Little is known about Ernest, other than he was born in the Stockport area in the late spring of 1896, the son of Joseph Gibson of 18 Elizabeth Street.
He had attended St Thomas School and was a friend of Percy Pratt who served with him aboard the ship. It’s not known if the young men had joined the Marines as a career or had joined up after War was declared in August 1914.
HMS Clan McNaughton was a pre-War merchant ship, built in 1911, of 4985 tons. She was requisitioned in November 1914 and hastily converted for wartime use with guns mounted on deck. The crew was also hastily brought together and was mainly comprised of navy reservists. The Marines would have formed the “boarding crew” if any enemy ships had been captured. .
She sailed from Tilbury shortly before Christmas to patrol in the North Atlantic but had to put into Liverpool to deal with a problem before continuing. At about 6am on 3 February, the ship was in radio contact and reported that weather conditions were very bad, with a strong gale blowing. Nothing was ever heard of her again. Some wreckage was found two weeks later in the general area of her last known position but it wasn’t possible to say for certain that it came from the ship.
It is possible that she hit a mine but the combination of the weather, an inexperienced crew and the fact she was now top-heavy from the guns, might also have been the cause of her sinking with the loss of all 261 men on board.