Able Seaman John Spice

Date of Birth 22 December 1884
Age at Death 33
Date of Death 31 January 1918
Service Number 219424
Military Service HM Submarine K4, Royal Navy
Merton Address 48 Byegrove Road, Colliers Wood
Local Memorial Christ Church, Colliers Wood

Additional Information

Born in Brighton on 22 December 1884, John was the son of Henry and Emma Spice. In 1891, when John was six years old, the family lived at 1 Byegrove Road, Colliers Wood. Theirs was a large family and included elder siblings Harry aged 15, Jane aged 11, and 9 year old Frances. His younger sister May aged 5 and brother Albert aged 5 months completed the family. John’s father Henry was employed as an Agricultural Labourer. Henry was born in Tooting, but at the time of his marriage was living in Brighton where the elder children were born.

By the time of the 1901 Census, the family had moved. But they did not go very far, as their address was now 3 Byegrove Road, next door to their previous home. Only Frances, Albert and a new addition to the family, 9 year old Edward are recorded as living with their parents at the family home. The other children, including 16 year old John are not included. John was most probably working away from home as a Groom. The following Census for the family in 1911, reveals that the couple had eleven children in total, and that sadly three of their children had died. The family had also moved down the street, to 48 Byegrove Road.

John joined the Navy on his 18th birthday, on 22 December 1902. He was described as being around 5 foot 3 inches in height, with brown eyes, brown hair and a fair complexion, with an anchor tattooed on his left forearm. At the time of his enlistment, he was working as a Groom. John’s first ship was the Northampton, but he also served on several different vessels between 1902 and 1918, including the Victory I, Sapphire II, Blenhiem, Pembroke and Fearless. The 1911 Census for John records him as an Able Bodied Seaman, on board Torpedo Boat No. 23, which was berthed at Stangate Creek, Sheerness, Kent.

On 31 January 1918, John was serving on the HM K4 Submarine, alongside his younger brother Albert, who also joined the Navy on his 18th birthday on 6 February 1908. The K4 submarine was part of a Flotilla, led by Captain Charles Little in the cruiser HMS Fearless. On that evening, the Flotilla was detailed to take part in a training exercise off May Island in the Firth of Forth. The vessels included five battle cruisers, three battleships, fourteen light cruisers, several flotillas of destroyers and two K-Boat flotillas. Two of the submarines found themselves bearing down on two minesweepers and changed course, which resulted in another submarine K14, being rammed. A battlecruiser, HMS Inflexible, then ploughed into yet another sub. The first ships in the convoy turned back to rescue the submarines and steamed straight into the chaos. The cruiser, HMS Fearless, rammed K17, another of the subs, sinking it within eight minutes. Then two further submarines, K4 and K6, collided. To complete the disaster, a destroyer then carved through the survivors of K17, killing many of those who had been left in the water. The entire 59-man crew of K4 was lost and all but eight of K17's, a total of 270 lives. The Royal Navy hushed up the catastrophe and the facts were not generally admitted for more than 60 years, until after the death of the last survivor.

Sadly, John and Albert on the HM K4 submarine were among the dead, and their bodies were never recovered. They are commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial, alongside 8,500 Royal Navy personnel of the First World War who were lost or buried at sea. They are also commemorated locally at Christ Church, Colliers Wood.

John and Albert’s father Henry died the following year in 1919 while living at 48 Byegrove Road, while their mother Emma had already passed away in 1917. Their younger brother Edward, enlisted in the army in 1914, and fortunately survived the war. He married Emily Goldsmith in 1911, and went on to have six children - he died in 1940 aged 48. Their eldest child Edward John Albert Spice, appears to have been named after his two uncles.


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