William Frederick Harden

7th January 1886 – 16th September 1918

William Frederick Harden, Able Seaman Z/5095 RNVR, HMS Glatton, was killed by an internal explosion in Dover Harbour on 16th September, 1918.

Family Background

William Frederick’s father was also William. William senior was born near Midhurst in Selham, Sussex on 30th December, 1854. For a short time he followed in his father’s footsteps and is recorded as a Farm Labourer in 1871. Two years later we find that he had gone to sea, joining in the Royal Navy on 21st December, 1873, aged almost 19. His first ship was HMS Dasher, a paddle gun-vessel, used to carry mail between Weymouth and the Channel Islands. Later he was to marry WF’s mother, Emily, who was from St. Martin’s, Jersey. It is probable that they met through the many times he would have docked to deliver post and packets.

Royal Connections

William’s experience in the Navy was an unusual and interesting one and no doubt this played a part in WF following his father’s salty course. Aboard HMS Dasher, William became the personal servant of the Captain and on 23rd October 1879, when a new ship’s command beckoned, William moved with him to serve on HMS Salamis. The officer he served was no ordinary seaman. Sir Adolphus Augustus Frederick FitzGeorge had royal connections: his great grandfather was George III (‘mad King George’) and his father was a second cousin of Queen Victoria.

Clockwise: HMS Dasher, Rear Admiral Sir Adolphus Augustus Frederick FitzGeorge KCRVO, HMS Salamis

The ‘Fitz’ prefix to his surname was not inherited but signified illegitimate birth. He was the second son of Prince George, Duke of Cambridge, and the actress Sarah Fairbrother (performer at Drury Lane, the Lyceum, and Covent Garden Theatre). The couple eventually married, in contravention of the Royal Marriages Act 1772, following the birth of FitzGeorge’s youngest brother.

The 1881 Census shows that the officer/servant relationship was not restricted to duties on-board. We find William staying as a ‘Visitor’ on the private estate of Thomas Holden, FitzGeorge’s father-in-law, in East Yorkshire.  It is in this document that we learn of his position as Servant to Captain Fitz George, R.N.

FitzGeorge’s noble birth, though tainted, would see that on retirement he was made up to Rear Admiral, receive the title of Deputy Ranger of Richmond Park and, later, become a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order. The Richmond Park appointment would have a direct bearing on the family in coming days.

William was discharged from the Navy at his own request on Thursday, 3rd November, 1881. All seven references to his character record read ‘Exemplary’. With this background, one cannot help but imagine the many tales of Navy life that awaited William’s children.

William Frederick

William married Emily Carrel on 20th September 1884 at the Parish Church in Camberwell. He was 29, she 26 and from Jersey fishing stock. The wedding must have been a rushed affair as it took place only three and a half months before William Frederick’s birth on Wednesday, 7th January, 1885 also in Camberwell.

The family grew rapidly over the next few years with WF’s first four siblings born in Belgravia/Pimlico: Ethel (1888), Arthur (1890), Edgar Hubert (1892), and Percy (1896). They were followed by Ella Isabel in 1899, born in Ham (Richmond Park), Surrey, and finally Hilda in 1902 at Kingston, Surrey.

In 1891, William Senior is shown employed as a ‘Coachman/Groom’ in Knightsbridge. The family home was in a mews only 400m from the home of Sir Adolphus Augustus Frederick FitzGeorge KCVO. Strangely, we find that five-year-old William F was not with the rest of his immediate family on Census Day but living or staying with his aunt and uncle, William and Alice Bridger, in Hayling Island.

Later, in 1901, we find the family have moved to the bucolic surroundings of Richmond Park where they lived in Ham Gate Lodge as William Senior was employed as ‘Gatekeeper’. With him were wife Emily, young William F. (15 years of age) and his five siblings, and his aged widowed mother (71years old).

Rural life must have been quite a contrast to the inner-city and one wonders whether the children loved it or hated it. The gatekeeper’s job was not to control people entering and leaving the park but to prevent the escape of animals.

The coincidence of these two addresses: the Coachman’s mews and the job at Richmond Park, make it almost certain that Sir Adolphus had kept on his trusty retainer after naval service.

William had attended St Peter’s School in Eaton Square in Knightsbridge, for his primary education. The move to Richmond Park coincided with the end of his schooling at the age of fifteen. However, he continued in education, taking up a position as a pupil teacher in Ham—a small village on the western boundary of Richmond Park—at St. Andrew’s National School (now St. Richard’s Primary School).  In this teaching apprenticeship, he would have received individual tuition before and at the end of the school day, from the headteacher and would have studied for external examinations. We known that he had achieved passes in subjects such as Physiography, Advanced Model and Blackboard Drawing, and Freehand Drawing.

