-H.M.S. Hood Crew Information-
The Heroic Death of James Horton in 1923
Updated 06-May-2014

The following three articles and photos were sent to the site by Claire Jewkes between November 2002 and January 2003. They concern the tragic death of an heroic H.M.S. Hood sailor in the Winter of 1923. The articles are shown here in chronological order, with the photos at the bottom of the page.

Chainbar divider

Photo of James Horton, courtesy of Claire Jewkes, 2002
Photo of James Horton

The following is from the Dudley Herald of 01 December 1923

Choir Boys' Heroic Conduct.
Sunday Afternoon Ice Tragedy in Dudley.
BlueJackets Gallant Attempt At Rescue.
Dramatic Incidents at Allport's Pool.

A sad gloom has been cast over Dudley throughout the week by the shocking tragedy of Sunday afternoon, in which two fifteen-years-old boys and a young bluejacket were drowned. The boy victims, with a number of light-hearted companions, were sliding on a frozen pool in Dudley, when the ice gave way and two of them were flung into the water. Desperate efforts were made by their fellows to pull them out, but one after another they too were precipitated into the water as the crumbling ice gave way, until altogether there were some half dozen lads struggling for their lives in the icy pool.

Then the young sailor arrived on the scene. While he was attempting to rescue the boys, the ice cracked and parted under his feet, and in company with another of the little lads, he was also plunged into the widening fissure.

The thrilling story of the way in which this bluejacket lost his life in attempting a rescue has caused a stir throughout the country. Not less heroic was the conduct of the boys who survived the terrible accident. They stood by their chums despite the obvious danger, when they might have reached safety, and in trying to pull their playmates out of the water they were one and all involved in a catastrophe that nearly ended fatally for all concerned. Ther is some evidence which points to the fact that one of the boys, Clifford Smith, lost his life through going to the aid of his brother Willie.

The news spread like wildfire through the town, and in a very short time a huge crowd had assembled round the fatal spot. Rafts were hastily improvised, and dragging operations were carried out long after nightfall by the aid of motor lamps. The last of the bodies were not recovered until Monday morning.

The boys who lost their lives were, Clifford Albert Smith (15), 1, New King St, Albert Parkes (16), 17 Hellier st, and the sailor who perished was James Horton (19) 33, Water St,Kingswinford. Smith was a member of the Parish Church Choir, and only that morning had given a solo, 'O God when thou Appearest'. Most of the boys involved in the accident were choristers, they had all attended Sunday School that afternoon, and were indulging in a thoughtless boyish frolic- little realising their appalling danger.

It is no easy matter even now to piece together the true story of this tragic Sunday afternoon.

Exaggerated reports and rumours have been spread, and garbled versions of the occurence have been repeated freely. No-body it seems saw the bluejacket dash to the rescue save the boys themselves. The only authentic information as to what happened in the very first place comes from these boys, Willie Smith (brother of Clifford), Arthur Rollinson, Arthur Bill, Cyril Thomas Davies, and Frank Price. The boy Davies gave a clear and concise account of the occurence to the Borough Coroner. The stories of the other boys who were not called to bear out Davies's statement in its main points, but as is natural under such exciting and confusing circumstances ther is some slight difference of detail.

The place where the fatality occured is known as Allport's Pool and is situated in an open space by the junction of Shaw Road and Blower's Green Road.

It is a small stretch of water, some nine feet in depth in the middle, standing in a grassy hollow considerably below the level of the main road, from which the open ground is separated by a wall about five feet high. Close to the other side of the road are railway lines. There are a few small trees near at hand, and several poles, and a quantity of nondescript debris lying about in the immediate vicinity. The pond can be clearly seen by passers-by on either of the adjoining roads.

On Sunday afternoon the pond was coated with a sheet of ice rather less than an inch thick. It is not difficult to visualise the scene that would have presented itself to an eye-witness of the triple tragedy.

Laughter and Tragedy

During the earlier part of the day a number of boys were sliding on the pond and the news soon spread. After Sunday School, the boys went off together to try this fresh delight. Twenty or thirty lads were already sliding on the pond, and for some time they enjoyed the sport without the slightest intimation that the ice was unsafe. Excited shouts and joyous laughter echoed through the frosty air. 'Albert Parkes and I were racing.' says Cyril Davies.

