Samuel Purdy was born on the 27th September 1868 in Mundham, Norfolk to parents William and Caroline. Samuel’s father was an agricultural labourer (he is also recorded as being a farm bailiff) born in c1836 in Alpington (close to Norwich). His mother Caroline was born in c1839, less than ten miles away in Heckingham. They married in c1857 and had a total of eleven children, sadly three of whom are recorded as having died by 1911; exact details for these three children are unclear.
The oldest son Harry was born in c1857, followed by William in c1860, Sarah in c1862 and George in c1865. Samuel was born three years later, the fifth child of William and Caroline’s surviving children. The family appear to have moved at least twice before the birth of Samuel, but they remained within the close proximity to where William and Caroline grew up. By 1871 they were living in Mundham and the two eldest boys, Harry (aged 14) and William (presumably aged eleven, but recorded as four on the census) were both working as agricultural labourers, whilst Sarah and George attended school.
Samuel’s second sister, Adeline, was born in c1875. By then the family had moved to Hingham, slightly further away from where William and Caroline grew up. Sadly George died in the summer of 1875 aged nine years old; his cause of death is not known. In 1876 Samuel’s younger brother Robert was born and the next year saw their oldest brother Harry marry Anna Barnard (they also lived in Hingham). The youngest of Samuel’s brothers, Frederick, was born in c1880. By 1881 the family had moved again, a few miles away to Forehoe, and Samuel and Adeline were attending school. Samuel’s youngest sister, Alice, was born in 1884.
There were two weddings in the family in 1886, with both William and Sarah getting married in London (it is likely that they moved to London before 1881); William married Emily Tabner in March, and Sarah married Walter Needs, a painter, in May.
By the time of the 1891 census, Samuel’s paternal grandmother Sarah, who was by then a widow, was living with Samuel’s parents. His sister Sarah’s daughter Florence Annie Need (aged four) was also living with William and Caroline – it is unclear why. Robert, Frederick and Alice were the only children still living at home – Robert was working as an agricultural labourer and Frederick and Alice were both at school. It is not known when Samuel joined the Royal Navy, but he had left home by 1891 and cannot be found on the census records, so he could have been at sea.
By the age of 23 Samuel was working as a ship’s stoker. On the 27th June 1892 he married Clara Sophia Tabner, possibly a relation of his brother William’s wife Emily, at the Church of St John-at-Hackney. Clara, aged 20, was born and raised in Hackney by Isaac (a gardener) and Eliza. Prior to their marriage, Clara had been working as a servant for life assurance manager William Jones and his wife Maria. William and Maria had two young children and employed another servant, Lenora Tully.
After they were married, Samuel and Clara lived with Clara’s parents at 21 Percy Street, Hackney. Their first daughter, Florence Eveline Maude, was born just under 15 months later, on the 16th September 1893. She was baptised the following month, on the 8th October, at the Church of St John-at-Hackney, where Samuel and Clara were married.
By 1897 Samuel and Clara were living at 52 Croydon Road, New Brompton, near Chatham, in Medway, Kent. New Brompton dates back to the late 18th century and was created to accommodate the fast-growing dockyard workforce. Vessels built in the Dockyard which still exist today include HMS Victory, launched in 1765 (now preserved at Portsmouth), and HMS Unicorn, launched 1824 (now preserved afloat at Dundee). Submarine HMS C17 was launched at Chatham in 1908, and during World War I, twelve submarines were built there.
Samuel and Clara’s second daughter, Violet Doris Irene, was born almost four years after Florence, on the 27th May 1897. Although Violet was born in Chatham, like her sister Florence, she was also baptised at the Church of St John-at-Hackney.
It is unclear where the family were living in 1901 as the only member to be found in the census records is Violet, then aged three. She is recorded on the census record for Samuel’s older brother William and his wife Emily (probably a relation of Clara), who were living in Lambeth, London. Samuel’s brothers Robert and Frederick were also living with them. However, the birth of their third child Maurice (records refer to him as both Maurice Leonard and Leonard Maurice) in September 1905 was recorded in Medway. As there was a gap of eight years between the birth of Violet and Maurice it is likely that Samuel was away at sea for large periods of time.
By the age of 42, Samuel had retired from the Royal Navy and was in receipt of a lifetime pension. His father died in early 1911 at the age of 75. By then Samuel and his family were living in Luton, at 15 Chatsworth Road. Florence (aged c17) and Violet (aged c13) were both working, Florence as a student teacher and Violet as an apprentice dressmaker. Maurice was five years old, but does not appear to have been attending school at this point.
Samuel served on the HMS Queen Mary during the First World War as part of the Royal Fleet Reserve (R.F.R). The R.F.R was a reserve commitment begun in 1901, whereby Royal Naval ratings of good character who had completed their time, could be liable to be returned to service in times of emergency in exchange for receiving an annual retainer. Along with other reserves, the R.F.R. was called out in August 1914.
