Stringer brothers sail the high seas

Reprinted from The Packet, May 15, 2019
by Lester Green

(Click on images to enlarge)

During the Great War two Stringer brothers from Hodge’s Cove voluntarily enlisted to serve their King and Country. Joseph was the first to be deployed and sailed overseas with the first draft of Newfoundland sailors. His brother, Gilbert, was fortunate to survive the war after his ship, the HMS Terror, was torpedoed. He was picked up by another ship within hours, but that ship was also sunk by a torpedo.

Joseph Stringer. (Photo courtesy Stringer family.)

Joseph and Gilbert were brothers born to Thomas Stringer and his first wife Deborah Garland. They had three other siblings, one of whom died at infancy.

Most men that enlisted during the Great War were just young boys but both Joseph and Gilbert were young adults in their mid-twenties.

Joseph was the first to sign his application on October 13, 1914. His birth date is recorded as April 28, 1890 and he is listed at the 25 years old. The 1921 census records, however, records his birth year as April 1888.

Gilbert signed his enlistment papers on April 30, 1916, listing his age at 28 years old and a birth date of January 6, 1889.

An interesting notation is recorded on Joseph’s medical papers. It states that: “1 inch and 3 quarters under height. Otherwise fit.”

Seaman Gilbert Stringer. (Photo courtesy Deena Stringer.)

Records indicate that Joseph completed 28 days of naval training during the months of October and November 1914. He was informed by Royal Proclamation four days after he departed St. John’s harbour of his deployment overseas. He sailed overseas with 33 other sailors from the Southwest Arm area onboard the SS Franconia.

When he arrived at Liverpool, he was assigned to HMS Pembroke at Chatham, England where he spent several weeks completing further training.  According to family folklore, he was likely given an eye exam in early February 1915 during which time it was determined that he was color-blind. He was no longer medically fit for service with the navy.

He returned to the HMS Calypso on February 18, 1915 and demobilized on March 3, 1915.

Gilbert signed his naval application on April 30, 1916 and completed his training. He sailed out of St. John’s harbour onboard the SS Sicilian on August 28.

Ship’s ledger for Royal Naval Reserve. Source TRPAD_ GN 182.4

Upon his arrival in England he was assigned to the navy barracks at HMS Vivid I, Devonport and then deployed to HMS Terror, a ship designed to carry large guns and could fire at land targets from a great distance.

On October 19, 1917 just off Dunkirk, the HMS Terror was torpedoed by a German boat receiving a hole in her side. She was quickly beached and later towed back to Portsmouth for repairs.

The crew was immediately picked-up a few hours later by a second ship which was also struck by torpedo. He survived without injury in both incidents.

In his book Random Reflection, Les Vey records an interview with Seaman Gilbert Stringer about this event:

“Uncle Gill then told of how he had left port around eight o’clock in the morning, and just as they got outside the port, the ship was torpedoed. One of their own ships picked them up. They were aboard this second ship long enough to have lunch, and it too was torpedoed.”

He was one of only 13 survivors from the second ship to be torpedoed.

Seaman Gilbert Stringers WW1 medals. (Photo courtesy of Garland Stringer.)

Gilbert was reassigned to HMS Pembroke, where remained for two weeks before being granted furlough to Newfoundland.

He returned to England and was assigned to the HMS Barrigan Head for five months before being transferred to HMS Morea, an Armed Merchant Cruiser. He completed one round trip between Devonport and Dakar accompanying a convoy of ships during August 31 to October 1, 1918.

The remainder of his naval career was spent at dockside on the HMS Morea.

He returned home on May 14, 1919 and received demobilization on July 2, 1919.

Joseph returned to Hodge’s Cove and within weeks married Matilda, daughter of Eldred and Selina French on May 16, 1916. He passed away at Hodge’s Cove on December 22, 1965. Matilda died 12 years later and was buried next to her husband at Hodge’s Cove United Church Cemetery.

Gilbert married Priscilla, daughter of Lorenzo and Emma Smith of Island Cove. Priscilla passed away on May 17, 1947 but Gilbert lived another 30 years and died September 26, 1977.