There was a sudden sharp crack then the grinding and rending of ice. A dark patch of discoloured water appeared where before had been a blue white surface. Two heads bobbed up among the floating fragments of ice, nervous clutching hands grasped in vain at the slippery, crumbling circle, hemming them in, and terrified shrieks rose on the air. All unconcerned and still unaware of the tragedy in their midst,a number of boys were still sliding and laughing at the end of the pond.

By great fortune Davies managed to scramble out of the water almost immediately. But as quickly another lad was trapped within that trecherous, gradually widening circle. 'I tried to pull Parkes out.' says Willie Smith, 'but the edge of the gave way again and I fell in myself.' My brother fetched a pole and tried to get us all out, but he fell in too,through the ice breaking. Rollinson and Arthur Bill then came and tried to get us all out. Again the ice broke and then we were all in the water. A Sailor came across and he fell in..

This is a simple ungarnished story of a little lad, a story of plucky attempts at rescue on the part of all concerned, even after their terrible danger was glaringly obvious, one after another they went to do what they could for their play-fellows, one after another they were engulfed in the icy pool.

It appears that the bluejacket, James Horton was passing on a tramcar, on his way to Netherton. He heard the excited cries and saw what was happening. He at once leapt from the tram, vaulted the wall by the roadside, and dashed down the slope to the pond. By then the opening in the ice widened to a jagged, irregular-shaped hole, some 14-20 feet across. Great cracks were spreading in all directions from that hole, and the air was filled with the noise of cracking ice. The danger was too imminent to be disregarded, and Horton, it seems lay down on his chest in an effort to avoid breaking up the ice. Cyril Davies says, 'He lay down on the ice and got hold of one of them,' Then the ice crumbled and gave way, and the gallant would-be rescuer was immersed in the water.

Two of the survivors who were interviewed in Hospital state that the sailor used a pole to try and get the lads out.

Arthur Bill says, 'Willie and Clifford Smith, Arthur Rollinson and the Parkes were struggling in the water, The sailor came across the ice with a pole in his hand, and told us to hold his hand and help to pull Parkes out. The ice broke and we both fell into the water. I came up and held onto the ice, but I didnt see the sailor again.'

The sacrifice made by Clifford Smith in an effort to rescue his young brother, was told by Arthur Rollinson, who syas 'I heard a second crack and saw Willie Smith go under. Then his brother Clifford jumped in after him.'

The Rescue

Bill, Rollinson and Willie Smith, were all rescued through the plucky efforts of Albert Snow of 8, Bath Street, Dudley, who daringly ventured out on to the ice until it bent beneath his weight, and heaved a line to the boys. It was only after several attempts had been made, and therecourse of tying a jacket to the line was adopted that Willie Smith was recued. It seems that little Frank Price managed to scramble out of the water almost at the first, and immediately ran off. He does not figure in the story told by the other lads at all. Before the final rescues were effected, a considerable crowd had gathered, and the police were on the scene. Mr Allport took the soaking lads under his care, and provided then with what comforts were available, at his house opposite.

As the news of the tragic happening spread, thousands of people arrived at the spot. There were many volunteers to help with the dragging operations, including Councillors Crump and Arnold, and Mr Leonard Richard Crump, who arrived early on the scene with ladders and other gear, and made a determined, but unsuccessful effort to save two of the lads who were afterwards rescued by Mr Snow.

Mr Leonard Crump showed considerable courage by commencing dragging operations from a very flimsy and hastily constructed raft, made from a few planks and lengths of batten. By this means the body of the bluejacket Horton, was recovered just before 4'0'Clock. The search for the others was continued, and Mr Bernard Pinnegar was successful at a late hour in recovering the body of Parkes. Artificial respiration was kept up by the police but in vain and a solemn reverent hush fell over the excited crowd when it became known that Dr. Newey had given the inevitable verdict.

Meanwhile the Vicar of Dudley (Rev. Canon Phelips) had arrived, having come to the scene of the disaster for the express purpose of comforting the parents of the drowned boys, whom, he feared, would be terribly shocked by the sight of the bodies being dragged from the pool.

