Alfred Mahon and HMS Bulwark

Research and text courtesy of The RH7 History Group

Alfred Mahon was born in 1883 in Chelsea, London. In 1911 his father, also called Alfred, was living in Ivy House, The Platt, Dormansland. Alfred (junior) joined the Royal Marines in 1901 at the age of 15 and then re-enlisted in 1904.  He was in the Royal Marines Band.  During 1914 he saw service in the North Sea and along the Belgian coast.  At sea, bandsmen worked in the Transmitting Stations, i.e. the control systems of the ship’s gunnery.  [The details on Alfred’s service record list his trade and service as ‘Musician’.]  The apparatus was in the bowels of the ship, escape was very difficult and casualty numbers were high.  Alfred, however, did not die from enemy action but was a victim of [an explosion].

Winston Churchill spoke in the [House of Commons] on 26 November 1914: ‘ I regret to say I have some bad news…the Bulwark battleship which was lying in Sheerness this morning blew up at 7.35 o’clock’.

A serving sailor at the outbreak of war he was posted to the HMS Bulwark.  He did valuable service in the North Sea and was engaged in the bombardment of enemy positions on the Belgian coats.  He lost his life when the Bulwark was blown up and sank off Sheerness on 26 November 1914, and was entitled to the 1914-15 Star, the General and Victory medals.  These medals were sent to his widow.  His body was not recovered for burial.

The Bulwark was moored in Kethole Reach on the Medway almost opposite Sheerness on the Isle of Sheppey.  Most of her crew had been on leave and had returned at about 7am so there was a full complement in board.  Everything was normal, everyone going about their usual duties; some were having breakfast.  Alfred was on deck with the band, which was practising.  Observers later reported that suddenly there was a roar, a rumble, a massive sheet of flame.  The ship rose out of the water and sank back, and it was engulfed in a huge thick cloud of smoke; there were further explosions and when all had cleared the Bulwark had disappeared. Only 14 men survived, and two later died. Boats were sent out from the other ships, including the Formidable with Frederick Gaunt of Vicarage Road, Lingfield, on board.  Just over a month later, Frederick would also lose his life when the Formidable was torpedoed in the Channel on 1 January 1915.

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