Leading Seaman George Henry Newman was born on the 19th of January 1886 in Newick Street, Plymouth. He was the eldest son of Hannah and Henry William Newman.
George’s father Henry was born in London and joined the Navy aged 15, in 1867. He became a signaller, progressing gradually up the ranks. The Navy brought him to the south-west of England, where he married Hannah Giles, from Saltash, in 1878; at the time of the 1881 Census, the couple lived in Cecil Street, Plymouth. Their first child Jessie was born in November that year.
The family had moved to Tracey Street, Plymouth, by the time George’s younger sister Susan was born, on 21st August 1888. Around this time Henry was promoted to 2nd Yeoman of Signals. From November 1888 to July 1892, he was serving in HMS Cleopatra, the British flagship based at Monte Video on the Pacific coast of South America.
The family moved to Dartmouth when Henry was promoted to Yeoman of Signals in October 1892 and posted to HMS Britannia. The couple had four more children, Madeline Frances, Beatrice Hilda, Helen Louise and William Giles.
Henry left the Navy on 29th February 1896, having served for 25 years. In 1901 he was living in Lake Street, Dartmouth with Hannah and six of their children and working as a labourer.
George followed in his father’s footsteps, joining the Navy when he was 17, having previously worked as a labourer. He joined HMS Northampton on 20th August 1903 as a Boy 2nd Class. A few months later he was on HMS Cleopatra, which was by then being used as a training ship. On his eighteenth birthday in 1904, he signed on for a twelve year engagement. According to his service record he was 5′ 5 ½” tall, with light brown hair, grey eyes, and a “fresh” complexion.
He was promoted to Ordinary Seaman only two weeks after signing on, while serving in HMS Hogue, an armoured cruiser at that time with the Channel Fleet. (The Hogue would later be torpedoed along with two other ships in an attack which cost the lives of more than 1400 men. Reginald Norton, who would later become Acting Captain of the Laurentic, was serving as a Commander aboard the Hogue when she was sunk). He was transferred in June 1904 to HMS Minerva, attached to the Mediterranean Fleet. He returned home two years later, having been rated Able Seaman during the voyage.
After six months gunnery training at HMS Cambridge, he spent a year in HMS Caesar, a Majestic class battleship, in the Devonport Division of the new Home Fleet. From HMS Caesar he transferred to HMS Cornwallis, an older, pre-dreadnought battleship. Cornwallis served in the Atlantic Fleet until 1909, and then moved to the Mediterranean. He came home in August 1910; his next ship, HMS Mars, was based in Devonport.
For most of 1912, he served in the Devonport Naval Base, and was then appointed to HMS Devonshire, which served in the reserve fleet, on the 14th of December 1912. He was still serving in HMS Devonshire as the Navy mobilised for war, and found himself part of the Grand Fleet, where Devonshire spent her time reinforcing patrols near Shetland and the Norwegian coast. He was promoted to Leading Seaman on 1st February 1915. George left HMS Devonshire on 8th September 1916 and was appointed to Vivid I for HMS Laurentic the following day. His naval service record does not state when he joined Laurentic, which was on general patrol off Halifax at the time. Laurentic did not return to the UK until 6th December 1916.
We do not know whether George managed to get to a lifeboat but we do know that his body was never recovered from the sea. He is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial, in Dartmouth Town War Memorial and on the St Saviour’s Memorial Board, Dartmouth.
Census Returns of England & Wales, 1871, ’81, ’91, 1911. The National Archives of the UK
Royal Navy Registers of Seamen’s Services. ADM 188, 362 and 363. The National Archives of the UK, Kew, Surrey, England.