Nursing Sister Louisa Charlotte CHAMBERLAIN

Queen Alexandra's
Royal Naval Nursing Service
H.M.H.S. China.
Service Number:
Date of Death:
10 August 1918
Cemetery / Memorial:
Memorial Reference:
Panel 31
A. R. R. C.
[Associate Royal Red Cross -
See Footnote below]

Personal History:

Louisa was born in the September quarter 1885 at Tortington, Sussex, the daughter of Richard (Civil Engineer) and Louisa Charlotte (née Cotterell) Chamberlain, later of "South View," Eastgate, Co. Durham. Louisa had two younger brothers, Richard and Arthur, and a younger sister, Marion Gladys (1891 Census RG 12/832).

In 1911 (Census RG 14/19751) she was living with her parents and sister, Marion Gladys, at 14 Rasen Lane, Lincoln, and employed as a "Hospital Nurse".

It is not clear what Louisa's link to Buxton was, unless she had worked at the Devonshire Royal Hospital during the Great War. "The Britsh Journal of Nursing" reporting her admission to the 'Roll of Honour', stated that she had been "... trained at Bradford Royal Infirmary where she was doing Sister's duties when called up to join the Naval Nursing Reserve in August 1914."

Military History:
As stated above, Louisa joined the Nursing Reserve right at the start of the War, but without her Service
Papers it is not possible to speculate where she served. The ship she was serving on when she was
killed was H.M.H.S. China. From November 1914 'China' served as a Hospital Ship in and took part at
the Battle of Jutland, where smaller Hospital Ships were used to collect casualties from the fighting
ships and transfer them to the larger Hospital Ships in the Firth of Forth.

The History of Queen Alexandra's Royal Naval Nursing Service says:
'Altogether ten Sisters died during the war. Only one other died in an accident associated with the war.
She was Miss Chamberlain, ARRC, who served on HMAS China and was killed by a mine explosion at
Scapa Flow in August 1918.'

Noted in ADM 104/162 -
"10/8/18. Wire from HM Ship China - Miss Chamberlain together with 3 officers of the ship, blown up by
a mine in above date on Cantick minefield, and killed in the ship's whaler while out fishing. Next of kin
informed by 'China'." 

According to the memorial erected in Lyness Naval Cemetery, Island of Hoy, by their Shipmates, the
others killed were Herbert Myers Marshall, Dental Surgeon RNVR, and Lionel Arthur Martin, Surgeon
RN. The fourth casualty, 3rd Officer Cyril Le Gai Hayward, does not appear on CWGC records. This
is not a grave, however, and Louisa is commemorated on the CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL

The memorial at Hoy quotes their death as 3rd August 1918 whilst CWGC gives the date of as 10th
August, which was probably the date the naval authorities had advised the CWGC. It appears that
the accident happened not too far off shore and that it was a fishing trip for pleasure, a small boat,
perhaps the tender to a larger boat. It was not known that a minefield had been laid in the area.

The confusion probably arises from the fact that Admiralty records show that the hospital ship China
was mined and damaged on the 10th August 1918. Louisa and the other three no doubt died a week
earlier in a separate incident.

· The WWI Scapa Flow defences plan was published in ‘SCAPA FLOW The Defences of Britain’s great fleet
anchorage 1914-1945’. On the information provided by Jude Callister it would appear that H.M.H.S. China was
probably anchored in the Main Fleet Anchorage in Southern Scapa Flow just North of Flotta. The route Louisa
and her freinds would have taken was due South down the East coast of Flotta arriving at Neb on the South coast
of Flotta. The Switha Minefield was just South of Neb and there was a submerged boom indicating the minefield.
This had to be their route and wasconfirmed with the following comment from David Sinclair –

"I have no idea of the date of the event mentioned but I have always known of it as my Grandfather, Donald Sinclair,
and his older brother, Jock, were fishing or creeling near Neb when the boat passed with these medical personnel
on board and the occupants of both boats waved to one another. Seconds (rather than minutes, I believe) later there
was a tremendous explosion and nothing but wreckage remained of the boat that had just passed. Grandad and
Jock felt helpless as they couldn't venture closer to see if anyone had survived. Grandad (who was only 13 years old
at the time) often spoke of the shock they felt that these folk were waving cheerily one minute and gone the next”.

It seems that it was possible to row from the anchorage to Neb, there and back, in a day so it is conceivable that they could have died on the first day of their trip the day their colleagues saw then off - 3rd August. One thing is certain, the two lads fishing would have been well aware of the minefield and been a safe distance away and the fact that the whaler hit a mine within seconds/minutes of the lads waving to them it could have been a rogue mine
that had become detached from its anchor.

Another accounts reads: "The weather conditions for the period were generally cloudy, rather misty and rain and, with the general activity in the area where H.M.H.S China and other ships were anchored, there is every possibility that the explosion was not recognised. Unfortunately, the wind fell and the officer in charge of the boat misjudged the strength of the tide.  The small boat was caught in the tide and was drawn towards the minefield at Cantick, which was laid to keep enemy submarines out of the Flow. There was nothing that anyone could do and the boat and its passengers were swept into the minefield.

A witness to the event said that the man who would have been on duty that day could have switched off the fields if he had seen the danger the boat was in, but unfortunately he was away for the day and the new man did not know how to switch off the electrical field. 

Nothing was found, the poor folk were blown to pieces and only the nurse’s white head dress was washed up on the beach the next morning.  In his memory."

· The ROYAL RED CROSS was instituted by Queen Victoria in 1883 and was the first example of a British military order solely for women. The decoration can be conferred upon members of the nursing services, irrespective of rank. It can also be given to anyone, British or foreign, who has been recommended for special devotion or competency while engaged on nursing or hospital duties with the navy, army or air force. Since 1977, it can be conferred on male members of the nursing scheme.

Recipients are designated ‘members’ and can use the letters ‘RRC’ after their names. The badge is in the form of a cross, in gold with red enamel. The words ‘Faith, Hope, Charity’ are engraved on the arms of the cross with the date of institution, 1883. In the centre, in relief, is the royal effigy and on the reverse, the Royal Imperial Cypher and crown.

Royal red cross, second class, was instituted during the Great War of 1914-1918. Recipients are called ‘associates’ and can use the letters ‘ARRC’ after their names. The badge is almost the same but in silver instead of gold.

Despite the title, the order has no connection with the Red Cross Movement, though a number of women members of the British Red Cross have received the award in recognition of nursing services performed with the British navy, army or air force.

· 'The British Journal of Nursing', 21 September 1918
· I am grateful to Anthony Murphy, via the Great War Forum, for the information in the footnote above, and from:
· Jude Callister, Acting Custodian, Scapa Flow Visitor Centre and Museum on Hoy and David Sinclair and
   Phyllis Gee at the Flotta Heritage Trust.
· I am also grateful to Jonathan Saunders for the photo from the Chatham Memorial
· .... and to Jim Strawbridge for the photo from the York Minster Panels
· British Red Cross - Medals and Awards

Commemorated on:
The York Minster Memorial (see right)
Link to CWGC Record
Nurse Chamberlain's Memorial
The Associate Royal Red Cross Medal
Inscription on Memorial at Hoy
H.M.H.S. China
H.M.H.S. China
Sister Chamberlain's name on the Chatham Memorial
Sister Chamberlain's name on the York Minster Memorial
Louisa's name on the Memorial in York Minster
The Chatham Naval Memorial