Sapper Arthur KITCHEN

Royal Engineers
98th Light Railway Operating Company
Service Number:
Date of Death:
31 December 1917 - Died at Sea  
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Reference:
F. 28.

Personal History:

Arthur was born in Crewe, Cheshire, in the September quarter 1888, the son of Isabella Kitchen. He had an older brother, Fred. Isabella married George Shirt Wood in the June quarter 1890, and Joseph had two step-sisters, Sarah and Mary Shirt Wood.

In 1891 (Census RG 12/2779) the family was living at 4 Oddfellows Cottages, Market Street, Buxton. In 1901 the family were living at The Town Hall, Buxton, where George Shirt Wood was employed as a "Caretaker"  (Census RG 13/3270).

In 1911 Arthur was still living at home at "Grindford House", New Market Street, Buxton, being run by his stepfather as a 'Lodging House'. (Census RG 14/21242). Arthur was working as a "House Joiner".

Military History:
Arthur enlisted in the Royal Engineers in Buxton. His Medal Index Card indicates that he entered the War after 1915 and unfortunately his Service Papers have not survived. His peacetime background probably led him to service with the Royal Engineers. Railway Operating Companies were set up to run the trains, with the tracks being laid by Royal Engineers Railway Construction Companies. In total they consisted of about 200 men, with few Officers.The men called up around this time were railwaymen in civilian life who had volunteered in late 1915 under the Derby Scheme and had their call up heavily deferred due to their Reserved Occupation, being finally called up in October 1917.

The 98th Light Railway Operating Company was formed and trained at Longmoor Camp,
Hampshire, and embarked for Egypt on the 17th December 1917 aboard HMS Aragon.
(The Aragon was built in 1905 for the Royal Mail Steam Packet Co by Harland and Wolff.

After arriving at Alexandria on the 30th December 1917 with 2,700 onboard she was ordered
back out of the harbour as no berth was available. Immediately having cleared the harbour
she was torpedoed and the German submarine UC 34 and sank with a loss of 610 lives.
HMS Attack, a destroyer, who came to her aid was also sank.

The following is from Dictionary of Disasters at Sea by Charles Hocking:

"The liner Aragon, Capt F Bateman, was taken over by the British government from the RMSP Co during the First World War. She was employed as an auxiliary transport and in December 1917, was bringing reinforcements to the army operating in Palestine under General Allenby. The ship was full to capacity, having no less than 2,700 persons on board, of which 2,500 were troops.

On her arrival at Alexandria on December 30th, 1917, the ship was ordered out again. She anchored outside without any protection from submarine attack, for which she was an easy target. This piece of indiscretion on the part of the authorities did not remain long unpunished, for the Aragon was torpedoed and sunk by a submarine with a total loss of 610 persons, of whom 19 were crew, including Capt. Bateman."

A number of the casualties were recovered and subsequently buried, Arthur's was one of these and he is buried in the local Alexandria Cemetery.

'The Times' reported the losses the following day:                                        .... and also the return of the survivors, 11 February 1918


· Sapper Frank FURNESS, of the same Company, survived the sinking but died in November
  1918 and is buried in Kantara War Memorial Cemetery
· Sapper Francis John BOWDER, of the same Company, was killed on board the Aragon and
  is commemorated on The Chatby Memorial
· Sapper George WARRINGTON, 96th Light Railway Operating Company, also died in the
  same action

· I am grateful to Jonty Wild for the photo of Arthur's grave
· The Times, 31 January 1917 and 11 February 1918.

· A detailed report regarding the loss of the Osmanieh, from which the following information is extracted.
Statement of Sub. Lieut. H.S. Barnes: ‘...At about 10:20a.m. I received the pilot on board. Following him up on to the bridge I questioned the pilot as to the ship docking. The order “slow ahead” had just been given when the explosion occurred.

The Captain [Lt.-Cdr. Mason] and myself standing together were blown through the roof of the wheel house and back on to the deck. He immediately gave orders “stop engines” telling me to clear away the boats...’

Statement of Lieut. Col. P.R.C. Groves, D.S.O.: ‘When the explosion occurred I was standing looking over the rail on the promenade deck, on the port side, close to the steps leading up to the bridge. I immediately ran up these steps on to the bridge and asked the Captain [Lt.-Cdr. Mason] how much time we had. He replied “A few minutes”. I said “Is the order to be, into the water?” He said “yes”...The Captain pointed out to me that the ship was going down by the bow and also told me to get everyone forward. He was apparently thinking of the boilers exploding...Finally, when the boat was level with the water and the forward well deck was nearly full, I turned to the Captain and said “what about it now”. He said “yes, we must be off”. He then ran to the port side of the bridge whilst I went to the starboard...’

The court of enquiry stated the following in their summing up of the incident: ‘We consider the loss was occasioned by striking a mine or mines. For this no blame is attributable to the Captain or officers of the Osmanieh, and their conduct throughout, and that of the crew, with a few exceptions was marked by courage and devotion to duty.’

Link to CWGC Record
Spr. Kitchen's grave
HMS Aragon
... about HMS Aragon, plus photos of her sinking
HMS Aragon photographed whilst sinking