Died: 1 November 1914
Bert Allcorn was born on 21st May 1887 in Lewes and moved to Ringmer in 1898. He was educated at Ringmer School from 19th April 1898 until he left with a labour certificate on 22nd December 1899. At that time he lived with his parents and twin brother Frederick at Clayhill, prior to them moving to Swingate. He later married Kate and they lived at The Briars, Lewes Road, Ringmer.
A Regular seaman, Stoker 1st Class Herbert Allcorn served for five years in the Royal Navy followed by a further three years in the Reserve. This involved a commitment to recall with the colours in time of National crisis and for annual training. Because of the growing international tension it had been announced in Parliament in March 1914 that a test mobilisation would replace the usual manoeuvres that year. Bert reported for duty on 13th July and it was anticipated that the various fleets would disperse on 23rd July. Unfortunately it was on that day Austria presented its provocative ultimatum to Serbia which finally lit the fuse to the Great War. The dispersal orders were delayed and quietly the fleets increased their preparedness for and defences against a possible war, whilst all diplomatic measures to avoid conflict proceeded apace. Diplomacy as we now know failed and War was declared on 4th August 1914. [11pm London = Midnight 4th/5th Berlin Time].
HMS Good Hope
|Stoker Allcorn was drafted to H.M.S. Good Hope. An armoured cruiser of 14,100 tons from the ‘mothball fleet’ she had been launched in 1901. Capable of 23.5 knots, her crew were mostly reservists. She carried two 9.2" and sixteen 6" guns plus torpedoes. The cruiser sailed on 6th August for Newfoundland to intercept armed German merchant ships in the area. By 16th August Good Hope had been ordered south towards Panama under Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Cradock’s flag and she was later joined by other units on 14th September. These were the armoured cruiser Monmouth of 9,800 tons plus two smaller ships. One was the light cruiser, Glasgow of 4,800 tons and the other a former liner mounting a few obsolete guns. The new quarry by now was far more dangerous than any armed merchantman.|
The escape into the vastness of the Pacific Ocean by the German East Asia Squadron, from its base at Tsingtao, Northern China, was causing great anxiety in the Admiralty. That squadron, under the very able Admiral Graf von Spee, consisted of several modern cruisers. Two, especially the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau, were better armed, better armoured and better equipped than anything Cradock had at his disposal. They exercised regularly as a fighting force and were expert in naval gunnery, ammunition being plentiful for training. Various units were periodically detached from the main force to wage war independently. The German plan was to disrupt the allied trade with Australia, New Zealand and India. In this task elements of von Spee’s force were eminently successful. It became imperative to find and destroy the German fleet and to this end many ships were deployed across the seas.
At 4.20pm on 1st November 1914 the two fleets caught their first glimpses of each other. Admiral Cradock frantically radioed for Canopus to try to catch up. It was a hopeless task as she was some 250 miles behind. Each squadron commander sized up the situation and tried to manoeuvre for best position. The British attempted to open the engagement early with the sun behind them in the hope of a swift victory. The Germans who would have had to look into the sun avoided battle at that time. As the day wore on however, the sun began to set and presented the British fleet in sharp silhouette against the horizon. The German ships were by now almost invisible in the gathering gloom and finally sought to commence the inevitable battle from their tactical advantage.
The Scharnhorst scored a direct hit with her third salvo and destroyed the forward 9.2" main turret of Good Hope. Three minutes later Monmouth was set on fire by Gneisenau’s accurate gunnery. The British ships fired all available guns but with little serious effect except for a couple of damaging hits on the Gneisenau by Monmouth. Gradually the superior German gunnery and battle tactics began to tell. By 7.35pm von Spee estimated the Good Hope had been hit thirty times. She was on fire in several places but still fighting. She even tried to close on Scharnhorst so as to launch a torpedo attack. The German ship kept its distance and continued to shoot. Shortly after dark the brilliant flash of a massive explosion came from the area where H.M.S. Good Hope had last been seen. Nothing was ever found of her and Admiral Cradock, together with the entire ship’s compliment of 900 men, perished. Stoker 1st Class Herbert Allcorn naturally has no known grave and he is commemorated on Portsmouth Naval Memorial. His medals were sent to his widow who was pregnant with their son at the time of her husband’s death. It is interesting to note that the young lad was christened Herbert Henry Hope on 7th February 1915 after his father and his father's ship.
Adapted from Valiant Hearts of Ringmer by Geoff Bridger: Ammonite Press, 1993