An Old Coathamian – Not Forgotten

John Duncan STUBBS

Midshipman, Royal Navy; HMS ‘Aboukir’.

Born 24 June 1899,
Died 22 September 1914, aged 15 years.

Commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial,
Kent, Memorial 1.

He was not only the first but also the youngest Old Coathamian to die on active service in the First World War. He lost his life after the ship in which he was serving as a young midshipman, the old armoured cruiser HMS ‘Aboukir’, and her two sister cruisers HMS ‘Hogue’ and HMS ‘Cressy’, with which she was patrolling, were all torpedoed one after another by the German submarine U-9. The cruisers were patrolling off the Dutch coast when U-9 struck. ‘Aboukir’ was the first to be torpedoed and sunk, followed in turn by ‘Hogue’ and ‘Cressy’ as they came to her assistance. The whole engagement lasted barely an hour. Although initially rescued by ‘Cressy’ after ‘Aboukir’ was sunk, Midshipman Stubbs lost his life after ‘Cressy’ was herself torpedoed. He was last seen in the sea trying courageously to save the life of another sailor. The total loss of life from all three cruisers was over 1,400. There was a public outcry at home and an Admiralty Board official inquiry. The U-Boat menace was thereafter taken far more seriously.

John Duncan Stubbs was the eldest of the three children of Thomas Duncan Henlock Stubbs and Margaret Isobel Stubbs. The family came from Coatham, where John and the two younger children, Hugh and Katherine, were born. By the time of his arrival, aged nine, at Coatham Grammar School as a boarder in April 1909, the family had moved to Nunthorpe, where his father was a solicitor. John stayed six terms at Coatham, leaving in April 1911 to go to Southbourne School in Hampshire as preparation for becoming, in May 1912, a naval cadet at Osborne and, later, Dartmouth Royal Naval Colleges. At Coatham he was successful in the Cambridge Local Examinations Preliminary level, and he also took part in a play at Speech Day 1911, in the role of a girl, as junior boys sometimes did. At Southbourne he played for both Football and Cricket teams and won every open event in Athletics. In the words of his Headmaster there, he was “one of God’s perfect little gentlemen”. At Osborne, he completed his studies at the head of his class, being awarded the Admiralty’s Prize for the highest aggregate number of marks in all subjects. He had been at Dartmouth for one term when the War started and like all midshipmen he was assigned immediately to a Royal Navy vessel.