Percy Chambers had been an employee at the Co-operative Wholesale Society’s flour mill at Silvertown, North London. He enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1914, and was assigned to the H.M.S. Hogue as a Stoker, First Class. This meant that he was working to shovel coal into one of the boilers that powered the ship’s engines. The Hogue was an armoured cruiser, and was only fourteen years old, but in that time it had come to be considered old fashioned compared to more powerful destroyers, and was only still in active service due to the outbreak of war. Like its sister ships, it had mainly been crewed with reservists and trainees, earning them the prophetic nickname ‘The Live Bait Squadron’.
Regrettably, Chamber’s naval career turned out to be a short one. On 22 September 1914, the Houge had been patrolling in the North Sea along with two of its sisters, H.M.S. Aboukir and H.M.S. Cressy. They were spotted by a single German submarine, which proceeded to torpedo all three vessels. In total, almost 1,450 sailors were killed during the attack, Chambers amongst them. The disaster led to all cruisers of that class being withdrawn from service, and resulted in the Navy appreciating the threat of German U-boats much more.
Co-operative News, 15 May 1915
http://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/news/2014/march/10/140310-3-days-of-events-1914 [Accessed 11 April 2015].
WWI co-operative voices
This post is part of ‘WWI co-operative voices’ which shares the stories of co-operative workers and members during the conflict. In order to mark the centenary of the WWI, the Rochdale Pioneers Museum is staging an exhibition entitled ‘From shop floor to front line’ and the accounts of these soldiers, shop workers and conscientious objectors will run alongside it. They are tales of death, duty and of those who chose not to fight.
Through ‘WWI co-operative voices’ we will be releasing new posts about these individuals throughout the duration of the exhibition (due to open mid-May 2015 and run until May 2016). Read about the co-operative movement’s involvement in a war that shook the world by selecting a name from the column on the left. You can also follow us on social media for regular updates.
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We wish to thank the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting the ‘From shop floor to front line’ exhibition and project.