KEVIN GORDON - Wartime memories of a Seaford sailor

CGW Head's pilot's licence photograph
CGW Head's pilot's licence photograph

I am the ‘Chronicler’ for Seaford Museum and maintain the museum Facebook page. I have been researching each of the Seaford Victims of the First World War and putting a few details of each man on-line. A few days ago turned my attention on a man who appears on the Seaford War memorial, Clement Gordon Wakefield Head, who died 100 years ago in December 1914.

Clement was born on 3rd February 1885, in Blatchington village near Seaford, to John and Charlotte Head. His father was a tax collector for HM Customs and moved about the country for work. In 1891, the family were living in the port of Harwich, Essex.

In full Naval uniform.

In full Naval uniform.

On February 28, 1901, Clement joined the Royal Navy as a midshipman, aged just 16. He had a short induction into the armed forces as just a few weeks later, in March 1901, he was serving on board HMS Repulse off Gibraltar in the Mediterranean.

By 1904, his education in the Navy was continuing. In that year he is shown having a Grade 2 certificate of Seamanship, a Grade 1 certificate in Pilotage, a Grade 2 certificate in Gunnery and a Grade 1 Certificate in ‘Torpedo’.

On October 1, 1906, Clement was promoted to lieutenant. On January 16, 1911, he qualified to command submarines and took command of Submarine C32, a two-year-old vessel built in Barrow in Furness. Thirty eight ‘C Class’ submarines were built. They were relatively small and had two 18 inch torpedo tubes and carried just four torpedoes. Although they had a range of over 1,000 miles, they were designed for protecting coastal waters. The ship had 16 crew.

I have been unable to find details of Lieutenant Head’s service on board this submarine. Clement may have found submarine service dull as on March 5, 1912, he obtained a Royal Navy Aviators Certificate.

Head's Naval sword ' now in the USA.

Head's Naval sword ' now in the USA.

This was issued by the Royal Aero Club who had been granting pilots licences for just two years. His licence number 191 shows he was one of the first pilots in England. His official photograph shows him in a thick overcoat and scarf.

On October 1, 1914, Clement was promoted to lieutenant commander but he was due to return to life under the sea in submarines.

Submarine D2 was also built by Vickers in Barrow in Furness and was commissioned on March 29, 1911. She was 483 yards (50m) long and just 13 feet (4m) wide. She was armed with three 18 inch torpedo tubes and a 12 pounder deck-gun. She had a compliment of between 23 and 26 crew. On October 21, Submarine D2 saw action in the North Sea under Lieutenant Commander Arthur G Jameson who had been the captain since the start of the war. While on manoeuvres on November 23 the captain , Lt Commander Arthur Jameson was washed overboard in the north sea. His body was never recovered and the submarine returned to base. Its new captain was Lt Commander Clement G W Head.

On November 25, 1914, Submarine D2 left Great Yarmouth in Norfolk to patrol around Helgoland, an island to the west of Denmark. Her task was to patrol between the island and a buoy 10 miles to the west looking out for enemy shipping. There were heavy storms at this time, coming from the south west and the submarine simply disappeared while on patrol. The German Navy did not claim her as a ‘hit’, so it is likely there were either technical difficulties or she struck a floating mine.

The date of his death seems uncertain. In the official Royal Navy list of Officers and Men Killed in Action published in March 1915, the date of his death is shown as December 14, 1914, although on his posthumous medal list the date of his death is shown as December 1, 1914. His probate record shows that he was living in Redcroft, Sutton Road, Seaford, when he made out his will. He left over £2,000 to his father.

Clement Gordon Wakefield Head has no know grave. He is commemorated on the Seaford War Memorial and also on the Royal Naval memorial in Portsmouth. He is also mentioned on the grave of his parents at Seaford Cemetery.

After the above details were shown on the internet, Seaford Museum received a message from Leslie Thompson who lives in California USA.

Leslie is a relative of Clement and still has his dress-uniform and naval sword. He has generously offered to donate the items to Seaford Museum where it is hoped they will go on display next year.

Clement had a short but interesting life and the circumstances of his death are tragic, however it is good to know that he has not been forgotten.