KAY TAYLOR met with Ron Smith to hear the tales of his grandad, who served on the only remaining warship from the Battle of Jutland in the Great War, before working as a warden in the Second World War and in Chorley cinemas
The story of Samuel Henry Cockcroft, of Anderton Street, Chorley, is a truly fascinating one.
From running away from home as a teenager to join the navy, to working on the HMS Caroline and serving during the Battle of Jutland in the Great War.
He went on to work as warden during World War Two, and made sure to get a quick response when people hadn’t drawn their blackout blinds properly.
He also became friends with well-known businessman Selwyn Hooley, and spent time working in Chorley’s popular cinemas.
His grandson Ron Smith, 78, from Forrester Close, Leyland, has uncovered some of Samuel’s belongings from his time on HMS Caroline, after discovering that it still exists in Belfast, and that the National Museum of the Royal Navy is fitting it out as a major naval heritage attraction ready for May 2016, the 100th anniversary of the greatest naval battle of World War One.
“Grandad Cockroft had a deep, gruff voice when required and when he shouted through a letterbox, or rattled on the window, that the blackout blinds weren’t closed properly, he usually got a fast response!”Ron Smith, 78, from Forrester Close, Leyland
Ron, a great-grandad himself now, who used to work as a chartered electrical engineer for the likes of Chorley ROF, Leyland Vehicles and BAE, visited the ship recently and after offering his grandfather’s mementoes to the project team - including his drill book and photographs - plans to return there next year.
Here, he shares the story of his Grandad Cockcroft:
My grandfather served on HMS Caroline throughout World War One, from 1914 to 1918, and his story is very interesting.
He ran away from home in 1890 at the age of 15 to join the Royal Navy. Until then he had been a bit of a tearaway, always in trouble at home.
His father travelled all the way from Littleborough, near Rochdale, to Portsmouth to bring him back home. However, when he met young Sam he was so impressed with his improved bearing and general demeanour and behaviour, that he decided the Royal Navy was doing him a world of good, so he allowed him to stay, even though Sam had given a false age on joining.
From notes he has written in the margins of books I know that he served on HMS Ramillies in 1893-4-5-6 in the Mediterranean Squadron, under Commander Jellicoe, who became Admiral Jellicoe, Commander of the Royal Navy Grand Fleet in World War One.
He left the Royal Navy during the early 1900s, married my grandma, Maud Eliza, and set up home in Chorley, firstly in a cottage at Birkacre, then a busy bleaching works and mill housing complex, before moving to Anderton Street.
He rejoined the Royal Navy in 1914 and was posted to the newly commissioned HMS Caroline, which was originally designed to act as a scout ahead of the main battle fleet.
HMS Caroline’s main offensive weapon against larger ships was her torpedoes.
Grandad Cockcroft was a Leading Torpedo Operator. To defend herself or engage with similar sized ships she had six four-inch guns.
With no radar at the time of her construction she relied on traditional methods of communication such as line of sight, flag hoists and light signals.
HMS Caroline served in the North Sea throughout the First World War, largely with the 4th Light Cruiser Squadron, where she fought in the Battle of Jutland under the command of Captain H. R. Crooke.
Grandad Cockcroft served in the Battle of Jutland. My brother John recalls that he told him of the Caroline attacking the much larger German battleship. The Captain manoeuvred Caroline into a firing position, then said “Now Master Gunner, the ship is yours”.
After the end of the war, Grandad Cockcroft left the Royal Navy and returned home. He lived in Chorley for the remainder of his life, but never lost his love of the sea and ships.
He took me on several visits to Liverpool Docks and Preston Dock, looking at the ships.
He was a quietly spoken man, and was very clever and interesting to be around. My grandma was much more social than he was.
A local Chorley businessman, Selwyn Hooley, owned a sea-going yacht and Grandad Cockcroft sailed with him on races from Fleetwood to the Isle of Man.
Selwyn Hooley owned several cinemas in Chorley, including the Pavilion off Cunliffe Street, the Royal in Market Street, the Empire in Dole Lane (now Chorley Little Theatre) and the Hippodrome in Gillibrand Street, that later became the Tudor Ballroom.
Grandad Cockcroft worked for him in various capacities, in the cinema projection rooms and as relief manager.
During World War Two he was an Air Raid Protection Warden in Chorley. I remember going on his rounds around Anderton Street with him.
He had a deep, gruff voice when required and when he shouted through a letterbox, or rattled on the window, that the blackout blinds weren’t closed properly, he usually got a fast response!
He was a skilled engineer and constructed model steam engines.
He also had a large model yacht that he used to sail at Fleetwood boating lake, with its own trolley to pull it to Chorley bus station to catch the bus to Preston, then to Fleetwood.
Sometimes he had to buy a ticket for the yacht - 4d at the time.
My brother remembers going with Grandad Cockcroft on Selwyn Hooley’s yacht one Sunday in October 1940.
Mr Hooley had a supplementary wartime fuel allowance for the yacht engine, for the purpose of fishing.
As they sailed into the Ribble estuary, between Preston and Lytham, an aircraft came at low level heading west, following the course of the river.
They looked up and said “It’s a German!”
It was flying so low they could see the pilot; he gave them a friendly wave as he flew by.
Shortly afterwards on the same day a single German Dornier Do17 bomber was driven away by anti-aircraft fire from its intended target of Leyland Motor Works, but instead it dropped its payload of bombs nearby on Ward Street, Lostock Hall.
It was Sunday tea time and most people were at home; 28 people were killed, including a family of eight - mother, father and six children. It was most probably the same aircraft.
After World War Two the Cockcrofts continued to live in Anderton Street.
Grandad Cockcroft still worked for Selwyn Hooley on a part-time basis, he subscribed to the Model Engineer magazine, continued to make model steam engines and smoked small Manikin cigars. He used the empty cigar tins to keep tools and parts.
He was a Buffalo (member of the Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes), who held their meetings at the Reform Club in St George’s Street (which later became Harry’s Bar) and they attended his funeral in 1958, in Chorley Cemetery.