My Great Uncle Peter was a Lieutenant Commander in the British Royal Navy. He came from a family of 10 and all of his four brothers enlisted in the military and served in World War 1.
Peter was assigned to the HMS Monmouth, part of a British fleet off the coast of Chile. On November 1, 1914 the British Royal Navy became involved in a sea battle with the Imperial German Navy. This battle was a complete fiasco and may well have been undertaken as a misunderstanding in communication between the Admiralty in Britain and the Royal Navy, off the coast of the town of Coronel, Chile. The British Commander, Admiral Craddock, received communications from the Admiralty in London, which he picked up in Coronel. He understood he had to engage with the Germans if he encountered them. The British had older ships and were completely out gunned by the superior modern German warships. It was a disaster in the making,
The battle started in the late afternoon and later, in the darkness, Peter’s ship, the Monmouth, was badly damaged and sinking. One of the German ships sighted it, in the darkness, and shone their searchlights on the Monmouth’s ensign. This was an invitation to surrender. There was no response and the German ship took this to mean they declined to surrender. They fired on the Monmouth and the ship went down.
There were no survivors of the Monmouth or the other British armoured cruiser the Good Hope. 1,600 British officers and men lost their lives.
On November 3, the victorious German ships entered the harbor at Valparaiso to a band playing and a welcome from the German population. Admiral Spee was presented with a bouquet of flowers. He refused them saying “These will do nicely for my grave.” Spee knew the British would come after him after this British defeat. He was right. He died on December 8, 1914, in the Battle of the Falkland Islands.
I think this sad story illustrates the lunacy of the war. The idea was that the waterways had to be kept open for trade. That was why the ill equipped British ships took on the superior German ships. For what? 1,600 souls were lost. For what?
My Great Uncle Peter went down with the Monmouth in the darkness and cold water off the coast of a foreign land. He was 29 years old.What a waste!
My Grandfather also fought in WW1. He survived but would never speak of his experiences fighting in France. Every friend he had, both his comrades in arms, and his friends from school were killed. He came home alone.
As an aside, on the night of November 1, 1914, my Grandmother, in London, woke suddenly and saw Peter, her brother in law, in his full dress uniform standing at the foot of her bed. “Peter, what are you doing here?” she asked. “I have come to say goodbye.” He replied. My Grandmother told me this when I was just a small child. At that time I saw no reason not to believe her. I still believe she had a visit from him in spirit that night. Several days later his death in the Battle of Coronel was confirmed.
I find this a sad and distressing story that so many died in the Battle of Coronel for no good reason. It was a debacle and a disgrace. Below is a photo of the memorial to Peter in the chapel at Grimsthorpe Castle in Lincolnshire, England. Standing in front of it is my son Pere. This photo was taken two years ago when we visited Grimsthorpe.
I would like to close this post by saying I find the loss of life in war so very sad. Young men and women loose their lives and in a few years it is all for naught. Alliances change and for economic reasons new partnerships are formed and history is forgotten.
So today, November 11, 2020, I remember my Great Uncle Peter.