Theodore Procter, Stoker 1st Class SS/115964, Royal Navy H.M.S. “Warrior”
Lost at sea 31st May 1916, aged 21
Theodore Procter was born 21st May 1895, the son of Ellen Procter, a silk picker. Ellen later married James Birchall, an iron foundry labourer from Sandbach.
In 1901, six year old Theodore had taken the name of his stepfather and was living at 15 Crompton Road, Macclesfield, with his mother; his stepfather was not at home on census night. Theodore was educated at Crompton Road Day School and attended the Spiritualist Free Church Sunday School, Cumberland Street.
By 1911, Theodore was living at 21 Higher Barn, Horwich, near Bolton, Lancashire, with his parents and half-sister Laura (7), and employed as a cotton piecer. He later returned to Macclesfield, changed his name back to Procter and lived with his uncle and aunt, James and Ellen Kirk, of 17 Lyon Street, Macclesfield.
In Macclesfield, Theodore worked for a time at Lower Heyes Mill, and was working for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company as a railway engine cleaner when he joined the Navy. He served with the local Territorial Army some years before the outbreak of war.
Theodore joined the Navy on 21st July 1914. On his Naval record sheet he is described as 5 feet 7 inches tall, with a 35 inch chest, brown hair, hazel eyes and a fresh complexion. Theodore’s service record below shows his training and service as a Stoker – shovelling coal into the steamship’s boilers and possibly also learning to be a junior mechanic in the engine room:
21 Jul 1914-4 Dec 1914: Stoker II – Vivid II (Stokers and Engine Room Artificers School at Devonport)
5 Dec 1914-24 Feb 1915: Stoker II – HMS Donegal
25 Feb 1915-25 Jun 1915: Stoker II – HMS Hampshire
26 Jun 1915-6 Jul 1915: Stoker II – Victory II (Shore-based training school)
7 Jul 1915-17 Jul 1915: Stoker II – Vivid I (Seamanship, Signalling and Telegraphy School at Devonport)
18 Jul 1915-1 Sep 1915: Stoker II – HMS Warrior
2 Sep 1915-31 May 1916: promoted to Stoker I on HMS Warrior
The Battle of Jutland took place between 31st May and 1st June 1916 in the North Sea, near Denmark’s Jutland peninsula. A total of 250 ships were involved and the result was inconclusive, with the United Kingdom and Germany both claiming victory.
Theodore was serving aboard HMS Warrior when it was attacked by six German war ships at the Battle of Jutland on 31st May 1916; it was only saved from immediate destruction by HMS Warspite coming to its aid. Warrior was hit by at least twenty shells which caused fires and heavy flooding, although her engines continued running long enough to enable her to withdraw from the battle. She was taken in tow by HMS Engadine who took off the 743 survivors before the Warrior sank. Theodore was lost at sea during this battle, ten days after his 21st birthday.
Theodore’s death was reported in the Macclesfield Times of 16th June 1916:
NAVAL ROLL OF HONOUR – A MACCLESFIELD STOKER – PERISHED WITH THE “WARRIOR”
Among the many brave fellows… who lost their lives… was Second-Class Stoker Theodore Proctor, a Macclesfield man, whose parents now reside at Higher Barn, Horwich. For the greater part of his life Stoker Proctor had lived with his uncle and aunt, Mr and Mrs Kirk, Lyon Street, Macclesfield.
Stoker Proctor was born in Macclesfield 21 years ago. He received his education at Crompton Road Day School and attended the Spiritualist Free Church Sunday School, Cumberland Street. Formerly he was employed at the Lower Heyes Mill, and by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, and was well-liked by his workmates. Some years ago, Stoker Proctor was a member of the local Territorials, and he joined the Navy two years ago…. Deceased was the nephew of Mrs Barlow, Derby Road, Macclesfield, who has three sons “doing their bit”, namely Private Harold, 1/7th Cheshires (in Egypt); Private Ernest (in training at Oswestry); and Lewis (who is engaged on munitions work at Lincoln).
Stoker Theodore Procter has no known grave and is commemorated on Panel Ref. 16 of the Plymouth Naval Memorial. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission holds casualty details for Stoker Theodore Procter, and he is listed on the Imperial War Museum’s Lives of the First World War website.
