Henry “Kiff” Metcalf (Ch) 20588, Private RMLI.
Updated: Oct 23, 2022
Henry was born in Cromer, Norfolk on 18th May 1898 to parents James and Esther (Robertson), the youngest of 6 children. In the 1901 census the family lived at West Street, Cromer, Henry aged 2 years old.
On a date unknown the family moved to Ipswich, Suffolk, and lived at 54 Rendlesham Road as also noted on the 1911 census. He earned the nickname Kiff from having a lisp as a small boy; when he would ask his mother for a kiss, it sounded like kiff.
He trained as a butcher in a local shop before joining the Royal Marine Light Infantry on 9th May 1916 aged 17, following receiving his conscription letter but as all of his older brothers were already serving in regiments, he probably would have joined without any prompt. He was noted as having an anchor tattoo on his left forearm, a scar on his left leg and as being 5'7 tall with dark hair.
He joined HMS VANGUARD on 2nd May 1917 along with his chum Walter Hattersley who he had trained with at Chatham - they had struck up a friendship and had had a joint photograph taken. After just 2 short months on the battleship, Henry was killed, age 19, along with so many others.
As Henry died at such a young age, there were limited resources in history to write about his life and I thought that that was the end of his own story...That there was nothing left to discover, no more stories to tell.
Around the Centenary of the disaster however, a locket with a photograph of Henry came to light and on the reverse of it was a photograph of a very pretty lady. Nobody knew who she was, there were no clues, so the quest to find out was put to one side.
In October 2018 someone posted a message on the Ipswich War Memorial website where Henry is remembered.
The story unfolds that the lady in the photograph was Annie May Allen.
She and Henry were sweethearts and had planned to get engaged, presumably once he had returned home from his Navy posting. They were a close couple - their birthdays were one day apart and they lived just a few houses apart on the same Rendlesham Road.
After Henry was killed, Annie married in 1921. She kept the same newspaper cutting that is shown on the Memorial website, wrapped in tissue paper and hidden at the back of a picture frame as a precious, secret reminder of her first love, which was only recently discovered, 40 years after her death and 101 years after Henry's death.
With special thanks also to Roy of the Fleet Air Arm Museum for uncovering Henry’s signature - found on his burnt attestation forms of 12th May 1916.
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1901 & 1911 England Census
UK, Royal Marines Registers of Service Index, 1842-1925
Fleet Air Arm Museum
Royal Navy and Royal Marine War Graves Roll, 1914-1919 ADM 242/9; Scan Number: 0483
National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Admiralty and predecessors: Office of the Director General of the Medical Department of the Navy and predecessors: Service Registers and Registers of Deaths and Injuries. Registers of Reports of Deaths
Ipswich War Memorial website
Photos copyright of Wendy Sadler