Thurrock and WW1: Have you got a Widow’s Penny?

AS YOU may know, YT is covering life in Thurrock from March 1914 to November 1918.

One of our reporters was discussing the First World War with a relative over in Ennis, Co.Clare.

The relative brought out a very large penny which he had found when he had been clearing the attic of a family home. It was a "Widow’s Penny". It was in the name of William Reybauld.

William Reybauld (this reporter’s Great Uncle) served in the Royal Munster Fusiliers. He died on Sept 3rd, 1916 in the service of his country and his name is marked on a memorial in Thiepval, France.

Cousin Alan told us the story that for many relatives, especially spouses, no physical remains returned and so, to give them something to, physically and emotionally, hold on to, they were issued with a "Widow’s Penny"

And the story is that you would see the women congregating in the town square, holding their pennies and bonding as a form of support group.

So, when we got back, we wondered if there were any in Thurrock. We asked the curator of the Thurrock Museum, Jonathan Catton.

Lost at sea – 1915 shipping disaster.

The total loss of the Clan Line ship ‘Clan MacNaughton’ an armed merchant cruiser, around the 3rd February, 1915 in the North Atlantic was felt locally as many local men from Thurrock had joined the ship.

She was a pre-war merchant ship, being requisitioned in November 1914 when she returned to her home port of Tilbury. She was then hastily converted into a warship, which would have included mounting guns up on deck – well above her normal centre of gravity.

An emergency crew was then cobbled together for her including Royal Navy officers, although her engineer officers had all been Merchant Navy, some career RN Ratings, but many of the rest of her crew were reservists and some 50 boys straight out of the training shore base at Shotley, H.M.S. Ganges. She was in radio contact at about 6 a.m. on the morning of 3rd February 1915 and reported terrible weather conditions.

Nothing further was ever heard of her. 35 Thurrock men went down with the ship, with jobs including; cook, butcher, trimmers, stokers, steward, store keeper, greaser, painter, donkeyman and fireman. Nine widows in George Street, Grays required comforting!

A memorial service was held in honour of these men at Grays ParishChurch on the 28th March and the ships crew which totalled 281 men.

One of the Thurrock men was Samuel Robert Dodge, master baker, served on the Clan MacNaughton. He was 40 yrs. Old and as no bodies were recovered is memorialized at PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL, Samuel was the son of John and Louisa Dodge, of Feltham, Middlesex; husband of Frances Louisa Dodge, of 32, Rectory Rd., Little Thurrock, Grays, Essex.

A private family framed memorial now in the Thurrock Museum collection is to William Stillaway, Engine Room Storekeeper, described as a ‘kind husband and loving father’ aged 37, with the following poem “ Some day our eyes will see, The face we loved so well; Some day our hands shall clasp, And never say Farewell.”

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