John Wright KIRK
Rank: Gunner
Number: RMA/13309
Date of Death: 9 July 1917
Age: 25
Cemetery: Portsmouth Naval Memorial

Almost nothing is known about John’s life. His parents were Joseph Wright Kirk (died 1920, aged 45) and Eliza Kirk and he had been born in the Heaton Norris area.

On 9 July 1917, Vanguard carried out routine drills during the day before returning to her berth at Scapa Flow. At 11.20pm, flames shot out of her foremast followed by two explosions. She was engulfed by smoke and lost to the view of neighbouring ships. When the smoke cleared the Vanguard was gone. The sea was littered with debris. Burning wreckage and twisted metal had been blown on the nearby island of Flotta.

At the time of the loss the immediate concern had been that an enemy submarine had penetrated the defences. Stories of sabotage and bombs proliferated. Two Chatham dockyard workers who had been sent to Scapa Flow to work on HMS Vanguard came under suspicion. By coincidence they had both been working on HMS Natal 18 months previously when she also suffered an internal explosion.

A Board of Enquiry was unable to determine a definite cause but it is most likely that a pocket of heat generated from the boiler and was transmitted through the bulkhead to the magazine where it ignited cordite. Certainly as a result of the loss of HMS Vanguard the Admiralty demanded more awareness and regular recording of temperatures near magazines and improved storage and handling of cordite.

Today HMS Vanguard lies at the bottom of
Scapa Flow. The ship is now protected as an official war grave but previously it had been salvaged. Despite the guns and turrets having been taken she sits proudly on the sea’s floor, unmistakably the remains of a battleship.

842 men had lost their lives, including John and another local man, William Wyatt.

(My thanks for information to Jonathon Saunders, a fellow member of the Great War Forum – JH)

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