Cousin of Private Harold Barlow, who served with the 1/7th Cheshires; Private Ernest Barlow; and Lewis Barlow, who was employed in munitions at Lincoln.
A description of the events leading to the sinking of the ‘Warrior’ are related in the book The Fighting at Jutland, edited by H W Fawcett and G W W Hooper, published by Macmillan & Co in 1921:
The following narrative, which is taken almost word for word from a personal journal of the Engineer Officer of the ship, describes the experiences of those stationed between decks in the “Warrior” as their ship, ”damaged, listing to starboard and in places on fire, raced over the spot where the Defence had been through the smoke cloud of their flagship’s explosion”: —
“Just as I got through the armour door on the main deck, I was met by some other people, including the Boatswain, running back, as they said we were being straddled by 11-inch shell, and they thought it wasn’t very healthy out there. As I turned back I perceived that a shell had come in on the marines’ mess deck, from which I had come. A brown smoke was hanging about, and the men of the fire brigade were carrying away three or four poor fellows and laying them down, looking dazed and frightened. I therefore went straight down to the port engine-room to see if anything had happened there. ‘M.’, the Senior Engineer Lieutenant, told me that they had heard an explosion overhead, and some of the lights had gone out, but apparently there was no serious damage done below. Finding everything going splendidly down there, I decided to return to the starboard engine-room, and I looked into the Engineers’ office at the top of the ladder on the way. There, for the last time, I saw my Stoker Secretary sitting at his books as if nothing unusual were happening, but he pointed out to me that they had had a shell in a bit further forward, and going out on to the mess deck I found a great gaping rent in the deck overhead, with the daylight falling weirdly through it. However there was neither time nor temptation for speculation, and I hurried below again to the starboard engine-room. Shortly afterwards, at about 6.15, I heard a tremendous explosion at the after end, a heavy jar went through the whole fabric, and most of the lights went out. Immediately afterwards there was a heavy roar of water and steam, and my impression was that we had been torpedoed. Several men came running forward from that end, one of them with blood streaming down his face. In that moment I realised fully what cold drawn funk is like. But I had to make a decision, and advancing towards the after end, I tried to gauge the extent of the damage. The engines still went on running, which seemed to show that the cylinders had not been hit, but in the dim uncertain light I perceived what appeared to be Niagara, at the after end of the engine-room, though whether the sheet of water was rising up from below or pouring down from above I couldn’t be sure at the time. Anyhow, a blast of steam on my face warned me that I hadn’t long to think about it, and I soon made up my mind that no pumps could deal with the quantity of water that was coming in, and that the only thing to do was to get the men out as quickly as possible. Not knowing that the other engine-room also was damaged, I gave the order to open the water-tight door on the mid-line bulkhead and to go through to the other side, intending to take charge and control the working of the department from there myself. But the door was screwed hard down and the sprocket chains were greasy, and it struck me that by the time the men had got it open and gone through, the water might be above the sill and would flood the other engine-room before they could get the door closed again, so I ordered all hands up on deck at once. The artificers asked if they should ease or stop the engines, but I said ” No,” as I guessed that the Captain would want to keep going as long and as fast as possible, and the main steam valves could be shut off from the mess deck if necessary. At first the men didn’t know what to do as the ladders at the after end were inaccessible, but 1 shouted to them to go up the midship ladder, and hustled all towards it in front of me. As soon as it appeared that they had all gone up, I followed them myself, but by that time all the lights had gone out, and it was pitch dark.
