Reginald Wells

Photograph

Memorial  

LDG STKR R. WELLS
   H.M.S. GLATTON
     23 SEPT. 1918

The current plaque for Reginald is a modern copy of the original. The latter, which was present on the memorial in 1929, had vanished by 2010. The copy was made and mounted in autumn 2013. His gravestone at St. Lawrence is about mid-way between the Church and the northern entrance to the churchyard from Church Street.

Photos by Sue Morris

Connection with Effingham

He was born in the village, as were his father and grandfather, and was probably still living here up to the time he decided to join the Navy. He is the only Effingham man known to have died in naval service during WW1.   

Genealogy

His father was Thomas whose own father was William Wells. William married in 1853 to Elizabeth (Snr.) (née) Dench [GRO Ref: Guildford 2a 59, 1853 (Q2)]. Their wedding took place at West Horsley on June 6th [IGI: Batch M040391]. Elizabeth (Snr.) was born to parents Thomas Dench and Sarah and was baptised at West Horsley on November 4th 1832 [IGI: Batch C040391]. 

Thomas was born at Effingham in 1856 [GRO Ref: Dorking 2a 94, 1856 (Q3)]. The 1861 Census finds him living in the village with his family and a Dench uncle at Westmoor House:

1861 Census
Westmoor House, Effingham, Surrey : PRO Ref: RG9 Piece 441 Folio 69 Page 6

William Wells : head : mar : 33 : farmer’s laborer [sic] : Effingham, Surrey
Elizabeth [Snr.] Wells : wife : mar : 28 : dressmaker : West Horsley, Surrey
Eliza Wells : dau : unm : 7 : scholar : West Horsley, Surrey
Thomas Wells : son : unm : 4 : scholar : Effingham, Surrey
Elizabeth Wells : dau : unm : 2 : scholar (!) : Effingham, Surrey
John Wm. Wells : son : unm : 2 months : — : Effingham, Surrey
Thomas Dench : brother-in-law : unm : 21 : farmer’s labourer : West Horsley, Surrey
William Percy : lodger : unm : 28 : farmer’s labourer : Effingham, Surrey

At this same address, but as a separate household, was the family of John Whittington, grandfather of Bob Whittington who is commemorated on the St. Lawrence churchyard memorial.

By 1871 the family had moved to Brookhill Lodge:

1871 Census

Brookhill Lodge, Effingham, Surrey : PRO Ref: RG10 Piece 829 Folio 102 Page 7
[Brookhill was an old name for the western end of Orestan Lane.]

William Wells : head : mar : 42 : agricultural labourer : Effingham, Surrey
Elizabeth [Snr.] Wells : wife : mar : 39 : — : West Horsley, Surrey
Thomas Wells : son : unm : 14 : agricultural labourer : Effingham, Surrey
William Wells : son : unm : 10 : scholar : Effingham, Surrey
Mary Wells : dau : unm : 7 : scholar : Effingham, Surrey
Arthur [Snr.] Wells : son : unm : 5 : scholar : Effingham, Surrey
Ann Wells : dau : unm : 2 : — : Effingham, Surrey

Above can be seen a younger brother of Thomas, namely Arthur (Snr.) – he would in due course become the father of Arthur Wells who is also commemorated on the St. Lawrence churchyard memorial and who was Reginald’s first cousin.

Meanwhile, the future wife of Thomas was living in London’s East End. She was Emily (née) Dodkin, born at Kingsland near Shoreditch in 1851 [GRO Ref: Hackney 3 225, 1851 (Q3)]. Here she is with her siblings in 1871, living just east of Whitechapel:

1871 Census
No. 40, Cornwall Street, St. George in the East, London : PRO Ref: RG10 Piece 539 Folio 19 Page 31

Frances Dodkin : head [sic] : unm : 26 : tailoress : Cheshunt, Hertfordshire
Robert Dodkin : son [sic – brother] : unm : 24 : carrier’s [unclear] servant : Cheshunt, Hertfordshire
Thomas Dodkin : son [sic – brother] : unm : 22 : carrier’s [unclear] servant : Cheshunt, Hertfordshire
Emily Dodkin : dau [sic – sister] : unm : 20 : tailoress : Kingsland, Middlesex
James Dodkin : son [sic – brother] : unm : 18 : cellarman : Kingsland, Middlesex

It appears that their mother (Mary Ann) was absent and that the oldest sibling Frances acted as head of household, wrongly stating on the form the relationships of the others to herself.

Emily’s older siblings were born in Hertfordshire and this is probably why in later years Emily mistakenly gave her own birthplace as “Kingsland, Hertfordshire” (instead of Middlesex) in her census returns.

