Richard Alfred Harding


This post was written by Victoria Doran.

Richard Harding was a member of the Royal Navy from when he left school, and died when HMS Laurentic hit a mine whilst at sea off Ireland.

Richard A Harding BR entry.jpeg

Richard Harding Book of Remembrance entry

Richard Harding was born at the end of 1878 at Portland, Dorset, the youngest of the 6 children of George Harding (1833-1887) and Elizabeth Bulbeck (1838-1879). His father came from Burdon, Sussex and Elizabeth from Bosham, Sussex but nothing is known of them for certain before they were married on 26 June 1862 at St James the Great, Chichester, Sussex. This was 6 weeks after the birth of their eldest child, Elizabeth Annie Harding (1862-1939). George seems to have been in the Merchant Navy.

On 5 August 1864 George enlisted in the Royal Navy, in the Coastguard, ‘Achilles’. At this time HMS Achilles was a broadside ironclad frigate launched the previous year. It has not been possible to establish whether this was used by the Coastguard Service.

As was usual in the Coastguard Service, the family moved frequently. In 1873 they were in Portland, Dorset when George was pensioned off at the age of 40. He does not seem to have worked again and two children, including Richard, were born after he retired.

Richard’s mother died when he was one year old, and his father when he was 8. His eldest sister Elizabeth seems to have taken responsibility for her younger siblings.

Richard joined the Royal Navy as a Boy II Class on 18 Jun 1886 at the age of 17. However he lied about his age as the Royal Navy thought he was born in 1881 not 1878. Presumably he looked very young for his age. He served on many ships and made his home at Gosport with his sister Elizabeth.

On 21 October 1912 he was moved to the Coastguard Service and posted to Hoylake as a boatman. He served at Hoylake until 1 August 1914 when he returned to service on ships. On 25 Nov 1914 he became part of the crew of ‘Laurentic’.

HMS Laurentic in war garb from wiki.jpg

Laurentic in ‘war garb’ from Wikipedia

SS Laurentic was a passenger liner belonging to the White Star Line. Just before the outbreak of war she sailed to Canada full of fleeing Europeans. In September 1914 whilst at Montreal she was commissioned to carry troops of the Canadian Expeditionary Force as HMS Laurentic. After her arrival in Europe in October 1914 she was converted to an auxiliary cruiser and fitted with 7 cannons and Richard joined her crew.

She was involved in the African Campaign  until August 1915 when she moved to the Far East to patrol around Singapore, Rangoon and Hong Kong until June 1916. She then went to Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada via Capetown, South Africa and patrolled off Halifax until late November when she departed for Liverpool carrying Canadian naval personnel.

On 23 January 1917 she left Liverpool with 479 passengers, mostly naval personnel, and a large quantity of gold intended for the purchase of munitions from the USA and Canada. On 25 January she made an unscheduled stop at Buncrana on the north coat of Ireland to allow 4 passengers with fever symptoms to disembark. She lifted anchor around sunset to go to Fanad Head where she was to meet a destroyer escort. There was a blizzard and it was bitterly cold, but the Captain decided to proceed without the escort, despite reports of a U-Boat in the area. Less than an hour later she hit 2 mines off Lough Swilly. The engine room was hit and power was lost. Lifeboat launching was difficult and no distress signals could be sent. Laurentic sank within an hour. There were only 121 survivors, and many froze to death at the oars of the lifeboats. Bodies were washed up on shore for several weeks afterwards, but Richard’s was not among them.

He was 38 years old and is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.

Plymouth Naval Memorial jpg.jpg

Plymouth Naval Memorial, Devon

Doubtless it was his former colleagues from Hoylake Coastguard who remembered him and had him included on Grange Hill War Memorial and in the Book of Remembrance, for he never married and had no relatives in the area.

His sister Elizabeth acted as executor for his will. He left £180.

Birth: Q4 1878 at Portland, Dorset
Death: 25 Jan 1917, went down when ship mined off Ireland
Addresses: 6 Woodstock Road, Gosport, Hampshire (11)
Occupation: Royal Navy seaman
Unit: HMS Laurentic
Number and Rank: 189014; leading seaman
Medals: Star, Victory & British War
Commemorated: GH, Plymouth Naval Memorial
Sources: BR, CWGC, SR, Census:11; Probate



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