'I very strongly resent,' he said, 'the statements that have been published to the effect that I played a prominent part in the rescue work. As a matter of fact I was at a meeting of the Sunday School superintendents when I heard of the accident, and it was all over long before I got there.'

In broken tones the Vicar announced the sad news at the evening service and the congregation stood for a few minutes in solemn reverence of those who had lost their lives.

Fantastic Night Effects

All this time, in spite of the darkness, efforts were being made to recover the body of the boy Smith. A number of motor cars were driven into the grass, like miniature searchlights their headlights played on the hole in the ice and picked out in silver the ghostly figures of the police and their helpers at work. The grass and the trees were covered by a white hoar frost that was delicately illumined by the faint moonlight so that the ground and the pool seemed merged into one smooth surface, broken only by a dark splash at the fatal spot and the swaying sea of heads around.

In spite of the bitter cold the croed remained for hours awaiting anxiously in a tense expectant silence broken occasionally by a stifled sob or muttered heartfelt prayer. The sound of the smashing of ice was heard later when a determined onslaught was made on the surface of the pool. The police under Inspectors Stephens and Porter, constructed a much firmer raft out of barrels and planks nailed together.

Just when the weary party were becoming dispirited the body of Parkes was recovered by Mr. Bernard Pinnegar, and a thrill of excitement ran through the watchers. This spurred the researchers to fresh efforts. A systematic search was made and the raft passed up and down the pool through the glare of the motor lamps, time after time, its occupants raking the bottom with their grappling irons, while the watching crowd was swelled with fresh arrivals every minute.

These efforts were manitained unceasingly until nearly midnight without further success. The search was resumed next morning when the body of Clifford Smith was recovered. The death of Horton could scarcely have occured under more distressing circumstances to the family. He was due to join H.M.S Hood on Monday morning for a world cruise. He was on his way to Netherton to bid farewell to a sister, and after that he would have returned home to say 'Goodbye' to his family. A large party was waiting to give him a memorable send-off. but they waited in vain.

At the inquest the Coroner suggested that a public recognition of Horton's heroic sacrifice should be made and the Mayor of Dudley is appealing for funds to erect a suitable memorial at the grave at Kingswinford.

We would like in these columns to emphasise the very gallant behaviour of the boys themselves. It is quite evident that they thought merely of their own safety only one of them would have been involved. It was in trying to help one another that they all finally found themselves in such a perilous position. The heroic bearing cannot be regarded as one which less worthy of praise than that of the bluejacket and we sincerely hope in the event of any public recognition being made these plucky lads three of whom are still alive will not be forgotten.

The Inquest

The inquest on the three victims was held by Mr R Marshall (Borough Coroner) at the Town Hall on Tuesday.

William Henry Smith, Electric Crane Driver, of New King Street, Dudley, identified the body of Clifford Albert Smith as that of his son who was a chorister in St Thomas's Choir. Samuel Parkes rivet maker 17 Hellier Street Dudley identified the body of his son Albert Edward Parkes (16).

James Horton miner of 33 Water Street, Kingswinford identified the body of his son James Horton who was 19 years of age. He left home Sunday afternoon to visit his siter in Netherton to say 'Good-bye' prior to joining H.M.S Hood at Devonport on Monday. He had been on ten days leave and expected to go on a voyage around the world. His boy was a very good swimmer. He first went for a soldier and subsequently joined the Navy.

Boy's Graphic Story

Cyril Thomas Davies (14) stated that he was sliding on the pool about 3:30 in the afternoon, in the company with Albert Parkes and Clifford Smith, the two boys who were drowned. There were other boys sliding and witness was racing Parkes in the centre of the pool when the ice gave way. Witness got into the water and Parkes must have done the same. Witness managed to scramble out without assistance and he saw Clifford Smith try to pull Parkes out of the pool. One of the boys had a long lath and was endevouring to make Parkes catch hold of it. Witness saw the ice break again and four of the boys were immersed. He then saw a sailor run down the bank and go straight across the ice to the boys who were clinging to the ice. The sailor laid down on the ice and got hold of one of the boys and witness ran off to the nearest house to get help. He however could not make anybody hear and when he got back he could not see anything of the sailor or Parkes. There were however in the water and Clifford Smith went under about five minutes later.

