The beloved brother on HMS Vanguard
HMS Vanguard – The name stirred a memory. I’d stumbled on a Facebook group (HMS Vanguard 9th July 1917 Lost Crew) that is attempting to find photos and information on all of the 843 men who were lost when the First World War battleship went down in Scapa Flow on the night of 9 July 1917, sunk by an explosion in one of her magazines. I had a feeling there was a family connection.
Many years ago after my husband’s grandmother died I remember him bringing home two large framed photographs of a First World War battleship. The images were faded having been hanging on his grandmother’s wall for decades… along with a large photo of her brother who had been lost on that terrible night. Somehow I’d never got around to doing much research on that branch of the family and the photos had been safely stored away for when I could investigate further. Now was the time!
A dusty trip into the attic retrieved the carefully wrapped photos of the ship – yes, I was right, it was HMS Vanguard. One shows the ship under calm conditions, a little steam tender setting off from her side; the other was a dramatic image captioned “HMS Vanguard in a gale”.
The photo of grandmother’s brother was stored with the other very large format old photos – that branch of the family clearly had a lot a wall space! On the back was a label where all those years earlier I had had the foresight to record what I’d been told about the handsome young man in uniform pictured. It wasn’t much, just: “? Bolden, Florence’s brother ?”
Florence Bolden was my husband’s grandmother, and I soon found out that among the men lost on HMS Vanguard was 21 year old Royal Marine Artillery Gunner Frederick Francis Bolden (service number RMA/14479). Frederick’s service record confirmed that he was my husband’s great uncle, who had enlisted in London in November 1914, about a month before his 19th birthday. His record also added colour to the sepia photo – at 5 feet 7 in tall, Frederick had blue eyes, brown hair and a fresh complexion, as well as a scar on his right leg. Before the war he had been employed as a general labourer, although the 1911 census lists him as 15-year-old butcher’s assistant living in Bush Hill Park, Enfield with his parents, Walter (a brickmaker) and Sarah, along with seven brothers and sisters. As well as Florence, who was five years Frederick’s junior, there was Mary (aged 18), Walter (16), May (13), Elsie (5) Thomas (3) and the baby of the family, 5-month-old William.
Among the other large family photos was one of the Bolden family. Sadly, baby William died later in 1911 before his first birthday and the eldest son, Walter, died in 1912 just 17. I estimate that the photo was taken 2 or 3 years after the 1911 census and shows Walter and Sarah with their surviving children. Grandmother-to-be Florence is bottom left with two ribbons in her curly hair. Next to her is younger brother Thomas standing in front of his father with Elsie next to her mother. The two eldest daughters stand behind – the young woman in the white blouse looks the older of the two and is probably Mary, with May standing behind Florence. And with the hint of a smile to the far right must be Frederick, not long before he enlisted in 1914.