Wednesday, 28 January 2015

An accident at sea: Alfred John Farrant, 6 February 1915

The war memorial in All Saints Church, East Budleigh church

On 6 February, 1915, Petty Officer 1st Class Alfred John Farrant was recorded as having drowned.  He has no known grave, but is listed on East Budleigh’s village memorial and in the parish church of All Saints. He is also remembered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial. 

Petty Officer Farrant was 37 years old and left a widow, Gertrude, whose address was given as 16, Morice Square, Devonport. 

Known to his family as John, as is evident from the village memorial, he was the son of George and Emily Farrant, of East Budleigh;  his father is recorded as a bricklayer.  

HMS Thunderer at anchor at Spithead, in the Solent, off the coast of Hampshire, in 1912. This is photograph Q 21854 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 2107-01)

At the time of his death he was serving on HMS Thunderer, one of the Royal Navy’s most expensive battleships constructed in 1909 as a result of the Admiralty’s call to counter the German naval expansion.

The First Fleet assembles for the King's review on 18 July 1914.  A postcard image described as likely to be an artist's vision

The  vessel was part of the 2nd Battle Squadron consisting of battleships which made up the Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet. No other casualty on board Thunderer was reported on that day, suggesting that John’s death was accidental. Research has shown that he was a gun layer or ‘sight setter’ with the task of helping the ship’s guns to aim at a target. 

Many local men who served with the Royal Navy during the Great War came from a fishing background. This does not seem to have been the case with John Farrant.  

It is possible that he may have been encouraged to go to sea by George Farrant, who was serving with the Coast Guard. George Edward Farrant, born in Littleham in 1867, had been a coastguard officer in the Isle of Wight. He had local connections, being the son of an agricultural labourer, also named George, who was born in around 1844 at Knowle, in East Budleigh parish. Alfred John Farrant’s father was four years younger, being born in around 1848; it seems likely that the two were cousins.   

George Edward Farrant was transferred from the Isle of Wight after 1911, and by 1919 he is listed as the Chief Officer at Budleigh Salterton’s coastguard station on Coastguard Road. 

‘The Great War at Fairlynch’ 2015 exhibition at Budleigh Salterton’s very special museum! Reviews included: “Wonderful display on WW1, informative, bright and relevant. Well done!! 

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