The Coroner: How many boys were sliding to begin with? Were there 20 or 30?
Witness: Yes.
How long had you been sliding before the ice gave way the first time? -----About three quarters of an hour.
Was the ice showing any signs of cracking?------- Yes
Did it seem to be cracking all the time?------Yes
You did not realise how deep the pool was? Clifford Smith had had a lath trying to find the depth and it was believed to be nine feet.
And you went on sliding--- I was not on the pool then. They kept asking me to go on and I said I was too frightened to. It was because of their saying that, that I went on.
Was the ice not cracking then?---Yes
And it seemed too dangerous?---Yes, thats why I didnt go on.

The Efforts To Rescue

Leonard Richard Crump builder, of Aston Road, Dudley deposed that at about a quarter to four on Sunday afternoon he heard some lads were in trouble on Allport's Pool and witness assisted his father in taking a ladder there. When they got to the pool they saw two boys clinging to the ice. The ladders were tied together and pushed along the ice to the boys. Witness went along the ladder with a rope to throw it to the lads, when someone walked across and threw a rope. Two boys moved along the ice one after another. Subsequently they improvised a raft and went along with grappling irons, and after dragging for sometime found the body of the sailor. They continued operation until nearly eight 'O' clock when they found the body of another boy.

P.S Stafford was on duty in Shaw Road at 3:55 in the afternoon, when he was told that several boys were in the pool in a meadow occupied by Mr Allport. He went to the spot as quickly as he could and found one boy clinging to the ice in the middle of the pool and another holding on to a rope that had been thrown from the other side. These two were brought to safety and he and P.C Green rendered first aid to them. They were first taken to Mr Allports house and then to the hospital. Witness was told that two more boys and a sailor who had gone to the rescue were still in the pool. Ladders were got from Mr Crump a raft was constructed and dragging operations carried out and the body of the sailor was recovered about ten minutes to four. Witness Sergeant Holmes and P.C Deveroux performed artificial respiration, but Dr Newey proclaimed life to be extinct. The body of Parkes was recovered by Mr Bernard Pinnegar. Dragging operations were continued until 11:30 at night and were resumed next morning when Inspector Stephens and P.C Bond recovered the body of Clifford Smith. The boys rescued were Arthur Thomas Bill, Arthur Rollinson and Willam Thomas Smith. The identification number was found on the sailor and the chief of Poloce had communicated with the Captain of H.M.S Hood informing him of what had happened to Horton.

Clinging to the breaking Ice

Albert Snow of Bath Street Dudley stated that he heard a policemans whistle and saw people running in the direction of ther pool. He ran too and saw three lads clinging to the breaking ice and people on the bank were trying to throw a rope to them.

They were not able to throw it the distance. Witness went on to the ice as far as he dared and threw a rope to William Thomas Smith( brother of the boy who drowned) but at first they failed and Smith fell back into the water. He however managed to sieze it at the next attempt and he was pulled out. Arthur Bill was rescued in a similar manner.

The Coroner: You seem to have been very useful Mr Snow
Witness I kept on the ice until it began to bend.
Did the ice seem very thin?-- a little over an inch thick.

Bernard Pinnegar engineer of Aston Road, Dudley stated that he heard that the ice had given way on Allport's Pool whilst a number of boys were sliding and he took his car into the field. He put his head lights on to give light to the dragging operations and about 7:50 the body of Parkes was recovered.

Inspetor Stephens deposed to resuming dragging operations on Monday morning when they succeede in recovering the body of Clifford Smith in about 7ft 9in of water.

The Traditions of the Navy

The Coroner said it was a most lamentable occurence. It had thrown a gloom over the whole town. Two of the boys belonged to the Parish Church Sunday School and like other boys after leaving school had gone for a little amusement on this pond, without realising the danger. and so lost their lives. Very meritorians service was rendered in the efforts to rescue the boys and in that connection he had to speak in the highest terms of the young sailor, James Horton who seemed to have been exceedingly courageous. He displayed courage quite up to the highest traditions of the british Navy. He did not know whether it was too late for anything to be done by the society that awarded medals for bravery of that description. It was perhaps a poor solace to the young mans parents yet it might be a grain of comfort for them if anything could be done in that direction and doubtless they would appreciate it. The conduct of all who assisted was deserving of the highest commendation. He could only record a verdict that the boys were accidently drowned and there was nobody to blame.

