HMS Hawke

Thomas Henry Sefton was born on 29th April 1888 at 3 Gable Street Belfast. His mother was Eliza Jane Sefton, nee Hiland. His father was William Sefton , a soldier, living in military barracks in Belfast. He was my great uncle.

He was almost five foot five with black hair and hazel eyes and a fresh complexion. At some point he acquired, as sailors do, tattoos on both forearms.

On 31st July 1906, aged 18 ,  he joined the Royal Navy, at that point the most powerful navy in the world.

Young men from poor backgrounds were attracted to a life where they might see the world and earn a decent living.

Thomas was discharged in July 1911, to the Royal Fleet Reserve, presumably because the great  powers did not foresee a war.

He re-enlisted on 5th August 1914, the day that war was declared by Britain. One can only surmise at his state of mind. Here was an experienced sailor , willing to do his duty.

He joined HMS Hawke, a cruiser. He was a stoker, living his life in the boiler room, far below the waterline.

On 14th October 1914, at about 11.00am  she was torpedoed by U-9 , captained by Otto Widdigen, who was already a hero in Germany. The Royal Navy had failed to plan for the U Boat threat, and had already lost three ships to U-9, weeks earlier.

The Hawke was a training  ship and the cadets had chosen to stay aboard. Many young boys were among the casualties.

Over thirty men from Ulster were lost , from a crew of 594. There were 74 survivors. Their memorial is to be found in Chatham Naval Dockyard.

Today, my daughter, Victoria, and I attended a ceremony on the Donegal Road. The residents there had constructed a beautiful memorial to the men of the Hawke.

There was no artifice in this meeting. Ordinary men and women met together to remember the dead. No band played, no lords spoke. Just the words of ordinary Ulster people bade them rest.

Of all the ceremonies I have attended, this was the best.

Requiescat in pace, Thomas.

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