Towards the end of his time there, coming up to eighteen years of age, it is probable that he sat entrance examinations for training college. We do not know which exams he took but usually it would have been the King’s Scholarship Examination (Queen’s Scholarship prior to January 1901), although from 1899 onwards, London Matriculation, or the Oxford or Cambridge Senior Local Examinations were accepted as alternatives.

By 1901 young William’s future career and his path towards Winchester Training College were set. The Census shows that he was a Pupil Teacher—an older primary-age pupil who had proven ability and who had been kept on as an assistant to the schoolmaster or mistress. There is a full outline of the usual teaching career path in the feature on Teaching and Training

The last recorded information we see of his siblings is in 1911 when the family had moved to Brockhampton Road, on the edge of Richmond Park. Ethel was employed as a ‘Dressmaker’, Edgar as a ‘Draper’s Junior Clerk’ and Percy as a ‘Junior Clerk, Cinematograph’. Ella and Hilda were still at school. There is no mention of Arthur who, at the age of 21, must have left home. Sadly, William Senior is also absent having died in the Summer of 1910, and Emily is recorded as a widow. Also missing is William F (from here on we shall simply call him William), who had, in the early Autumn of 1905, headed west.


Pupil Teachers had to undergo a two-year training course before they were reckoned qualified and for this William entered Winchester Training College in September 1905.

We know little of his life at college as his name does not appear in the college publications of the period. Whatever he did, he was eclipsed by his cousin, Charles Richard Harden of Havant, who happened to be there at the same time (1905-1907) and was a skilled footballer, cricketer and all-round sportsman. Charles was to die in Victoria Cottage Hospital, Emsworth, Hants at the early age of 24 after having taught in Warblington, Havant.

Winchester Training College as William would have known it

William’s experience of student life would have been much like this: On weekdays reveille was sounded by the bell monitor at 6.15 a.m., making his way through the dormitories, ringing a hand-bell. A cup of cocoa stood ready for students at 6.30 in the dining hall, and roll-call, taken at 6.45, was followed by an hour’s lecture. Then came morning service and afterwards breakfast at 8.30 a.m. On Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays lectures lasted from 9 a.m. until 12.50 p.m., with a break from 10.45-11.00 a.m. Lunch was at 1 p.m., and at 2 p.m. on the above days there followed a 1–2-hour art lesson or psychology or hygiene or criticism lesson. This still left time for football, cricket, or tennis on the dytche [sports field area—see foreground in picture above] before tea at 5 p.m. From 7-9 p.m., commencing with roll-call, all students undertook private study in their appropriate lecture room, either junior or senior. A member of staff supervised in one room and a prefect in the other. Evening chapel was at 9.15 p.m., followed by supper at 9.30 then to bed, with lights out at 10.30 p.m.

William’s academic record at college can best be described as middling: he was placed 15th of the 35 students in his first year exams, with an overall mark of 68.1% and 21st in his second year (64.6%).

Of the students William knew in his two years of study, no fewer than ten would give their lives in the Great War.


On leaving College in the early Summer of 1907 William found a teaching post. He taught as an Assistant Master at St. Andrew’s Boys’ School in Surbiton in the 1907–08 academic year. He then moved to Burwash Voluntary School, Sussex (also known as Burwash National School and now Burwash Church of England Primary School), where he taught from 1909 to 1913 under the headship of James George Self.

Square Farm, Burwash

The 25 year-old is to be found in the Census of 1911 living as a boarder on Square Farm in the Sussex Weald. The farm, in Burwash, is an historic listed farmhouse and William was the sole occupant of a cottage in the grounds. He is recorded as being single and a teacher employed by Sussex County Council. Rudyard Kipling, living at this time in Batemans, the huge Jacobean house in the village (now National Trust), wrote ‘It would be difficult to find a more satisfying village, even in Sussex, than Burwash, for not only is it composed of unspoilt medieval buildings, rich in the mellow colouring of Time, but from its ridge it commands extensive views of rare beauty, both by day and by night.

In the Summer of 1913, William moved schools once again, teaching for one year at St. Michael’s Boys’ School in Enfield, Middlesex, before moving to Christ Church Boys’ School in Brixton, Southwest London, as war broke out.

The Senior Service

Able Seaman William Frederick Harden Z/5095 RNVR

William’s war service followed in his father’s footsteps and was unique amongst the College Memorial Roll men: he was to serve on water rather than land. His Navy enrolment form shows the commencement of his naval service in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on Friday, 9th June, 1916. It records him as being 5 feet 10 inches in height with brown hair, hazel eyes and a medium complexion.

If his father’s naval career had been fascinating, William’s was mundane. From July 1916 to late August 1918, he served as an Able Seaman on various ships: HMS Victory VI, Excellent, Dido, Attentive, Victory I, and Vernon. Rather than sea-going warships, these were all shore or homeport-based training establishments variously located at Crystal Palace, Portsmouth, Chatham, Dover, Portsmouth and Portchester Creek. They were often referred to as ‘stone frigates’ although some were aboard anchored decommissioned ships. It was not until August 31st, 1918 that William saw action.

