Incredible story of three Grantham brothers and their WW1 heroics

The Mercian.
The Mercian.

After the Journal published David Gradwell’s heroic tale of his grandfather’s uncles, whom he believed were both shot at Gallipoli, another relation got in touch and revealed that one in fact had survived.

Furthermore, David has uncovered an exhilarating account of what happened to a third Cadwallader brother, during a surprise attack by U-Boat.

David told us more: “In August 2015, I wrote an article which appeared in the Grantham Journal about two brothers from the town, William and Herbert Cadwallader, who served with the Lincolnshire Regiment in World War 1 at Gallipoli.

“In August 1915, William was shot twice in action and it was believed that two days later, Herbert had been killed in a similar location because that name is recorded on the Helles Memorial in Gallipoli, as there was no known grave. The article led to Penry Cadwallader, the great-grandson of Herbert making contact with me through the help of the Journal.

“It transpires that Herbert did in fact survive the war and returned to Grantham, running a successful plumbing business and bringing up his family in the town. Herbert rarely spoke of his war experiences but had mentioned that he did serve in the First World War. Unfortunately, Herbert’s military records are not available and so his service cannot be explained in the same detail as his brother William’s; whoever the Herbert Cadwallader was of the Lincolnshire Regiment, killed in Gallipoli in 1915, remains a mystery!

“The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have no further clues as to his identity. But there was another brother of William and Herbert who also served in WW1.

“Thomas Cadwallader was born in Melton Mowbray and with the rest of his family, moved to Grantham, where his father was the publican of the ‘Blue Pig.’ Thomas had joined the Lincolnshire Yeomanry in 1903 having served previously in the Boer War, with medals awarded for action in the campaigns of Transvaal, Orange Free State and Cape Colony.

“Upon returning home, he continued service with the Lincolnshire Yeomanry, a cavalry regiment, as a Trooper, up to the commencement of WW1. Aged 37, Tom was re-engaged for active service overseas, and in 1915, promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal.

“On October 27, 1915, Tom embarked at Southampton under a cloak of secrecy, with 500 troopers of the Lincolnshire Yeomanry aboard the troopship ‘Mercian’ en-route to Salonica in Northern Greece, and to the relief of the by now stalling, Gallipoli campaign. There were a number of horses embarked as part of the Regimental HQ. The first port of call was Gibraltar and the Mercian captain had to announce the ships arrival to the port authorities, and in doing so, broke radio silence.

“On November 3, the Mercian sailed from Gibraltar into a calm and sunny Mediterranean, arousing the interest of numerous Spanish fishing boats. The Troopers carried on with ship-board life as usual, lounging in the warmth of the sun, checking and polishing kit and their laundry hung from the ships rails.

“At 2.30pm, their peace was suddenly shattered by the sound of shell-fire whistling overhead and the Lincolnshire Yeomanry was in an instant, in the thick of combat! Captain CJ Walker on the bridge of the Mercian, sighted a surfaced U-Boat on his Port Quarter, pacing the Mercian as they steamed along and firing shells at the troopship with its deck-gun. The unarmed Mercian was brought to full-speed and started avoiding tactics, but the third shell hit the Mercian amidships, killing and wounding Troopers and horses, sustaining damage that resulted in thick black smoke overshadowing the ship.

“The siren sounded and Troopers donned lifejackets, running to their boat stations as the shells continued to rain down. The Captain called for the assistance of the Troopers and some went to stoke the boilers, bringing the ship to full speed as others used their small arms to fire back at the submarine. As the ship picked up speed, the U-Boat suddenly dived, abandoning the assault on the Mercian.

“However, in the heat of the action, a number of boats had been launched without the Captain’s orders. Crew and Troopers boarded the boats, Tom being one of them. Two boats capsized as the Mercian sailed away. With his comrades, Tom spent two days at sea, adrift in the Mediterranean!

“Tom’s service record details him being “missing at sea, enemy submarine attack”, before it was reported how on November 5 he had been “picked up by passing steamer and taken to Gibraltar.” One Officer, 13 Troopers and five crew were picked up, but 35 lives were lost.

Tom continued his service with the Garrison regiment at Alexandria, Egypt, but his experience must have affected his health as in March 1916, he was sent home as a casualty on a hospital ship, and later medically discharged from 
Army service.

“He was awarded the 1914-1918 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.

“A commemorative memorial to those who died in the Lincolnshire Yeomanry’s sea battle is displayed at the 
Haematology Unit, Lincoln County Hospital.”