Signalman, Royal Navy, HMS ‘Vehement’.
Service no. J/32529. Died 2 August 1918, aged 18
Remembered at Chatham Naval Memorial, Kent
Reginald Nicholson was born on 6 May 1899. After he was deserted as a baby he was admitted into the care of the Hammersmith Board of Guardians where he remained until 1917. Baby Reginald was initially fostered by a ‘Mrs Neal of Southbrook Street’ before he was moved to the Milman Street Receiving Home For Children in Chelsea, west London. On 1 August 1903, four-year-old Reginald was sent to the ‘District Schools, Ashford’ whose records show that he was fostered on 20 July 1904.
In the 1911 census, Reginald, aged 11, is a boarder in the six-room home of George and Elizabeth Noyes and their son Earnest, aged nine, at Stockwell Furlong, Haddenham, Buckinghamshire. George Noyes was a ‘coach smith’ (blacksmith) and was originally from Lincoln. Elizabeth Noyes (nee ?????) was born in Brixton and Earnest was born in Streatham. The Noyes’ stay in Haddenham may have been a brief interlude. George and Elizabeth had previously lived in Streatham for the decade after they were married at St Leonard’s Church in 1900.
On 13 September 1911, Reginald was sent to the HMS training ship Exmouth, moored in the Thames off Grays. He was 4ft 8in tall and weighed not quite 5 stone. Over the next three years, Reginald led an active life, excelling at swimming and gymnastics. His conduct was always rated as ‘VG’. Reginald’s expectation was to join the Navy as a boy sailor when he left the Exmouth on 7 September 1914 and he went straight to the shore-based HMS Ganges at Shotley, near Ipswich. Reginald was trained in the signalling methods of the time, a mixture of flag, semaphore, and Morse code, sent both by wireless telegraphy and searchlight.
On 6 May 1917, the day that the Hammersmith Board of Guardians ceased control of his life, Reginald Nicholson signed for 12 years service in the Navy. He was still small in stature, a little over 5ft, and described as having fair hair, brown eyes and a fresh complexion. The records show that he had been onboard the battle cruiser HMS Inflexible for two years when he was transferred to the destroyer HMS Vehement in November 1917. Close to midnight on 1 August 1918, during mine-laying duties in the North Sea, HMS Vehement struck a mine. One officer and 47 ratings were killed in the resulting explosion which partly destroyed the ship. The remaining crew abandoned ship at 4am on 2 August when all hope of saving HMS Vehement was lost and she began to sink.
The Noyes family had moved to Stockwell by 1918. Naval records show Reginald’s next of kin as ‘Mother: – Elizabeth. Goldsboro’ Rd, Lambeth, S.W. 8’. George and Elizabeth Noyes were still at the same address in 1934.