Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War

The birthplace of Alfred Charles is variously given as Pevensey, Westham or Eastbourne, the last named being the administrative district. The 1891 census is more concise in that it places the Horscroft family on Westham Street, Westham. There Alfred Charles, who had been born in 1882, was living with his parents Charles and Susie plus one brother and two sisters.
Ten years later in 1901 Alfred is listed living at 24 Cross Street, Portsmouth but has exaggerated his age by 5 years. This may have been to disguise that he had only been 17 years old when he and Bessie (born at sea in 1880 but surname unknown) had a child named George at Bristol earlier that year. Bessie and George were recorded as living with Alfred, with Bessie described as his wife though no record of the marriage has been traced. The same census describes Alfred as a bricklayer's labourer but even as the return was being made he must have decided to join the Royal Navy which he did in May 1901.
By 1911 Alfred had decided that there was no need to continue lying about his age and declared it correctly as 28 years in the census which recorded the family at 37 Balliol Road, Buckland and that two more children had been born - Charles at Portsmouth in 1902 and Reginald at Weston-Super-Mare in 1904.
Nothing is known of Alfred's early years in the navy but at the outbreak of the Great War it is known that he was posted to HMS Attentive on duty with the Dover Patrol. In January 1917 he was transferred to HMS Q19, also known as HMS Privet and SS Island Queen. Q-ships acted as decoy merchant ships, posing as helpless run down merchantmen to tempt an enemy submarine to attack. In fact the boat was heavily armed and aimed to sink the U-boat before it could fight back. On March 12th 1917 HMS Q19, was attacked by the German submarine U-85 in the English Channel, sustaining heavy damage and killing one member of the crew, Alfred Horscroft. When the U-boat surfaced they saw the crew of the Privet appearing to be about to abandon ship. In fact they were uncovering their machine guns. The Privet opened fire at very close range on the submarine and sank it.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) list Petty Officer Stoker Alfred Horscroft (297412), Royal Navy, HMS Q19, died 12/03/1917. Commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial (Panel 26).
Alfred Horscroft is also commemorated on the Buckland United Reformed Church WW1 Memorial (which describes him as a Petty Officer 1st Class on board HMS Carrier) and on the Cenotaph. He is listed in "The National Roll of the Great War", Section X, p112.
Tim Backhouse
November 2014