William Alfred Littlewood, maternal relative: Chatham Naval Dockyad Sep 1917

William Alfred Littlewood was born on 19 April 1882 in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England and was Killed ina ction or died from wounds sustained when the first ever night raid by German fighter-bomber aeroplanes took place.

William Alfred was a first cousin once removed of the wife of an uncle of the wife of thebrother-in-law of one of my first cousins twice removed and related to me via my mother's Priday family, the actual lineage is:

  • William Alfred Littlewood (1882 - 1917)
  • Henry Littlewood (1846 - 1924) - father of William Alfred Littlewood
  • William Littlewood (1806 - 1878) - father of Henry Littlewood
  • Caroline Littlewood (1838 - ) - daughter of William Littlewood
  • William Marshall Littlewood (1862 - 1933) - son of Caroline Littlewood
  • Marion Primula Littlewood (1893 - 1969) - daughter of William Marshall Littlewood
  • Leonard Alfred Couves (1888 - 1976) - husband of Marion Primula Littlewood
  • Arthur Frederick Couves (1857 - 1923) - father of Leonard Alfred Couves
  • Emma Maud Couves (1881 - 1940) - daughter of Arthur Frederick Couves
  • Sybil Maud Sharpe (1907 - 2002) - daughter of Emma Maud Couves
  • Cecil John Harvey (1906 - 1981) - husband of Sybil Maud Sharpe
  • Albert Edward Harvey (1869 - 1927) - father of Cecil John Harvey
  • Olive Harvey (1898 - 1968) - daughter of Albert Edward Harvey
  • William John Green (1898 - ) - husband of Olive Harvey
  • Elizabeth (Bessie) Wilding (1871 - ) - mother of William John Green
  • Elizabeth (1831 - ) - mother of Elizabeth (Bessie) Wilding
  • Margaret T Wilding (1854 - ) - daughter of Elizabeth
  • Joseph Priday (1888 - 1954) - son of Margaret T Wilding
  • Alice May Priday (1917 - 2009) - daughter of Joseph Priday
  • William G Hyde - me

His Family

greatyarmouth 1904William Alfred's father, Henry Littlewood was born 8 February 1846 in Rollesby, Norfolk, England & died during September 1924 in Yarmouth, Norfolk. Henry Littlewood's first job was as an Agricultural labourer and his last recorded occupation was as Gas Works Labourer.

Henry married Mary Ann Read pn 22 December 1869 at St. Nicholas church, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England. Mary Ann Read was born during 1843 in Ormesby St Michael, Norfolk, England & died during January 1902 in Smallburgh, Norfolk, England.

Henry & Mary Ann set up home 13 Row 122, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England and Henry became a Fisherman. By 1891 Henry had moved on to be a General labourer, presumably because it paid better than being a Fisherman. By 1911 Henry & Mary Ann had moved to 28 Tyrolean Square, Cobholm, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk and Henry was working at the local Gas Works as a labourer.

Henry & Mary Ann had 8 children:

  • Flora Rosina Littlewood (1876 – 1929)
  • Alice Maud Littlewood (1878 – 1881)
  • Frederick Joseph Littlewood (1880 – 1952)
  • William Alfred Littlewood (1882 – 1917)
  • Herbert Charles Littlewood (1884 – 1956)
  • Rosa Ethel Littlewood (1886 – 1947)
  • Ernest Victor Littlewood (1889 – 1892)
  • May Littlewood (1892 – unknown)

The image is of Great Yarmouth seafront circa 1904

William Alffed Littlewood was born at 13 Row 122, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, England while Henry was a Fisherman. By 1901, William Alfred was a general labourer and he was still living at home with his parents.

William Alfred married Evelyn Annie during 1905 at Great Yarmouth, Norfolk and set up home at 7 Row 125, King Street,, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, where they raised two children:

  • William Herbert Littlewood (1906 – 1996)
  • Annie Cecilia Littlewood (1909 – unknown)

His Military Service

William Alfred Littlewood joined the Royal Navy Reserve during 1914 following Kitchener's call to arms after the declaration of war on 4th August. He was given Service Number: 2257/SD.

