William Kent

Service number: J/28855 | Rank: Able Seaman | Serving on: H.M.S Formidable

Died, January 1, 1915, on H.M.S. Formidable which was sunk by a torpedo from German submarine U24, off Portland Bill, UK.



William’s birth was recorded as being in Islington, London, on 9th June 1898 and it seems his parents were Brandon people but there is no record of why his mother, and perhaps his father, were in London at the time of his birth. According to the 1901 Census, William, who was a young toddler, was recorded as living in Brandon and being brought up by his 50-year-old grandmother, Emma Kent. There is no record of the whereabouts of his parents, although Emma did have a son named Willie, who might well have been William’s father. Emma had been a widow for over twenty years and had brought up her young family single-handedly. In 1901 she was working for the local fur trade and had to use her low income to care for her family, which consisted of a teenage daughter and two grandsons, William and William’s older brother. A decade later in 1911, William aged 12 years old, was recorded on the Census return as boarding with an elderly Brandon couple – Mr William Hunter and his wife Emily; who had a history of housing other people’s children. Perhaps William’s grandmother had finally become too frail to raise children any more and she was recorded as living with her two bachelor sons on Thetford Road.

In the summer of 1914, William headed off to Shotley, near Felixstowe, or more specifically H.M.S. Ganges, where he undertook training to be a Royal Naval Seaman. By the time war broke out his fate was determined when, in December of that first year of war, he was posted to serve on H.M.S. Formidable, which was a large Royal Navy battleship.

H.M.S. Formidable was based at Portland, just off the Dorset coast, and her main task was to patrol the English Channel and protect troop ships ferrying soldiers over to France. On 14th November the battleship was sent to Sheerness in Kent to defend the coast against a perceived invasion threat, and it was here that William joined the ship’s crew. Then on December 30th 1914, H.M.S. Formidable was ordered to return to Portland. The following day the battleship was involved in gunnery exercises in the Channel and decided to stay out at sea on patrol despite warnings of U-Boats operating in the area. At 2.20am on New Year’s Day of 1915, a U-Boat torpedo slammed into Formidable’s port side and the ship’s captain ordered the ship to turn back to the coast. However twenty minutes later it was obvious she was not going to make it and he gave the order to abandon ship. At 3.05am a second torpedo struck the battleship, this time on the starboard side and those men who did survive the explosions and escaped from the sinking ship had to contend with 30ft waves which caused one lifeboat to capsize. Just before 5am the huge battleship rolled over and sank, dragging down those unfortunate men in the water nearby. In total 547 men lost their lives from a complement of 780. William, still only a boy and only having been on board for just over two weeks, was one of those casualties.