Project exhibition tells of sailor’s survival of HMS Hampshire sinking but then death 14 months later

An artist's impression of the sinking of HMS Hampshire in June 1916.
An artist's impression of the sinking of HMS Hampshire in June 1916.

THE second exhibition by the Tynemouth World War One Project of materials connected to a local man lost in the wider tragedy of the conflict concerns the remarkable events in the short life of Richard Simpson, of Edith Street in Tynemouth.

Despite surviving the sinking of HMS Hampshire in June 1916 – the ship carrying Lord Kitchener to Russia – he was killed on the ss Thames just 14 months later in the U-boat campaign of 1917.

It was a campaign that at one stage threatened the country’s very ability to continue with the war.

Simpson was just 18 when, serving on the Hampshire, he was to endure and come through the terrible ordeal of the sinking of the ship.

One of only 12 survivors, he scrambled ashore on the jagged rocky coastline of the Orkneys and was sheltered in a local farmhouse from where he wrote home in the most matter of fact terms to tell his mother of how he had survived one of the signal events of the war.

Richard’s own words – still available to the project in the transcript of that letter – tell of courage and endurance which brings some through the worst ordeals.

This extract is perhaps typical of the attitude of many who saw their own actions in a totally unremarkable light.

“Dear mother ... I was very lucky only 12 out of 800 got ashore. We were about 3 miles off the shore when the ship blew up and it was the most terrible sea I have ever seen you could not get any boats into the water and if you had they would have been instantly swamped so I stood by a big float along 50 or 60 people and when the order came we launched her…

We had a terrible four hours in the water you can imagine seas mountains high washing over the top of us ...’’

After scrambling ashore and finally scaling steep cliffs, Simpson was sheltered, clothed and fed by a local family in a farmhouse which stands to this day.

Sadly he was not to survive the war as he was killed while serving on the ss Thames.

His father and brother, Richard and Tommy, both had a remarkable record of service with the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade.

Tommy served for more than 70 years until his death some years ago.

The exhibition of materials connected to Richard Simpson will be open to the public from Tuesday, May 1, at the Low Lights Tavern.

The current exhibition can be viewed until April 29 and features the story of the loss of the pilot cutter Protector.

The Tynemouth World War One Project website is now fully restored and operational after being temporarily unavailable.

THIS week’s casualty list gives details of men from the Borough of Tynemouth who were killed or died in April 1918.

Adams, George Stuart, LAS, 4th. Details needed.

Atkinson, Edward, age 24, Private, 2nd Battalion Lancs Fusiliers, KIA, 24th, 34 Trevor Terrace, son of Robert and late Annie, born Middlesbrough.

Gardie, Allan, Private, 22nd Battalion, DLI, KIA, 20 Camden Lane, son of David and Mary Ann, his brother David killed in action October 4, 1917.

Knott, Cecil Saunders, age 28, Private, King’s (Liverpool) Regiment, KIA, 9th, 55 Howdon Road, son of John Leadbitter Knott and late Mary Jane.

Langlands, George, Lance Corporal, 1st Battalion NF, DOW, 9th, 1 Dene Terrace. Details needed.

Main, James, Private, 1st/5th Battalion NF, died 11th. Details needed.

Miller, Robert, age 37, Private, 1st/5th Battalion King’s Own Royal Lancs Regiment, died, 30th, son of Edward and Ellen, husband of Caroline, 3 Percy Street, Blyth.

Thirkle, Charles, Private, 2nd Battalion NF, died, 23rd, Tyne Street, memorial Kirkee, India – for the 1,800 British soldiers and seamen who died from 1914-18 and are buried in various cemeteries across India and not now maintained by CWGC.

Thompson, Allan, Sergeant, 6th Battalion Yorks and Lancs Regiment, KIA, 18th, Church Way. Details needed.

Wilkinson, Arthur Wilfred, age 34, Captain, West Yorks Regiment (Prince of Wales Own, DOW, 18th, Holly House, Tynemouth, son of Dr Auburn and Henrietta.

KIA – killed in action

DOW – died of wounds

LAS – lost at sea

NF – Northumberland Fusiliers

DLI – Durham Light Infantry

RND – Royal Naval Division

RNR – Royal Naval Reserve

RFA – Royal Field Artillery

n Anyone with information or to find out more, visit www.tynemouthworldwarone.org, e-mail contact@tynemouthworldwarone.org or write to Tynemouth World War 1 Commemoration Project, c/o Essell, 29 Howard Street, North Shields, NE30 1AR.

n Anyone interested to learn about the project and how to get involved can visit the workroom at Room B9, Linskill Community Centre, North Shields, from 10am to 4pm Monday to Friday.