H.M.S. Pembroke

By 1917 he had been posted to H.M.S. Pembroke, a shore establishment at Chatham Dock Yard, Kent, England.

H.M.S. Pembroke was the barracks & supply school for the Port Division of Chatham Naval Dockyard until it's closure in 1984. Following it's closure a ship was named HMS Pembrok.

In 1801 Fort Amherst and the Great Lines (fortifications between Gillingham and Chatham) were supported by the Chatham Barracks, which had room for 2 Infantry battalions, 2 Companies of Foot Artillery and 2 Infirmary (Medical Corps) blocks. This adds up to about 2,632 men.

In 1890, the Royal Navy Depot in Chatham was founded, aboard 3 hulks (ex-fighting ships) alongside the South Wall of No.2 Basin in the Dockyards. These hulks were called Pembroke (built in 1812), Royal Adelaide and Forte.

A new permanent (Royal Navy) shore base was constructed between May 1897 and 1902. This occupied the site that was used by the old convict prison (the convicts were used to build the Victorian extension to the Chatham Dockyard on St Mary's Island). Designed by Colonel Henry Pilkington, construction of the barracks was begun in 1897 by Holloway Brothers (London) and the first phase of development (which included the Drill Hall as it was often called) was completed on 26 March 1902.

The second phase of building included the development of barrack facilities such as swimming baths and a bowling alley and was completed by December 1902, 6 years later. At the cost of £425,000 and it could now accommodate up to 4,742 officers and men. It was given the title of HMS Pembroke due to its position near the dockyards 'Pembroke Gate' and in reference to one of the former hulk ships.

drillhall chathamdockyardThe Drill Hall or 'Drill Shed' and Parade Ground were completed by 26 March 1902 as part of the first phase of developing the Royal Naval Barracks in Chatham. It was constructed to provide an indoor space for Navy personnel to exercise and train during inclement weather. The swimming baths, bowling alley and other facilities being completed by December the same year, with the barrack blocks consisting of; 'Anson', 'Blake', 'Drake', 'Granville', 'Hawke' and 'Nelson' completed soon after.

The barracks were officially opened on 30 April 1903. 5000 Men were marched from the old hulks to the new barracks, led by the Depot (Blue Jacket)  Royal Navy Volunteer Band.

Later, a large house was constructed for the Commodore and St Georges Church was constructed.

Once complete HMS Pembroke, housed a gunnery school (that had been moved from Sheerness), a new training centre, cinema, canteen, infirmary, gymnasium, swimming baths and a large parade ground and drill shed. A time ball was installed upon the central tower of the wardroom, this was dropped daily at 10am and 1pm except for Sundays giving the exact time to the ships on the (River) Medway.

Sundays would see all naval personnel attend the church parade. After, they marched off the parade ground, past the central steps holding the Petty Officers and Master at Arms and then into the drill shed where they would 'fall out'.

The years leading up to the First World War, saw the drill hall used as an Exhibition centre, Naval store (of rum, clothes and general supplies), a building materials warehouse and as an overflow barracks with the court martial room situated on an upper floor near the rear of the building. Also during this time Chatham had become one of three Royal Navy's manning ports with the area holding over a third of the Navy of around 205 ships.

The Bombing of 3rd September 1917

Throughout its life, the Drill Hall has been used as a temporary overflow dormitory when the barrack accommodation blocks were full. In September 1917 the problem of housing the men had been further exacerbated by two unanticipated events: Firstly, the men who had been earmarked to join the battleship HMS Vanguard had been forced to remain at the barracks, after she had been sunk at Scapa Flow in July 1917. Secondly, an outbreak of 'spotted fever' (epidemic cerebro-spinal meningitis) in the barracks meant that the sleeping accommodation had to be increased in an effort to avoid further infection.

On Monday 3 September 1917, the Drill Hall accommodated around 900 naval ratings (either sleeping or resting upon their hammocks) when, at about 11.00pm, it suffered two hits from bombs dropped by German Gotha aeroplanes. One of the first of the First World War 'moonlight raids', it resulted in the loss of some 130 lives.