At the time of the 1881 Census Thomas was still in Effingham. Meanwhile, Emily and her mother had left London and moved to Effingham, forming one of several households in The Vicarage, together with the incumbent Rev. Henry Malthus. Another of the households there comprised just Caroline (née Sumner) Ottaway, grandmother of William Ottaway who is also commemorated on the St. Lawrence churchyard memorial.

Here are Thomas and Emily, as yet unmarried, in the 1881 Census:

1881 Census
The Village, Effingham, Surrey : PRO Ref: RG11 Piece 796 Folio 120 Page 14

William Wells : head : mar : 52 : agricultural labourer : Effingham, Surrey
Elizabeth [Snr.] Wells : wife : mar : 49 : — : West Horsley, Surrey
Thomas Wells : son : unm : 24 : agricultural labourer : Effingham, Surrey
Arthur [Snr.] Wells : son : unm : 14 : agricultural labourer : Effingham, Surrey
Annie Wells : dau : unm : 12 : scholar : Effingham, Surrey
Bessie Wells : dau : unm : 7 : scholar : Effingham, Surrey
Richard Wells : son : unm : 4 : scholar : Effingham, Surrey

1881 Census
The Vicarage, Effingham : PRO Ref: RG11 Piece 796 Folio 118 Page 10

1st household:
Henry Malthus : head : mar : 76 : Vicar of Effingham : Bath, Somerset
Sophia Malthus : wife : mar : 74 : — : Leatherhead, Surrey

3rd household:
Mary A. Dodkins [sic] : head : widow : 71 : annuitant : — [no birthplace cited]
Emily Dodkins : dau : unm : 30 : domestic servant : Shoreditch, Middlesex

Thomas and Emily married in 1883 [GRO Ref: Reigate 2a 250, 1883 (Q3)]. He had perhaps moved to Reigate for the purpose of employment, which may also be why his brother Arthur (Snr.) married in Reigate six years later (although their parents remained in Effingham throughout).

By 1891 Thomas and Emily had produced four children and had recently returned to Effingham, now living on the  Common:

1891 Census
The Common, Effingham, Surrey : PRO Ref: RG12 Piece 576 Folio 99 Page 8

Thomas Wells : head : mar : 35 : general labourer : Effingham, Surrey
Emmely [sic] Wells : wife : mar : 39 : — : Kingsland, Hertfordshire [sic – Middlesex]
Mary A. Wells : dau : unm : 6 : — : Reigate, Surrey
Emely [sic] E. Wells : dau : unm : 5 : — : Reigate, Surrey
William Wells : son : unm : 4 : — : Leigh, Surrey
Fany [sic] F. Wells : dau : unm : 1 : — : Effingham, Surrey

Reginald was born on December 8th 1893 and registered in the new year [GRO Ref: Dorking 2a 154, 1894 (Q1)]. Here he is with his parents in 1901:

1901 Census
The Common, Effingham, Surrey : PRO Ref: RG13 Piece 623 Folio 99 Page 8

Thomas Wells : head : mar : 46 : farm labourer : Effingham, Surrey
Emily Wells : wife : mar : 49 : — : Kingsland, Hertfordshire [sic – Middlesex]
Fanny Wells : dau : unm : 11 : — : Effingham, Surrey
Reginald Wells : son : unm : 6 : — : Effingham, Surrey

At this time he was living almost immediately next door to the family of Frederick Orlando Kemp who is also commemorated on the St. Lawrence churchyard memorial.

The Wells family was still living on the Common in 1911:

1911 Census
The Common, Effingham, Surrey : PRO Ref: RG14 Piece 3193 Schedule 119

Tomas [sic] Wells : head : mar : 55 : farm labourer : Effingham, Surrey
Emily Ann Wells : wife : mar : 59 : — : … [unclear], Hertfordshire [sic – Middlesex]
Emily Eliza Wells : dau : unm : 26 : — : Reigate, Surrey
William John Wells : son : unm : 24 : cowman : Leigh, Surrey
Reginald Wells : son : unm : 17 : gardener domestic : Effingham, Surrey

Aged 21 in March 1914, several months before the start of the War, Reginald signed up for 12 years with the Navy with Service Number K/22165. He served as a stoker on several ships, of which the last was HMS Glatton. This ship suffered a major catastrophe in Dover harbour on September 16th 1918, inflicting injuries upon Reginald from which he died a week later, on the 23rd. He was buried at Effingham in the St. Lawrence churchyard, just a few yards away from the WW1 Memorial.

