The Sunderland war hero who died as his ship tried to ram the enemy

A new book has taken a fascinating look at the servicemen with Sunderland connections who died for their country during the First World War.

Wednesday, 22nd June 2016, 10:00 am
Henry Street where Wilson Broomfield lived.

Remembered in Sunderland focuses on the 469 First World War army, navy and Royal Flying Corps military gravestones in our local cemeteries.

There are thousands of neat gravestones and memorials in northern France, Belgium and elsewhere in the world.

The grave of Wilson Broomfield.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

But this book explores how Sunderland servicemen, who were killed in the war, came to be buried closer to home at six local cemeteries including Bishopwearmouth and Mere Knolls.

The author is Trevor Thorne, whose previous book covered events on the home front during the First World War.

He said: “While researching the first book I started to wonder how those graves came to be here and this book tells the stories of around 35 of those servicemen who are buried here.

“While the subject appears quite grim, the stories which came out were fascinating and worth setting out in a book. After all, these lads gave their lives for their country.”

The grave of Wilson Broomfield.

The buried include three Canadians, an Australian and one local soldier who was living in the USA at the time.

One story centres on Sunderland man Wilson Broomfield and his ship HMS Nubian.

Wilson Broomfield was the son of Matthew, a ropery worker and his wife Jemima, of Henry Street in Hendon. He was born in March 1890.

By 1916, aged 26, he had married Mary Frances and was living in Grimsby.

He joined the Royal Navy as a stoker in 1909 for the standard 12-year term and was a rope maker’s labourer.

In the navy of the early 1900s, the stoker was looked down upon by other ranks. They were paid less than an ordinary seaman and forbidden to appear on deck in their dirty overalls.

This treatment came to a head in 1906 when the stokers at Portsmouth rioted as part of a serious mutiny. Their conditions were subsequently improved by the navy.

In 1916, Broomfield was aboard HMS Nubian, a Tribal-Class destroyer built seven years earlier.

On October 26 and October 27, 1916, his ship was involved in the first battle of Dover Strait when 23 German torpedo boats from the Flanders Flotilla launched a raid.

The Germans’ intention was to disrupt the Dover Barrage (an underwater mine blockade against submarines) which protected the English Channel and also to attack any allied shipping they encountered. Initially surprising an old British destroyer HMS Flint in the Strait, they were able to sink her.

Six Tribal-Class destroyers were sent out to meet the enemy including HMS Nubian which steamed ahead of the group towards the action. She initially mistook the German boats to be British and was soon met with a hail of gunfire.

Attempting to ram one of the enemy boats she was torpedoed herself which blew off the bow reducing the ship to little more than a hulk.

The German flotilla was able to escape after causing damage to a number of ships and sinking six drifters.

As a result of the action on HMS Nubian, 15 men died. Some were washed up on the shore.

Wilson Broomfield was one of those officially ‘drowned as a result of enemy action’. His body was recovered and returned home for burial in Bishopwearmouth Cemetery.

The undamaged part of the ship along with sections of another damaged destroyer HMS Zulu was cobbled together to form a new ship called HMS Zubian.

This new ship sank at least one U-boat. After the war, HMS Zubian was broken up in a Sunderland shipyard.

The book is packed with the stories of many of the Sunderland men who gave their lives during the conflict and are today buried in the cemeteries of Wearside.

Any profits from the book, priced £6.99, will go to the Royal British Legion and is available at Waterstones and Sunderland Antiquarian Society in Douro Terrace.