Leading Seaman Daniel Pierson

Branch of service: Royal Navy, HMS Bulwark
Service No: 213526

Date & place of birth: 14 February 1884 in Liss, Hampshire
Date & place of death: 26 November 1914 (aged 30) off Sheerness

Dan Pierson was one of several local men killed when an explosion ripped through HMS Bulwark when it was loading ammunition in Sheerness, killing 736 of the complement of 750.

Family background

Dan Pierson was born at Liss on 14 February 1884, the ninth of eleven children of Daniel Pierson (1845–1929) and his wife Annie née Carpenter (1849–1931). Daniel and Annie were married in early 1867 and over the next 25 years they had seven daughters and four sons. The family lived at Steep, to the north of Petersfield where Daniel was employed as an agricultural labourer.

By the time of the 1901 census, the family (the parents and youngest three children) had moved to Cocking, where they were living at Hill Side in Crypt Lane. Ten years later, Daniel and Annie were living at Way Side Cottage, Bepton with their youngest son, Fred. Both Daniel and Fred were employed as gardeners.

In the 1901 census, Dan was living at home at Hill Side described as a “Royal Navy boy”, aged 17.

In the autumn of 1913, Dan married Edith Louisa Pay (1888–1980) from Harting, who had been a housemaid for Rev. John Leake at Haslemere. After their marriage, the couple lived at Hylton Road, Petersfield.

Military service

Dan enlisted in the Royal Navy as a boy, aged 17, on 21 February 1901. A year later, on his 18th birthday, he signed on for a period of 12 years. After his initial training at Portsmouth, he joined HMS Redbreast, a gunboat built in 1889, on which he served until August 1903, having achieved the rank of Able Bodied Seaman on 11 June 1903. He then transferred to HMS Hyacinth, a Highflyer-class cruiser, for three months before moving to HMS Firequeen, a depot ship based at Portsmouth.

Between April 1904 and May 1905, he was based at HMS Excellent, the Royal Naval School of Gunnery at Whale Island, in Portsmouth Harbour, before returning to sea on HMS Goliath, a Canopus-class battleship, until March 1907. After another five months at HMS Excellent, he joined HMS Prince George, a Majestic-class battleship, for a year before transferring to HMS Prince of Wales, a Formidable-class battleship, in December 1908.

He returned to HMS Excellent between December 1910 and April 1911 before spending nine months on board HMS Hampshire, a Devonshire-class armoured cruiser, with the Mediterranean Fleet, between April and December 1911. After six months with HMS Pembroke, he joined HMS Bulwark, a Formidable-class battleship, in June 1912.

In December 1913, Dan was promoted to the rank of Leading Seaman. The following February, having completed his initial 12-years’ service, he re-enlisted for a further period.

When war was declared, he was still serving on HMS Bulwark, which was assigned to the 5th Battle Squadron attached to the Channel Fleet, conducting patrols in the English Channel.

Daily_Mirror_Placard_explosion_of_HMS_Bulwark 2Death & commemoration

On Thursday 26 November 1914, Bulwark was moored off Sheerness on the River Medway in Kent, where she had been for several days loading ammunition. At 7.35 in the morning, while most of the crew were still having their breakfast, disaster struck the vessel, which was ripped apart by an enormous explosion. Eye-witnesses reported that “a huge pillar of black cloud belched upwards… From the depths of this writhing column flames appeared running down to sea level. The appearance of this dreadful phenomenon was followed by a thunderous roar. Then came a series of lesser detonations, and finally one vast explosion.

The explosion was heard as far away as Whitstable and Southend with wreckage being strewn over a large area. Of the ship’s complement of 750, only 14 men survived the disaster.

The subsequent Court of Enquiry found that the most probable cause of the explosion was the overheating of cordite charges which had been stored alongside a boiler room bulkhead.

Dan Pierson’s body was subsequently recovered and taken to the Royal Naval Hospital at Chatham. He was buried with Naval honours at Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham, Kent. The funeral was reported in the West Sussex Gazette on 17 June 1915 and was attended by his widow and her mother and by his sister, “Mrs Lester of Margate”.  (At present, we have been unable to identify which of his seven sisters this refers to.)

Subsequent family history and other family members

Dan’s widow, Edith, re-married (to Edward Hunter) in 1919 and settled in Charmouth, Dorset, where she had three children. Her brother, Ernest Pay was also killed on HMS Bulwark; both he and Dan Pierson are commemorated on the war memorial in Petersfield.

Dan’s older brother, Frank, served with The Royal Welsh Fusiliers and was killed in Belgium on 31 July 1917; he is also commemorated on Bepton War Memorial.

Also killed on HMS Bulwark was Midshipman John Sims, the son of Charles Henry Sims, the artist, who lived in Lodsworth, and Alfred Barker, who is commemorated on the Midhurst War Memorial.

Midhurst U3A WW1 War Memorial Project