Edward John French was born at Portslade, Sussex on 8 November 1883. His family were regular worshippers at St. Andrew’s church a short walk from their home. By the age of 17 Edward had become an apprentice seaman working his way through the ranks of the Merchant Navy. In 1911 he joined the White Star Line serving on SS Ionic. Later that year, whilst still employed by White Star, Edward was commissioned into the Royal Navy reserves as sub-lieutenant, the following year, the outbreak of WW1, he left the Marchant Navy and joined the Royal Navy.
Later that same year Edward joined the crew of HMS Good Hope, pictured above, an armoured cruiser which had launched in 1901. She was considered one of the worst ships ever made proving costly to run and maintain! Within only a few years she had been de-commissioned and handed to the naval reserves but was returned to full service at the outbreak of war. The ship, with Edward aboard, was stationed off the coast of South America, at the Falkland Islands, where it protected merchant vessels from attack.
In November 1914 the ship was involved in the Battle of Coronel being pitted against faster and better equipped German vessels. At dusk the able German squadron, commanded by Von Spree, manoeuvred so that the British ships were silhouetted against the setting sun, whilst the German fleet remained hidden in shadow. HMS Good Hope was bombarded, caught fire and later sank amidst a terrible explosion. There were 919 men onboard including Lieutenant Edward John French. A memorial to these brave men was installed in Stanley Cathedral on the Falkland Islands in 2014 to mark the 100th anniversary of their death.
Edward John French was also remembered at home and his name can be found on the War Memorial at the library in Hove and on the memorial located in his home church of St. Andrew’s Porstlade. It is in the cemetery there that his grave stone can be found. And it was in St Andrew’s Church, that a stunning stained glass window was erected in his memory, depicting Jesus walking across the waves to St Peter. A fitting biblical scene for any naval officer.
Sadly the window was removed in 2003 when part of the church was converted into a community centre. But that window was not lost or forgotten having passed into the hands of the Worshipful Company of Window Glaziers.
In 2017 they kindly donated it to St. Anselm’s parish in Pembury and by the end of this week it will be the main window in our Sanctuary. What a blessing! It will bring new focus to our remembrance day celebrations as we add to our prayers for those who died at sea the crew of HMS Good Hope.
And the Falkland link is of interest within my own family. For dear Fr. Inlaw (as we call him on this blog), my wife’s father, was also a member of the Royal Navy who saw action in the Falkland Isles having served during conflict in the 1980’s. A superb engineer he maintained the aircraft on HMS Invincible a far superior craft to HMS Good Hope! He is somewhere on this photograph returning to England at the end of that war.