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West Bromwich brothers in arms with no graves

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: June 24, 2014

  • Able Seaman William Winwood, killed at the Battle of Coronel

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RAY and Jan Durnall of Cradley Heath are keen genealogists and have traced their families back through several generations. Like many, they have relatives that served in the First World War and these pictures show two of Jan's great-uncles who gave their lives in that terrible conflict.

William and John Winwood were the brothers of Jan's grandmother Mary Ann, known as Popsy, and came from a large family of 17 in West Bromwich.

Ray writes, "The only information we have is through the military records or the census returns. From the 1911 census both boys were in the services before the war, John with the 1st South Lancashire Regiment in India and William in China and the East Indies aboard HMSVenerable."

William's naval records show that he joined the Navy, aged 18, on January 28, 1907, initially signing on for five years. On January 29, 1912, he was transferred to the Royal Fleet Reserve but, as Europe was plunged into crisis in the summer of 1914, William was recalled and he joined HMS Good Hope at Portsmouth on July 13.

Ray continues, "We found a marriage for William in the first quarter of 1914, to Beatrice Parsons, in Fareham, Hampshire."

William and Beatrice did not enjoy married life for long as William was killed in action when HMS Good Hope was sunk with the loss of all hands at the Battle of Coronel on November 1, 1914.

The catastrophe of Coronel was a severe blow to British morale and confidence in the Royal Navy; it was the first defeat of a British naval squadron since the Battle of Grand Port in 1810. HMS Good Hope was the flagship of Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Craddock and under his command were HMS Monmouth, Glasgow and Otranto and three armed merchantmen. They had been sent to the coast of Chile to intercept the German East Asia Squadron, which had abandoned its base in China once Japan had entered the war on the Allies' side, and stop it reaching the Atlantic. The German squadron was made up of SMS Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Dresden, Leipzig and Nürnberg and was commanded by Vice-Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee.

The British sighted the Germans at 16.20 on November 1, 1914. Despite his ships being slower and outgunned, Craddock attacked, desperately trying to close range to bring his smaller guns to bear. The Scharnhorst alone managed to hit Good Hope at least 35 times and both Good Hope and Monmouth sank with the loss of all lives. 1,570 British sailors died while the Germans suffered only three wounded.

William Winwood was 25 when he died; lost at sea, his name is recorded on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

Lance Corporal John Winwood, 2nd Battalion South Lancashire Regiment, was killed on July 3, 1916, the third day of the Battle of the Somme. On that day the 2nd South Lancs attacked the "Thiepval Spur", the highest point of the German defences. They lost 14 officers and more than 300 other ranks and failed to take the position. Despite repeated attacks over the following months the spur remained in German hands until September 1916.

Like so many killed on the Somme, John Winwood's remains were never recovered and his name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial to the missing. He was 29 when killed.

Neither brother had a grave but their names were engraved on their parents' gravestone in Heath Lane Cemetery, West Bromwich.

Have you discovered ancestors in your family tree that served in the First World War? If you have a story and pictures to share contact dshaw@black countrybugle.co.uk or write in to 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.

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