Researching the history of a Navy recruit who was buried in US cemetery

With Cardiff's status as a port, it's not surprising a number of World War I casualties from Grangetown served in the Royal Navy or on merchant vessels. BRIAN GALSWORTHY has researched more details of one of the naval casualties, who ended up being buried in the United States. But why?

E.R. Darrock is one of the names on the Grangetown War Memorial in Grange Gardens. He is listed in the "Officers and Men of the Royal Navy" section as holding the rank of "Trimmer" (?) and serving on board HMS Warrior. There are no other details. Elmer Robert Darrock is listed as a war casualty by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission who was serving on His Majesty's Yacht Warrior (HMY) at the time of his death. He is one of the 26 British Nationals who are buried in Arlington National Cemetery, Virginia, U.S.A. Details held by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission show that Elmer Darrock died on 19th of October 1918 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. He was a Private in the Royal Marine Light Infantry and his next-of-kin is given as his mother, Mrs. S. Darrock of 5, Maitland Place, Cardiff. Maitland Place is in Grangetown between Hereford Street and Wedmore Road near the top end of Court Road and no.5 is opposite where St.Barnabas Church was situated.

An item on the Grangetown History webpage in a section highlighting newspaper articles titled " A look back at Grangetown - a century ago" showed a report about 13-year-old Elmer Darroch who, whilst on his way to work on the first of July 1908, jumped into the River Taff to save eight year old Clifford Baldry from drowning. Elmer's life-saving feat was reported in the South Wales Echo, The Western Mail and the now defunct South Wales Daily News. Interestingly, in all the reports his name was spelt Darrock. At the time of the incident, Elmer was employed by Messrs. A Mclays a printing firm in Duke Street, Cardiff and was living in Saltmead Road (now Stafford Road). His father, William, had died when Elmer was two years old and the family had lived at several locations in Grangetown before living in Saltmead Road. At this time, Elmer had been attending Court Road School which he had just left to commence employment.

By 1911, the family had moved away from Grangetown to Cathedral Road Pontcanna, near Llandaff Fields and Elmer was now working for the Great Western Railway as was his brother Joseph. In March 1912, Elmer enlisted in the Royal Marine Light Infantry at Bristol. After his initial training at Deal in Kent, he was posted to Plymouth Division as a Private. Royal Marine Light Infantry service papers comprise mainly of discharge and attestation documents.

Elmer's service/discharge papers, which give details of name, religion, date of birth, where born ( not address), employment details and name and address of next-of-kin, are held at the National Archives at Kew. They also show, with dates, the ships that he was drafted to along with barrack duty. Plymouth Division attestation papers are held in the Fleet Air Arm Museum in Yeovilton. Attestation papers, which a Marine declares or "attests" that he will serve wherever he is ordered, are a collection of loose leaf papers giving details of education, references etc. and also the same information found in service/discharge papers. Again, there is no home address given for Elmer. Elmer's service and discharge papers gives his name as Darrock and states that he was born in Roath, Cardiff. His next-of-kin is his mother, S Darrock. The next-of-kin address has been amended to 5 Maitland Place, Cardiff but the alteration has been made with a very thick pen or pencil and it is impossible to determine the address under the alteration.

According to his papers, Elmer's last draft was to HMS Highflyer, a light-cruiser, on which he served until his death on the 19th October 1918, no mention of HMY Warrior. The entry shows "DD" (Discharged Dead) and says that he died of sickness. His death certificate shows his name as Elmer Robert Darrock, who was serving on H.M.Yacht Warrior, born in Roath, Cardiff on 19th December 1894 and died on 19th October 1918. The cause of death is "On War Service". The death certificate iIndex gives his name as Darroch and the vessel as HMS Warrior. Elmer's Attestation Papers, held at the Fleet Air Arm Museum, contain some interesting information. The name recorded in his attestation is DARROCH and his signature is clearly DARROCH, although in some papers the writing of the lower case "h" can be very similar to "k". Significantly, his former headmaster, in a letter of recommendation, clearly refers to him as DARROCH . His attestation shows that he enlisted at Bristol as confirmed by his ADM 159 record of service. His papers do not contain a home address or next-of-kin. His place of birth is recorded as Roath, Cardiff and his school was Court Road Boys. He had previously worked as an errand boy for Messrs. A McKay and Co., printers of 6 Duke Street, Cardiff. His headmaster noted that, since leaving school, he had been awarded a Vellum Certificate by the Royal Humane Society for life-saving. As a result, his old school friends presented him with a silver watch at a public meeting at the Saltmead Hall.

