Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War

Following one's father into the Royal Navy has always been a common career choice for young Portsmouth men, one of whom was William Arthur Cobby.
His father, John Vicary Cobby, had been born at Fraction in Ireland on the 18th June 1849 and left home to join the navy in 1869. He joined as an ordinary seaman but must have worked hard as he was promoted to Boatswain in 1876. A year later John married Mary Jane Harris at Poole in Dorset, her home town. The couple intially settled in Poole but moved to the Portsmouth area by the end of the 1870s with their first born child John (b. 1878).
John Vicary was probably at sea when the 1881 census was taken whilst Mary Jane and John were visiting Poole. By the time of the next census John Vicary had died in Gosport, the cause is unknown but the date was 1890. He left behind his wife Mary Jane and five more children - Bessie (b. 1880), Tom (b. 1882), Nellie (b. 1886), George (b. 1888) and William Arthur (b. 1889). At the census of 1891 the family was living at 162 Lake Road with Mary Jane's widowed mother Jane Harris also in the household.
Mary Jane must have found bringing up her family hard going on a Boatswain's pension so over the next decade she set herself up as China and Glass Merchant whilst moving the family to 113 Fawcett Road in time for the 1901 census. In that same year William Arthur began attending the Higher Grade School on Victoria Road North where he remained for three years.

In 1904 he passed the Civil Service Examination for entry to H.M.S. Fisgard as a Boy Artificer and on the completion of four years' training in 1908, he was appointed as E.R.A. to H.M.S. Drake, on which he spent three years, mainly in cruising in the Mediterranean. He was absent from home at the 1911 census by which time the rest of the family had moved to 47 Henley Road. In May 1911, he was appointed to a torpedo boat for a few months, and in September of that year sailed on H.M.S. Philomel for the Persian Gulf. There he saw active service, being twice landed on expeditions to suppress native gun-running. For his part in these operations he was later awarded a medal.
On his return to England in November, 1913, he was appointed to H.M.S. Vernon, but on the outbreak of war he was transferred to H.M.S. Good Hope which left Spithead on August 1st. At Halifax the Good Hope became the flagship of Rear-Admiral Craddock's small squadron, whose duty it was to protect the southern trade routes from the menace of such German war vessels as could be assembled in the Pacific. She sailed to Bermuda, through the West Indies, along the coast of Brazil and on to the Falkland Islands. By the third week in October she was in the Pacific moving up the coast of Chile on the look-out for Von Spee's Squadron.
At 4 o'clock in the afternoon of November 1st the light cruiser, Glasgow, sailing north, made out the approach of two big armoured cruisers with light cruisers following. By 5 o'clock the Glasgow had been joined by the cruisers Good Hope and Monmouth and by the armed liner Otranto. Both squadrons now moved southwards, along gradually approaching lines, the Germans having the inshore course. The enemy, with heavier craft and more effective armament had the advantage of seeing the British vessels silhouetted against the sunset sky whilst they themselves, with a background of hills, remained but dimly visible. At 7.50 there was a great explosion on the Good Hope which was already on fire. The flames leaped an enormous height and the vessel disappeared with all its crew. The Monmouth foundered soon after but the Glasgow and Otranto succeeded in escaping under cover of the ensuing darkness.
The photograph above is taken from a memorial booklet published by Southern Grammar School from which extracts also appear above.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) lists William Arthur Cobby, Engine Room Artificer (271735), Royal Navy, HMS Good Hope, died on 01/11/1914. Commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial (Panel 3). Son of Mary Jane Cobby, of 133, Stubbington Avenue, North End, Portsmouth, and the late John Vicary Cobby (Boatswain, R.N.).
William Arthur Cobby is also remembered on the Southern Grammar School WW1 Memorial and on the Cenotaph. He is not listed in the 'National Roll of the Great War'.
Tim Backhouse
June 2014