Eric Joseph Mitchener

Date of birth: 4th August 1894
Place of birth: Southwick, London
Service No.: J.8072 (Po)
Rank: Leading Signaller
Service: Royal Navy
Vessel: HMS Opal
Died: 12th January 1918 aged 23 years
Death location: At sea


Life Before the War
According to his baptism papers Eric was born on 4th August 1894, however his Naval papers show he was born on 31st July 1894.  He was baptised on the 14th October 1894 at Southwark, London.

Eric’s father, Frederick Harry aka Harry, was born in Brighton, Sussex on 13th September 1865 and died in Worthing District, Sussex in 1938. Eric’s mother Caroline Jane, was born in St. Pancras, London on 8th February 1866, dying on 16th November 1919.  Harry and Caroline Jane Larman married on 4th April 1887 in Essex.

Eric’s 7 siblings – 3 sisters and 4 brothers -were:

Horace Harry Cook   Born 26th August 1888 Islington.  Baptised 24th February 1889 St. Mary’s Islington.  Died 7th March 1977 Southampton. He married Lillian Kate Spencer Hitchen in 1914.

Dorothy Emile Jane   Born 1890 Islington.

Ronald John Larman   Born 6th April 1892.  Baptised 26th June 1892 Islington.  Died 16th May 1906.

Caroline Elsie   Born 18th July 1897 Lindfield, Sussex and died 26th October 1982.  She married Jack Norman Victor Oxford.

Charles Louis   Born 1898 and died 3rd May 1917 (war casualty).

Hilda Irene   Born 18th June 1903 Southampton and died 23rd December 1969.  She married in 1932.

Reginald Edward   Born 24th June 1906 and died 1973.

Between the births of Caroline and Charles the family had moved to Southampton, living in English Road, Shirley, Southampton. The baptisms of his children showed that Harry was a Sanitary Inspector, but by the time the 1901 census was taken he had his own business as a Builder.

The 1911 census shows that Caroline was the head of the family (her husband is not on the census) and she was employed by the London and South West Railway Company as a Stewardess.  Horace was working for a firm of Solicitors as a Law Clerk and Elsie was employed by a Drapers Business as an Apprentice Milliner.  Both Charles and Hilda were attending a Private School.


Portsmouth Naval Memorial

Portsmouth Naval Memorial

War Service
Eric lost his life whilst serving on HMS Opal, the account of the incident is given below.  Eric is Remembered with Honour on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, Southsea Common, Hampshire. His memorial reads:
“Mitchener, Ldg. Sign. Eric Joseph, J/8072. R.N. H.M.S. “Opal”. Drowned in wreck of vessel off Orkneys 12th Jan., 1918. Son of Mr. and Mrs. H. Mitchener, of Southampton”

As a pupil of King Edward’s School, Hill Lane, Southampton, he is remembered on their War Memorial.

For service to his country Eric was entitled to the Star, British Service and Victory Medals.


Brother Horace’s War Service
Horace enlisted when he was 19 years old on 20th November 1907, joining the Hampshire Royal Garrison Artillery.  He gave his address as 79, Manor Road, Pear Tree, Southampton.  His civilian occupation was a Clerk for Messrs. Moberly & Wharton.


Brother Charles’s War Service
Charles served with the Australian Army as a Gunner with the 4th Division Heavy and Medium Trench Mortar Battery Field Artillery. He was killed in action in France on 3rd May 1917.  Please select the link to Charles’ name to read his story.


Historical Information – HMS Opal
On 12th January 1918 Opal joined her sister ship Narborough and the light cruiser Boadicea in a night patrol to hunt German auxiliary warships suspected to be laying mines on the Scottish coast.  By 17:30 the weather had deteriorated to such an extreme degree that the destroyers were in danger of swamping and foundering and visibility was near zero.  Fearing that her companions might sink, Boadicea ordered the Narborough and Opal back to Scarpa Flow while she continued alone.  For the next four hours Opal regularly sent reports indicating her course and intention to return, but at 21:27 a garbled message reading “have run aground” was received, followed by silence.  The weather was so atrocious that no vessels could be despatched until the following morning and it was two days before Opal was found, battered, broken and empty on the Clett of Crura. Narborough was found in a similar position nearby.  One survivor, William Sissons, was later located on a small islet and he related that the ships had been sailing a regular slow course making frequent soundings and radio reports, but had suddenly crashed headlong into the rocks, probably due to a navigation error by Opal’s captain.  Both wrecks were abandoned and broken up by the sea over the next few weeks taking the bodies of both crews, bar the single survivor, with them. The Opal’s total compliment of crew was 80 persons.


Researcher: Becky Lonergan
Published: 24th May 2015
Updated: Insert dates here

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