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Roll of Honour

Hartlepool seafarers lost at sea

Nossiter, George

Artificer (2nd Engineer)
18, Harbour Terrace
West Hartlepool

Lost on the steam tug HMS Char
Son of George and Elizabeth Nossiter of 18, Harbour Terrace, West Hartlepool; husband of Emily Nossiter of Lax Terrace, Wolviston.

The following information was kindly provided by Pat and Eric James:
George Nossiter was the third child of George and Elizabeth Nossiter and was born in West Hartlepool on the 7th May 1867. He was baptised in Christ Church on the 26th May.

His father worked as a dock gateman and the family lived nearby at 18, Harbour Terrace, a row of houses sandwiched between the Coal Dock and the outer harbour. Close by were the coal staithes where railway wagons discharged their loads into the ships. It sounds like a distinctly unpleasant place to live, but George spent much of his life here. Even when he eventually moved, it was to somewhere quite close.

Having grown up surrounded by the docks, it’s not surprising that George’s adult life was associated with water, ships, and railways. However, his first job we know about is as a grocer’s boy in 1881, at the age of 13. This only lasted two years and in 1883 he joined the North Eastern Railway.

We don’t know what this job involved, but it didn’t last and he left the Railway company in 1886. He might have returned to the grocer’s and he was certainly working as a grocer’s assistant in 1891, aged 23. If so, it was his last contact with the retail trade because later in the same year he rejoined the North Eastern Railway.

In 1895, George married Edith Naomi Harnish. Edith lived at 17, Caroline Street, with her widowed mother and two older siblings. Like many young women at the time, she was in domestic service. Harnish is a German name, her parents Charter and Augusta being originally from Germany.

By 1901, George had followed his father as a dock gateman.  He also by then had two children, George and Albert. Sometime after this, George started working on the Railway Company’s tugboats. In 1907 he became Second Engineer on one of these tugs, the Stranton.  By then he also had a third child, another son, Edward.

He stayed in this job, though by 1911 the family had moved to No.1 Dock Gate Cottages, only 300 yards from Harbour Terrace, but in a more open area. The final addition to the family was the fourth child born in 1913, a daughter Florence.

Away from work on the tug, George was member of two local clubs, both associated with water – the Porpoise Swimming Club and the Neptune Boating Club.

As for many people, George’s life changed with the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the consequent outbreak of the First World War.  The Stranton and other North Eastern Railway tugs were taken over by the Government for war work. They were renamed and the Stranton became HMS Char. George and the other seven crew members volunteered to stay with the ship and were enrolled in the Mercantile Marine Reserve.

The tugs were used in various places.  One was sent to the Greek island of Lemnos as part of the Gallipoli campaign and then the blockade of the Dardanelles. The Char was closer to home than this, and was based at Ramsgate on the Kent east coast. It was in the Dover Patrol, whose task was to protect British ships in the Channel and to block off the Channel to German shipping, especially submarines.

The Char was classed as an unarmed boarding vessel and was part of the Downs Boarding Flotilla. The Downs is the stretch of water between the Kent coast and the Goodwin Sands and the purpose of the Flotilla was to check all the ships passing through.

The Char entered navy service on 17th November 1914, with George and the rest of the original crew, plus several Royal Navy men, who included wireless operators and Royal Marines, as well as officers. Only two months later, disaster struck. The events were described in an article in the Hartlepool newspaper The Northern Daily Mail on Monday the 18th January 1915.

“The loss of a patrol boat – details of the disaster. The Press Bureau at 11:15 last night issued the following :

The Secretary of the Admiralty makes the following statement : H.M. Tug Char was sunk in collision with the steamship Frivan early on the morning of 16th January. It is feared that the whole of the crew have been lost.”

Further details of the disaster show that during the terrific gale which prevailed in the Downs on that Saturday morning, the Char was endeavouring to get alongside a steamship to examine her when she fouled the vessel’s bows and was cut below the waterline. The wind and sea at the time were terrific. Cries for help could be heard from the Char’s crew as she rapidly filled and drifted away in the dark. No assistance could be given from those on board the steamer as no boats could be lowered. It is stated that the Char carried a crew of from 12 to 14.

The captain of the steamship reports that after she struck, the tugboat drifted away and nothing more was seen of her. He was powerless to render assistance as great walls of water swept over their vessel. He sent up rockets for assistance. With great difficulty the Deal lifeboat was launched, but the gale was so fierce that the men had to hold on to save themselves from being washed overboard, while they had to reel their sail down to the bottom notch.

For hours the lifeboat men searched in vain for the boat and any signs of her crew, all of whom have now been given up for lost. It is believed that the force of the hurricane blew the tugboat on to the Goodwins. The lifeboat men came back and stood by the steamer all night.

When coming ashore next morning, they were sent back to the Goodwins as another vessel was observed stranded there, but when the lifeboat men reached the sands the vessel had disappeared. The lifeboat men returned at 2 o’clock yesterday afternoon, having been out 12 hours in terrible weather.

This was one of the biggest single losses of Hartlepool sailors during the whole of the war and came just a month after the German bombardment of the town had killed about 120 people.

The North Eastern Railway Magazine published details of all of their employees who died in military service, with photographs where possible. It described the master of the Char, John Whale, as coming from a tug-owning family and living in South Shields. The seven other crew members were all from the Hartlepools.

Like George, the other three older men were married with children.  While the deaths were a tragedy for all the families, it was particularly so for the Booths as William – who was the first engineer – and Edward were father and son.

Possibly after George’s death, Emily and the children made a move out of West Hartlepool to Lax Terrace, Wolviston. Emily does not seem to have remarried since there is a 1953 record of the death in the Hitchen district of Emily N. Nossiter, aged 82.

The crew of the Char have been represented surprisingly well in memorials. Being members of the Mercantile Marine Reserve, they are on the memorial on Plymouth Hoe and are also recorded in the Dover Patrol Book of Remembrance. The Patrol itself was also commemorated by obelisks built on each side of the Channel. 

The North Eastern Railway had several commemorations for the 2236 employees who died in military service. On 10th May 1919 there were simultaneous Memorial services in York Minster, Newcastle Cathedral and Hull Holy Trinity Church. A Book of Remembrance contains the names of those who died. This is now kept in The National Railway Museum in York.
Their names are also on a memorial just inside the City Walls in York. At the base of the obelisk is a dedication to those who died and on the wall to the right of the obelisk – looking rather worn now – is George Nossiter’s name.

The names of the Char’s crewmen from Hartlepool are on the main war Memorial in Victoria Square, on slabs round the Harbour Light in the Marina and on a plaque now in Christ Church - which is sadly appropriate since this building, though it’s now an art gallery, is where the 19 day old George Nossiter was baptised in 1867.


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