It appears that his mother Emily died aged “84” in 1935 [GRO Ref: Surrey N.E. 2a 95, 1935 (Q3)].

Military Records

1. Service Record

National Archives: ADM 188/911:
          Admiralty: Royal Navy Registers of Seamen’s Services (1873-1923), Vol. K22-1 : Stokers

His service record survives as a single sheet; a scan of the original can be viewed or downloaded here (pdf, 267K). At the top it is stamped “Portsmouth”, so he may have joined the Navy there. It gives his date of birth as December 8th 1893, his birthplace as (a little misleadingly) Leatherhead and his occupation (prior to joining) as game keeper. He had joined in March 24th 1914 for a 12-year engagement. Whether he had anticipated that within months he would be at war, we cannot know, but excitement about a coming war had been evident for months beforehand. His age was given as “F.E.” denoting “First Entry”, i.e. that he had not previously served in the Navy. He was 5’5″ tall with brown hair, blue eyes, fresh complexion and no marks or scars.

He served on HMS Victory II as a Stoker (Class 2) from March 24th to October 2nd 1914 and then transferred to HMS Kent on October 3rd. During his long spell on the Kent he rose to Stoker (Class 1) on December 14th 1914 and eventually to Acting Leading Stoker on June 10th 1918. He returned to the Victory II on June 11th and continued there until August 30th. Then, on August 31st, he made his fateful transfer to HMS Glatton (pictured here). For each of these four ship services his conduct and ability were recorded as “VG” (Very Good).

His record then ends with “DD” denoting “Discharged Dead”, annotated by “N.P. 10310/18” (probably a Naval Party reference) and “Died of Injuries 23/9/18”. Finally, the form is stamped “Paid War Gratuity”. 

2. The Loss of HMS Glatton

The following is an adaptation of the article The loss of the HMS Glatton, an “interesting little ship” written by Robert (“Bob”) Henneman and appears here by his kind permission.

HMS Glatton and her sister ship HMS Gordon were well-armed steam-powered vessels designed to serve as coastal bombardment monitor ships. They were built by Armstrong’s Elswick yard and equipped with various guns and torpedo tubes. Their main guns could fire two shells per minute to a range of 39,000 yards. 

HMS Glatton served with the Royal Navy for only five days. She joined the Dover Patrol on September 11th 1918 and lay in harbour ready to depart for the Belgian coast. Admiral Keyes and the ship’s commanding officer, Commander Diggle, were walking on the cliffs above the harbour when Glatton suddenly, and without warning, experienced an explosion and began burning furiously. Salvage tugs tried but failed to control the fire. More importantly, the ship in the next berth was a fully-loaded ammunition ship: if Glatton blew up completely, the ammo ship would explode also, destroying the city of Dover and causing thousands of civilian casualties. 

Admiral Keyes ordered that the crew should be taken off, and after a couple of attempts Glatton was successfully torpedoed to make her sink before she could explode further. He boarded the destroyer HMS Myngs to see to it personally. 

An inquiry was immediately started, as the British were alarmed by her loss: several ships had exploded due to poor cordite during the war, but the Royal Navy was certain they had corrected the problem. 

It was established that the original explosion came from the midships 6-inch magazines, and not from the main gun cordite. The 6-inch magazines were separated from the boiler spaces just forward of them by a bulkhead, and it was thought that the ship’s stokers had piled red-hot cinders from the fireboxes against this bulkhead. However, investigation showed that the stokers actually piled their cinders against the outer bulkhead separating the boiler room from the bulge, letting them cool before sending them up the ejector, and not against the magazine bulkhead. 

Investigation into the construction showed that the outer bulkhead was lined with cork to help retard flooding from the splinters created by a torpedo explosion against the bulge. The cork was thought to have slowly overheated and caught on fire, and the fire travelled down the cork until it overheated the outer bulkhead of the magazine, causing the explosion. This seemed a bit far-fetched, as the smouldering cork would have needed a lot of time to overheat the magazine enough to cause an explosion, and there was no evidence of a smouldering fire before the explosion. 

Careful examination of the sister ship Gordon revealed the problem: in places the cork was missing, leaving air spaces that had been plugged with rolled-up newspaper by the same shipyard workers who had originally built the Glatton. In addition, rivets along the bulkheads were missing, leaving holes. Hot cinders had evidently ignited the paper, and air drawn through the rivet holes had fanned the flames. The flames found an opening into the 6-inch magazine and an explosion resulted. There was no faulty cordite, and the poor boiler room procedures would not have caused the loss of the ship had they not been combined with poor quality control at the shipyard. As construction had been rushed due to the war, the greatly-expanded workforce at the yard contained many inexperienced workers; also, the ship had been inspected and accepted for service, and the stokers ought not to have piled ashes against even the outer bulkhead. Given these facts, no litigation was brought against the shipyard. 

