The Collection of Medals to Great War Casualties formed by Tim Parsons

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Date of Auction: 2nd April 2004

Sold for £900

Estimate: £450 - £500

Five: Petty Officer W. Tilton, Royal Navy, who was lost when H.M.S. Formidable was torpedoed in the English Channel on 1 January 1915

1914-15 Star (165546 P.O., R.N.); British War and Victory Medals (165546 P.O., R.N.); Royal Navy L.S. & G.C., G.V.R., 2nd issue, fixed suspension (165546 P.O., H.M.S. Pembroke); Italy, Messina Earthquake Medal 1908, silver, unnamed as issued, with related Memorial Plaque (William Tilton) and silver pocket watch, the interior of the case with engraved inscription, ‘Training Ship “Exmouth” / Presented to / William Tilton / By Henry Halsey, Esq. / for / Special Good Conduct / and Ability, 5th October 1891’, the last in working order, extremely fine (7) £450-500


William Tilton was born at Camberwell, London in December 1876 and entered the Royal Navy as a Boy 2nd Class in February 1892. Advanced to Petty Officer 1st Class in January 1904, he went on to serve off Messina in H.M.S. Lancaster during the emergency in 1908, and was awarded his L.S. & G.C. Medal while based ashore at Pembroke I in January 1911. Tilton was serving aboard the battleship Formidable by the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914 and was lost when she was torpedoed in the English Channel on 1 January 1915:

‘ ... At 2.20 a.m., as the squadron was passing through a number of fishing smacks, Formidable was struck by a torpedo on the starboard side abreast her foremost funnel. She swung out of the line and began to lower her boats at the same time beginning to list to starboard. The weather had been growing steadily worse and the ship was soon listing so badly that her engines stopped and she lay helpless with her head to the sea.

The night was now very dark and the launching of the boats, without the assistance of steam, was a difficult operation. In all, four were got out, but of these one barge capsized, but the other, containing 43 men, was picked up by the Topaz. The pinnace, with 60 men, managed to reach Lyme Regis, and the cutter, with 71 men, was later picked up by the Brixham smack Provident, skipper William Pillar, who by splendid seamanship gybed his small craft, despite the danger, and came alongside the cutter. This boat was overloaded and in a bad way, but all the men were safely transferred before she sank, though the Provident only carried a crew of three men and a boy. Diamond also picked up 37 officers and men.

Meanwhile the bulk of the ship’s company were still on board the battleship when, about 3.05 a.m., she was struck by another torpedo, this time on the port side, abreast the after funnel. All hope of saving her had now vanished and the men were sent to break up woodwork for saving life. During this time a large liner with lights burning passed close to the scene, but although Topaz made a signal to her to stand by, which she acknowledged, she did not comply and steamed out of sight. Topaz was then ordered by Captain Loxley to steam away as the submarine was still in the vicinity. With great reluctance Commander W. J. B. Law obeyed, endeavouring to stop another steamship on his way. At 4.45 a.m., about two and a half hours after she was first struck, Formidable turned over to starboard and sank.

Of the 780 persons on board, 35 officers, including Captain Loxley, and 512 men were drowned.’

Tilton, who is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial, left a widow resident at Forest Gate in London. It was presumably her who claimed his G.V.R., 2nd issue L.S. & G.C. Medal in the early 1920s, to replace the probable loss of the 1st issue in the Formidable.

Sold with the recipient’s original memorial scroll; together with his masonic medal, certificate and apron, the certificate issued to Tilton by the Grand Lodge of Scotland (Morton, Lerwick, dated 28 February 1906), and the apron in its leather carrying case with embossed inscription, ‘Bro. W. Tilton, Morton Lodge, No. 89’; a photographic picture postcard sent by him to his grandmother, depicting him and his friend, Petty Officer Samuel Colville (who also died in the Formidable); and a newspaper of the period, featuring a report on the loss of the Formidable, this with G.V.R. postage stamp and date mark 13 January 1915, and addressed on the outer page to the recipient’s widow.