Charles William Ember

Date of birth: 16th January 1894
Place of birth: Shirley, Southampton
Regiment / Division: Royal Navy
Vessel: HMS Princess Irene
Rank / Service No: Able Seaman, J/10715
Died: 27th May 1915, aged 21 years
Commemorated: Portsmouth Naval Memorial


It would appear that Charles had a mother but no known father, and was probably an only child.


His mother was Louisa Mary Ember, who was born in Shirley in 1874. She subsequently married Henry William Hooper in Shirley in 1901; he was born in Coxford in 1874, and died in the city in 1936.


Louisa passed away in the city in 1957.


Charles enlisted for 12 years on his 18th birthday, in 1912. He went on board Princess Irene on 9 March 1915.

Princess Irene was a 5.5 tonne ocean liner launched on 20 October 1914. She was built in Dumbarton for the Canadian Pacific Railway.


She was requisitioned by the Royal Navy upon completion and converted to an auxiliary minelayer, with a complement of 225 crew.


On 27 May 1915, Princess Irene was moored in the Medway Estuary, being loaded with mines in preparation for a deployment.


At 11.14, she exploded and disintegrated. A column of flame 300 feet high was followed a few seconds later by another of similar height, and a pall of smoke (reaching 1200 feet) hung where the vessel had been.

Two barges laying alongside were destroyed; 273 crew and 76 dockyard workers, who were on Princess Irene at the time, were killed.

Wreckage was flung up to 20 miles away, with people in Sittingbourne being injured by flying debris.


One Stoker survived, although he was badly burnt, and 3 other crew were lucky to be ashore at the time of the explosion.


It was decided at a Court of Inquiry that, although inexperienced personnel were priming the mines, it was a faulty primer that had caused the explosion.




Researcher: Mark Heritage
Published: 14th July 2016


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