Remembering lives lost in the sinking of the HMS Royal Oak

THE sinking of the battleship HMS Royal Oak, torpedoed by a German submarine, took place 80 years ago this week. Of the 834 seamen who died in the audacious attack on 14 October 1939, six were from the Woking area.

News of the loss shocked Britain, coming just weeks after the start of the Second World War. It took place in Scapa Flow, in the Orkney Islands, thought to be a safe anchorage for ships of the Royal Navy.

DREADFUL LOSS – HMS Royal Oak was sunk by a U-boat in Scapa Flow 80 years ago this week

Reader Mark Coxhead has looked up the News & Mail on microfilm at the Surrey History Centre. It reported the story in detail.

Pondering how the U-boat submarine penetrated the defences of the harbour, it quoted from the speech of Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty, to the House of Commons: “It appears probable that the U-boat fired a salvo of torpedoes at the Royal Oak of which only one hit the bow.  

“This muffled explosion was at the time attributed to internal causes and what is called the inflammable store, where the kerosene and other such materials are kept, was flooded. Twenty minutes later the U-boat fired three or four torpedoes and those striking in quick succession caused the ship to capsize and sink.”

The report then listed those from the Woking area who died, such as Boy Telegraphist GC Andrews, aged 17, nephew of Mr and Mrs CF Andrews of Orchardlea, Anchor Hill, Knaphill. His parents came from Portsmouth.

The report noted: “Owing to his father being away on service up to two years ago, the lad had spent a good deal of life with his uncle and aunt in Knaphill and was there as recently as July last. His uncle, who is on the staff of Barclays bank at Woking, is also on the committee of the Woking Football Club, and the young sailor was interested in the doings of the Woking Strollers team, with which Mr Andrews had been actively concerned.”

There were 424 men who survived the disaster and among them was Gunner Benjamin J Anslow, who the News & Mail reported as being the son-in-law of Mr and Mrs WG Daniel of 9 Courtney Road, Woking. It added that he was “married at Christ Church, Woking on 8 August 1924”, and had served in the Royal Navy for almost 30 years.

If  you have some memories or old pictures relating to the Woking area, call me, David Rose, on 01483 838960, or drop a line to the Woking News & Mail.

David Rose is a local historian and writer who specialises in what he calls “the history within living memory” of people, places and events in the west Surrey area covering towns such as Woking and Guildford. He collects old photos and memorabilia relating to the area and the subject, and regularly gives illustrated local history talks to groups and societies. For enquiries and bookings please phone or email him at:

For the full story get the 17 October edition of the News & Mail

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