Thursday 2 June 2016

Battle of Jutland - Leading Signalman George Copson

Leading Signalman 225838 George Henry Copson

Killed in action: 1st June 1916    Age: 28

George Henry Copson was born on the 10th February 1888 in Loughborough, Leicestershire. His father was George Copson of Husbands Bosworth and a contractors labourer (born 1861) and his mother was Ellen Copson (nee Bateman, born 1867)) also of Husbands Bosworth. His parents were married in Market Harborough district. His sister, Agnes was born the year before George in Market Harborough, before the family moved to Loughborough. George’s younger siblings were Edward, born 1889 and Mary, born 1890. In April 1891 the family home was at 17 Wellington Street, Loughborough, Leicestershire. In March 1901 the family had moved to 48 Moor Lane, Loughborough, his father now a night-soil foreman. They later moved to Oxford Street and George’s father was employed by the Loughborough Corporation.

On 16th April 1903, aged fifteen, George enlisted into the Royal Navy to serve a twelve-year engagement and his reckonable service was due to commence on the 10th February 1906. He was given the service number 225838 in Chatham, Kent.

His medical examination recorded that he was 5 feet 3.5 inches tall, his hair was brown and eyes hazel. His complexion was ‘fresh’. He had two ‘N’s tattooed on his left forearm, two faces – one a sailor, the other a woman, on his left wrist and crossed flags on his right wrist. His trade was given as ‘houseboy’. He was re-examined when he reached the age of eighteen and his height was recorded as 5 feet and 5 inches.

His record of service began on the 16th April 1903 when he joined HMS Caledonia as A boy, 2nd Class. He was promoted to Boy, 1st Class (Signaller) on the 17th November 1903.

HMS Caledonia: 18th November 1903 – 31st May 1904.
HMS Pembroke: 1st June 1904 – 5th October 1904.
HMS Berwick:    6th October 1904 – 9th February 1906 – promoted to Signalman.
HMS Berwick: 10th February 1906 – 12th March 1906.
HMS Pembroke I: 13th March 1906 – 9th July 1906 – promoted to Ordinary Signalman.
HMS Pembroke I: 10th July 1906 – 7th August 1906.
HMS Pembroke II: 8th August 1906 – 31st May 1907.
HMS Octacon: 1st June 1907 – 30th September 1907 – promoted to Leading Signalman.
HMS Octacon: 1st October 1907 – 14th September 1908.
HMS Pembroke I: 15th September 1908 – 30th March 1909.
HMS Dido: 31st March 1909 – 14th August 1910 – completed term of engagement.

George then worked as a miner in Whitwick and when he was 24 he married Florence Theresa Gilson, 21, at All Saints Church, Peckham on the 8th September 1912. 

George re-enlisted for the duration of hostilities and joined HMS Victory 1 as a Leading Signalman.

HMS Victory I: 16th March 1915 - 22nd July 1915 - Leading Signalman.
HMS Hecla: 23rd July 1915 – 2nd September 1915.
HMS Hecla (Shark): 3rd September 1915 – 18th March 1916.
HMS Sparrowhawk: 19th March 1916 – 31st May 1916 – killed in action at the Battle of Jutland.

Battle of Jutland
At around 23.40 some of the ships of the 4th destroyer flotilla formed up under Commander Walter Allen of HMS Broke, who was the half-flotilla leader, with the aim on continuing the attack against German ships nearby. HMS Broke was caught in searchlights coming from the German battleship SMS Westfalen. She attempted to fire torpedoes, but the range was only around 150 yards and the German ship opened fire first. The effect was devastating so that within a couple of minutes fifty crew were killed and another thirty injured. The attack disabled the guns and prevented any activity on deck. The helmsman was killed at the wheel, and as he died his body turned the wheel, which caused HMS Broke to turn to port and ram HMS Sparrowhawk. Sub Lieutenant Percy Wood saw HMS Broke coming towards them at twenty-eight knots and heading directly for HMS Sparrowhawk’s bridge. He shouted warnings to the crew to get clear and was then knocked over by the impact. When he regained consciousness he was lying on the deck of HMS Broke. Two other men from HMS Sparrowhawk were also thrown onto HMS Broke. Sub Lieutenant Wood reported to Commander Allen who told him to return to his own ship and make preparations to take the crew of HMS Broke on board. When he returned to HMS Sparrowhawk, Sub Lieutenant Wood was told by his captain, Lieutenant Commander Sydney Hopkins, that he had just sent exactly the same message to HMS Broke. Approximately twenty men from HMS Sparrowhawk evacuated to HMS Broke, whilst fifteen of HMS Broke’s crew crossed to HMS Sparrowhawk.

A third destroyer, HMS Contest then crashed into HMS Sparrowhawk, striking six feet from her stern. HMS Contest was relatively unharmed and able to continue after the collision. HMS Broke and HMS Sparrowhawk remained wedged together for about half-an-hour before they could be separated and HMS Broke got underway taking thirty of HMS Sparrowhawk’s crew with her. HMS Sparrowhawk, although still having engine power, could only steam ahead in circles near the burning destroyer HMS Tipperary as her rudder was jammed to one side. At around 02.00 a German torpedo boat approached and came within one hundred yards of HMS Sparrowhawk, but then turned away. Only one gun was still working and as the gun crews had all been killed or injured, the captain and his officers manned it, but held fire in the hope that the Germans would not initiate an attack. Shortly afterwards HMS Tipperary sank, putting out the fire that was attracting attention to the area.

At around 03.30 the crew on board HMS Sparrowhawk were alarmed when they sighted a German cruiser, the SMS Elbing, which had been torpedoed and then abandoned. Shortly afterwards the ship listed and then sank, bow first. At 06.10 a raft approached carrying twenty-three men from HMS Tipperary, three were already dead and five more died after being taken on board. An hour later, three British destroyers arrived and HMS Marksman attempted to get two hawsers attached to HMS Sparrowhawk to tow her to safely. The high seas meant the ropes parted and there were reports of German submarines nearby. It was decided to abandon HMS Sparrowhawk and HMS Marksman fired eighteen shells into her to ensure that she sank.

Leading Signalman 225838 George Henry Copson left Florence a widow with two children, living at 19 Parkstone Road, Rye Lane, Peckham. 

Leading Signalman 225838 George Henry Copson is commemorated on:

The Chatham Naval Memorial, Kent, where he first enlisted
Loughborough Carillon Tower Memorial
St John the Baptist Churchyard Memorial, Whitwick
All Saints Parish Church Memorial, Loughborough
St Peter’s Church Memorial, Loughborough
Council Office Memorial, Coalville, Leics

Doyle, Michael, Their Name Liveth for Evermore: The Great War Roll of Honour for Leicestershire and Rutland (Billingborough, Michael Doyle, 2009)

The National Archives

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