Wednesday, 30 December 2015

On This Day - Fenwick Morris

On 29 June 1895 Fenwick Morris was born at New Hartley, Northumberland to Matthew Morris and Hannah Bell Taylor. Fenwick was the youngest of six children, five of which were boys. He was baptised at the little parish church at Delaval on 24 July 1895. Fenwick was my grandmother's elder cousin. 

Fenwick Morris
From the Illustrated Chronicle.

Fenwick's mother was utterly devoted to him, as after all he was the baby of the family. In August 1913, Fenwick only 18 years old was charged with "having rode his bicycle without a light." Fenwick did not appear at the Blyth Petty Sessions, but his mother Hannah did on his behalf. Hannah told the court that the reason Fenwick was not in attendance was due to him injuring himself that very same day at Hartley Pit. Under these circumstances, the court withdrew the case and he was awarded clemency.

On 24 August 1915 Fenwick enlisted in the Royal Naval Reserve at Blyth. The next day he left Blyth onboard HMS Crescent, but soon he was on HMS Natal.

HMS Natal was anchored in the Cromarty Firth during the festive period of 1915. In the afternoon of 30 December the captain of the ship, Captain Eric Back had arranged to have a film shown to the men onboard. He invited a group of civilians, namely his wife and children, and also a group of nurses from the nearby hospital ship, DRINA.

Just after 3:20pm on that day, violent explosions ripped through the ship. The ship was engulfed in flames and smoke, and within a few short minutes HMS Natal had sunk.

"As the complement of the Natal was 704 men it would appear that the loss of life was considerable, but as the ship was in harbour it is of course not certain that everyone was on board and until a definite statement is forthcoming it is safest not to assume any figures.

The exact number of fatalities including the civilians and nurses is disputed, but the number is easily over 300, closer to 400 in fact. It was quite clear to witnesses and later divers that the calamity was caused by an unknown internal explosion. 

Stoker Fenwick Morris was lost on this fateful day, after only enlisting four months before. Hannah Bell Morris had lost her baby, aged 20 short years. 

Fenwick's name appears on the Chatham Naval Memorial, but he is also remembered on the family gravestone in Seghill churchyard. His name is there, along with his parents and two older brothers lost in the Great War.

The Morris family grave.

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