The wreck remained on the floor of Dover harbor until 1926, when it was raised. Her hull was placed in a deep gully dug next to the Western Pier of the Eastern dock. A hole was cut in her bottom and the bodies of those who had died on her were removed for burial. Parts of the Glatton still remain today beneath the car ferry terminal.

Two days later Admiral Keyes sent a typed 2-page letter to the Secretary of the Admiralty, transcribed below:

From : Vice Admiral, Dover Patrol
To : The Secretary of the Admiralty.
Date : 18th September 1918.   No. 3544/901.

———————-

I regret to have to report that a serious explosion occurred amidships on board H.M.S. “GLATTON” whilst lying at No. 12 buoy in Dover Harbour, at 18.17 on 16th September 1918.

2.  This was followed immediately by an outbreak of fire, the oil fuel burning furiously and spreading fore and aft.

3.  All the Salvage Tugs proceeded to “GLATTON” and endeavoured to extinguish the fire. The foremost magazines were flooded, but it was found impossible to get to the after magazine flooding positions, and as there was no one alive on board who had been in the after part of the ship, it could only be assumed that the after magazine had not been flooded.

4.  For over an hour every effort was made to get the fire under [control] without success, and finding it had reached the vicinity of the after magazine I decided to abandon and sink the ship directly all the wounded had been removed – this was a lengthy proceeding attended with some difficulty owing to the flames, fumes and smoke.

5. The opening of the foremost seacocks failed to make much impression, and bulge flooding arrangements and after seacocks being inaccessible, I reluctantly decided to torpedo the ship. H.M.S. “Cossack” fired two 18-inch torpedoes; the first hit the ship amidships and failed to explode, the second blew in the bulge amidships. H.M.S. “Myngs” then fired two 14-inch torpedoes into the same position, the first giving the ship a list to starboard and the second causing her to heel right over and sink at 20.00.

6. I considered it undesirable to torpedo the ship on the port side as well as starboard – though this might have caused her to sink on a more even keel – it being impossible to get into a position to do so without inflicting heavy damage should the torpedo fail to run straight.

7.  The ship now lies on the bottom, having listed through 145 degrees, causing the deck to lie close down on the sea bottom, making an angle of 35 degrees with it. The superstructure and all the starboard side of the deck are presumably embedded in the mud.

8.  Fortunately as the ship was standing off a large number of liberty men were on shore. I regret to report the following casualties:-

Missing, presumably killed (approx.) –  1 Officer & 59 Men
Injured, since died – 1 Officer & 18 Men
Injured – 14 Officers & 91 Men (a large number being serious cases).
5 Officers and 157 Men are uninjured. 

9.  The interim report of the Court of Enquiry, which is investigating the circumstances attending the explosion, is attached.

(SD.) ROGER KEYES.
VICE ADMIRAL.

Reginald Wells must have been one of the above-cited 91 injured men still alive on September 18th.

H.M.S. Glatton in Dover Harbour after being torpedoed.

3. Commonwealth War Graves Commission Record

Name
Rank
Regiment
Age
Date of Death
Service No.
Additional info.
Grave/Memorial Ref.
Cemetery

WELLS, R.
Leading Stoker
Royal Navy
not stated [but was 25]
23/09/1918
K/22165(PO)
Son of Mrs. Emily Wells, of 1, Willow Cottages, Effingham
North-West of Church
EFFINGHAM (ST. LAURENCE) CHURCHYARD

4. Medal Record

National Archives: ADM 171/118: Admiralty: Medal Rolls (1793-1972)

The medal record shows that Reginald was awarded the standard three medals – 1914/15 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal. The entry “UNIV LEG” denotes “universal legatee”, indicating that Reginald’s medals were to be passed to the particular individual to whom he had Willed his entire estate.

5. Dover Patrol Book of Remembrance

Researching Dover’s wartime casualties is the subject of the Dover Memorial Project. Among the many tasks undertaken by that project is the transcribing of the Dover Patrol’s Book of Remembrance, whose cover and first inner page are shown here. The names of the fallen are entered in the book a few to a page, employing ornate calligraphy and illumination. Thanks to project volunteer Noel Clark in Australia, we have the following transcription of Reginald’s entry:

WELLS R.   Leading Stoker, Royal Navy, HMS Glatton