Doncaster’s Navy Men

Shipmates Ducker and Bowman

Title: Shipmates Ducker and Bowman
Description: Heritage Doncaster - DY-BAG-5-3-1214 by-nc

By Jill Tomlinson

Harold Ducker and Cyril Bowman were born within a month of each other and lived a couple of streets apart in Balby, Doncaster. Friends since childhood, they signed up for 12 years’ service on their 18th birthdays. They were posted to Portsmouth and served on various ships, although never together.

Harold moved up the ranks, and in 1916-17 his ship patrolled the East Indies area. He went on to join the Royal Tank Regiment and was released from service in 1938. He was married and still living in Doncaster.

Cyril stayed at the rank of Able Seaman. In 1916-17 his ship patrolled the Gibraltar and West Africa area. In 1926 Cyril deserted whilst stationed at HMS Columbine in Scotland. His wife was informed but no steps were taken to trace him. It seems the lure of Doncaster was too great for Cyril, as he’s recorded as married and back at his old address by 1939; however his wife was living with her parents.

HMS Defender Shell

Title: HMS Defender Shell
Description: Heritage Doncaster - DY-BAG-5-3-1410 by-nc

Received With Thanks
By Jill Tomlinson

On the night of 31st May 1916, HMS Defender took an active role in the battle of Jutland with the 1st Destroyer Flotilla.

At 6:30pm the ship was struck by a single shell, which failed to explode but tore an 8-foot hole, which damaged the primary boiler room and started an oil fire. The brave boiler room workers put out the fire and restored power to the ship, but they could only manage a speed of 15 knots whilst shells were falling all around them.

HMS Defender gave a tow to HMS Onslow, which had also suffered damage. The going was slow and the weather was very severe. Several times the tow rope came loose, making it a very dangerous mission, but they arrived safely into Port Edgar, Aberdeen the next day.

The inscription on this shell suggests that it could possibly be the unexploded bomb that damaged the HMS Defender.

This event is described by Rudyard Kipling in his book Sea Warfare.

Stokers in the Navy

Title: Stokers in the Navy
Description: Heritage Doncaster - DYBAG-5-3-757 by-nc

A Stoker’s Life
By Jill Tomlinson

The propeller badge on these sailors’ arms tells us that they are Stokers, who worked below decks in the ship.

They kept the fires going, making the steam needed to power the ships. It was physically demanding work in hot, dirty and very dangerous conditions. Stokers working in small confined places with no ventilation. The coal dust and extreme heat caused many health problems. Accidents happened regularly with men suffering from burns, scolds and injuries from the working environment.

During action they were completely cut off from the rest of the ship, leaving very little chance of escape if the ship was hit.

Their work uniform was quite different to the one you see in the photo. They wore wooden clogs, a flannel vest, and “fearnought” trousers made from heavy woollen fire-proof material.

Stokers were sometimes perceived as coarse, uneducated men, with a reputation for being troublemakers. But without stokers, the ships would not have had the power to sail, making them among the most important men on the ship.