EWBERT JOHN SHELLEY

Sapper, 2209, 1st/3rd Kent Field Company, Royal Engineers
Died at Sea, 28 October 1915, aged 20
Commemorated at the Helles Memorial, Gallipoli, Panel 24 to 26 or 325 to 328.
 

The Helles Memorial, Gallipoli

Sapper Ewbert John ("Jack") Shelley is one of two men commemorated on Hartfield war memorial who in 1915 were lost at sea in the sinking of HMS Hythe during the Gallipoli campaign (25 April 1915 - 9 January 1916), the unsuccessful attempt by Allied forces to seize the Gallipoli peninsula, on the northern bank of the Dardanelles, a vital part of a plan to capture Constantinople, the capital of the Ottoman Empire. The other man, Driver Ernest Stanley Vaughan, is also profiled here.

Jack Shelley was born in Frant, Sussex, in 1895, the son of William (b.1866) and Alice Shelley (b.1864), later of Holly Croft, Hartfield, Sussex. At the time of the 1901 census he was living at Haddon Cottages, Bexhill, Sussex. In the 1911 census Jack was enumerated as living at the police station in Hartfield, with his occupation given as house boy. His father was the police sergeant for Hartfield.

The Sinking of HMS Hythe

On 11 October 1915, 231 men of the 1st/3rd Kent Field Company of the Royal Engineers sailed out of Devonport, Devon, bound for the eastern Mediterranean and Gallipoli — just too late for the War Cabinet's decision of the previous day to stop sending any more troops to Gallipoli.

The voyage out to the eastern Mediterranean was uneventful. At Mudros Bay, on the Greek island of Lemnos in the northern Aegean sea, most of the Company transferred to a smaller ship, the HMS Hythe, a cross-channel paddle-driven ferry built in 1905 and requisitioned from the South East and Chatham Railway to be initially used as a minesweeper, to transport them to Helles, on the Gallipoli peninsula.

Major Ruston described what happened on 28 October 1915:

"We had sailed from Mudros about 4pm. It was a rough and squally day and...a great number of the men were seasick. However, we had almost reached our destination [about 8pm] and were beginning to think about disembarking when suddenly a large vessel loomed out of the darkness and in spite of all efforts to avoid a collision it ran into us, cutting deep into our port bow and bringing down the foremast. In ten minutes the vessel sank, leaving numbers struggling in the water or hanging on to spars and other floating matter. The boats of the other vessel did all they could and picked up many poor fellows - but all too few, for nearly 130 men drowned."

The vessel that ran into the overcrowded Hythe was another British troop ship, the Sarnia, which was returning to Mudros Bay having left her passengers at Helles.

Some of the men were killed by the actual collision, some were trapped in the sinking ship, and others were drowned in the chaos that followed and in the scramble for the few life-jackets that could be grabbed before the Hythe went down. In total 154 soldiers and crew died that night.

HMS Sarnia was also a requisitioned ferry, built in 1910 for the London and South Western Railway. In war service she became an armed boarding steamer. With a displacement of 1,498 tons and a top speed of 20.5 knots, Sarnia was a much larger and more powerful vessel than the Hythe, whose limit was only 12 knots.

Both vessels had made at least one change of course but it seems that neither slowed down. The Sarnia struck the port side of the Hythe with such force that its bows cut halfway through the ship. That brought the Hythe to a dead stop and caused its mast to collapse on the awning. Numerous deaths were caused instantly by the bows and the mast but those remaining fared little better. The immense damage caused the Hythe to sink rapidly. It was all over in a little as ten minutes. Many drowned trapped under the awning or in the cabs of their vehicles. The others had little or no time to gain the railings and throw off their kit before they were in the sea. Panic reigned as soldiers scrambled for the few life-jackets that could be grabbed before the Hythe went down. Most of those who jumped overboard were drowned in the chaos that followed.

Although HMS Sarnia survived the collision with the Hythe, it was later sunk by torpedo in the Mediterranean on 12 September 1918.

Carol O'Driscoll