Inspector Porter said he was directed by the chief constable to thank members of the public who rendered such valuable assistance in rescuing three of the boys and in recovering the bodies of the other three. He specially desired to mention the names of councillors Crump and Arnold, Messers Leonard Crump, Herbert Bayes, Sidney Bray, Albert Snow, Joseph Taylor of High st Woodside who was employed in the traffic department of the G.W.R.

The following is from The County Express of 01 December 1923

Seaman Horton's Career.

The simple story of the young Sailors career was related to a representative of the County Express by Mrs Horton on Wednesday.

'I am proud of my boy, he was the sunshine of my life.' she said with evident emotion. Able Seaman James Horton was born on June 24th 1904, High St, Kingswinford and went to St Mary's Church of England School,under the Headmastership of Mr. Phillips. He was a bright scholar and of cheerful disposition. The water had a peculiar attraction for him and he was a remarkably good swimmer.

He had great ambitions to travel the world.

Upon leaving school at 13, he went to Mr Girlings watch repairing shop in Market Street, Kingswinford as an assistant.He stayed there about 18 months before entering the employ of Messrs J.T Price and Co ltd fire-brick makers, where he remained for a year. After a brief period of work in the 'Dandy' pit of the Shutend Collieries of Messrs H.S.Pitt and Co, he joined his father at the Baggeridge Colliery, Himley.

At the age of 17 he enlisted in the Royal Lancaster Regiment but he was in the forces only a month as owing to his age his parents obtained his discharge.

Five weeks later however he joined the Royal Navy and first saw service on H.M.S Vivid. Following a brief period of training he became a member of the crew of H.M.S Glorious but was transferred to the Battle-Cruiser H.M.S Hood about 12 months ago.

During the time he was with the Navy he had voyages to the west Indies, Spain and other countries. H.M.S Hood arrived at Devonport about three weeks previous to the Dudley tragedy and part of the crew immediately had ten days leave. When they returned the othere members had leave and it was to the latter section that the deceased belonged. He should have re-joined the Cruiser,the flagship of a Squadron which started a round the world tour on Monday, at midnight on Sunday.

Mr and Mrs Horton have 3 daughters Laura, Nancy and May and 4 sons, Reginald, Gilbert, William and Samuel.

A Coincidence.

It is a curious coincidence that during his previous leave in August last, Horton met with a rather severe accident, when returning from a visit with his sister, who was then in Domestic service in Coventry. He made the journey by bicycle and on his way back in the vicinity of Birmingham, his machine skidded, throwing him violently to the ground, his head struck the kerbstone and he had to be conveyed to the General Hospital where five stitches were inserted in the wound. It was an instance of his plucky nature that he left the hospital soon after recieving treatment and finished his journey home on his bicycle.

The following is from The Dudley Herald of 08 December 1923

Sailor Hero's Funeral.
Amazing scenes at Kingswinford.
Vast crowds from all parts of the District.

The solemn and impressive burial of the young sailor hero of Dudley ice tragedy, at Kingswinford, on Sunday was marred by regrettable scenes of wild confusion. An enormous crowd, which must have numbered no fewer than 20,000 people, had gathered around the Church. For a time the police lost control, and in a wild panic a number of women and children suffered minor injuries, and a number of wreaths were trampled underfoot by the swaying mob.

The mounted policemen seemed unable to cope with the situation, and added to the confusion by riding into the thickest parts of the crowd. Numbers of people were swept off their feet and some complained of having been trampled by the police horses. A dense crowd was jammed helplessly into a narrowing 'bottleneck' by the church gates, and instead of keeping back the mob at the outskirts, and so relieving the pressure higher up where it was greatest, the police endeavoured to fight back the crowd from the gates against the pressure of the massed thousands at the rear, with very unfotunate results. The walls of hte church were lined with police, who prevented many attempts to scale the walls and for a time the battle was waged between the constables and the foremost of the crowd, who jammed against the walls,sought in vain to escape the over whelming thrust from behind. Many women with babies in their arms were involved in the crush, and it was a piteous spectacle to see mothers, almost overcome and half fainting, trying to hold the little ones above their heads.

