- Simon Biggs
HMS NATAL Sunk by Internal Explosion - 63 Royal Marines Lost
HMS Natal was a Warrior class Cruiser of 13,550 tons with a complement of 704 officers and men. She was launched at Barrow-in-Furness on 30th September 1905 and had a distinguished peacetime career. This included accompanying King George V and Queen Mary to India in 1911.
On 30 December 1915, HMS Natal was lying in the Cromarty Firth with her squadron, under the command of Captain Eric Back.
The captain was hosting a Christmas film party aboard and had invited the wives and children of his officers, one civilian friend and his family, and nurses from the nearby hospital ship Drina to attend. A total of seven women, one civilian male, and three children were in attendance that afternoon.
Shortly after 15:25, and without warning, a series of violent explosions heard upto 25 miles away, tore through the rear part of the ship. She capsized five minutes later.
Some thought that she had been torpedoed by a German U-boat or detonated a submarine-laid mine, but examination of the wreckage revealed that the explosions were internal.
Wartime security meant the incident could not be reported. The Ross-shire Journal could only report that a local family the Dods had been wiped out 'as a result of a painful and distressing accident'. Many bodies were never found.
The divers sent to investigate the ship reported that the explosions began in either the rear 9.2-inch shellroom or the 3-pounder and small arms magazine.
The Admiralty court-martial into the causes of her loss concluded that it was caused by an internal ammunition explosion, possibly due to faulty cordite.
It is probable that stored in the magazine room with insufficient ventilation the cordite had begun to sweat and eventually spontaneously combusted.
The Admiralty issued a revised list of the dead and missing that totaled 390 in January 1916, but did not list the women and children on board that day. Losses are listed from 390 to 421.
About 400 of the crew survived because they were on shore leave, some were playing football when the series of powerful explosion tore through the ship.
With her hull still visible at low water, it was Royal Navy practice on entering and leaving Cromarty right up to World War II for every warship to sound "Still", and for officers and men to come to attention as they passed the wreck
After numerous attempts, much of the ship was salvaged. The remainder was blown up in the 1970s to level the wreck so that it would not be a hazard to navigation.
Of those lost 63 were Royal Marines:
BARTON, Colin, Gunner, RMA, RMA 14343:
BARTONS, Thomas H, Gunner, RMA, RMA 11327:
BATES, William, Bombardier, RMA, RMA 12694:
BEART, Robert A, Private, RMLI, 1994 (Ch):
BURCHELL, Wilfred J, Musician, RMB 1563:
BURNS, Thomas, Private, RMLI, 19647 (Ch):
CHEESMAN, Alfred, Private, RMLI, 14464 (Po):
CHILLCOTT, Arthur G, Private, RMLI, 15834 (Ch):
COLLIER, George, Musician, RMB 648:
COOK, Samuel, Private, RMLI, 17090 (Ch):
CROPPER, John, Private, RMLI, 19649 (Ch):
DANCE, Richard, Musician, RMB 956:
DAVENPORT, Frank, Gunner, RMA, RMA 5417:
DAVIDSON, Thomas D, Private, RMLI, 19646 (Ch):
DENTON, Herbert F, Gunner, RMA, RMA 12673:
DRAKE, Edward, Private, RMLI, 16807 (Ch):
DRANE, Bertram H, Stoker 1c, SS 112201 (Ch):
GOLSWORTHY, William H, Musician, RMB 301:
HALE, David, Private, RMLI, 18018 (Ch):
HARLOCK, Bertie, Private, RMLI, 13549 (Ch):
HARPER, Joseph H, Bombardier (RFR B 1305), RMA 7594:
HARRIS, Frederick, Sergeant, RMLI, 7690 (Ch):
HARRISON, James A, Corporal, RMB, RMB 975:
HEWITT, Victor N, Bugler, RMA, RMA 12681:
HIGGS, Albert, Gunner, RMA, RMA 13023:
HODGES, Charles H, Musician, RMB 1178,
DOW: JACKAMAN, Robert, Private, RMLI, 11386 (Ch):
JAMIESON, Samuel E J, Musician, RMB 2215:
KEMP, Samuel, Private, RMLI, 7823 (Ch):
KILLING, Herbert G, Private, RMLI, 18179 (Ch):
LARMAN, Percy S, Private, RMLI, 15072 (Ch):
LEACH, Percival H, Gunner, RMA, RMA 12193:
LEE, Thomas, Gunner, RMA, RMA 9622:
LOCKE, John W, Gunner, RMA, RMA 8848:
MARTINDALE, Jonathan, Musician, RMB 1514:
MORTIMER, Edward A N, Private, RMLI, 19327 (Ch):
NEWMAN, Arthur C, Private, RMLI, 17011 (Ch):
NORRIS, Arthur E, Private, RMLI, 15352 (Ch):
OVERTON, Harold, Musician, RMB 1216:
PARKER, Arthur G, Bandmaster 2c, RMB 814:
PARRY, Harry, Private, RMLI, 12549 (Ch):
PARSONS, William J, Gunner, RMA, RMA 10871:
PAULSON, Wallace, Gunner, RMA, RMA 12713:
PEARCE, Leonard G, Gunner, RMA, RMA 6455:
PEOPLE, Owen C, Gunner, RMA, RMA 14453:
SAMMS, Charles G, Private, RMLI, 18500 (Ch):
SHEPHERD, William H, Private, RMLI, 13184 (Ch):
SHIP, Frederick, Musician, RMB 1781: 229
STEVENS, Herbert W, Musician, RMB 221:
STUART, William, Gunner, RMA, RMA 9529:
SUTHERLAND, William, Gunner, RMA, RMA 13207:
SWAIN, Tom H, Gunner, RMA, RMA 10612:
WALKER, Reginald D, Sergeant, RMA, RMA 8862:
WATKISS, Frederick J, Private, RMLI, 19059 (Ch):
WATSON, Elam, Gunner, RMA, RMA 10109:
WHITE, Cornelius H, Gunner, RMA, RMA 14308:
WHITE, Spencer J, Gunner, RMA, RMA 6253:
WILDING, Joseph T, Musician, RMB 1594:
WILLIAMS, George F, Private, RMLI, 13678 (Ch):
WILSON, Thomas G, Musician, RMB 900:
WRIGHT, Leslie J, Gunner, RMA, RMA 14511.
Casualty list from Soldier an Sailor Too
More about the ship here; HMS Natal Website