The Tragedy of HMS Glatton

His posting to HMS Glatton eventually took him to sea in earnest. The ship had been built on Tyneside and after completion William and the crew would have travelled to the Tyne to ready her for service. She set sail bound for Dover on Wednesday, September 11th, ready for a planned offensive later in the month.

Glatton completed the journey and was safely moored in Dover Harbour the following Monday when at 18:15 there was an explosion in the midships magazine followed by a fierce fire. Attempts to extinguish the blaze proved futile, as did attempts to flood other magazines and scuttle the ship.

HMS Glatton: A Coastal Monitor 310ft long, weighing 5,746 tons and with a complement of 305

Vice-Admiral Keyes, who happened to be in the vicinity at the time, immediately realised that the ammunition ship HMS Gansha was moored nearby and if Glatton’s fires spread to its other magazines then the whole harbour and town would be devastated, with huge loss of life and war material. Boarding the recently-arrived destroyer HMS Cossack he gave the order to torpedo Glatton. The first weapon failed to explode because of a safety device preventing detonation at such close range. The second struck and exploded but the 200lb. warhead was insufficient to penetrate Glatton’s defensive armour. Moving to the better-armed destroyer HMS Myngs, he ordered a further strike with a larger torpedo, aimed directly at the damage caused earlier. This had the desired effect and at 20:00 HMS Glatton capsized until her superstructure hit the bed of the harbour. The fire was out, the town, ships and port saved, but 79 men were dead—William among them. A further 19 of the 124 injured would later die of their burns.

A sad postscript to this tragedy is that William, along with 56 fellow crew, were left entombed in the upturned hull until salvage operations. The last human remains were not removed until March 1930—a delay almost inconceivable today. These remains were taken to Chatham Naval Hospital, and from there to Gillingham Cemetery to be buried with military honours on Friday, April 4th. Not only were they buried in a common grave, but all of the remains were interred in a large single coffin.

Through no lack of willingness on his part, William’s active naval career at sea had lasted only 6 days. Sadly, the Burwash War Memorial does not record his name. There is no record of William having married; his next of kin is noted on his naval record as his widowed mother.


An enquiry into the cause of the sinking of HMS Glatton concluded that the initial fire was caused by hot ash from the ship’s boilers being piled against a boiler room bulkhead which separated the boilers from the magazine. Although the wall was insulated with 5 inches of cork on the magazine side, defects in Glatton’s sister ship, HMS Gorgon, were discovered on inspection: insulation was missing, and rolled up newspaper found in the cavities. More seriously, some rivets were also missing from the steelwork, leaving half-inch diameter holes in the bulkhead. It was thought that red-hot ashes had ignited the insulating materials and set off the chain of events.

After the War, there was a lengthy dispute over costs of removing the capsized ship, between the civil Dover Harbour Board and the Admiralty. Eventually, over the winter of 1925–1926, the hull was moved to the harbour shore and beached. Most of the upper ship was slowly broken up by salvors and the remains of those who had died onboard were removed to Chatham. Finally, the remainder of the lower hull was concreted over and lies under the present-day ferry terminal.

Another sailor named Harden died in this incident (Percival Jack Roberts Harden, aged 18, of Havant, Hants). Since the surname is uncommon (1 in 27,000 occurrence in England) this may not be coincidental, but no familial link has yet been established.


Researcher and Author: John Vickers

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theweald.org (2018). Square Farm, Burwash. [online] Available at: http://theweald.org/m13.asp?PicIdto=9901709 [Accessed 7 December 2017]

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University of Winchester Archive “ Hampshire Record Office
Reference code Record
47M91W/ P2/4 The Wintonian 1899-1900
47M91W/ P2/5 The Wintonian 1901-1902
47M91W/ P2/6 The Wintonian 1903-1904
47M91W/ P2/7 The Wintonian 1904-1906
47M91W/ P2/8 The Wintonian 1905-1907
47M91W/ P2/10 The Wintonian 1908-1910
47M91W/ P2/11 The Wintonian 1910-1914
47M91W/ P2/12 The Wintonian 1920-1925
47M91W/ D1/2 The Student Register
47M91W/ S5//5/10 Photograph of 5 alumni in Mesopotamia
47M91W/ Q3/6 A Khaki Diary
47M91W/ B1/2 Reports of Training College 1913-1914
47M91W/ Q1/5 Report and Balance Sheets 1904- 1949
47M91W/ R2/5 History of the Volunteers Company 1910
47M91W/ L1/2 College Rules 1920
Hampshire Record Office archive
71M88W/6 List of Prisoners at Kut
55M81W/PJ1 Managers’ Minute Book 1876-1903
All material referenced as 47M91W/ is the copyright of The University of Winchester. Permission to reproduce photographs and other material for this narrative has been agreed by the University and Hampshire Record Office.