HMS Queen Mary was the last Battlecruiser built by the Royal Navy before the First World War, she was launched on the 20th March 1912. The sole member of her class, HMS Queen Mary shared many features with the Lion-class Battlecruisers, including her eight 13.5-inch (343 mm) guns. Like most of the modern British Battlecruisers, she never left the North Sea during the war. Her first action was as part of the Battlecruiser force under the command of Admiral Beatty during the Battle of Heligoland Bight on 28th August 1914. As part of the first Battlecruiser Squadron, she attempted to intercept a German force that bombarded the North Sea coast of England in December 1914, but was unsuccessful. She missed the Battle of Dogger Bank in January 1915 due to refitting, but participated in the largest fleet action of the war, the Battle of Jutland in mid-1916.
The Battle of Jutland was the only time that the British and German fleets of ‘dreadnought’ battleships actually came to blows. It was a confused and bloody action involving 250 ships and around 100,000 men. The German commander, Admiral Scheer, planned to attack British merchant shipping to Norway, expecting to lure out both Admiral Beatty’s Battlecruiser Force and Admiral Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet, further away at Scapa Flow. Scheer hoped to destroy Beatty before Jellicoe arrived, but the British were warned by their codebreakers and both British forces put to sea early.
On 31st May 1916, Beatty’s battlecruisers, supported by battleships of the 5th Battle Squadron, encountered Admiral Hipper’s German battlecruisers at 2:28pm. The Germans damaged Beatty’s flagship HMS Lion and sank HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary, both of which blew up when German shells penetrated their ammunition magazines. HMS Queen Mary was hit twice by the German battlecruiser Derfflinger during the early part of the battle and her magazines exploded shortly afterwards, sinking the ship.
Samuel was one of 1,266 crewmen who were lost; eighteen survivors were picked up by the destroyers HMS Laurel, HMS Petard, and HMS Tipperary, and two by the Germans. HMS Queen Mary’s wreck was discovered in 1991 and rests in pieces on the floor of the North Sea. HMS Queen Mary is designated as a protected place under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986 as it is the grave of the 1,266 crewmen, including Samuel Purdy.
Samuel is remembered on the Welling Memorial and the Chatham Naval Memorial. After the First World War, an appropriate way had to be found of commemorating those members of the Royal Navy who had no known grave, the majority of deaths having occurred at sea where no permanent memorial could be provided. An Admiralty committee recommended that the three manning ports in Great Britain – Chatham, Plymouth and Portsmouth – should each have an identical memorial of unmistakable naval form, an obelisk, which would serve as a leading mark for shipping. The memorials were designed by Sir Robert Lorimer, who had already carried out a considerable amount of work for the Commission, with sculpture by Henry Poole. The Chatham Naval Memorial was unveiled by the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII) on 26th April 1924.
After the Second World War the memorial at Chatham was extended by Sir Edward Maufe (who also designed the Air Forces memorial at Runnymede) and an additional sculpture, by Charles Wheeler and William McMillan, was added. The Extension was unveiled by the Duke of Edinburgh on 15th October 1952. Chatham Naval Memorial now commemorates 8,517 sailors of the First World War and 10,098 of the Second World War.
Samuel’s brothers Robert and Frederick also served in the First World War, both in the Veterinary Corps. Frederick had been working as a horseman on a farm in Norfolk prior to the outbreak of the war; he enlisted first, on the 18th January 1915, while Robert enlisted at the end of the year on the 1st December. Robert had at some stage been in the army for eighteen months, but prior to the outbreak of the war he had been working as an asylum attendant at Cane Hill Lunatic Asylum in Coulsdon, Surrey, therefore it is likely that he was able to join the Veterinary Corps because of Frederick. By 1915 Robert would have been almost 40 years old and Frederick about 35 years old. Both brothers survived the war.
By the time of Samuel’s death in May 1916, Clara was living at 1 Blaxland Villa, Belle Grove, Welling. It is not known why she moved to Welling as there appears to be no family connections to the area. However, in 1920 Clara and the children all immigrated to Canada, sailing from Liverpool to Quebec, where they landed in August 1920. It appears that from Quebec they settled in British Columbia (BC). Clara lived to the age of 70; she died on the 3rd December 1942. Florence married a Norwegian man, John Arnt J. Melan. Violet married a Swedish man, Axel Emanuel Erickson on the 31st July 1924 in Victoria, BC; she died at the age of 85 in Port Alberni, BC on the 6th July 1982. Maurice married Leonora Helena Wren on the 24th Sept 1930 in Victoria, BC; he lived until the age of 92 and is buried at Duncan Cemetery, Vancouver Island, BC.
This story has been researched by volunteers. We have taken every effort to ensure its accuracy. If you are related to this sailor, or if you have any further information, please do get in touch.
Commemorated at Home
Welling War Memorial
Commonwealth War Graves Commission http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/3051532/PURDY,%20SAMUEL