The Dudley family had moved to Stockport in the 1890s, having previously lived in Derby and Stafford. The 1901 Census records them living at 91 Lord Street,, where 46 year old Joshua Dudley earned his living as a bricklayer. He was married to Annie and they had five children at home. The two older children had been born in Stafford with the other three born in Derby. 12 year old John was the youngest, born on 8 April 1888, and he was already working – as a “doffer” in a cotton mill. This was a job normally undertaken by youngsters and involved removing the full bobbins of cotton from the machines and replacing them with empty ones.
At some point, John decided to join the Navy. This was probably as a boy and, by 1914, he had completed his service and returned to Stockport where he was working as a labourer. On 11 April, he married his fiancée, Elizabeth Rock Doxey, at St Thomas’ Church. She was 27 and lived nearby at 3 Michael Street.
They are believed to have set up home at 108 Adcroft Street. John was still a naval reservist and, with war imminent, he was recalled to service in late July. HMS Good Hope was an armoured cruiser built in 1901 but was quickly becoming obsolete. She was transferred to the Reserve Fleet in 1913 but with War imminent, a crew was hurriedly put together of cadets and reservists like John. She sailed from Portsmouth on 2 August, two days before the official declaration of War and was attached to a cruiser squadron patrolling the South Atlantic around the Falkland Islands.
A German cruiser squadron was also patrolling in the area. All five ships were modern and better equipped by the British and the commander of the British squadron, Admiral Cradock, had hoped for reinforcements before trying to engage the enemy. The forthcoming engagement would become known as the Battle of Coronel, after the Chilean city to the east.
On 31 October, a radio signal was intercepted which gave the approximate location of one of the German ships. Cradock ordered his whole squadron north in an attempt to cut it off and destroy it. Instead, he found himself confronting the entire German squadron during the following afternoon.
The German ships had the greater range and the third salvo fired by the Scharnhorst at about 7pm crippled the Good Hope. Further salvoes were fired and the ship finally sank at 7.57 with the loss of all hands. Another ship, Monmouth, was sunk a few minutes later. The other two British ships managed to escape. It was Britain’s first naval defeat since 1810.
Amongst the Good Hope’s 900 dead were John and two other local men, Sidney Hulme and Douglas Deacon.
After the War, Elizabeth moved to 68 Mottram Street and Mr & Mrs Dudley were known to be at 19 Radcliffe Street.