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Harold Johnson Ferns

Able Seaman Harold Ferns of the Royal Navy, Service No, 196242(CH), was lost, aged 34, when H.M.S. Aboukir was sunk on September 22nd 1914, seven weeks after the start of the war.

He is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.

He was born on April 2nd 1880, at Alverstoke, Gosport, the son of Harold and Elisabeth Ferns of Gosport. He was the husband of Alice Louisa Ferns, of 139 St Mary's Road, Kingston, Portsmouth. Native of Gosport. In 1901, his father was described as a naval pensioner - Petty Officer fleet reserve and in1911 as a naval pensioner and there was a reference to him also being a labourer and working in naval ordnance.

Evidence suggest that Harold was married during the first three months of 1909 in Portsmouth, where he had a daughter Alice Lillian Ferns. She was one year old at the time of the 1911 census, living with her mother (aged 25) at the Kingston address. At this same time Harold J. Ferns was listed on the census return for H.M.S. Jupiter, a Majestic class battleship, then part of the 3rd Division, Home Fleet, attached to Portsmouth.

Harold was the oldest child in a family of five. In 1911 Harold was 31, William 26, Arthur 25, Lilly 23 and Ethel Maud Ferns, 19. Only William and Ethel were at home in 1911 and both were single. William was working as a sail maker in a government dockyard and Ethel as a cashier in a grocer's. Arthur was described as a cabinet maker in 1901, but what happened to him later is not known. The family appears to have been grounded in the Portsmouth area, but the 1901 census shows Arthur to have been born in Co. Sligo, Ireland and the 1911 census shows Ethel to have been born in Helford, Cornwall. It is possible that their father, was working as a coastguard.

Unfortunately it has not been possible to discover a local address for Harold, indeed it is not clear why Harold is on the Craster war memorial at all. The following extract from an article in the Alnwick and County Gazette on October 17th 1914 about recruitment in the area, which mentions 'Coastguard Ferns', is the only evidence of his occupation and connection with the area.

Alnwick and County Gazette, October 17th 1914 Coastguarrd Ferns missing.

A fuller version of this aricle can be accessed by clicking on this image.

Portsmouth Naval Memorial Portsmouth Naval Memorial

The Sinking of the Aboukir

The Aboukir The Aboukir

The cruisers, Aboukir, Hogue and Cressy belonged to a slow and outdated design that was due to be taken out of service. They were part of a task force, which normally included destroyers, whose job was to protect the shipping lanes between England and France.

Senior admirals opposed the ship's use in this role because of their unsuitability.

On the occasion they were sunk:

1. The scheduled destroyers did not join the force because of the weather.

2. The Admiral's ship, HMS Euryalus, didn't join the force because it needed repairs.

3. Important aspects of his role were not passed on to the man given command of the force. Specifically he was not told that he had the authority to order the destroyers to sea when the weather improved.

4. The force was moving too slowly and didn't zigzag, making it vulnerable to submarine attack

5. When the Aboukir was struck the other two ships stopped and put out boats making them easy targets.

As a result, not only was the Aboukir sunk first, but then the Hogue and finally the Cressy. The loss of life totalled 1,459 men

All senior officers involved were criticised at the following inquiry. The most senior excused his conduct by saying that he did not understand the purpose of his command!

Commonwealth War Graves Commission - Harold Johnson Ferns

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