Friday 19 January 1917 – We Lost 254

by greatwarliveslost

Silvertown Explosion

Silvertown Explosion

At 18:52 in Silvertown in West Ham the sky above Blackwall flashes bright as day when London is rocked by an explosion at the Brunner Mond TNT factory.  The factory has been producing munitions since the first months of the war, attracting many women workers who receive good pay for a job recognized as socially noxious because of the fact that their skin is yellowed by the chemicals used in the plant.  The factory is a small older plant unlike more recent munitions plants and the site is in a heavily populated area.  What has started the fire, which ignites fifty tons of trinitrotoluene (TNT) remains unclear. Seventy-three are killed seventy-two others seriously injured and more than three hundred injured enough to require hospital treatment. The King will later award the Edward Medal of the First Class posthumously to Dr. Andrea Angel and Mr. George Wenborne, who lose their lives in endeavoring to save the lives of others as a result of the explosion.

The submarines E36 (Lieutenant Thomas Bollen Seath McGregor-Robertson killed age 29) and E43 leave Harwick at 07:30 for a patrol of Terschelling.  At 11:26 just before they leave the coast E43 signals E36 to proceed independently.  At 13:30 E36 is to the port beam of E43 but out of sight by 15:00. The sea is running fairly high and at 18:50 E43 having lost her bridge screen eases to 5 knots and turns to fit a new one. This delay enables E36 to overtake her and at 19:50 off the Haaks Light Vessel, E43 suddenly sights a submarine on the port bow steering east and only 50 yards off.  The helm is put hard to starboard and engines full astern but E43 strikes E36 aft from the stern and rides right over her and sees her vanish on the starboard quarter in the dark.  E43 goes astern but finds nothing in the darkness and heavy seas. Among those killed on E36 in addition to her commander:

  • Acting Lieutenant Hugh Twynam (Royal Naval Reserve) is killed at age 29. He is the last of four sons of the late John & Mary Twynam of Droxford who are killed in the Great War.

Today’s losses include:

  • A family that will lose four sons in the Great War
  • Multiple families that will lose two sons in the Great War
  • A man who played football for six different clubs
  • The son of a member of the clergy
  • The grandson of a member of the clergy

Today’s highlighted casualties include:

  • The front line held by the Rifle Brigade at the village of Bouleau suffers heavy shelling from German artillery as well as a number of British shells that drop short of their targets. One of the British shells strikes a dugout killing Corporal Frank Anthony at age 21.  His brother died of wounds in April 1916.
  • Private Thomas Clifford (Royal Scots Fusiliers) is killed in action at age 42. He played football for Glossop, Celtic, Luton Town, Notts Forest, Motherwell and Ayre United.
  • At about 07:00 Lieutenant Ralph Ireland (HMS Southampton), grandson of the Reverend Wiliam McHinch age 28 and three Able Seamen Tom Ralph Knight, Ernest Roland Starkey, and William Henry Meagham, are washed off the forecastle and drown, approximately 100 miles due east of May Island, in a fairly heavy sea. The cover of the navel pipe is carried away, and as it is being repaired, about 150 tons of water gets into the cable lockers. When Ireland hears of this he rushes down to get a mat over the navel pipe. The Captain is on the bridge and eases down. The ship dips her nose and scooped up a huge wave which carried everybody off their feet, and all four men are never seen again.
  • Captain Evelyn Horace Guy Sharples (Royal Flying Corps) is accidentally killed at home at age 19. He is the son of the Reverend H M Sharples and his brother was killed in the loss of HMS Hampshire.