Deck Hand 8659DA (Ch) HMT St. John’s, Royal Naval Reserve
Died 3rd June 1918, aged 26
Remembered at Chatham Naval Memorial
& on both Blakeney War Memorials
Charles was born in Blakeney, 13th November 1891, the son of William Starling Nicholls of Blakeney and Rosa Rachel Twiddy of Cley. His parents were married in Cley, 1884 and by 1911, the Census reveals that they had had 17 children with only 9 still living; Rosa, Marianne, William, George, Charles, Elsie, Polly, Bertie and Gertrude. The family home was in Blakeney in the row of cottages at the very top of the High Street on the west side, Charles, however, age 19, a Bricklayer’s Labourer together with William and Elsie, his brother and sister, were living with their widowed grandmother, Mary Ann Twiddy in Beacon Cottage at the corner of Little Lane with the High Street.
At some time between 1911 and 1914, Charles joined the Royal Naval Reserve. This Reserve was composed of professional seamen from the British Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets, who could be called upon during times of war to serve in the regular Royal Navy. They would be trained in aspects of gunnery on drill-ships stationed around the British coast, for one month every year. Officers, who received further training, wore distinctive chained lace and this gave rise to their colloquial name “the wavvy navy”.
Charles spent his war service on His Majesty’s Trawler (HMT) St. John’s. These vessels were either purpose built or requisitioned, with the former known as “Admiralty Trawlers”. In all,the Navy requisitioned 215 trawlers, of which 72, including HMT St. John’s, were lost during WW1. HMT St. John’s, of 208 tons, was built in 1910 and operated in peacetime by The Hull Steam Fishing and Ice Co. Ltd. of Hull. She was hired, for the duration of the war, by the Admiralty as No. 1906. On 3rd June 1918, whilst patrolling the Atlantic some 45 miles north of Tory Island, Northern Ireland, she was attacked and sunk by the U-boat U 101
This particular U-boat, captained by Carl Siegfried Ritter von Georg, was launched in April 1917 and served 8 patrols between 10th July 1917 and 11th November 1918; sinking a total of 23 ships and damaging 3 more. HMT St. John’s was the very last to be sunk and while the Skipper and two engineers were taken prisoner, the bodies of Charles and his fellow crew members were never recovered. U 101 surrendered 21st November 1918, along with the entire German Fleet, 10 days after the Armistice. She was subsequently broken up at Morecambe at the beginning of June 1920.
Charles Nicholls was the second RNR from Blakeney to lose his life in the Great War. His brothers William and George however, served in the army and both returned home safely.