That night, there was some cloud and a light wind, but generally the weather was fine as five German Gotha aeroplanes set off for Medway from Gontrode in Belgium at around 9:30 p.m. One of the Gothas later had to turn back over the Channel due to engine trouble but the remaining four continued, "each loaded with 300lbs of bombs".

German Gotha WW1aeroplaneAt around 11:00 p.m., the four remaining Gothas flew over Eastchurch and began to follow the moonlit River Medway towards Chatham. The raiders continued their approach unchallenged and found the town fully illuminated and completely unprepared for an attack. Previously the Germans had only attacked from the air during daylight hours but took the decision to raid at night due to the increasing loss of bombers from daytime raids. The bombing raid of 3 September 1917 was therefore the first of the ‘moonlight’ raids and took the Medway towns completely by surprise.

As a result, no anti-aircraft guns opened fire and no British fighters were sent to combat the enemy. The Gotha attack was further facilitated by a dreadful lack of communication between the key authorities: Owing to a defensive mix-up (a practice alert earlier in the evening meant that telephone warnings of a real raid, which were intended to notify the electrical department and a power station to extinguish all lights at once, were not taken seriously and ignored).

Ironically, local people had even been warned to expect the testing of the night air defences and would naturally have assumed that the actual raid was just part of the practice alert: In one Chatham cinema, just as the raid was beginning, a notice was flashed upon the screen telling people not to be alarmed. The Gotha was equipped with only ‘primitive bomb sights and the most rudimentary of target locators’ so bombing was, to some degree, indiscriminate. The raiders would go on to drop a total of seventeen bombs in the districts of Gillingham and Chatham; the accuracy of their bombs owing as much to ‘tragic ill chance’ as the skill of the German pilots.

Two 50kg bombs made a direct hit on the Drill Hall, crashing through the glass roof and exploding on the concrete floor of the sleeping quarters. Some reports stated that the bombs did little damage to the concrete floor of the Drill Hall and thus ‘expended all their force upwards’ The hands of the clock in the tower were frozen at 11:12 p.m., giving the exact time the bombs hit the Drill Hall. What followed was truly terrible, as the quarter inch thick glass roof fell in: There were some terrific explosions, and before we knew what was happening the roof was lifted sheer off the hut, blown up in to the air, and fell into a thousand pieces on to the men. It was the falling glass, which was very thick and very heavy that did the damage. As most of the men were asleep and wearing only their ‘night attire’ they could do little to protect themselves from the lethal shards of falling glass. The result was horrific.

Officers and the surviving ratings who were able to ‘tore at the rubble with their bare hands’ in their efforts to find those lost beneath the debris of the shattered Drill Hall. The work of the rescuers continued through the night and was only completed some seventeen hours later on Tuesday afternoon.

One of those 130 who died as a result of this bombing was William Alfred Littlewood who was declared dead on 3rd September 1917, either directly Killed by the bombs or from dying that day from wounds sustained during the bombing.

His Burial

williamalfredlittlewoodWilliam Alfred Littlewood's remains were buried in grave reference Naval 18.937 at the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham, Kent, England and his grave is maintained by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

There is a large naval section in Gillingham (Woodlands) Cemetery which was reserved by the Admiralty and served the Royal Naval Hospital in Windmill Road. The section contains most of the war graves as well as burials of the pre-war and inter-war years.

Among the First World War burials in the naval section are those from HMS 'Bulwark', blown up in Sheerness Harbour in November 1914, HMS 'Princess Irene' which suffered an internal explosion in May 1915 and HMS 'Glatton' which suffered the same fate in Dover Harbour in September 1918 (the bodies were not recovered until March 1930). The plot also contains a number of graves resulting from the air raid on Chatham Naval Barracks on 3 September 1917.

In all, Gillingham (Woodlands) Cemetery contains 835 burials and commemorations of the First World War. 82 of the burials are unidentified and there are special memorials commemorating a number of casualties buried in other cemeteries in the area whose graves could not be maintained.

Second World War burials number 385, 21 of these burials are unidentified. Most are in the naval section.

There are 2 Foreign National war burials and 2 non war service burials.