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James Hughes (1888-1916)

Coal heaver from Dipton served as a stoker in the Royal Navy and was lost at the Battle of Jutland

James Hughes was born on 18 March 1888 in Dipton. His father Daniel (1848) was a Coke Drawer originally from County Tyrone in Ireland. Daniel had first been married to Catharine Hughes nee Nimoney (1861-1882). During their relatively brief marriage they had one son, Patrick, a half-sibling of James.

Daniel married again in 1883. His second wife was Mary Ann Hughes nee Caffrey from Seghill, Northumberland. The 1911 census notes that over the next 27 years they had 13 children together of which 11 were still living. In 1891, the family were living in The Square, Dipton and in 1901 had moved to 42 Medomsley Cottages, Dipton.

James joined the Royal Navy on 25 May 1906 when he signed up for five years service plus seven years in the Royal Fleet Reserve. His civilian trade as a coal heaver would stand him in good stead as stoker SS102947. His first months were spent on HMS Nelson, a training ship. The majority of his service between 1907-11 was aboard HMS Drake which was the lead ship of her class of armoured cruisers that operated in home waters at the time James served. He became a stoker first class on 23 June 1907.

At the time of the census, on 2 April 1911, James was aboard HMS Diadem in Portsmouth Harbour. After serving his five years he transferred to the Royal Fleet Reserve (RFR) on 28 May 1911. Being in the reserve meant he had to serve a short period back aboard during each of the next seven years to keep his skills up to date in case his further service was required at a time of conflict.

James returned home where he married Elizabeth Hughes nee McDermott in 1913. They had two daughters Mary Hughes (1914) and Catherine Hughes (1915). James worked as a coal filler at Hamsterley Colliery.

James was recalled to HMS Drake on 13 July 1914 as part of a test mobilisation of the navy’s third fleet. This test had been planned since October 1913, so it was by chance that it coincided with the period of heightened tension in Europe. After exercises, it was planned that the fleet would return to home ports for the reserve to demobilise on 23 July 1914. James would have expected to return home with all the other reservists at this time. Unfortunately, with war looming, it was deemed that the demobilisation should be cancelled and James would now continue to serve for the duration of hostilities when war was declared.

James served on HMS Drake for almost a year and was then transferred to HMS Black Prince on 8 July 1915. The Black Prince took part in the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 1916 and was hit by at least twelve heavy shells and several smaller ones, sinking within 15 minutes. There were no survivors from Black Prince’s crew all 857 being killed, including James.

The Battle of Jutland took place on a Wednesday. A report in the Durham Chronicle on 9 June 1916 notes that James’ wife Elizabeth received a letter from him on the following Monday which led to confusion as to whether he was amongst the survivors of the battle. Unfortunately, this proved not to be the case.

James Hughes was lost at sea and is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. He is honoured locally on the Hamsterley Colliery memorial and on the Roll of Honour at Dene Court Community Room.

Civil Parish: Collierley

Birth date: 18-Mar-1888

Death date: 31-May-1916

Armed force/civilian: Navy

Residence: The Square, Dipton (1891 census)
42 Medomsley Cottages, Dipton (1901 census)
HMS Diadem, Portsmouth, Hampshire (1911 census)

Employment: Coal Heaver (1906 service record)

Family: Parents: Daniel Hughes, Mary Ann Hughes nee Caffrey
Half sibling: Patrick Hughes
Siblings: Thomas Hughes, John Hughes, Daniel Hughes, Rose Hughes, Elizabeth Hughes, Margaret Hughes, Dominic Hughes, Michael Hughes, William Hughes, Augustine Hughes,
Wife: Elizabeth Hughes nee McDermott
Children: Mary Hughes, Catherine Hughes

Military service:

Military Service
Stoker, 25 May 1906
HMS Nelson 1906
HMS Terrible 1907
HMS Hecla 1907
Stoker first class, 23 June 1907
HMS Drake 1907
Transferred to Royal Fleet Reserve, Portsmouth, 28 May 1911

Memorial(s): Portsmouth Naval Memorial
Hamsterley Colliery
Dene Court Community Room Roll of Honour

Gender: Male

Contributed by David D, Stanley, Co Durham