Search our records : Walter Tom Abbott

Surname: Abbott
Forename(s): Walter Tom
Service Number: 229498
Date of Birth: 4th February 1888
Force: Royal Navy
Unit: HMS Invincible
Date of Death: 31st May 1916
Where Buried / Commemorated: Portsmouth Naval Memorial
Parents: Robert and Sarah Abbott
Home address:

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Walter Tom Abbott was born in Beer on 4th February 1888.  In the 1901 Census, Walter is shown living with his mother, Sarah, his sister Mary, aged eleven and his brother Arthur, who was nine.  Their address appears as Orley’s Court.   His father, Robert, must have died by this time, because Sarah is listed as a widow.  She worked at home, making Honiton lace.

Walter joined the Royal Navy as a Boy Second Class on 26th October 1903, when he was fifteen.  His entry in the Admiralty Register of Seaman’s Service describes him at that age as 5ft 6in tall, with brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion, and a scar under his left eye.

He initially joined HMS Boscawen, a training ship moored at Portland, and then joined the battlecruiser HMS Lion on 1st January 1907.  He became an Ordinary Seaman on his 18th birthday, 4th February 1906, while serving on the battleship HMS Jupiter, and an Able Seaman in 1907.

Walter served on several other ships, including the cruiser HMS Good Hope, and at shore establishments such as HMS Victory and Excellent, before joining the battlecruiser HMS Invincible on 3rd August 1914, the day before Britain entered the First World War.

HMS Invincible, 19,940 tons, was built by Armstrong Whitworth, and commissioned in 1909.  She carried 8 twelve-inch and 16 four-inch guns, and was 560 feet long, with a top speed of 25 knots.  When Walter joined the ship in August 1914 she was the flagship of the 2nd Battlecruiser Squadron.  On 28th August 1914, Invincible was involved in the battle of Heligoland Bight, the first naval battle of the war, in which three German cruisers were sunk in the North Sea.

On 4th November 1914, Invincible, together with her sister ship Inflexible, was sent to the South Atlantic to help in the hunt for a squadron of German warships commanded by Admiral Graf Spee.  This squadron, including the armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, had just inflicted defeat on the Royal Navy at the Battle of Coromandel, off the coast of Chile.   One of the British ships sunk at Coromandel was HMS Good Hope, in which Walter had served in 1913.  Invincible, as the flagship of Vice-Admiral Sturdee, together with Inflexible and several other ships, sank the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and other supporting ships in the Battle of the Falkland Islands on 8th December 1914 (see separate entry).

After a refit at Gibraltar in January and February 1915, Invincible joined the 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron as the flagship of Admiral Hood, and took part in the battle of Jutland on 31st May 1916.  In the early evening of that day Invincible came under fire from the German ships Derfflinger and Lutzow, and at 6.34pm was struck by a shell on the starboard midship 12-inch turret.  This ignited a nearby magazine containing 50 tons of cordite.  Invincible blew up, and sank in less than fifteen seconds.   There were only six survivors from her crew of 1,021.

Walter Abbott’s body was never recovered, and he is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial for almost 10,000 sailors of the First World War who have no grave but the sea.