Lives Lived and Lives Lost - Portsmouth and the Great War

Like so many other young men, it was the Royal Navy that drew Arthur Towner to Portsmouth.
He had been born in St. Leonard's, Sussex in 1872, the fourth child of Edward and Ann Towner. In 1881 they were living in Hastings with their seven children. Edward was described as a bricklayer in the census that year so presumably wasn't much of an influence over Arthur's decision to join the navy a few years later.
For the 1891 Census Arthur was serving as an Able Seaman aboard HMS Active, which was probably in Portsmouth Harbour at the time. By the next census in 1901 Arthur had been promoted to Petty Officer 1st Class and had married Mary Ann Gartland. They had taken lodgings at the Wellington Tavern, 62 High Street, Portsmouth.
It wasn't until 1905 that Arthur and Mary Ann had their first child, Arthur, with their second, George, following a year later. Mary Ann and the children were probably living with her uncle Andrew Gartland at 20 Seagrove Road, North End, whilst Arthur was at sea. By 1911 however Arthur had retired from the navy and had joined his family at Seagrove Road. At some time over the next couple of years Arthur found work with the Portsea Gas Light Company, but had to give this up at the outbreak of the Great War as he was recalled to the navy.
In 1915 Arthur Towner joined HMS Arlanza which had been built as an ocean liner in Belfast and had only been completed in 1912. She was converted for use as an armed merchant cruiser in 1915 and was dispatched as part of the Northern Patrol to the North Sea and subsequently went with the convoys to Archangel. Although the ship hit a mine in October 1916 she managed to make her way back to port under her own steam and was back out on patrol a month later. Arlanza suffered no other major mishap during the war so it not currently possible to identify the reason that Arthur Towner would have lost his life in December 1916.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission list Petty Officer 1st Class Arthur Towner, RN, (136645), died 26/12/1916, age 44 years, serving aboard HMS Arlanza. Remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial (Panel 12). Son of Edward and Ann Towner, of St. Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex; husband of Mary Ann Towner, of 9, Jubilee Terrace, Southsea, Portsmouth.
Arthur Towner is also remembered on the Portsea Island Gas Light Company WW1 memorial in Guildhall Square, and the Cenotaph. His name does not appear in the 'National Roll of the Great War'.
Tim Backhouse
February 2014