Henry Stevens was born in Newick in 1876, the fifth child of Thomas Stevens, an agricultural labourer from Framfield, and his wife Fanny who was born in Blackboys near Uckfield. By 1881, Henry was living with his parents, five older siblings, Eliza, James, Ruth, Ellen and Ann, and three younger brothers, Joe, George and Alfred at Gipps Cottage, which stood just to the north of Gipps Farm on Spithurst Road. Henry attended the village school between 1884 and 1889.
By 1891, Ruth and Ellen were living elsewhere, and the family, consisting of Thomas, Fanny, and their children James, Annie, Henry, Joe, George, Alfred, Frank, Charlie, Ernest, Rose and Alice, and grandson, Leonard were living in Coney Hall Cottage on Sharpsbridge Lane. Henry, aged 14 was working as an agricultural labourer like his father and older brother James.
Newick National Boys School 1880
Henry joined the Royal Marine Artillery, an element of the Royal Marines, who specialised in manning heavy on-board artillery and shore batteries on 29th January 1897 at their depot in Eastney, Portsmouth. He had passed a swimming test earlier in the month. He gave his trade as ‘Labourer’ and his religion as ‘Church of England’. He had dark brown hair, brown eyes and a dark complexion and was 5ft 8⅝in tall. He had moles on both shoulders. He began his military career as No. 6558 Private Henry Stevens, signing up for service of 12 years.
His initial training was undertaken at Eastney and at the Royal Marine depot at Walmer in Kent. He was promoted to Gunner Second Class in November 1897 and to Gunner the following February. His first posting to a ship came in May 1898, when he sailed aboard the newly commissioned HMS Hannibal, a 14,900 tonne Majestic-class battleship. He served on board her until June of 1900.
After a short time ashore, he transferred to HMS Pembroke in November. Originally called HMS Duncan, she was a 3,715 tonne obsolete two deck steamer, performing escorting and launch duties at Chatham. He served aboard her until December 1902, and after another period of onshore service he was posted to HMS Ocean, a 12,950 tonne Canopus-class battleship in January 1904. She operated off the Chinese coast for a time, but was recalled to home waters in June 1905. Henry transferred to another Canopus-class battleship, HMS Glory and continued to serve in the Far East for a month until HMS Glory was also recalled in July 1905. On her arrival in Portsmouth in October 1905, Henry returned to on-shore service.
In July 1906 he was transferred to HMS Swiftsure, a 12,175 tonne Swiftsure-type battleship, following her refit at Chatham. Henry served on her in home waters until October 1908, when she was temporarily mothballed at Portsmouth Harbour. She was decommissioned the following year. In the meantime, Henry served onshore until 28th January 1909, when his 12 years of service were complete and he was placed on the Royal Fleet Reserve. By 1911, Henry (listed as ‘Harry’) was living back with his widowed mother Fanny and his younger siblings Ernest, Alice, Leonard and William at the Old Thatched Cottages, Barcombe. He was working as a farm labourer.
Henry was remobilised on 2nd August 1914, and joined HMS Cyclops on 23rd December 1914. She was a 11,300 tonne former merchantman bought by the Royal Navy in 1905 and used as an armed repair ship. He served on her until the end of the month before returning to shore duties, apparently involving administration at the Royal Naval Reserve accounting base (‘President III’). He was promoted to Acting Bombardier on 15th September 1915. He was demobilised on 31st January 1916.
He was remobilised on 31st October 1917. His records do not give details of the reason for this or of his subsequent service beyond the fact he rejoined the forces at some point and subsequently served as a Bombardier on the SS Clan Macpherson.
She was a 4,779 tonne steamer launched in 1905 and armed by the Royal Navy as a designated Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship (DEMS). The Admiralty had investigated the possibility of arming merchantmen even before the outbreak of the war, and the threat from German submarines and surface raiders soon led to the installation of naval artillery on thousands of merchant ships, designated as DEMS. Bombardier Stevens was part of the crew of one of guns on the ship.
The SS Clan Macpherson was headed from Malta, apparently to the Panamanian port of Colon, loaded with government supplies when she was struck by a torpedo and sank 24 miles north of Cape Serrat, Tunisia on 4th March 1918. Eighteen men were lost, including Bombardier Henry Stevens. He was 41 years old. The torpedo was fired by German submarine UC-27, a particularly prolific U-boat responsible for the sinking of 55 allied merchant ships totalling 75,470 tonnes, as well as three Russian warships, totalling 830 tonnes.
Henry is commemorated on the school memorial, in Newick’s Roll of Honour and Book of Remembrance, at The Green, and on the war memorial in Barcombe. His name also appears on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial on Southsea Common, Portsmouth, a massive obelisk which bears the names of 9,666 men who died at sea during the First World War. A further 14,922 names were added for those lost during the Second World War. The original monument at Portsmouth was designed by Sir Rupert Lorimer, with sculpture by Henry Poole. It was opened in October 1924 by the Duke of York (the future King George VI). The Second World War Extension was opened by the Queen Mother in April 1953.
The monument includes the names of those men whose service began at Portsmouth; there are similar memorials at Plymouth and Chatham for those whose service began at those naval bases; a total of 32,287 naval and Royal Marine personnel were lost during the Great War.
Official records confirm the names of his parents but give the Barcombe address as ‘The Old Match’ possibly a misspelling/bad replication of ‘Old Thatched Cottages’. Records also erroneously give his age as 40 years old, and his service number as RMA16558. His naval medal roll (under his correct number of RMA6558) confirms his date of death and shows that he was entitled to the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, which were presumably sent to Fanny in Barcombe.
A number of Henry’s siblings also served during the war, but thankfully all survived; Joe and Frank both joined up in Canada and served on the Western Front; Ernest and George both served there with the Royal Garrison Artillery, Alfred served with the Durham Light Infantry and Charles was a driver with the Royal Army Service Corps. A second generation of the Stevens family also joined up; Joe’s son Percy followed his uncle into the Royal Marine Artillery. Henry’s nephew Leonard was killed in the Ypres Salient on 27th July 1917 while serving with the Royal Garrison Artillery.
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