Even at midday, people were beginning to trickle into the village. By two'o'clock they were arriving in large numbers. from the neighbouring towns and villages in all directions came men and women, boys and girls, by tram and bicycle and motorcar, while for miles around the roads were teeming with people walking into the village to pay a last tribute to the memory of James Horton.

Thousands of people were present from Dudley alone. As the church bell began to toll its solemn, measured message, people were still streaming over the green fields and mounds towards the graveyard, swelling the dense crowd that was already lined up on either side of the road, right from the of the dead sailors home to the churchyard gates.

The funeral procession was more military than naval in character. As the coffin shrouded with the Union Jack, was borne out of hte house, by bluejackets and soldiers, a reverent silence was observed by the assembled crowd. In the middle of the road stood the Mayor of Dudley and a group of civic representatives.

Behind the team of six magnificent black horses, with their khaki clad drivers, the gun carriage, with its sacred burden, rumbled slowly away between the lines of onlookers, followed by the firing party, the family mourners, the civic mourners and a lengthy procession of ex-servicemen, pacing slowly but with military discipline.

Roadside Collections

As the procession passed the crowd, on either side fell in behind in irregular and disorderly array, so that by the time the church was neared, a measured step was impossible, and a rear portion of the procession was broken up into a ragged, motley, struggling mob. Hats were passed freely along the route of the procession, and large sums of money were collected. Nobody seemed to be very clear as to who the collectors were, or whom they were collecting for, and not a little biting critism was levelled as this procedure. One man was seen collecting in a large bucket.

After the funeral procession had entered the church, the onlookers appeared to lose all sense of the reverence due on such an occasion. They pushed forward with the eagerness of a sight-seeing mob. The open lane through the crowd was lost in a sea of swaying heads and in a very few minutes there was confusion everywhere.

The churchyard gates were closed by the police,and then forced open the wrong way by the crowd. The gates would open no more than half way, but the mass of struggling people prevented all attempts to close them. Large numbers of people carrying wreaths were cut off from the procession, and held up by the crowd. Some of these wreaths were very roughly handled, and some of them only reached the churchyard after being passed from hadn to hand, finally being passed over the wall to the police. What might have been a serious incident ended with nothing worse than a few scratches and bruises to those involved. Many people were thrust against the carriages standing in the roadway.

Shipmates Act as Bearers.

Besides family and intimate friends of the deceased, the funeral cortege included, the Mayor of Dudley, who was accompanied by the town clerk and memebers of hte council. Councillor Blunsom, vice chairman of Kingswinford burial council, Col, J.W Higgs-Walker C.B.E, J.P, members of the Cottage Inn, Sick and Draw club, of which the deceased was a member. A firing party, the bugle band from the Dudley branch of the British Legion, members of the Territorials under Major Green, hundreds of ex-servicemen from Dudley, Woodside, Netherton, Brierley Hill, Kingswinford and Old Hill. Kingswinford and St Thomas Higher grade school, boy scouts of the latter forming a guard of honour outside the west door of the church. The coffin which was covered by the Union Jack was drawn by six black horses, on a gun carriage and upon reaching the Lych gate was then carried shoulder high by four sailors and two soldiers, including W Barrett, Able seaman Percy Tucker (HMS Hood), Able seaman Joseph Whitehouse (HMS Somme).

Floral tributes included, HMS Hood, Mum and dad, Major W Harcourt Webb and Mrs Webb,Old Comrades, Stan, Matt and Charlie. Mr and Mrs Hudson (Shipmate and wife),Willie Smith (Survivor).

Deceased is buried in the same grave as his sister Lavinia who died 8 years earlier.


Photo of James Horton's grave     Memorial plaque to James Horton
Above: Photos courtesy of Claire Jewkes, November 2002

James is also memorialised in our Roll of Honour for Men Lost Prior to the Sinking of Hood