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George Wherrell

Stoker I K.11615 George Wherrell, HM TB026, Royal Navy


George was born on 9 September 1885 in Reading, the son of Joseph (Nobbie) Wherrell (a labourer by occupation and a fisherman by renown) and his wife Charlotte née Tranter. He was still a schoolboy when his father died in 1894; the loss of the main family breadwinner could be disastrous – Charlotte dealt with it by remarrying later that same year, to John Smith a local cattle drover.

Nobbie and Charlotte had married in 1879, not long after their eldest child, Charlotte, was born. They lodged with Levi and Ann Prior at 3 Clare Place, an alley off Bartholomew Street, before moving to Reading, where George and his elder brother William (1883) were born. They returned to Newbury, moving into the cottage at to 4 Clare Place, next door to their former lodgings. Their fourth child Rosaline (Rose) was born there in 1889. William died in 1892, aged only nine, leaving George as the only son. Following her remarriage Charlotte gave birth to two further daughters, Kate (1895) and Annie (1900) Smith.

Gordon Boys in Cheap Street, Newbury

An old postcard (ca1910) showing Gordon Boys in Cheap Street, Newbury

After his schooling was over George became a Gordon messenger boy. These were members of the Gordon Boy’s Brigade and wore their uniform while working. Anyone wanting an errand run or some other work suitable for a boy could send for a Gordon Boy. A former Gordon Boy from Southampton described his work: "I used to take old ladies out in bath chairs, take blind ladies for a walk, deliver picture papers for all the picture houses, worked at washing, scrubbing, polishing, bill delivering. ... We were treated like being in the Army with lance-corporals and sergeant-majors.''

It was precarious employment, boys were paid at 6d an hour, but there was no pay while waiting for a call to a job – boys would only take on this if they were unable to find permanent employment. After a while he left the Gordon Boys to take a job as a groom.

On 31 January 1908 George joined the Royal Navy, signing up for a 12 year term of service. In 1913 he was described as being 5ft 8in tall with brown hair and eyes, a fair complexion marred/enhanced by tattoos on both arms – a basket of flowers and a woman’s head on the left forearm and a woman’s head on his right arm and shoulder. He had grown more than an inch since he enlisted in 1908, and acquired a couple more tatoos.


His service record includes a note to say that his army service would not count towards his badges. This probably means that he had been a member of the part-time Berkshire Militia (the forerunner of the Territorial Force) while he was working in Newbury. This would be a typical move for a Gordon Boy. The Navy obviously didn't think that such service merited consideration when issuing good conduct or long service badges!

He was rated as a Stoker 1st Class on 19 September 1909 in which role he served on a number of ships (HMSs Exmouth, Crescent, Powerful, Cambrian, Hermione) before being posted to HMS Pegasus, a cruiser based on the Cape of Good Hope station. In December 1912 George was sent home to Portsmouth, where he remained until October 1914. He took the opportunity to marry his sweetheart, Elizabeth Holmes, in Portsmouth, where they set up home together.

On 1 April 1915 George was posted to a torpedo boat (TB026) based in the west Solent. Eight days later he was in a boat heading back to his ship after an evening ashore in Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight.  When they rowed out of the harbour they found themselves in very choppy waters; the boat capsized and George drowned – the incident was widely reported in local papers across the country:

Manchester Evening News - Saturday 10 April 1915
Manchester Evening News - Saturday 10 April 1915

Sheffield Evening Telegraph - Saturday 10 April 1915
A Yarmouth (Isle of Wight) message says five men belonging to a torpedo-boat were drowned last night by the capsizing of a boat. A sixth man was saved.

Aberdeen Journal - Monday 12 April 1915
At Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, on Saturday night, six of the crew of a torpedo boat left the harbour to row out to their vessel in the Solent. When just outside the harbour bar, the craft capsized in choppy water, and five of the men were drowned. The sixth was saved, being washed ashore on the boat.

The other four who died were PO Charles Wallace Cook, AB William Langley, Stoker II Edward Walter Jones and Stoker II Samuel Kelly.

The report of George’s death in the Newbury paper erroneously reports that the men were going ashore, not returning to their ship:

Newbury Weekly News, 22 April 1915 – Local War Notes
Amongst the names of those drowned by a boat capsizing of Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, while going ashore from a torpedo boat, is that of Stoker George Wherrell. Wherrell was a Newbury man, whose home was in the town up to three years ago, when he married, subsequently living in Portsmouth. He was 29 years of age, and was the last surviving son of Joseph Wherrell, who will be remembered a couple of decades ago as a most successful fisherman. Joseph was better known as “Nobbie,” and sold fishing paste, his own secret composition, which, however, was much more successful when used by the maker than when the novitiate angler was hoping to capture a big bag. Nobbie was a born fisherman, and if a fish was strong minded enough to resist his lure one day, it eventually succumbed to his adroit rod.

Name on Newbury War Memorial

George's name on Newbury War Memorial


George was buried at Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery in grave E.22.20.


His wife, Elizabeth, was pregnant when he died, she gave birth to their only child on 13 July 1915. Sadly their daughter, Marjorie, only lived a few weeks. 


Portsmouth Evening News, 15 Jul 1915

BIRTHS: WHERRELL -On July 13th, at 24, The Frairy, Lennox-road North, to the wife of the late George Wherrell, a daughter. Late of H.M. torpedo boat 026.


Elizabeth remarried, to Frederick North, in 1921.  When offered the opportunity to have a personal inscription added to George’s headstone (at 3½d a letter) she declined.

Locally George is remembered on tablet 9 of the Newbury Town War Memorial.


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 Died this day:
01 December 1917
Arthur J Shipley

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