WW1 submarine hero honoured in hometown with commemorative stone

Topic: Fighting armsSubmarine Service

On a rather bleak January day, veterans and serving sailors salute one of the heroes of the Silent Service - the latest Great War hero to be honoured in his home town.

A century ago Lt Cdr Geoffrey Saxton White led a daring raid to sink a Turkish capital ship which wasn't there, negotiating the treacherous waters and formidable defences of the Dardanelles only to find his target gone.

Disappointed, he began to retrace his 16-mile route up the narrows in his veteran submarine HMS E14.

When a Turkish steamer appeared in his periscope sights, White chose to attack, but his second torpedo exploded prematurely, forcing his boat to the surface right under the guns of Turkish batteries.

Standing on the bow, White tried to guide his boat to safety through the maelstrom. He almost succeeded, reaching Cape Helles - the southern gateway to the Dardanelles - only for the enemy's guns to first kill him, then his boat. Just nine men from a 38-strong crew were able to escape E14 before she disappeared for good.

A century later and the naval officer's descendants led tributes as a commemorative stone was unveiled in the grounds of Bromley war memorial in Kent - one of 628 such slabs dedicated to Great War Victoria Cross winners.

His granddaughter Lyn Shore was among those placing a wreath beside the freshly-laid stone while the naval officer's grandson Richard Campbell thanked the people of Bromley for their "wonderful honour".

He continued: "As a family, we are very proud of his actions. It's something I have lived with all my life.

"My mother never knew her father and my grandmother never remarried so she had to bring up three children on a naval pension."

Rear Admiral Tim Hodgson, representing today's Submarine Service, said present-day deeps shared the pride of the people of Kent felt for their forebear.

"Courage is the fuel which drove the Submarine Service then and which still drives us today," he declared. "It is key to our ethos of absolute professionalism. The kind of selfless courage shown by Lt Cdr Saxton White, where he put his duty to the welfare of others before his own is what we all aspire to."

E14 had been dispatched to attack the battle-cruiser Goeben which had run aground off Nagara Point in January 1918.

The ship - a gift from the Kaiser in 1914 which helped to bring Turkey into the war on Berlin's side - was refloated just a couple of days before White sailed on his sortie.

News of his deeds only reached the UK in the summer of 1918 in a letter from one of the nine survivors taken prisoner. When other accounts from survivors were collected at the war's end, the decision was taken to posthumously award Britain's highest military decoration to Lt Cdr White.

As a family, we are very proud of his actions. It's something I have lived with all my life.

Lyn Shore