Lt-Commander Gerald Bruce Gaskell

Researched and written by Anne Wright

Lt-Commander G B Gaskell, RN
HMS Good Hope
Lost in action, 1.11.1914
Age, 32

The Reverend Thomas Kynaston Gaskell and his wife Horatia Octavia (nee Hugo) had four sons: Hugh Selwyn, Gerald Bruce, John Charles Temple and Christopher. They all served in the First World War. The eldest, Hugh, a doctor, joined the Royal Army Medical Corps, he survived the war; Gerald, a naval officer and John, an army officer were both lost in action; the youngest, Christopher, who joined the Canadian Infantry, was badly injured at Bethune and died of his wounds in 1938. The Gaskells’ son-in-law was also killed (see Bulteel).

Gerald Bruce Gaskell was born on 29 November 1881 and was baptised at St. Helen’s Church, Folksworth, Peterborough on 13 January 1882. In addition to his three brothers he had two younger sisters, Horatia Margaret and Dorothea Grace. As a nine year old, Gerald was a boarder at school in Shrewsbury and ten years later he was a Midshipman aboard HMS Furious at Sheerness, Kent. He had become a naval cadet on the training ship Britannia in January 1896. Gerald became a Midshipman in 1897, an acting Sub-Lieutenant in 1901, a Sub-Lieutenant in 1902, a Lieutenant in 1903 and finally a Lieutenant-Commander on 30 September 1914 whilst serving on his last ship, HMS Good Hope. He saw service in the Atlantic, off N. America and the West Indies on HMS Pallas which he joined in 1902 and in the Mediterranean on HMS Suffolk which he joined in 1904. Whilst serving on Suffolk he became very ill with enteric fever and had to be hospitalised in Malta. Gerald qualified as a Physical Training Instructor in May 1906. By 1908 he was responsible for all Physical Training for the Home Fleet. Before he joined HMS Good Hope in August 1914 he was land based on HMS Victory at Portsmouth.

When war broke out in 1914 Gerald had been married for almost eleven years to Jane Meriel Atkinson. Their wedding took place at Brentford Registry Office on 16 November 1903. The couple had three daughters: Geraldine Faith (b.c.1904), Grace Meriel Hope (b.c.1906) and Helen Dulcie Charity (b.1908). In 1911, whilst Gerald was on HMS Indomitable, based at Chatham, his family lived in Southsea, where they still resided in 1914. It must have been a wrench to leave his young family so far behind when he joined HMS Good Hope which became the flag ship of Admiral Christopher Cradock’s West Indies squadron.

The rest of the squadron consisted of HMS Monmouth, like Good Hope, an ‘older’ armoured cruiser, HMS Glasgow, a modern light cruiser and HMS Otranto, a converted liner. Their German opponents were a squadron of five modern ships with elite crews under Admiral von Spee. His objective was to attack British and French shipping off the west coast of S. America. The two squadrons met off the Chilean port of Coronel on 1 November 1914. Admiral Cradock ordered the Otranto to escape and then turned to engage the Germans amid a rising, cold and stormy sea. The German Admiral opened fire at 7pm when the British ships were silhouetted against the setting sun. The third salvo from Scharnhorst hit Good Hope knocking out her 9.2” gun. Cradock, endeavouring to bring his 6” guns into play, tried to close the range, only for von Spee to interpret this as an attempt to launch a torpedo and in response to increase the range. At 7.50pm Good Hope’s magazine exploded; the severely damaged ship drifted out of sight, sinking soon afterwards. At 9.18pm HMS Monmouth sank. Both ships had been hit at least thirty times. In just ninety minutes 1,600 British sailors lost their lives. HMS Glasgow escaped. A few bodies were washed ashore, most unidentifiable except as men of the Royal Navy. Some were buried in a specific corner of Coronel’s cemetery.

Jane Gaskell remained a widow until her death in July 1952. Her and Gerald’s three daughters all married; there were two granddaughters and four great-grandchildren. His father died at Cobham in 1915. Horatia Gaskell lived at Oakley, Windsor Walk in Weybridge in the 1920s; when she died in 1930 she was buried with her husband. Gerald, his father and his brother Major John Charles Temple Gaskell are all remembered in St. Botolph’s Church, Longthorpe, Northamptonshire (now Peterborough), Reverend Gaskell’s last parish. Gerald is also commemorated with the others who died on 1 November 1914 on Portsmouth’s Naval Memorial. There is a poignant Memorial Plaque to the 1,600 casualties of the Battle of Coronel just inside the main entrance to St. John’s Church in Concepción, Chile:

God forbid that I should do this thing, and flee away from them; if our time be come, let us die manfully for our brethren, and let us not stain our honour.
1 Maccabees ix

Sources:

British Naval Disaster at Coronel, https://warfarehistorynetwork.com
The Children of Reverend Thomas Kynaston Gaskell and Horatia Octavia Hugo, http://gaskellfamily.com
Major Warships Sunk in WW1, 1914: Battle of Coronel, http://www.worldwar1.co.uk/coronel.html
The Naval Fight off Chile, The Times, 18 November 1914
Robertson, Joan Veronica, ‘A World War One Naval Battle – The Battle of Coronel’, https://joanveronica.hubpages.com
Royal Navy Officers’ Service Records, The National Archives, ADM 196/143/860

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