Royal Navy cruiser torpedoed 108 years ago today during First World War remembered by grandson of HMS Hogue survivor

Hundreds of lives were lost on September 22, 1914 when the Royal Navy cruiser was sunk in the North Sea along with two of her sister ships.

Charles William Edwards was a native Londoner but made Portsmouth his home.

Charles William Edwards.

He and his family lived on Hope Street, Landport, then moved to Ernest Road, Buckland, where he died in 1947.

His grandson David was born in Fareham in December 1950 and then brought home by his parents on Nightingale Road, Southsea.

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After studying computer science at Brighton University, David joined American Express Bank.

David Edwards.

This job took him all over the world, but he knew something was missing – the sea.

Now retired, David volunteers with the RNLI and became Chair of the Carlisle fundraising branch of the charity after moving to Cumbria.

David told The News: “Today I was thinking about my grandfather – Charles William Edwards.

“108 years ago today, he survived against all odds when he found himself in the freezing cold waters of the North Sea in the early hours of this morning.

David’s grandmother Beatrice Maud, Charles William’s wife, with the children and a small inscription at the bottom reading: ‘From your loving wife and boys’.

“He was a 22-year-old stoker aboard HMS Hogue, one of Chatham Division’s three cruisers, on patrol off Hook of Holland.

“The cruisers were spotted by the German submarine U9 and torpedoed one by one.

“They sank in just under two hours. The Hogue went down within minutes of being hit.

“I never met Charles William as he died three years before I was born.

“The story of his survival was told to me by my father when I was a child.

“I paid some attention at the time, but it was not until recently, when I perused the collected and published accounts of the survivors in the Live Bait Squadron book, and after visiting the Historical Dockyard in Chatham, that the full extent of what he had gone through became apparent , clearly really hit home.

“From the various reports we have read it is clear that a last minute decision was made that initially only family members were allowed to be lifted out of the water into lifeboats. “Charles William was one of those people who weren’t married at the time.

“In fact, most of the men aboard the cruisers were either young cadets or reservists.

“The men were stripped to the waist and spent hours trying to hold onto flotsam before being rescued by Dutch merchant ships Flora and Titan.

“There were other civilian ships nearby, but they didn’t approach for fear of hitting a minefield.

“It took hours to pray and survive in the freezing water while watching helplessly as some men, unable to swim, were claimed by the sea.

“A total of 62 officers and 1,397 men died in this tragedy while 60 officers and 777 men were rescued. And I’m thankful that Charles William was one of those saved.

‘He only joined the Royal Navy three years ago. He was born in Bermondsey and grew up in London.

“Family lore left us with a story that it was the bankruptcy of the family business following the introduction of electric trams south of the River London that broke the family up and Charles William left for Portsmouth to join.

“After his ordeal, he remained in the Navy, and his Navy record tells us that for most of his life he tested submarines and worked with personnel trained to serve as submariners. Quite a twist of fate – or was it a conscious decision?

“In any case, it instilled a love of the sea in my father, Arthur Frank Edwards, his third son, and in me through my father.

“My father served in the Navy and during World War II he was on Alexia, one of the MAC ships that were crudely and quickly made by welding a flight deck onto cargo ships and tankers.

“Alexia was a fleet escort carrier who served in the North Atlantic convoys between Nova Scotia and Liverpool. But this is another story.

“Charles William fell in love with Portsmouth and after marrying my grandmother Beatrice Maud Stevenson in 1920 they lived there for the rest of their lives.”

Charles William’s naval files show that he was paid a war money.

David added: “Very little other fuss was made about this tragedy.

“The only real publicity it got was its centenary in 2014, when the Chatham Historic Dockyard held a ceremony for the families of the lost and the survivors.

“What I find very moving is the fact that after surviving the sinking of HMS Hogue, Charles William was able to find the strength within himself to live this ordinary life – to get married, to raise a family and still to serve in the Navy.

“There was no counseling for the post-traumatic stress the men endured, but he was brave enough to move on.

“There are a few stories that my father passed down to me from his day-to-day life, of how he stopped a stray horse when it was at full gallop in Old Portsmouth. Very brave.

“And then there was an occasion when his quick thinking saved the life of a little boy when he was in trouble in the sea off Southsea.”

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