Hellawell BENTLEY
Rank: Leading Stoker
Number: K15255
Unit: HMS Begonia ROYAL NAVY
Date of Death: 6 October 1917
Age: 23
Cemetery: Portsmouth Naval Memorial

Hellawell and his younger brother, Henry, both served with the Navy during the War and they died less than three months apart.

There is some confusion about the spelling of his forename. The War Memorial and the 1901 Census have it as above. Family History websites recording birth registration information have it as Helliwell and, in a third variation, official naval records have it as Hellewell. Of course, all the spellings would sound the same.

The Bentleys originated from Stockton on Tees and the first three children of John and Mary were born there. In about 1892, the family was living in Leeds where Edith was born. The following year, on 2 March 1894, they were living in Burnley and Hellawell was born. Two years later found them in Rochdale for Henry’s birth. When the Census was taken in 1901, they were at 866 Bury Road, Bolton.

At some point, they moved to Stockport and, during the War, the family lived at 73 Bowden Street, Edgeley (and later at 10 Derby Street). John Bentley is believed to have died in 1910, aged 60. Hellawell worked at Christy’s hatworks until, on 14 June 1912, he joined the Navy, signing up for 12 years. His service papers show him to have been a short man, only 5’ 3, but a not uncommon height for a sailor. He had a fresh complexion, light brown hair and brown eyes. His first five years of service have not been researched but, on 31 July 1917, he joined the crew of HMS Begonia.

She was a Flower Class sloop which had been converted as a “Q-ship”. Q-ships acted as decoys – heavily armed ships disguised as merchant ships which would lure German submarines into surfacing for an attack with guns. Their use was much lessened by 1917 as, early in the year, the Germans adopted unrestricted warfare at sea which meant that they would simply torpedo merchant vessels rather than requesting a surrender and evacuation before sinking it.

There remains confusion about the ship’s fate. Some early reports indicate she was in collision with a German submarine, the U151. Other reports suggest the collision was with another British ship, HMS Parthian. No trace of the ship has ever been discovered and all 95 crew perished, including Hellawell and another local man, Ernest Wheatley.

Reporting his death, the local newspapers indicated that two brothers had been killed before him. This appears to be wrong. Henry certainly died after him and there is no known record that the eldest brother, John, died during the War although it is understood that he served.

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