One hundred years ago this week local newspapers were hailing the bravery of one of its residents who perished in the opening weeks of the Great War.
Claude Gould died after the armored cruiser he was serving on, HMS Hogue, was torpedoed by a German U-boat during a naval engagement in the North Sea known as the Action of September 22nd 1914. Two other cruisers were sunk, leading to the deaths of approximately 1,450 sailors. The loss of the three ships remains the biggest maritime disaster in British naval history.
In the October 9th edition of the Essex County Chronicle Mr Gould, of Spratt Hall Road, was described as “a man of exceptionally fine physique, handsome presence, and frank, engaging manners”. The paper points out that he was the eldest son of George ‘Johnstone’ Gould, a “distinguished name in theatrical circles” in the West End and elsewhere.
Claude, who was Chief Yeoman of Signals, had been a member of the Royal Navy for 16 years and since 1912 had been stationed at Chatham, Kent, though he continued to spend most weekends in Wanstead before being mobilised at the beginning of August.
His abilities had been noted during his Naval manoeuvres and he had been recommended for appointment to the battleship Collingwood before he was lent to the Hogue when war broke out.
A survivor of the disaster noted Claude’s final act of bravery. As the ship sunk he was seen destroying his code-book to prevent it falling into the hands of the enemy.
Five days before the incident naval destroyers, which had been assigned to protect the cruisers as they patrolled the North Sea, were forced to depart by heavy weather, a blip in a month that overall was dry and bright. Had the weather been different the destroyers would have remained present and the ships would surely have not been such an easy target for the German submarine, the U-9.
The losses from the Action of September 22nd caused a public outcry, eroding confidence in the British government and damaging the reputation of the Royal Navy at a time when many countries were still considering which side in the war they might support.