James Henry Kirby

Date of birth: 10th February 1894
Place of birth: Bristol
Regiment / Division: Royal Navy
Vessel: HMS Hampshire
Rank / Service No: Stoker 1st Class, SS/111977 (PO)
Died: 5th June 1916, aged 22 years
Commemorated: Portsmouth Naval Memorial

 

It has proven difficult to piece together James’ family. His mother is unknown but his father was Frank, born in Woolwich in 1858.

James appears to be his only child from the 1890’s. Frank married Emma Derkin in Southampton in 1908, although the 1911 Census states that they married in 1902.

 

The probable reason for that is that the couple had 3 children, the first of whom was born in 1902.

 

Half-sister Elsie Eva   b. 1902 Southampton   d. 1988 Fareham   Married a Mr. New in Portsmouth in 1933. Married Alan D. Moody in Southampton in 1963.

Half-sister Helen “Nellie” Gertrude b. 5 April 1906 Southampton   d. 1979 Salisbury   Married Alberto Edward D’Alessio in Southampton in 1929 (married for 50 years).

Half-sister Eileen Mary   b. 11 June 1911 Southampton   d. 1999 Southampton   Married Alfred G. Noice in Southampton in 1947.

 

 

James enlisted in the Royal Navy on 27 March 1912, and joined the Hampshire on 2 January 1914.

HMS Hampshire was completed on 15 July 1905 in Newcastle. She was assigned to the 1st Cruiser Squadron of the Channel Fleet, together with her sister ships.

 

She had a refit in Portsmouth in 1908 but was then put on reserve. She was recommissioned in December 1911 and assigned to the 6th Cruiser Squadron of the Mediterranean Fleet and was transferred to the China Station in 1912.

 

She saw plenty of action in the South China Sea after the outbreak of war. At the end of 1914, Hampshire acted as an escort for an ANZAC troop convoy through the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea to Egypt.

 

After a refit in Gibralter and escort duty off the Russian coast, Hampshire participated in a minor way in the Battle of Jutland with the 2nd Cruiser Squadron on 31 May 1916.

 

Immediately after the battle, Hampshire was ordered to carry Lord Kitchener from Scapa Flow on a diplomatic mission to Russia via the port of Archangelsk.

Because of bad weather, Hampshire was sent through the Pentland Firth to the Orkneys so that her escort of destroyers could keep up with her.

 

However the wind turned direction and the escort lost touch. The Captain of the Hampshire ordered the destroyers to return to Scapa Flow, believing submarines would not be operating in such adverse weather.

 

When off the coast of the mainland of Orkney on 5 June at 19.40, an explosion occurred and she heeled to starboard.

She had struck one of several mines laid by U-75 on 28/29 May, just before the Battle of Jutland.

 

The lifeboats were smashed against the side of the vessel on lowering, because of the heavy seas. About 15 minutes after the explosion, Hampshire sank by the bows.

 

Only 12 crewmen survived from a crew of 655 and 7 passengers; James and Kitchener plus his staff were lost.

 

There is conjecture that a member of Kitchener’s staff (known as Count Boris Zakrevsky) was in fact a Boer (and German spy) Fritz Joubert Duquesne, and that he had organized the sinking of Hampshire.

 

He was then rescued by U-75 as Hampshire sank. This story cannot be verified, but it certainly adds a note of intrigue to the tragedy.

 

 

Researcher: Mark Heritage
Published: 6th October 2016
Updated:

 

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