Midshipman John Sims

Service: Royal Navy
Date & place of birth: 17 October 1898 in London
Date, place of death & age: 26 November 1914 in Sheerness, Kent aged 16

John Sims was the son of Charles Henry Sims RA, an artist with a studio in Lodsworth. At the age of 13 John became a Naval Cadet and three years later he joined his first ship, battleship HMS Bulwark, just three months before it blew up on the River Medway with the loss of most of those aboard, including John himself.

Family background

John Sims was born in London on 17 October 1898. He was the son of well known, but controversial, artist Charles Henry Sims RA (1873-1928) and his wife Agnes Helen née MacWhirter, the eldest daughter of the landscape painter John MacWhirter.

John was educated at The Wells House, Malvern Wells.

By 1911 John with his parents and two brothers were living in Woodmancote in Lodsworth, where this father had a studio in Church Lane. According to a contemporary newspaper article, John was often depicted in his father’s paintings.

Military service

John entered the Royal Navy as a Naval Cadet in September 1911. On 16 August 1914 he was appointed Midshipman on the battleship HMS Bulwark.

Death & commemoration

Daily Mail placard of explosion of HMS BulwarkThree months later, John was lost with his ship on 26 November 1914. Dan Pierson from Bepton and Alfred Barker from Midhurst both died in the same incident. HMS Bulwark had been moored in Kethole Reach on the River Medway. On the afternoon of that day, Winston Churchill made the following statement to the House of Commons:

“I regret to say I have some bad news for the house. The Bulwark battleship, which was lying in Sheerness this morning, blew up at 7.35 o’clock. The Vice and Rear Admiral, who were present, have reported their conviction that it was an internal magazine explosion which rent the ship asunder. There was apparently no upheaval in the water, and the ship had entirely disappeared when the smoke had cleared away. An inquiry will be held tomorrow which may possibly throw more light on the occurrence. The loss of the ship does not sensibly affect the military position, but I regret to say the loss of life is very severe. Only 12 men are saved. All the officers and the rest of the crew, who, I suppose, amounted to between 700 and 800, have perished. I think the House would wish me to express on their behalf the deep sorrow with which the House heard the news, and their sympathy with those who have lost their relatives and friends.”

John is commemorated on panel 1 of the Portsmouth Naval Memorial but is not listed on the Lodsworth memorial.

Subsequent family history

After his eldest son was killed on active service and, broken-hearted, Charles Sims moved to London to try to earn a living as a society portraitist and decorative mural painter. For a while he worked as a war artist, and painted a memorial mural in the parliament buildings in Ottawa, Canada. Insomnia, disillusionment and a paranoid fear of old age weakened his resolve to live, and on 13 April 1928, aged fifty-five he drowned himself in the River Tweed. He left a suicide note to the effect that he could not continue.

Midhurst U3A WW1 War Memorial Project