George was born in 1877 and christened on 11 March at St Peter’s Church, Southborough. The family, resident then at 7, Holden Corner, included his father George, a labourer (53 when his son George was born), and brother John, also a labourer (older by 17 years than his brother). Dee’s Directory 1915 listed, under Men Serving, a J Penfold, of Modest Corner, with the Royal Field Artillery, and if this was George’s brother John, he would have been 54 by this time.
George Penfold was an acting gunner in 1914, and had by then seen 22 years’ service in the Royal Navy, having joined at 15 years of age. A tragic coincidence: his first voyage, after joining the Navy, and his last, were both aboard HMS Hawke. He had served two or three years in the Mediterranean and three years in China, returning from the latter for Christmas, 1913. In addition to the Hawke he served on HMS Illustrious, HMS Irresistible and HMS London.
On October 15th 1914 she was in the northern waters of the North Sea with a similar ship, HMS Theseus. They were operating without a destroyer screen when they were attacked, and unfortunately both slower than the submarine U9 tracking them. At the time of attack, HMS Hawke had just turned to intercept a neutral Norwegian collier. Their position was some 60 miles off Aberdeen.
HMS Theseus was under strict Admiralty orders not to attempt to pick up survivors, as several weeks earlier there had been a disaster.
On that occasion, on the 22nd September, both HMS Hogue and HMS Cressy had also been torpedoed when going to pick up survivors from HMS Aboukir (Aboukir’s Chief Yeoman of Signals Alfred Assiter, also aged 37, died on that day and is also commemorated on Southborough War Memorial ). The submarine that sunk these three ships had again been commanded by Weddigen. Lieutenant Weddigen was commander of U29, the following year, when on March 18th he was caught in Pentland Firth. HMS Dreadnought managed to ram the submarine and sink her with the loss of all hands.
There are two other connections between HMS Hawke and the small Kent community of Southborough, Tunbridge Wells:Private George William Walton (Bedford Road), Royal Marine Light Infantry, also died on HMS Hawke, and Private JE Corke (Elm Road) survived the sinking.
(Extracted in part from Southborough War Memorial by Judith Johnson)