Carpenter’s Crew, George Brain

George Brain

Carpenter’s Crew George Brain, Royal Navy, Ch M/2729, was drowned on 30th October 1914.

George Brain was born on 19 April 1889, the son of George Brain, a pipe maker, and Rhoda Brain, nee Stonehouse. He was the eldest of their six children, all boys, except the youngest, May.

George started his working life as an apprentice at Messrs B Musson and Sons builders and contractors in Glascote. He joined the Navy as a ship’s carpenter on 20th January 1911, signing up for a term of twelve years. At that time he was 5 ft 2¾ ins tall with a 34 in chest. He had dark brown hair, blue eyes, and a fresh complexion. At that time his parents were living in Glascote Heath and his father was working as a carting contractor. The census gives no house name at that time.

George trained at Chatham Naval Barracks and was formally attached to its shore barracks Pembroke II. On 19th April 1911 he was posted to HMS Antrim, a Devonshire-class armoured cruiser which was part of the reserve Third Fleet. When the Liverpool general transport strike began in June 1911, the Home Secretary, Winston Churchill, sent in the troops and sent HMS Antrim from Stranraer to the Mersey, where she remained until the strike was supressed. She anchored at 8.10am on 17th August 1911. It must have been an exciting moment for George, as it was his first action. The Hartlepool Northern Mail was one of the papers which published a syndicated article about the ship’s arrival:

“The first-class cruiser Antrim arrived in the Mersey this morning and anchored between the landing stage and Woodside Ferry. The Bristol and Triton are expected to follow. The ships are intended for the protection of the river ferries, dock property, and shipping generally. Five hundred bluejackets can be landed within hour any emergency. The presence of the naval force has added considerable excitement to the grave position of affairs in the city.”

The Yorkshire evening Post added,

“HMS ANTRIM WELCOMED. Considerable excitement and no little satisfaction were manifested this morning when public learnt that the Antrim, with some eight hundred bluejackets, had arrived in the Mersey. Crowds of persons flocked to the landing-stage, and thousands of business people travelling to the city from New Brighton, Seacombe, and Birkenhead, viewed with pleasure the stately vessel at anchor between the landing stage and Woodside Ferry, congratulating themselves that any rate the ferry service would now placed beyond molestation.”

Two days later the Northern Whig published a powerful description of HMS Antrim.

“… one saw framed in the porthole a stretch of tumbling grey water, the mill chimneys and tall warehouses of Bootle clear cut against the sky, and in the middle distance the four squat funnels and fighting tops of the warship Antrim. Very grim and silent and businesslike she looked in the chill morning light, a wisp of signal flags fluttering up to the foremast alone breaking the monotone leaden grey.”

Photographs of the Antrim and some of her sailors were published on page 11 of the Illustrated London News on 26th August 1911. By the 29th August the Antrim had left the Mersey and continued her service in the reserve Third Fleet.

On 5th March 1912 George was transferred to HMS Shannon. She was a Minotaur-class armoured cruiser, and served with the Home Fleet. On the day before George joined her, she had been paid off at Sheerness from her position as the flagship of the 2nd cruiser squadron, and on the day of George’s posting she had become the flagship of the 3rd Cruiser Squadron. A fabulous photo of the deck of the Shannon was published in the Sphere on 10th February 1912. The Hampshire Telegraph reported on Friday 8th March 1912:

“The Shannon was joined by the nucleus crew of the armoured cruiser Antrim, augmented by a balance crew from the Naval Depot, and was recommissioned on Wednesday by Captain C D Carpendale (late of the Good Hope), to replace the Good Hope as flagship of Rear-Admiral F C D Sturdee, CMG, commanding the Fifth Cruiser Squadron (Atlantic Fleet), who, with his staff, arrived at Sheerness tomorrow from Gibraltar in the armoured cruiser Bacchante.”

George was doing well. He passed as a Joiner on 9th July 1913. At the end of each year, in 1911, 1912, and 1913, his character was marked as ‘Very Good’ and his ability was marked as ‘Satisfactory’.

In January 1914 HMS Shannon again became the flagship of the 2nd cruiser squadron, and was engaged in exercises off the northwest coast of Spain. In February 1914, the Shannon made a port visit to Brest, France, along with the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron and the rest of the 2nd Cruiser Squadron.

On 10th March 1914 George was again attached to Pembroke II, presumably for further training in Chatham.

In 1914 George’s parents were living at ‘Woodlands’, Glascote Heath.

On 18th August 1914, just a few weeks after the war broke out, George was posted to HM Hospital Ship Rohilla. On the night of 30th October 1914 the ship was caught in a powerful gale. Despite the best efforts of the local lifeboatmen, she was was wrecked on the rocks off the Whitby coast.

The wreck of Hospital Ship Rohilla, from the front page of the Daily Mirror, 2nd November 1914

On 14th November 1914, the Tamworth Herald printed a photo of George, with the caption, “George Brain, of Glascote, who was drowned as a result of the wreck of the hospital ship Rohilla, off Whitby. The deceased served his apprenticeship at Messrs Musson and Sons of Glascote, and joined the Navy as ship’s carpenter four years ago. After being at Chatham Naval Barracks for some three months he was appointed to HMS Antrim, and afterwards to HMS Shannon. At the outbreak of the war he was selected as one of the crew of the unfortunate hospital ship Rohilla, which was wrecked on the rocks off the Whitby coast on the 30th October last. A funeral service was held at St George’s Church, Glascote, on Sunday evening, when special hymns were sung, and the Rev R W Morbey delivered an appropriate sermon. At the close the organist (Mr H Emery) played the ‘Dead March’ in ‘Saul’.”

George was 25 years old. After his funeral service at St George’s Church, Glascote, he was buried in Glascote Cemetery, plot 1620. His parents chose the inscription ‘Thy will be done’ for George’s headstone.

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