George Purdie was not a native of Dartmouth, nor did he live in Dartmouth long. He was born in 1889 in what was then the village of Tamerton Foliot and is now a northern suburb of Plymouth. His father, Robert Purdie, was born near Ivybridge (census records show his place of birth as Ermington and Ugborough), the son of James Purdie, an agricultural labourer, and his wife Mary.
Robert began his life as an agricultural labourer like his father but evidently this was not enough. In 1888 Robert married Margaret May, who had been born in Ireland, but by the time of the 1881 Census, was living in Plymouth, where she worked as a domestic servant. The couple subsequently moved around Devon - George was born the following year near Plymouth, and his younger brother James in 1894 near Barnstaple. Robert first found work as a gamekeeper - the Western Times of 23rd November 1894 records Robert Purdie, gamekeeper on the Raleigh estate, near Barnstaple, owned by Mr Chappell Hodge of Plymouth, charged with keeping a dog without a license. At the Petty Sessions, Robert attempted to argue that he was keeping the dog for a man named Cawsey, who had offered it to him in exchange for a brace of rabbits "but although he told Cawsey he did not want the animal, he had not yet taken it away". This did not impress the magistrates, who fined him ten shillings.
Robert then tried the pub trade. By 1899 the family were in Helford, where Robert Purdy (sic) was granted the license of the Shipwrights Arms. According to The Cornishman newspaper of 28th September of that year, the application had the support of Lord Falmouth and Sir Colman Rashleigh "in whose employ Purdy had been" - most probably, as a gamekeeper. The family were recorded there in the 1901 Census.
By 1904 the family had moved back to Devon, where Robert took on the lease of the Dartmouth Inn, Totnes. According to the Western Times of Wednesday 1st February 1905, he then got into a dispute with his landlord, William Grills, the owner of the Castle Hotel, as he had bought spirits from another supplier, instead of the Castle Hotel, as he was required to do by the terms of his lease (the Dartmouth Inn being a tied pub). Unfortunately, although Robert was refusing to leave, because of the money he had put in to buy the lease, the owner had the right to terminate the contract, and he was turned out. The judge commented: "Too often a man will pay too much to get into a house. You see, too many persons in this world live on hopes".
The family next came to Dartmouth and from 1906 to 1909 Robert was the publican at the Royal Oak, 28 Lower Street, Dartmouth. In the 1911 Census, the family were recorded living in Horn Lane. Both he and Margaret described themselves as "independent" under the heading "occupation". George was working as a fitter, and James as a shipwright. Their employer is described as a "public body", so this is likely to have been the naval dockyard.
A month after the 1911 Census was recorded, on 3rd May 1911, George Purdie joined the Navy, at the level of acting Engine Room Artificer 4th class, signing on for a continuous service engagement for twelve years. According to Kings Regulations 1913, to join at this level it was necessary to be:
- over 21
- acquainted with the first four rules of arithmetic
- able to read and write sufficiently well to be able to note in the Register the particulars of the working of the engines and boilers
- generally acquainted with the names and uses of the different parts of marine engines
- able to understand the use and management of the various gauges
- able to ascertain the density and height of the water in the boilers, and what should be done in the event of priming
- able to do what needs to be done in the event of water passing into the cylinders or of a bearing becoming heated
- able to act on the occurrence of any of the ordinary casualties of an engine room (this last is a rather low-key recognition that a ship's engine room at that time was potentially a dangerous environment).
Previoius trades accepted were Engine Fitter, Boilermaker, Smith or Coppersmith, and "occasionally" a Pattern Maker and Moulder. George's previous occupation was described in his service record as "fitter and turner". It also stated that he was 5' 4 ¾", and had light brown hair, grey eyes and a fair complexion.
After his initial training at Devonport, he was appointed to HMS Leander, which is likely to mean that he was working on torpedo boats. After further training he was sent to HMS Hecla, a destroyer depot ship. In May 1913 he was appointed to the battleship HMS Centurion, one of the most modern ships in the Fleet, commissioned at the beginning of that month. Just before he left her at the end of July 1914, he was promoted to Engine Room Artificer 3rd Class, indicating that he was capable of taking charge of a Watch in the Engine Room of a small ship (and also reflecting his three years service as ERA 4th Class).
After one day ashore, he joined HMS Monmouth on 30 July 1914, at the rate of ERA 3rd Class. He was the third Dartmouth man responsible for looking after some aspect of Monmouth's engines, the others being William John Henry Blank, and Langmead Farrier Pillar.
For George's service on HMS Monmouth, and his death at the Battle of Coronel, please see our separate article here.
An announcement of George Purdie's death appeared in the Dartmouth Chronicle of 4th December 1914:
Robert Purdie had died on 13th February 1913 and was buried at St Clement's Townstal. Margaret Purdie died just under a year after her son, and was buried at St Clements on 24th July 1915. The officiating priest was Father Francis Daniels, Roman Catholic Priest.
George Purdie appears on the Town War Memorial and the St Saviour's Memorial Board.
Like all those who sailed from Plymouth during the First World War, but who have no known grave, George Purdie is also commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial on The Hoe.
George's naval record can be downloaded from the National Archives (fee payable) reference ADM 188/1024/3012
Requirements for Engine Room Artificers: Kings Regulations and Admiralty Instructions 1913, Appendix, Engine Room Artificers, available online here.
Information Held on Database
|Rank:||Engine Room Artificer 3rd Class, RN|
|Military Unit:||HMS Monmouth|
|Date of Death:||01 Nov 1914|
|Age at Death:||24|
|Cause of Death:||Killed in action|
|Action Resulting in Death:||Battle of Coronel|
|Place of Death:|
|Place of Burial:||Commemorated Plymouth Naval Memorial|
|Born or Lived in Dartmouth?||Yes|
|On Dartmouth War Memorial?||Yes|
|On St Saviour's Memorials?||Yes|
|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|