Frederick John Aldridge

J/39013, Ordinary Seaman, HMS Vanguard, Royal Navy

Died at Sea on the 9th July 1917 aged 18

Frederick Aldridge (Standing) with an unknown crewman of HMS Vanguard.

Frederick Aldridge was born on 17th January 1899, the eldest son of John & Ellen Aldridge, who lived at 2 Huntingdon Road, Stevenage. His father was a Porter for the Great Northern Railway and, at the time of his son's death, had spent 21 years serving at Stevenage station.

After leaving school, Frederick first worked as a News Lad for W.H.Smith & Son, following which he went to work at the workshops of Educational Supply Association in Stevenage as a factory hand.  On the 17th March 1915 Frederick answered the call of the sea and joined the Royal Navy as a Boy entrant. After the completion of his training on the 25th August 1915 he was posted to HMS Vanguard. Frederick served with his ship at the Battle of Jutland in May 1916 and the following short description is given in official records of the ships involvement in the action;

At about 2.30pm on 31st May 1916 HMS Vanguard was steaming in a Southerly direction as hard as she could. Then she received the signal from the Commander-in-Chief, "Be prepared to meet the enemy in every respect." The crew waited anxiously as the cruisers of the fleet engaged the German ships. Then Vanguard fired her first round from the 12" guns. Eventually she fired a total of 63 rounds altogether. Soon after she had opened fire, the news was circulated that a German light cruiser had been sunk and that the British destroyers were attacking the Germans. When she came up to the sinking cruiser, which she passed close enough read her name by the unaided eye, she was found to be the " Invincible" one of our own battle cruisers which was, or appeared to have been broken in two parts, the amidships portion. A destroyer was standing by the wreck. She continued firing for 20 minutes during which time she was under fire, and assisted in repulsing a destroyer attack. Many shots passed over her and fell ahead, some of these passed sufficiently close to the Fore Top to make those there duck their heads. She was not hit so suffered no casualties. At about 6.30 pm Vanguard had reduced her speed to 14 knots. It was getting dark and there were no enemy ships in sight. At 9 pm the buzzers went, and the crew returned in haste to their stations expecting a destroyer attack, as it then was dark enough to make such an attack likely. Firing was heard going on astern, which seemed to get louder and louder. At about 10 pm an action was seen to be in progress between a Light Cruiser or Flotilla leader and some destroyers, which took place quite close to the Vanguard and was witnessed by those on watch and then men stationed at her guns.. The cruiser was seen to sink, on fire, the shells as they struck her lighting up her interior, the men on board being clearly visible. The following morning at about 11am two submarines were reported in the vicinity of Vanguard and she returned to base.”

At 11.20 pm on Monday 9th July 1917, HMS Vanguard was at anchor in Scapa Flow. The mighty warship suddenly blew up, taking 804 of her crew down with her. The explosion had taken place in one of the two magazines which served turrets 'P' and 'Q'.  It is believed that the cause of the explosion was the spontaneous detonation of cordite, which had become unstable. Although there is no specific evidence, it is thought that a fire in an adjacent compartment smouldered, undetected, long enough for some of the cordite near the adjoining bulkhead to overheat to dangerous levels.  Just three of her crew survived the detonation. Frederick has no known grave and his name is recorded on the Chatham Naval Memorial.

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