The 'Bulwark' Tragedy

The Bulwark TragedyEarly morning of the 26th November 1914 a group of Battleships including the Bulwark lay to their buoys in peaceful ignorance of the event that was about to tragically happen in Kethole Reach. The Bulwarkʼs crew had ceased work and were at breakfast, the shipʼs band played for entertainment. Just before 0800 Hrs. seven hundred and twenty seven souls would perish.

Without warning at all a mass of flame followed by dense smoke engulfed the ship. Within seconds a tremendous explosion was heard. The violence of the explosion was so severe that it rattled windows as far away as Southend in Essex. Some fourteen miles away in Conyer, near Faversham, the flash and explosion were reported. Within minutes the smoke began to clear when all that remained of the “Bulwark” was her cable hanging from the buoy and the sea, where she had been laying between the “London” and the “Prince of Wales”, was covered in debris.

The Bulwark had disappeared. Only fourteen people were rescued that day, two of them died later. A Court of Enquiry was convened aboard “London” on the 27th November, whose findings through suspicion on the relatively new propellant for the guns, cordite. Since it was known that cordite could deteriorate if exposed to high temperatures, spontaneous combustion could have resulted in the detonation of a magazine. Due to the almost total destruction of the ship this supposition could not be proved. The Board of Enquiry gave a written statement: “It is unclear from the evidence which has been provided that the explosion which caused the loss of the ship was due to accidental ignition of the ammunition on board”.

The wreath laid on the Admiralʼs Cruise pays respect to the people of HMS Bulwark and their final little known resting-place. A memorial stone stands outside Sheerness Railway Station.

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