Arthur Dennis

Date of birth: 1896
Place of birth: Southampton
Service No.: Not known
Rank: Trimmer
Service: Merchant Navy
Vessel: HMHS Britannic
Died: 21st November 1916 aged 20 years
Death location: At sea off the coast of Kea, Greece


Life before the War
Arthur was the son of Arthur and Emily.  According to the 1901 census the family was living at 1 Mansbridge Cottage, Swaythling.  Arthur was 5 years of age, his father Arthur was aged 26, his mother Emily 30.  They lived here with Arthur’s 4 siblings:

Agnes Benham aged 8 – Arthur’s half-sister was born of his mother’s previous marriage
Edwin aged 3
Ada aged 2
Beatrice just 8 months

The 1911 census shows Arthur still living with the family at Mansbridge Cottage.  By now he is 14 years of age and working as a ‘van-boy’, with father Arthur (38 years old), Emily (42), Edwin (13), Ada (12) and Beatrice (10).  The family has grown and Arthur had another 4 siblings:

Walter aged 8
Lilly aged 6
Harriett aged 5
Jessie aged 1

With regard to Arthur’s brother Edwin, it is tragically noted that he lost his life in 1919 while serving with the Army in Egypt; the Dennis family certainly had more than a fair share of tragedy in their losses.  Please select Edwin’s name to read his story on our website.

War Service
Built by Harland & Wolff in Belfast, Britannic (48,158tons) was laid down in 1911, launched in 1914 and taken into service as a hospital ship on the 23rd December 1915.  She sank on the 21st November 1916.  There has always been some doubt as to whether Britannic hit a mine or was struck by a U-boat’s torpedo?

HMHS Britannic

HMHS Britannic

At 0812 on November 21st 1916, Britannic was steaming near the coast of Greece in the Kea Island Channel, when there was an explosion on her starboard side between holds 2 and 3.  The 1st and 4th watertight compartments were soon flooded with boiler-room 6 being seriously damaged and rapidly flooding.  Boiler-rooms 5 and 6 were evacuated within two minutes.  As the ship was barely three miles from the nearby coast of Kea the captain thought he could beach her, but he was unaware of the extent of the explosion.  He ordered ‘full –ahead’ but she was sinking at an alarming rate and on realising she would not make it ashore he ordered ‘stop’.  However, the electrical wiring controlling the vessel was by now under water which caused the controls to short-circuit so that when she sank she was still making full speed. When lifeboats were lowered the propellers made a whirlpool affect which sucked in and shredded two lifeboats together with the people in them. Britannic sank in about 55 minutes! The captain ordered the lifeboats to be lowered and issued the order to abandon-ship; she capsized to starboard and went under at 0907.

There were 1,036 survivors of this disaster, 30 people lost their lives and 24 were injured.  Arthur, being a trimmer, was probably on watch below with little chance of making it to safety.

The first people to arrive offering help were fishermen from Kea who picked up several survivors and landed them on the island. The first British

HMS Scourge

HMS Scourge

ship to arrive at the scene, shortly before 1000, was HMS Heroic (destroyer) who picked up 494 survivors, with HMS Scourge (destroyer) arriving at 1000 picking up a further 339; both these ships had to retire as they had insufficient deck space for more.  At 1145 HMS Foxhound (destroyer) arrived, then HMS Foresight (light cruiser) at 1400 with these two ships picking up the remaining survivors.  Fortunately Britannic was not carrying wounded, otherwise the casualty list would have been very much heavier.

A much fuller account of the sinking is available online – courtesy of Wikipedia.

Arthur is named on the Tower Hill Memorial in London.  His name is also engraved on one side of the family grave at South Stoneham Cemetery in Southampton.


Researcher: Terry Randall
Published: 29th January 2015
Updated: Insert dates here

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