Old Coathamians of World War One

Laurence William WRIGHT

Engineer Lieutenant, Royal Navy
HMS ‘Bulwark’.

Born 4 October 1880,
Died 26 November 1914, aged 34 years.

Commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial,
Memorial 1.

Engineer Lieutenant Wright perished, along with 50 other officers and 745 men, when the ship in which they were serving, the 15,000-ton battleship HMS ‘Bulwark’, which was taking on coal in the River Medway off Sheerness, blew up and sank. A mammoth explosion on board ripped the ship apart, and debris was scattered up to four miles away.

It was subsequently assumed at a naval court of inquiry that a chain reaction, in which the mass of shells in the eleven storage magazines of the ship had exploded almost simultaneously, destroyed the ship completely and claimed the lives of all but a handful of her complement.

Laurence William Wright was the younger son of Laurence and Mary Wright, who were both Scots. His father was a draper, and the family first settled in Middlesbrough before moving to ‘Orwell’, Coatham. Laurence had a brother, John, and three sisters, Jessie, Jeanie and Mary, although Jeanie and John both died in 1894. He started at Coatham Grammar School as a fee-paying day boy in September 1892, aged 11, staying until July 1895, when he was nearly 15. 1901 Census records suggest that he may have been an apprentice marine engineer, boarding in Stockton-on-Tees. Naval records state he was also educated at La Chatelaine College, Geneva, and Durham College of Science. Certainly by 1911 he was an electrical engineer, living at home in Coatham, with his widowed mother and two remaining sisters. At the outbreak of the War he gave up his career and volunteered for naval service, joining HMS ‘Bulwark’ on 26 September 1914 as an Engineer Lieutenant, only two months before he was killed. His sister Mary was the principal beneficiary of his substantial estate of £21,080, as he was unmarried at the time of his death. He is also remembered on a family grave in Redcar Cemetery.