When I got out and looked round, the first thing I saw was a group of men behind the shelter of one of the after turrets trying tentatively to open a fire-main valve on the upper deck. Then I noticed that there were yellow flashes followed by angry reports coming from some ships away on our beam, and shells were whizzing and screaming through the air just above my head, and I decided that this was no place for me. At all costs I must get down to the port engine-room and take charge there, and to that end I made my way to the main deck hatchway ; but before I could get half-way down it I was nearly choked with hot, stinging smoke, and had to retreat. I then went further aft and got down to the half-deck, which was partly wrecked, and tried to get through the armour door to the mess deck, but with the same result. Through the smoke and flame I saw a brilliant display of fireworks, where the circuits were fusing in festoons of electric arcs. Finding this route hopeless, I went along the upper deck again and tried to reach the mess deck from the fore side, but here again any attempt to approach the burning compartment was completely frustrated. I then endeavoured to collect my scattered wits with a view to putting out the fire, but I found that I had the greatest difficulty in getting my brain to work at all. I have heard other fellows say that they have been seized with this temporary mental paralysis, which seems to last for ages, but really lasts for moments only. On such occasions when it is difficult to originate anything, evolutions rehearsed at drill work automatically, and at this moment I found my subordinates readier than myself in carrying out measures that I had myself devised. By this time some of the forward section of the fire brigade had arrived —nearly the whole of the after section of the brigade were knocked out in the burning compartment. It then occurred to me that I had better let the Captain know how things stood, and if possible get him to communicate with the port engine-room and tell them to keep the fire engines going full bore. As I got up to the conning tower I perceived that we were practically alone on the sea, and steaming along at about 15 knots. It was now a little after half-past six, and for the next two hours we fought and struggled to put that fire out. It had got a firm hold in the gunnery office, where the papers, desks, and shelves burned fiercely till the steel partitions were red hot, and the paint on the sides and the corticene on the deck outside were all flaring. The heart of the fire was inside, round a corner where no hose could reach it, and to enter the compartment was like going into an oven, and you simply could not get there. One of the most heart-rending experiences was when I passed along the half-deck on one occasion by the wrecked hatchway, and one poor fellow, who was lying there wounded, held out his arms to me and begged me to help him out. But I dared not stop. We didn’t know when the ship might go down under us, and it was my job to keep her afloat if possible. So I had to pass on, hoping that someone else would give him a helping hand. By this time volumes of steam were roaring out of the ventilators to the port engineroom, and the agonising conviction came over me that M. must be done for, since, as I told the Captain, nobody could be alive down there now. We had lifted some of the upper hatches, but before we could climb down to open the lower ones into the engine-room we were met with smoke and fire, and could not get near them. The steam from the engine-room also blew across the entrance to the mess deck, further impeding all access to the fire. In fact, we couldn’t get at the fire because of the steam from the engine-room, and we couldn’t get at the engine-room because of the fire, which was becoming a furnace, and at last I went to the Captain and asked permission to draw the fires in the stokeholds and shut off the boilers from there. Even so, it was a long time before we could put the fire under on the mess deck, and it was eventually checked by a man climbing down the ship’s side and playing the hose in through the hole made by the shell that had caused the fire! It was about 9 o’clock before we could lift one of the armoured hatches, and then, to our amazement, we heard people shouting. I rushed round to the engine-room ladder way, and there I found M. who had just been helped out. I helped him along to the ward-room and put him in an armchair and gave him my brandy flask, which he wanted badly, while he told his story. He told me that the shell which had driven us out of the starboard engine-room came through both engine-rooms and burst at the mid-line, leaving most of its gas in the port engine-room, where he was. He was knocked down by the concussion, but got up and tried to see what could be done. He found it impossible to escape by any of the ladders, and as they were getting choked by the fumes and the steam, he tried and succeeded in doing what I had tried and failed to do — namely, to open the mid-line door to the starboard engine-room just after we had gone up. By the time they had closed the door they found, by the glimmer of the sole remaining oil lamp, that the water was coming over the floor plates, and the crank pits were full up and the cranks were swishing round in the middle of it. He said that he had not realised the fact that we were making water fast until a cold feeling round the ankles awoke him to the true state of affairs. Not realising the full extent of the damage here, he first tried to put the pumps on, but soon found that hopeless. Then he tried to ease the engines and shut off steam, fearing further accidents, but by this time the water was breast high over the floor plates, and he decided that the only thing to do was to clear out. But by this time the ladders were inaccessible as the floor plates were dislodged, and there was every chance of being drawn into the swirl of the racing cranks. They climbed up over pipes