William John Henry Blank
William John Henry Blank was born in Dartmouth, the only child of William Blank and Maria Cranch. William Blank senior was born in Liskeard, Cornwall, but moved to Devon sometime before his marriage to Maria. Maria came from West Alvington, near Kingsbridge, and the couple married there at All Saints West Alvington on 14th October 1863.
The couple first settled in West Alvington. At the time of the 1871 Census, William was working as a sawyer. Before her marriage, Maria had worked in Dartmouth, as a housemaid - she was recorded in the 1861 Census in the household of Henry and Margaret Foale, in South Town. Perhaps for this reason, the couple had moved to Dartmouth by the time of William John Henry's birth.
According to the birth registration index, census records, and his age at marriage, William was born in 1876, thirteen years into his parents' marriage, and there were no other children.
In the 1891 Census, William John Henry, aged fifteen, was living with his parents in Clarence Street, and working as a "Rivetter and Plater". The Census enumerator added the word "boiler". His father continued to work as a "wood sawyer", and he and Maria lived in Clarence Street, Dartmouth, for the rest of their lives.
On 27th January 1896, William John Henry joined the Navy, rated Acting Engine Room Artificer 4th Class. To join at this level, candidates had to be aged between 21 and 28; and be an engine-fitter, boiler-maker, smith, or coppersmith (sometimes a pattern maker or moulder was acceptable). According to his naval record, William John Henry was a boiler-maker, so had the right trade. However, it appears that, to get in, he overstated his age, as his naval record gives his date of birth as 7th December 1874. To achieve the substantive grade of ERA 4th Class, it was necessary to pass an examination, which required the candidate:
- to be acquainted with the first four rules of arithmetic
- to read and write sufficiently well to be able to note in the register the particulars of the workings of the engines and boilers
- to know the names and uses of the different parts of marine engines
- to understand the use and management of the various gauges to know how to ascertain the density and height of the water in the boilers, and what should be done in the event of priming
- to know what should be done in the event of water passing into the cylinders, or a bearing becoming heated, and how to act on the occurrence of any of the ordinary casualties of an engine room.
Although William John Henry took the maximum three years to do it, he was able to achieve the required standard, passing provisionally for confirmation as ERA 4th Class on 26th January 1899, and achieving the actual promotion a few months later, while serving on HMS Magicienne. He left the ship on 19th June 1901 for a period ashore, and on 13th July 1901 married Annie Elizabeth Milton at St Mark's Ford, Devonport.
Annie was the daughter of Richard Henry Milton and his wife Hannah. Richard had been born in Newton Abbot; Hannah was from Dartmouth. The family had lived for many years in Devonport as Richard had been in the Navy, also looking after ships engines and boilers. He reached the level of Chief Engine Room Artificer, and after retirement he worked as a boilermaker in the Dockyard. The 1911 Census recorded Richard and Hannah living at 14 Johnston Terrace, Keyham, and William and Annie next door at number 13.
In 1902 William and Annie had a son, Arthur William, and their daughter, Vera Annie, was born in 1905. In the meantime he made good progress with his career, perhaps assisted by his father-in-law's experience - achieving ERA 3rd Class on 12th December 1901 and ERA 2nd Class on 30th April 1904 (promotion being a function of length of service and satisfactory conduct). During this period he had a series of postings ashore in the UK, but from September 1904 until March 1907 he was in the Far East on the China Station.
In 1907 William came back home and was appointed to HMS Mars in the Channel Fleet, followed a year later by appointment to HMS Russell. On 26th July 1909, he achieved ERA 1st Class; and four days later, found himself heading for the Mediterranean Fleet, to which HMS Russell had been transferred. He served on Russell until 21st March 1910, followed after three months (most likely home leave or possibly training), by two years appointed to HMS Leander, from 19 August 1910 to 20th February 1912. As Leander was a depot ship for the Mediterranean Fleet's torpedo boat destroyers, it is likely he was working on one or more of these, but his naval record does not give his exact allocation. (He must have had at least one period of leave during this time as in April 1911 he completed a census form for himself and his wife and family in Devonport).
William came home from the Mediterranean in 1912 and once again found himself sent to the Far East, as he was then appointed to HMS Monmouth, which was at that time on the China station. In one of many such ironies, those who were to be responsible for William's death had been guests on board his ship - there were many ceremonial and social exchanges between the Royal Navy in Hong Kong and the German East Asia Squadron. Monmouth went into reserve in the Third Fleet in January 1914, and William came home with her.
From 20th January 1914 to 29th July 1914 his naval record shows his appointment to "HMS Vivid II". (HMS Vivid was the name used for the Navy barracks at Devonport; HMS Vivid II was a nominal base established for accounting purposes for personnel on detached duty). William would therefore have been able to spend time at home with Annie and his two children before his final appointment, which was once again to HMS Monmouth, on 30th July 1914, when the ship was recommissioned for war service.
For William's service on HMS Monmouth, and his death at the Battle of Coronel, please see our separate article here.
William appears on the Dartmouth Town War Memorial as William J Blank. By the time the Memorial was unveiled in May 1921, both his mother and father had died, his father in 1909 and his mother in 1918. His name was not included on any of the provisional Rolls of Honour published for the Memorial (in August and September 1919 and February 1921). However, at some point between February and May 1921, his name was added to the list, either by his wife Annie, or by other friends or relatives.
Like all those who sailed from Plymouth during the First World War, but who have no known grave, William is also commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial on The Hoe.
William's naval record can be downloaded from the National Archives (fee payable), reference ADM 188/430/268654.
Information Held on Database
|Forenames:||William John Henry|
|Rank:||Engine Room Artificer 1st Class RN|
|Military Unit:||HMS Monmouth|
|Date of Death:||01 Nov 1914|
|Age at Death:||38|
|Cause of Death:||Killed in action|
|Action Resulting in Death:||Battle of Coronel|
|Place of Death:|
|Place of Burial:||Commemorated on Plymouth Naval Memorial|
|Born or Lived in Dartmouth?||Yes|
|On Dartmouth War Memorial?||Yes|
|On St Saviour's Memorials?||No|
|On St Petrox Memorials?||No|
|On Flavel Church Memorials?||No|
|In Longcross Cemetery?||No|
|In St Clement's Churchyard?||No|
|On a Private Memorial?||No|
|On Another Memorial?||No|