie (17), Ethel (16), Ernest (14), Frank (12), Mary (8) and Lewis (4). The three oldest children were at work: Ernest was an assistant in a grocer's shop while Minnie was a laundress and Ethel a shop assistant. Of Ernest's surviving brothers, Frank probably died in 1978 (death registered Staincliffe, Lancs) aged 80 (b. 7 April 1898) and Lewis in 1994 (death registered Nottingham) aged 87 (b. 27 July 1906).
He went to Carrington Council School. In 1911 he was a grocer's shop assistant. His occupation when he joined the Royal Navy in 1912 was given as 'errand boy'.
05 Sep 1914
3049955 - CWGC Website
J/16809 (Ch)
Ordinary Seaman
HMS Pathfinder Royal Navy
Ernest joined the Royal Navy on 14 April 1912 and on 5 August 1914, his 18th birthday, signed on for a 12 year engagement. He served in the following ships and shore establishments: HMS Ganges, 14 April 1912-10 August 1912 (Boy 2nd Class); Ganges II, 11 August 1912-2 October 1912 (Boy 1st Class 2 October 1912); HMS Berwick, 3 October 1912-9 January 1913; Pembroke I, 10 January 1913-25 January 1913; HMS Berwick, 26 January 1913-14 February 1913; HMS Amethyst, 15 February 1913-30 September 1913; HMS Pathfinder, 1 October 1913-5 September 1914 (Ordinary Seaman 2 April 1914). Service record annotated, ‘Lost in HMS Pathfinder, NP1976/14.’ Rockley's body was not recovered for burial and he is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial. The wreck of HMS Pathfinder is designated under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986. HMS Pathfinder, a light cruiser, was patrolling off St Abb’s Head near the Firth of Forth, when she was torpedoed by the German submarine, U-21 (Lieutenant Otto Hersing). Pathfinder was short of coal and only making 5 knots so made an easy target. Although a look-out spotted the wake of the torpedo and the officer of the watch ordered avoiding action, the torpedo detonated below the ship’s bridge. Cordite charges were probably detonated as there was a second huge explosion and Pathfinder sank with the loss of 250 lives. There were only 18 survivors. This was the first U-boat success against a British warship and Pathfinder was probably the first warship sunk by torpedo fired from a submarine. The explosion was seen by the writer Aldous Huxley who was staying at a house at St Abbs, and described the explosion in a letter to his father: 'I dare say Julian told you that we actually saw the Pathfinder explosion – a great white cloud with its foot in sea. The St Abbs’ lifeboat came in with the most appalling accounts of the scene. There was not a piece of wood, they said, big enough to float a man – and over acres the sea was covered with fragments – human and otherwise. They brought back a sailor’s cap with half a man’s head inside it. The explosion must have been frightful.'
Another Nottingham man, CH/15121 Private John Thomas Law Royal Marine Light Infantry, was also lost in HMS Pathfinder. Nottingham Evening Post, 8 September 1914: ‘Young Nottingham Seaman Missing. ‘ I shall do my duty’. Joseph Rockley, of 1 Osborne-street, Sherwood, Nottingham, was yesterday notified by the Accountant-General of the Navy that his son, Ordinary Seaman Ernest Rockley, J16809, who was on board the ill-fated HMS Pathfinder, is missing. Accompanying the notification was the following message: ‘The King commands me to assure you of the true sympathy of his Majesty and the Queen in your sorrow. Winston S Churchill.’ The news is all the more distressing by reason of the fact that Ernest was only 18 years of age, and the youngest ‘ordinary seaman’ on board. He had made such rapid strides since he went into barracks on the Ganges at the earliest possible age – 15¾– that he had passed out of gunnery with 385 marks out of a possible 400, and was only waiting to become an AB before proceeding to the torpedo boat test. To be aboard a torpedo boat was the summit of his ambition. The distressed parents entertain but the faintest hopes of seeing their son alive, although the message received does not necessarily imply that he is dead. The fact that he has in all probability perished through one of the Germans’ infernal sea mines and not in open fight with the enemy, added to the distress of a tearful mother, who strove hard to be brave, and a father whose emotion, less visible, was betrayed through the lapse into strong language. “I would not have cared if he had died fighting,” declared Mr Rockley, vehemently, “but this is not fair fighting.” Gifts that will not reach him. “Last Tuesday his sister sent him a box of fruit,” put in Mrs Rockley. “On Friday I sent him a parcel of books and some handkerchiefs.” Her voice broke as she added, “And he won’t have received any of them.” Ever since he was a small boy Ernest had been keen on entering the navy, explained Mr Rockley. Born at Leicester, he received most of his education at the Carrington Council School. As an errand boy for a Sherwood grocer he was well-known in the locality. From the Ganges, Ernest went to the training ship Berwick at Harwich, and was subsequently on board the Amethyst, which was damaged last week, before being transferred to the Pathfinder. Though he could not swim a stroke before he joined the navy, the lad came out third in a half-mile swim in the open sea, and his prowess at gunnery was revealed by the recent test. So marked had been his progress that at the age of 17½ - six months before the prescribed age – he was admitted an ordinary seaman. In one letter home after war was declared he wrote, “I am not a bit afraid. I shall do my duty.” Ernest was last in Nottingham in April for a week-end. His holiday, which should have been taken about Bank Holiday, was cancelled.’ (www.britishnewspapersarchive.co.uk) Nottingham Evening Post, Tuesday 8 September 1914: Photograph of Ernest Rockley, caption ‘A Nottingham native. Seaman Ernest Rockley is among the list of missing from the men of the lost Pathfinder.’ (www.britishnewspapersarchive.co.uk) Nottingham Evening Post, Monday 6 September 1915: In Memoriam ‘Rockley. In affectionate remembrance of Ernest Rockley, of 1, Osborne-street, Sherwood, aged 18, who lost his life on HMS Pathfinder, September 5th, 1914. Father, mother, brothers, and sisters.’ (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk) Nottingham Evening Post, ‘In Memoriam’, Thursday 4 September 1919: ‘Rockley In ever loving memory of our dear son Ernest, who perished with HMS Pathfinder, September 5th, 1914. Father, mother, brothers and sisters.’ (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)
Remembered on


  • Photograph published 8 September 1914 in the Nottingham Evening Post. Courtesy of Jim Grundy, facebook pages 'Small Town Great War Hucknall 1914-1918.'
    Ernest Rockley - Photograph published 8 September 1914 in the Nottingham Evening Post. Courtesy of Jim Grundy, facebook pages 'Small Town Great War Hucknall 1914-1918.'