Unit: H.M.S. Hampshire
Service Number: J/34472
Date of Death: 5th June 1916 – Killed in Action
Age: 17 years
Cemetery / Memorial: Chatham Naval Memorial
Grave / Panel Ref.: Panel 16
He had two older brothers, Sydney Ernest (born 19 August 1896) and Frank Thomas (b. 3 August 1897), two younger sisters, Florence Annie (b. 16 July 1900) and Nellie Evelyn (b. January 1905), and two younger brothers, William Henry (b. January 1903) and Alfred George (b. 21 May 1906).
In 1901 (Census RG 13/3048) the family were living in Post Office Street, Ruskington, Lincolnshire. Between Alfred’s birth and the next Census (1911 RG 14/19618) Edgar’s mother had died and the family moved to Manor Street, Ruskington.
Emmeline was only 33 when she died in January/February 1909. She was buried in Grave B. 65, Ruskington Cemetery, Old Plot. When Edgar’s father, William Ernest, applied for a Pension for his son he gave his address as first Manor Street, but later this was changed to “19 Gloucester Terrace, Weymouth, Dorset“. He died in Weymouth in the March quarter 1952, aged 77, and his cremated remains interred with Emmeline.
‘The Lincolnshire Chronicle’ [27 November 1915] reported that before he enlisted in Royal Navy in February 1915 Edgar had been ” .. a telegraph messenger in the post office. ” Another messenger boy was Edward Barsley who also drowned, accidentally, on 11 January 1918 whilst serving in Palestine with the Army Cyclist Corps.
[N.B. Edgar’s older brother, Pt. 203757 Frank Thomas Purnell, served with the Royal Army Service Corps (Motor Transport Section).]
According to ‘The Lincolnshire Chronicle’ [see above] Edgar enlisted in the Royal Navy on 15 February 1915. He was, therefore, aged 17 yrs. 107 days, and that he trained at Devonport onboard HMS Impregnable. The CWGC Records state that Edgar was: “Killed by a mine explosion off the Orkneys “ on 5 June 1916. (Index Chatham Naval Memorial, p. 287).
Edgar was one of 643 sailors who lost their lives on board the HMS Hampshire. On Monday, 5th June 1916, about 1½ miles [2.5 kms.] off Marwick Head in Orkney. The Royal Naval War Graves Roll gives his cause of death as : “Killed or died as a direct result of enemy action. ”
Official reports had it that at about 7.50 p.m. H.M.S. Hampshire struck a German mine and sank. According to an official Ministry of Defence site the ships full compliment at the time of sailing was 655 Officers and men plus 7 passengers, who were Lord Kitchener and his staff.
The armoured cruiser HMS Hampshire (left) was built on the Tyne by Armstrong Whitworth and launched on 24th September 1903.
When the Hampshire was commissioned into the Royal Navy in 1905 she joined the Channel Fleet before being transferred to the Mediterranean in 1911.
From 1912 to 1914 she served in the Far East, but was recalled to home waters in 1915.
Two days later, despite appalling weather conditions, the cruiser set sail for Archangel, in northern Russia, with the War Minister, Lord Kitchener, and his staff on board. Kitchener had considerable prestige overseas and he had been chosen to discuss the future conduct of the war with the Tsar and the provision of military and financial assistance to Russia.
The Hampshire experienced considerable difficulties in making headway in the storm and she was only 1½ miles [2.5 kms.] from land when there was a sudden explosion on her port side. The ship’s crew tried to launch the lifeboats, but they were hindered by the heavy seas and the failure of the ship’s electrical generators. The Hampshire sank within 15 minutes and, although a few crew members managed to take to the cruiser’s emergency rafts, most were forced to jump into the freezing, stormy waters.
Out of the 662 men on board the Hampshire, 650 were lost. Among the dead were Kitchener and his 6 staff. The War Minister was not killed in the explosion, as some survivors recalled having been ordered to “Make way for Lord Kitchener” and some reported seeing him on the upper deck. Over 100 bodies were subsequently recovered, but Kitchener’s body was not among them. The 12 men who survived the disaster had managed to reach the rocky coast of the Orkney Islands on the Hampshire’s rafts.
Boy, 1st Class, Edgar Purnell was not one of the survivors. The wreck of HMS Hampshire is still today  a war grave and our brave Ruskington lad lies with Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener KG, KP, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCMG, GCIE, ADC, PC; “Kitchener of Khartoum“, whose iconic poster stirred many a young man to enlist in the early days of the Great War.
Edgar is commemorated, with most of the others who died on board the Hampshire, on the Chatham Naval Memorial. The people of Orkneys erected their own monument to the great man, but fittingly it also serves as a lasting memorial to all on board.
On the 10 June 1916 ‘The Sleaford Journal‘ reported Edgar’s death as follows:
“Another young life has been added to the Ruskington Roll of Honour, in the loss of Edgar, the third son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Purnell, who was serving on the ill-fated ship “Hampshire.” This young sailor was in his eighteenth year, and joined the Navy in February, 1915, after acting for several years as telegraphic messenger boy at the Ruskington Post Office. After three months training on, H.M S. “Impregnable” he was transferred to the “Hampshire”, where he was learning the art of gunnery. The greatest sympathy is felt for Mr. Purnell and family in their bereavement. A pathetic incident is added in the receipt on Tuesday evening of the following postcard:- ‘Dear Grandma. Just a line to let you know I am quite well after being in the battle, which I hope you will have heard of. I can tell you we had a good go at them. I will tell you more in the letter which follows. With love from Edgar.’”
The following week (17th) ‘The Lincolnshire Chronicle‘ published the following by way of an Obituary for Edgar:
” ROLL OF HONOUR – Very much sympathy is felt for Mr. W. E. Purnell and family, Manor Street in the loss they have sustained by the death of their third son, who went down with the ‘Hampshire’. The official intimidation from the Admiralty reached the village on Sunday morning. He was not 18 years of age until September next and joined the Navy on February 15th 1915. He had three months training onboard the ‘Impregnable’, and was afterward transferred to the ‘Hampshire’. He had got through his torpedo course and was learning gunnery. etc. “
- A website has been created dedicated to the memory of all 643 sailors who lost their lives on board this ship – go to “HMS Hampshire “
- On 14 February 2005, “The Scotsman” newspaper published a full account of the events surrounding the sinking of the Hampshire. [CLICK the paper’s name to read to full article]
- “Lincs to the Past “
- Kent History Forum for the photographs of the Chatham Memorial Panel
- ‘The Sleaford Journal’ – 10 June 1916
- ‘The Lincolnshire Chronicle’ – 17 June 1916, page 2.