and condensers, holding hands to prevent the swirling water carrying them away. Unfortunately their chain was twice broken, with the result that several men were jammed somehow and drowned. The remainder climbed from one vantage point to another as the water rose till they reached the upper gratings, but by this time it was quite dark, and having no purchase anywhere they could not dislodge the gratings overhead, and found themselves apparently doomed to certain death. Not only were they expecting to be drowned, but escaping steam almost suffocated them, and they kept splashing the oily water over their faces to keep them from being peeled. Some men had wrapped scarves round their heads to protect themselves, and all kept as much of their bodies as they could in the water. The surprising thing was that the engines went on working till the water was half-way up the cylinders, and only stopped then because the boilers were shut off. And this agony of terror went on for nearly two and a half hours in pitch darkness and apparent hopelessness before they were rescued. How M. himself behaved I can only shrewdly guess, but there was one other man there, a stoker petty officer named K., who absolutely refused to recognise the horror of the situation, and kept talking and cheering them all up to the very end. At the start there were about eight of them, and they kept hold of each other to save their lives as long as possible, but one by one they kept dropping off and getting lost and drowned in the water, till at the last there were only three of them left. M. himself would have been lost, having slipped from his hold and finding himself being drawn down into the machinery, but K. held on to him and kept him up until he recovered somewhat. They thought at one time that the ship had been abandoned, but the click of a valve being worked conquered their fears of that. Then they felt a noticeably cold stream of water coming in, which they stirred up as much as possible, and from this apparently they had the idea that the ship must be under weigh, and therefore in tow of someone, which encouraged them. At last they heard some order being “piped” round the ship, and they all shouted together, and this led to their rescue. And, by Jove, I was thankful to see M. when they got him out.
It grew dark about 9.30 p.m., and the barometer then started falling rapidly, so that our prospects of getting home were none too bright, but all hands worked with a will at stopping leaks and at shoring up bulkheads. After dark I made a personal examination of our damages, and of the steps that had been taken to cope with them. I felt that, if the weather remained fine and the sea smooth, there was a sporting chance of saving the ship, and that at any rate she would keep afloat during the dark hours; we intercepted wireless signals reporting that tugs were on their way out from Cromarty to assist us. Every two hours the amount that the water had risen in the engineroom was reported to me. It ceased to rise from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m., but after 4 a.m. the wind and sea rapidly got up and the water gained fast. At 6 a.m., and again at 7.15 a.m., I made a tour below, as a result of which I was forced to the conclusion that nothing we could now do would save the ship. The water was gaining beyond our control, and the ship was no longer answering to the motion of the sea but was beginning to roll in a way that showed her stability was fast disappearing, due to the huge quantity of water on the main deck. I ordered the Engineer Commander, the Commander, and the Senior unwounded Lieut.-Commander to go round below and report to me their opinion of the prospect of being able to keep the ship afloat. They all agreed that at any moment she might sink, and that she could not last more than a couple of hours. The barometer was falling fast and the wind and sea were rapidly rising, so I hoisted the signal which I had previously arranged with Engadine, to indicate to her that she was to cast off the tow and come alongside the Warrior for us to abandon ship. All the wounded were got up in cots or stretchers; the ship’s company were fallen in by divisions, and after all the wounded had been transferred to the Engadine, the men clambered on board her, one division at a time. One of the wounded was lost overboard between the two ships, but his body was recovered by Flight-Lieut. Rutland, of Engadine, in a most gallant manner, for which action Rutland was later awarded the Albert Medal. It was this same officer who had reported the enemy’s movements from a seaplane the previous day. Finally the Commander reported all hands were on board the Engadine, and he and I then jumped on board, and the Engadine went astern to clear the sinking ship. As we left the old Warrior we gave her three hearty cheers. Every big sea washed over her decks, and water poured down through the huge rents in the upper deck on to the main deck. As all the steam pumps and all but two of the hand pumps had been destroyed by enemy shells, we had no means of coping with the volume of water pouring into the ship, and the upper deck was now only about 2 to 4 feet above water. The whole main deck was flooded, and the ship was very much down by the stem. The behaviour of officers and men had been splendid throughout. All had worked, not only with the utmost zeal, but most cheerily, and even as if they were thoroughly enjoying themselves. As we had passed out of action and had seen our battle fleet firing with rapid regularity, we had all felt that the German fleet was going to be destroyed, and that the loss of the Defence and Warrior would be a small item compared with the loss that the German fleet would suffer. We felt that the old Warrior had made a gallant fight against great odds, and had disabled and almost certainly destroyed one enemy ship before she herself was disabled. So we left the old ship with three hearty cheers, and the Engadine shaped course for Rosyth.”