Peasants to Puddles
My Family History - By Nicky Rowberry
William Henry Brooksbank - Stoker 301749
This page is dedicated to the memory of William Henry Brooksbank who died on 26th November 1914 aboard HMS Bulwark.
William Henry Brooksbank died on 26th November 1914 when HMS Bulwark exploded off the Kent coast. He was unfortunately one of the casualties amongst the millions of men who lost their lives in World War 1. It seemed sad for him to have died and all but these bare facts remembered, so I've tried to find out at least a little about his life before his untimely death aged just 30.
William Henry Brooksbank was born on 14th October 1884 at 9 Wilford Terrace, Waterway Street, Nottingham. He was the 3rd of 4 children to Albert Brooksbank and his wife Mary Ann nee Trout. His father Albert was a wood sawyer; he and his wife Mary Ann were a young couple and lived initially with her mother after they married in 1880. Sadly Albert died in 1887 aged only 26, leaving Mary Ann a young widow with 4 children (the youngest being only a baby).
By 1891 Mary Ann was described as a lodger with Joseph Boyer, the man who would become her second husband. With them was only one of her children, her eldest daughter Fanny Louisa Brooksbank. The other children were lodged around the city - Albert with a family called Barnes, Elizabeth to Mary Ann's brother and his wife and William Henry to another Trout brother and his wife.
Mary Ann married Joseph Boyer in the summer of 1892 and they went on to have 5 children together. By 1901, 16 year old William Henry was back living with his mother and stepfather and half-siblings at 8 Elgin Street, Nottingham. He was described as a bricklayer's labourer. William signed up to join the Nottinghamshire Militia (serving in the Derby Regiment) on 17th April 1901. At that point he was only 16 and about 6 months, but he claimed he was 17 years and 2 months, presumably to cover up the fact that he was not old enough or perhaps to get more pay. His attestation papers say that he was 5 foot 3 inches, with a fresh complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair, with a couple of indistinct tattoos on his forearms.
His career in the militia was short-lived and the following year he transferred to the navy. He actually joined the navy on 14th October 1902 - the day he turned 18, although his navy records state his date of birth as 9th Feb 1884 - presumably he had to stick with the story he'd told in the militia about his age. By now he had grown a bit and was described as 5 foot 4 & 1/4 inches, the rest of his description of course being the same. He served on a lot of ships - HMS Duke of Wellington, Exmouth, Hawke, Vivid II, Victory II to name a few. Initially he was a Stoke 2nd class, but got promoted around 1906 to Stoker 1st Class. His conduct may not always have been exemplary and he was sentenced on at least one occasion for striking a superior officer.
By 1911 William was listed as a stoker in the Navy aboard HMS Jupiter. The place is listed as Portland in Dorset, but I don't know whether that means the ship was actually docked in Portland on the day of the census or whether this was just the place the ship was registered to. His mother and family were still back home in Nottingham.
His final ship was HMS Bulwark which he joined in August of 1914, just after the start of WW1. The Bulwark was assigned the duty of defending the English Channel and in November 1914 she was moored off the coast of Sheerness in Kent. On 26th November the Bulwark was blown apart by a powerful explosion, believed to have been caused by ammunition being stored too close to the boilers, causing the detonators to ignite and explode. William was one of 741 lost that day and his body was never recovered. Only 12 men survived.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website confirms that he was a Stoker 1st Class in the Royal Navy on HMS Bulwark. I can't reproduce the CWGC photo of the cemetery, but to see his page please click here. The image below shows HMS Bulwark sometime before 1914.
William's death was reported in the local newspaper, the Nottingham Evening Post on 8 December 1914. Image © Reach PLC. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive (www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)
William's family never forgot him and posted tributes in the Nottingham Evening Post every year until at least 1919. The family suffered greatly in WW1 losing one of William's half-brothers and a nephew.
William's body was never recovered, but he is commemorated on the memorial at Portsmouth. The men from HMS Bulwark are also remembered at a memorial in the Dockyard Church in Sheerness, Kent and the Naval War Memorial in Southsea. He is also commemorated back home on the War Memorial in Nottingham St George (although he is listed as H. Brooksbank).
It would be lovely to find a better photo of William, so if anyone has one, please do get in touch. He had quite a few siblings, so hopefully there are some descendants out there who can help. E-mail: email@example.com
In researching William's final days, several sites have been invaluable, so I've included links to some of them here.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
The National Archives at Kew:
The British Newspaper Archive:
The Nottingham County Council Roll of Honour:
If any of the above is of further interest, please feel free to contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
© Nicky Rowberry 2022
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Peasants to Puddles - My Family History. By Nicky Rowberry