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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
He was the husband of Alice (née Burgin) Woodward. In 1911 they lived at 3 Stone Row Chatham Street and later moved to 3 Stafford Avenue Hempshill Lane (both Bulwell Nottingham).
He was a miner upon enlistment.
07 Mar 1917
36
2750247 - CWGC Website
289858
Leading Stoker
Royal Navy
He enlisted 25/8/1898 for 12 years standing 5' 6" tall and re-enlisted in August 1911. Throughout his naval career Woodward's character was described as 'Very Good'. He served aboard a number of ships before joining HMS Spey in September 1914. 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 http://sussexhistoryforum.co.uk/index.php?topic=4924.0 His body was recovered and buried in Nottingham Northern Cemetery Grave Reference: B 10 19.
Nottingham Evening Post notice (abridged), 7 April 1917: 'Leading Stoker W Woodward, 3 Stafford Avenue, Hempshall Lane, Bulwell, drowned in a collision at sea.'
Remembered on

Photos

  • 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