BEDALES 1897-1899 Lieutenant Royal Navy

Humphrey arrived at “old” Bedales near Haywards Heath aged nine and a half in September 1897, the term after his elder brother Guy.  Early Bedales records give very little information about individual pupils but in 1916 Mr Badley wrote he “will be remembered as one of the liveliest of small boys by those who were with him at the old Bedales from 1897 to 1899”.  Neither boy made the transition to Steep, instead joining Sandroyd School at Cobham in Surrey.

The Matthews family originated from Sheffield; Humphrey’s great great grandfather Samuel had been born there in 1743, the son of another Samuel, a cutler.  In the 1770s Samuel and his wife moved to London.  He died in August 1791, five months after the birth of his youngest son Charles.  The records of the Goldsmiths Company show Charles’ apprenticeship as a cutler.  All his descendants, including Humphrey on 6th April.1910, were admitted to the Freedom of the City of London through the Goldsmiths’ Company.  Charles’ son William became a surgical instrument maker as did two of his sons, but Valentine, Humphrey’s father, qualified as a surgeon, becoming a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1880.  His elder son, Guy, followed his father into the medical profession but Humphrey opted for the more adventurous life of a professional sailor.

Humphrey’s naval records in The National Archives show his arrival at the Naval Training ship Britannia on 15th January 1903. He graduated in May 1904 as the best midshipman of his class (recorded as “zealous and promising” by his C.O.) and was sent to serve on HMS Glory on the China station.  In 1907 he passed his examination in seamanship and was gazetted Sub-Lieutenant on 15th July.  Humphrey then studied on two courses qualifying in Gunnery on 20th December.  This was followed in 1908 by successful tests in Pilotage, Torpedoes and general seamanship.  On 15th July he was promoted to be a full Lieutenant.  In 1909 he was awarded a £10 prize for six first class certificates in assorted tests.  Over this period various commanding officers recorded him as “decidedly promising” (1905), “v. zealous and promising” (1906) “promises to make a v. gd. Gunnery lieut. at sea” (1909) “hardworking, conscientious, cheerful and ready” (1911).

Experience gained in a number of ships in home waters and further afield saw Humphrey active in two ships undertaking gunnery tests, this may explain his presence at home at 22 Suffolk Street on census day 1911.  Eventually, in July 1911, he was sent to HMS Excellent for an advanced course in gunnery after which he became a Junior Instructor at the Royal Naval College at Greenwich.  In 1912 he and three other officers were awarded a Royal Humane Society Testimonial on Vellum for saving lives off Portland.  Humphrey remained at Greenwich until July 1914 when he returned to the China station as Gunnery Lieutenant on HMS Hampshire

This Devonshire class armed cruiser had served in the Channel and the Mediterranean before being sent to China in 1912.  She was stationed at Wei Hai Wei when Humphrey joined the ship and after the declaration of war, patrolled the China seas and off the coast of the Dutch East Indies on the look-out for German commercial shipping. Ordered home in November, the Hampshire escorted some ANZAC troops through the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea to Egypt (to guard the Suez Canal) before joining Admiral Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet. In November 1915 her role was to escort shipping in the perilous waters of the White Sea but Humphrey must have been granted leave in January 1916 because on 20th of that month, at St. Mark’s North Audley Street, he married Gladys Meiggs.  Whilst he was at sea she seems to have been living with his parents in Suffolk Street.

On 31st May 1916 HMS Hampshire was part of the Grand Fleet at the Battle of Jutland but saw no significant part in the action.  Returning to Scapa Flow she was appointed to carry Lord Kitchener and a small party of soldiers and Diplomats to Archangel en route for a conference with Tsar Alexander.  Kitchener was anxious to carry out his mission and despite the dreadful weather it was decided the Hampshire would sail at 16.45pm on 5th June, taking the westward route past the Orkneys as this would provide some shelter from the high winds.  Unfortunately the weather pattern changed and the Hampshire and her escorting destroyers were sailing right into a force 9 gale.  Captain Savill of the Hampshire ordered the destroyers to return to port as they couldn’t keep up with his ship.  Sailing along the Orkneys the Hampshire was visible from the shore about a mile and a half out to sea.  At 19.40 an explosion was heard and the Hampshire heeled to starboard; within fifteen minutes she sank by the bow.

At least four boats had been launched but were smashed against the side of the ship or overwhelmed by the heavy seas. Lord Kitchener was last seen coming on deck escorted by a Naval Officer. Recent research has established that 737 lives were lost with the Hampshire including the 7 passengers of Kitchener’s party.  Only 12 men of the crew survived - their rafts had been more buoyant and not overwhelmed by the waves.  A few days after the sinking Humphrey Matthews’ body was was discovered among the rocks at Thurso.  He ..wore a gold wristlet watch which had stopped at two minutes to eight.  He is buried in the Lyness Cemetery in Orkney.  This was a sad end to what had promised to be a brilliant naval career.  (On the casualty list he is named first among the Lieutenants who lost their lives).  

On 5th June 2016 a stone wall, bearing the names of all those who perished has been unveiled alongside the Kitchener Memorial.  All sorts of rumours circulated at the time suggesting that the ship had been betrayed by spies and targeted but it seems most likely that she struck a mine, possibly laid by the German submarine U-75.

Humphrey’s widow Gladys gave birth to a son, Geoffrey, in January 1917; it seems probable that at the time of his death her husband did not know that he was to be a father.  I am still searching for a photograph of Humphrey.

Information from The Bedales Record, TNA. Ancestry.co.uk