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A look back at the tragic sinking of the HMS Good Hope

With the hundred year anniversary fast approaching of  one of Britain's worst naval disasters, there is something quite mournful about the leaf covered wording on the side of the Hawkes family grave a few yards from busy Brockley Road. It records the death of Able Seaman Reuben Ernest Hawkes, son of George and Amelia of Woodpecker Road New Cross, who served on the Battle Cruiser HMS Good Hope which was sunk with the loss of all hands at Coronel, off the coast of Chile, on the 1st November 1914.  The British were under the command of Rear Admiral Sir Christopher 'Kit' Cradock who had been tasked with intercepting a German squadron under the legendary Admiral Graf Von Spee which it was feared was likely to wreak havoc against vital supply routes between Britain and South America.

Able Seaman Reuben Ernest Hawkes Brockley Ladywell Cemetery
Grave of Able Seaman Reuben Ernest Hawkes, courtesy of Billion Graves

Cradock had two older cruisers, HMS Good Hope and HMS Monmouth, along with a light cruiser and an auxiliary ship, and was clearly up against a superior German force. The ships Cradock had were obsolete and he was up against a crack German squadron that had more armour and more speed. The battle saw both the Good Hope and Monmouth lost with all hands, while the light cruiser HMS Glasgow escaped by the skin of its teeth. Controversy still surrounds the decision from the Admiralty and its first Lord Winston Churchill that they had to take on this superior German naval force. Cradock had requested reinforcements but was informed that he had enough firepower to be able to handle the situation. He was blamed for this naval disaster but was unable to rescue his reputation as he perished along with 1,660 British sailors in the stormy waters off the South American coast. This engagement appears to have been nothing less than a suicide mission and the fact that he and so many of his naval crew died attests to the incredible courage on display on that fateful day.

After Coronel, at a reception with the German community at Valparaiso, Admiral von Spee was presented a bouquet of flowers for the naval victory. In his thank-you response he stated that it would do nicely for his grave.  

A painting; Battle of the Falkland Islands.

On December 8th 1914 the Royal Navy took revenge at the Battle of the Falkland Islands. Von Spee's flagship, Scharnhorst, together with Gneisenau, Nürnberg and Leipzig were all lost, together with some 2,200 German sailors, including Spee himself and his two sons; his eldest son, Lt. Otto von Spee, who served aboard the Nürnberg, and Lt. Heinrich von Spee who served on the Gneisenau. The admiral went down with his flagship, the Scharnhorst, along with all hands


The BFI are planning to screen a 1927 film recreating the Battles of Coronel and the Falkland Islands