All text and images © Helvellyn Consulting 2021
Harry Slee was born on the 12th September 1895 in Patterdale, and was christened along with 5 of his siblings at Patterdale Church on 10th June 1888. His father Robert was working as a Wagonner at Greenside mine. Harry was one of ten children to be born to father and his mother Margaret. The family firstly lived in the Rookings Patterdale and then by 1891 had moved to Blowick.
By 1901 John’s father had died and Harry was living with his widowed mother, and six of his siblings in Escomb, Durham. His older brother Robert was head of the household and was a general labourer and Harry and his brother Fred were Putters in one of the local Coalmines.
On the 22nd June 1904, aged 18, Hary enlisted with the Royal Navy for a 12 year term of service. He was trained as a stoker, initially at HMS Acheron until early 1905, then moving to “Pembroke II”, which was a Royal Naval Onshore Station at Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent. He returned there many times over the course of the next 15 years of his naval service. Before the outbreak of war he served aboard a number of ships including HMS Antrim, HMS Pathfinder (one of the first ships to be sunk at the outbreak of World War One), HMS Attentive, HMS Vindictive, and HMS Forward. He was in the ships company of HMS Forward when war was declared, having served aboard her since the 19th August 1913. She A three funnel Scout Class Cruiser of 2,850 tons built to be the ‘eyes of the Grand Fleet’ launched in 1904.
On 16 December 1914, HMS Forward saw heavy action in Hartlepool, when it was attacked and shelled led by the German cruiser Blücher, as well as the cruiser Seydlitz and Moltke. At 8 am, the German ships appeared off Hartlepool and opened fire on the town. Their initial targets were the two gun emplacements that protected the harbour, but they soon opened fire on the docks and harbour entrance. Over 100 people died as more than 1,000 shells rained down on the town for about 40 minutes. While another ship, HMS Patrol was able to get out to sea (where she was hit and badly damaged with two of her crew were dead and five wounded), Forward was delayed by the German barrage. When she did finally get out of Hartlepool, the German battlecruisers had already turned east to make their escape. Forward was ordered to keep in touch with them, but they soon escaped into the mist. There seems to be some dispute over the exact details of the engagement as another account says that Forward was in fact blocked by HMS Patrol and a British Submarine which has dived to avoid the Germans and grounded itself (for more on this see here). Either way it was an eventful start for Harry and his shipmates. After the raid Forward was sent to the 7th Destroyer Flotilla in the Humber. In April 1915 Harry transferred to back on shore to Pembroke II for a year before returning to HMS Forward from June 1915 to July 1918. In May 1915 HMS Forward was one of five of the seven surviving scout cruisers to make up the 6th Light Cruiser Squadron, whose duties were to guard the east coast against Zeppelin raids. This squadron was soon broken up as newer ships became available, and Forward was sent to the Mediterranean. From June 1916 to the end of the war she served in the Aegean, with Harry aboard for most of it. He ended the war aboard HMS Blake before his final demobilisation in March 1919.
We are not sure what happened to Harry after the war although we think he died in Durham in March 1942 aged 56,. He is listed on the Glenridding Village Hall Roll of Honour, alongside his older brother Robert, who was a Sergeant in the Northumberland Fusiliers and who died just 5 weeks before his younger brother John, who was a driver with the Royal Field Artillery.
If anyone knows anything more about Harry or his family please let us know.
Seaman Harry Slee
108834, Stoker, Royal Navy
Born 12 September 1885 Patterdale. Died March 1942 (aged 56)
Son of Robert and Margaret (nee Young) Slee, once of Blowick Patterdale
HMS Forward in World War One
Postcard showing the aftermath of the raid on Hartlepool