Driver Richard Thomas Pook was another of the men drowned in the Hythe Disaster on 28 October 1915. He was born at Beaufort Farm, Battle, East Sussex*, then lived in Wadhurst before moving to Hill Street in Tunbridge Wells. He lived here with his wife Florence Edith Pook and their daughters Frances and Edith.
Richard Pook worked as a driver for the coal merchant GH Smith, of Mount Pleasant. He enlisted on 31 May 1915.
His daughter wrote to Frank Stevens, author of Southborough Sappers of the Kent (Fortress) Royal Engineers, in July 2000 on behalf of herself and her sister:
We were very young at the time, but learned from our mother that he was not one of the Company but was seconded to them at the last moment because of his skill with horses, and we understood that there were a number of mules on board. He was known as “nurse” to sick horses.
We believe our mother was the first to be notified of the tragedy as she had a letter from the Chaplain of the Hospital Ship ‘Soudan’ telling her that he had been picked up, but was subsequently buried at sea from that ship. We have looked for the letter which we know is around somewhere, but we do have two cards signed by the Chaplain AHG Creed - formerly Vicar of Ewshot, Aldershot, one dated 22nd August 1916 - a photograph of himself, and the second dated 23rd August 1916, a picture of the RN Hospital Ship No 1 “Soudan”. With the letter he did send a water-stained family photograph which was in our father’s pocket when he was picked up, which we still have.
We understand from our mother that a cousin of hers by the name of Gilbert**, who lived locally, was also a victim of the tragedy.
Dear Mrs Pook, I have been a long time, I fear, in replying to your letter, but just after receiving it, I went on leave, and I wanted, before I replied to it, to verify several details that were among some of my papers, which I could not at the moment lay my hand on. Your husband was brought on board this Hospital Ship at Cape Helles on the night of Oct. 29.1915. He was dead when he was brought on board here. He was buried with Colour -Sergeant Carter the following morning at about 11.30 a.m I think it was. I remember the Captain put farther out to sea, so that the burial might take place. I took the Service. The Soudan had arrived off Cape Helles from Malta that afternoon. That evening the Hythe had arrived from Mudros (? the part of the Island of Lemnos) with troops. Your husband and Sergeant Carter being among them. The ‘Sarnia’ had also brought troops from Mudros that afternoon. In the dark, about 8.30 p.m I think it was,she was run into by the Sarnia and sunk. About 150 men were drowned. I understood from Dr Taylor, the doctor here, who went on board the ‘Destroyer’ to bring any men onto the ‘Soudan’, that artificial respiration had been tried upon your husband and Sergeant Carter, but with no effect. I should be inclined to think that many men were crushed by the two boats after they collided and came together again. This was what one of the survivors, whom we had on board, told me. We only had 3 men living bought on board - and they were not much the worse. Great preparations were made on board here after the collision, to receive a large number of men, but I think most of them were taken ashore by the destroyer and other craft. This I think is all I have to tell ... I see in the Official List your husband’s religion is put down as ‘not known’. If you tell me what it was I can see it is correctly listed... I hope I have answered all that you wish to know: and believe me, with much sympathy in your great loss, Very Truly Yours, A.H.G. Creed.
Ps I have just seen Dr Taylor again. He told me that both Sergt. Carter and your husband, when he saw them on the Destroyer, were quite unconscious. Artificial respiration had been tried for 2 hours, without success. He says he thinks both men had injuries to the head. he thinks too that they were really dead when they were brought on to the Destroyer.
*Richard Thomas Pook born 15 April 1883, eldest son of James Pook, carter, of Normans Wood, Wadhurst. His mother was the daughter of Richard and Ruth Muggridge. Florence Edith Pook was the daughter of George Benge Gardner. She and Richard were married at the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Wadhurst on 14 December 1907.
**There were two men named Gilbert who died on the Hythe. This may most likely be John Robert Gilbert, KF 2240, son of John William and Anne Gilbert of 6, Warwick Cottages, Cemetery Road, Tunbridge Wells. John was aged 21 when he died, and prior to enlistment he had worked as a gardener for Mr A Taylor-Jones of The Grange, Forest Road, Tunbridge Wells. He had attended St Mark’s and King Charles’ Schools, had sung in St Mark’s Choir and at one time had acted as organ-blower at St Mark’s.