The Mystery of the Sailors war graves in Burton Bradstock cemetery.
For the past six years I have had the privilege on behalf of the Bride Valley Branch of The Royal British Legion of placing the memorial crosses on the War Graves in the Cemetery in Shipton Lane. What has puzzled me is the fact that two of the graves are to members of the same ship "HMS Formidable" but the men's names do not appear on any Roll of Honour memorials in the Bride Valley. Their grave stand next to each other they are: -
GH/16398 Pvte R.M.L.I. A.J. Clapham H.M.S. Formidable 1.1.1915
298357 F. Mead Stoker 1st Class R.N. H.M.S. Formidable 1.1.1915
Whilst browsing a Dorset Life magazine in a dentist's waiting room recently all was revealed.
H.M.S. Formidable, a pre-Dreadnought battleship built in 1901 was out in the channel off Start Point when the New Year of 1915 was welcomed in. She was heading towards Portland Harbour awaiting the raising of the boom at first light when a torpedo struck at about 2.20am hitting No. 1 boiler room on the port side. Then at 3.05am the second torpedo hit her. Then came the third bang caused by the magazines blowing up. 71 survivors took to the boats and despite the high seas and intense cold 48 managed to reach Lyme Regis. Many of the casualties were washed up on the beaches and presumably the two in the cemetery were washed up on Burton Beach. We are told that many are buried in Lyme Regis churchyard.
Photo by kind permission of Lyme Regis Museum
One other story that was told that came from this tragedy is that when the dead were carried to The Pilot Boat Inn in Lyme Regis, the landlord's dog, Lassie, came in and sat next to one body of a young seaman (W.S. Cowan) and started to lick his face. After sometime the sailor revived and lived to tell the tale. Lassie was awarded two animal medals.