Henry John Cole

Henry John Cole
Born at Fenstanton in 1890, Henry was one of at least nine children born to Henry, a sailor, and Catherine (née Pauley). In 1901 the family home was in Bridge Terrace, St Ives. It's a bit of a puzzle where they were at the time of the 1911 Census.

Henry enlisted at Newmarket with the 6th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridgeshire's Own). Details of his early service are uncertain, but it seems he served in France. He boarded the HMT Aragon at Marseilles in early December 1917, part of a contingent of 2,350 soldiers and officers heading for Alexandria to reinforce the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in the Palestine Campaign. Also on board were 160 nurses and 2,500 bags of Christmas mail.

German submarines were a serious threat to merchant ships and troop carriers. Accompanied by another troop carrier, the Nile, they sailed in convoy to Malta with an escort of destroyers. There they stayed anchored for four or five days having a 'top hole time' celebrating Christmas.

On reaching Egypt the convoy split. Aragon sailed on to Alexandria. The accompanying HMS Attack zig-zagged ahead to search for mines in the approach to the port, leaving Aragon about ten miles out at sea. HMT Points Castle, an armed trawler, signalled Aragon to follow her into port, but the returning HMS Attack signalled that Aragon had no right to take orders from a trawler and ordered Aragon back out to sea, devoid of protection.

At 11.00am an SM UC-34 German submarine torpedoed Aragon. She was hit in the rear port side, causing extensive damage. Various ships came to the rescue and the nurses were ordered first into the lifeboats. Sinking quickly, the soldiers patiently waiting to be rescued were heard to sing 'Keep the home fires burning'. Fifteen minutes after being hit, the Captain gave instructions 'every man for himself'. As Aragon's bow rose out of the sea, the remaining soldiers swarmed down her side into the water.

HMT Aragon
HMT Aragon sinking
Twenty minutes after being torpedoed, Aragon went down. A second explosion was heard as cold seawater hit her hot boilers. HMS Attack, carrying four hundred casualties and survivors, was then hit amidships by a torpedo and split in half. The explosion ruptured Attack's bunkers, spilling tons of thick black bunker fuel into the sea. Many of the hundreds of men in the sea were covered in oil or overcome by fumes.

A total of 610 Aragon passengers were killed, most of them soldiers. Henry was one of those, drowned at the sinking of HMS Aragon on Sunday 30 December 1917, aged 27yrs. He has no known grave. Initially news of his fate was uncertain. In early February 1918 Henry's parents received confirmation that he had drowned, as published in the Hunts Post on 8 February 1918. Henry is commemorated on Fenstanton War Memorial as well as Chatby Memorial, Egypt.

Do you have a photograph of Henry or any additional information? If so, please get in touch via the make contact page.

Source materials
Click any of the links below to view original source materials.
1891 Census
1901 Census
Commonwealth War Graves Register
Commemorative Certificate

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