Percy George Franklin. Gunner, Royal Marines Artillery, RMA 12660.
Percy was born on 13th February 1894, in Reading, Berkshire to parents John and Florence Mary, the second child of 5 children as listed on the 1901 census, living at 20 St Bartholomew Road, Reading.
10 years later, on the 1911 census he was recorded, aged 17, working as an engineer’s clerk after leaving education where he attended the Wokingham Road School. The family still lived at the same address as 10 year previous, but with Percy’s mother Florence dying in 1907, his father John had remarried to Milly Kate Fortnum in December 1908. She had delivered another two boys, bringing the household total to 7 children at the time.
Whatever his reason for joining the Royal Marines Artillery, he enlisted on 28th June 1911 at Southampton, as a Private. He was 5’10” tall with brown hair, hazel eyes and had the ability to swim, which would see him in good stead within a few years.
He remained in basic training until 6th June 1912 as a Private, rose to Gunner 2nd Class on 7th June 1912 and Gunner on 9th November 1912.
He was posted to HMS CONQUEROR on 18th November 1912 until 26th April 1914 then returned to Eastney until 12th July 1914.
His next posting was to HMS ABOUKIR on 12th July 1914 and his date of leaving the vessel would be one he never forgot as he was aboard the cruiser when she was torpedoed. His personal written account describes his ordeal, a letter sent to his parents and printed in his local newspaper…
“Last week we swept the North Sea across, together, with about five other ships and eighteen destroyers, right from Sheerness to Heligoland.
But, nothing happened, and we are still waiting our chance. When the time comes I think we shall show up well and keep the English name. But, till then keep watching and waiting”.
“I was asleep alongside my gun when an explosion occurred. Together with other members of the gun’s crew I rushed on deck, thinking we were going into action.
But what a disappointment awaited us! Instead of a sea fight we seemed to be on fire, and soon the true state of affairs was made known. The ship had been torpedoed and was gradually sinking. I went below and dressed and then made my way on to the upper deck and sat waiting for the boats from the Hogue to reach us. The majority of our own boats had been smashed in the storm the previous week and had not been replaced.”
But the Hogue had also been hit and the Aboukir was already sinking - Percy stripped to his underclothing and took to the “fairly calm and warm” water which filled with bodies once the ship foundered.
“Many of those in the water began to lose hope when they saw the Cressy founder; a good many sailors gave up swimming and let themselves go. I remember swimming past one buoy on to which nine sailors were holding, and when I looked round a few minutes later only one was left.”
After an hour and a half of swimming Percy spied a steam pinnace from the Hogue, which was just drifting due to having no power - "Being able to swim I managed to get to it, but even then my troubles were not over, for I was too exhausted to drag myself up by the rope which was hanging over the side. Eventually, however, I was hauled on board, and was immediately set to work to bail the water out.
Later we were taken on board a Dutch smack and landed in Holland. I was the only one of my gun’s crew of ten to be saved.”
After his ordeal Percy Franklin and the other sailors thought that they might be interned as prisoners of war because Holland was neutral. However, later they heard that they would be treated as ship-wrecked mariners and would be sent home.
It took Percy only a short time to recover and he recounts that during his four day stay on Dutch soil the survivors played football. The Dutch also cheered them as they departed for England and gave the men presents of fruit and cigarettes.
Gunner Franklin concluded his story: “I hope it will not be too long before I am on board ship again. I mean to have some compensation for my terrible ordeal. Our boys’ only hope the Kaiser will put to sea.
"He will get little mercy shown him there.”
On his return to Eastney Barracks on 28th September 1914 he stayed on home soil until 21st December 1914, and posted to HMS QUEEN ELIZABETH the following day where he remained in service until 12th March 1916.
His timing for seeking and participating in some ‘payback’ to the German Fleet was not in his favour for he spent 6 months again at Barracks, missing being aboard a ship at the Battle of Jutland. Within this time on land, he did however marry Caroline Mary Dorey on 22nd April 1916 and joined the battleship HMS VANGUARD on 23rd September 1916, no doubt questioned by crew about his experience on ABOUKIR.
Sadly, without any further adventure, he was killed aged just 23 and never got to meet his son, Percy Victor, born at the end of 1917.
He was awarded the Star, Victory Medal, British War Medals and is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.
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England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915 - Free BMD
1901 & 1911 England Census
UK, Royal Marines Registers of Service Index, 1842-1925 - National Archives
General Register Office; United Kingdom; Volume: 2b; Page: 954
British Army and Navy Birth, Marriage and Death Records, 1730-1960 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
British Army and Navy Birth, Marriage and Death Records, 1730-1960 National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; Admiralty: Naval Casualties, Indexes, War Grave Rolls and Statistics Book, First World War.; Class: ADM 242; Piece: 008 (1914 - 1919)
Naval Medal and Award Rolls, 1793-1972 Class: ADM 171; Piece: 168
Royal Navy and Royal Marine War Graves Roll, 1914-1919 TNA Series: ADM 242/8; Scan Number: 0447
WWI Pension Ledgers and Index Cards, 1914-1923 Western Front Association; London, England; WWI Pension Record Cards and Ledgers; Reference: 074/0342/FRA-FRA
The Reading Observer