The last of his company conduct sheets records his draft to HMS Highflyer and there are no other papers which post-date this draft. There are no details of his death and burial in the USA. The log books for HMY Warrior are held at the National Archives, Kew. Entries for October 1918 show that Pvt. Elmer Darrock was admitted to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Washington on the 10th October 1918. He died at 08.30 on the 19th October of "pneumonia" and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, with military honours, on the 22nd October. He is buried close to six others of Warrior's complement. The log books show that a lot of Warrior's complement, captain and officers included, were affected by illness. The majority survived but some did not. Royal Navy and US Navy casualty lists for October 1918, show that illness was responsible for a significant amount of hospitalisation and deaths of servicemen. October 1918 was the period of a second wave of a virulent illness that became known as "Spanish Flu" and, berthed in Washington, Warrior did not escape what became a pandemic.

Elmer's obituary was published in the South Wales Daily News. It said that: "On October 19th, died in Naval Hospital, Washington, U.S.A., from pneumonia, Elmer Robert, dearly beloved son of S.J. and the late W.Darroch, 5 Maitland Place, Cardiff. Deeply mourned by Mother, Brother and Sisters."

Several anomalies needed to be resolved. Elmer's service papers say that he was born in Roath and there is a webpage about Arlington National Cemetery which says Elmer….."was born in Roath, Cardiff where he lived". In fact, he was born at 37 Amherst Street, Lower Grange, Cardiff on 19th December 1894 and baptised at St. Paul's Church, Grangetown on 10th of January 1895, by the Reverend Frank P.Hill. Arrangements were made with the National Archives to view Elmer's original Service/Discharge details which were contained on a single page in a very large ledger. Using ultra-violet light, it was possible to determine what was written under the next-of kin address alteration. There were two addresses prior to 5 Maitland Place, both in Grangetown. Elmer was living in Cathedral Road Pontcanna on the second of April 1911: his next-of-kin (his mother) was living in Grangetown on 25th March 1912 (Elmer's enlistment) presumably with Elmer. It remains a mystery why his service papers indicate that he was born in Roath.

Elmer was at the Battle of Jutland serving on board a super dreadnought battleship. HMS Warrior also took part in the battle but was so severely damaged that it foundered under tow on the following day of the battle so Elmer could not have been serving on this vessel at the time of his death. The steam yacht Warrior was a private vessel owned by an American millionaire which was hired by the Admiralty in 1917. Renamed HM Yacht Warrior, it was used as a patrol boat. Royal Marines normally served on vessels of the size of cruiser and above. What was Elmer, and other RMLI, doing on board a small vessel and why does his papers not show his draft to HMY Warrior?

Research of Admiralty documents provided the answer. Elmer was drafted to HMS Highflyer in 1917 which was being refitted for service in the North American and West Indies Squadron. Based at Halifax, Nova Scotia, Highflyer was primarily a convoy escort vessel. This was at the time that Germany had declared unrestricted submarine warfare. Elmer had seen action at the Battle of Jutland and almost certainly been present at the Great Halifax Explosion. Although Elmer is commemorated on the War Memorial, his details are not correct and apparently he is also commemorated in the Welsh National Book of Remembrance in one of the Admiralty pages although this is not confirmed. There are descendants of Elmer's brother Joseph still living in Cardiff.

The wartime sailor who postponed wedding for action

The sacrifice of a Grangetown sailor during World War One was remembered 90 years after his death in April 1918, thanks to the Friends of Cathays Cemetery.

The grave of John Cleal had become unkempt and overgrown until the group stepped in - and it was re-dedicated in a ceremony on April 20th to mark the anniversary of the sinking of his ship. The stoker on HMS Iphigenia died of his injuries on a hospital ship, the day after an attempt to sink three ships filled with concrete at Zeebrugge.

John Cleal, 24, had served in the Navy for six years and it is believed he lived in both Clive Street and Holmesdale Street. He had postponed his wedding to volunteer to take part in the raid. Eight Victoria Crosses were awarded, but the casualty rate was high with more than 200 killed and a further 300 wounded.

The South Wales Daily News reported ahead of his funeral: "He was engaged to be married to Miss May Price, and the wedding was only postponed in order that he might volunteer for the great exploit. His brother George is serving in the army, and one of his brothers-in-law has been killed."

His memorial was erected by public subscription but had been neglected over the years until his story was re-discovered last year by two researchers James Lister and Peter Gronow.

The friends group then contacted the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, arranged for the grave to be tidied up. The Royal Naval Association joined the friends group to rededicate the memorial.

* Thanks to Elaine Long, who sent us a photo (above) showing another Grangetown connection. Her grandfather Tom Williams, who once owned the newsagents on the Square in Holmesdale Street, and who lived in Amherst Street, was involved in the committee as treasurer which organised the original memorial. He is pictured third from the left at the graveside, along with George Edwards (asst secretary); G.Hobbs (president); F.H.Cornish (chairman); and Mr Mossford (sculptor).

Grangetown War Memorial