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Claude & George Snell

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Claude Snell (1884-1918) – Royal Engineers


George Snell (1891-1918) – Royal Air Force



Claude and George Snell are featured in the North Hill Local History Group’s publication “The Fallen of North Hill Parish”. This page provides additional information which has come to light since the book was printed. If you have any knowledge, information, pictures or artefacts which would be useful in telling their stories, please contact us.


Claude and George Snell were brothers. Their parents were George and Mary Snell and the family lived in Bathpool. Claude was born in 1885 and George in 1891. Their father had served in the Royal Navy on the HMS "Implacable" but by 1901 he was a naval pensioner and was the local postman; he died in 1908.


As a youth Claude was an apprentice millwright but in 1911 he enlisted at Devonport and joined the Royal Engineers Corps as an electrician. He rose to the position of Lance Corporal.

He was attached to ‘H’ company of the Bombay Defence Light Section, having served there since May 1915, but in 1918 he was on board the troop ship Leasowe Castle (pictured below) en route for Marseilles. The ship was torpedoed by UB 51 in the waters to the west of Alexandria and sunk on the 25th of May 1918 with the loss of 83 men, including Claude. Claude is remembered on the Chatby Memorial at Alexandria in Egypt.

His mother, Mary, had moved to 9 Higher Cleverfield, St. Stephens in Launceston, and it is probably due to this move that Claude appears on both the North Hill and Launceston Memorials as does his brother, George below.



From “The Fallen of North Hill Parish”

Claude Snell (1884 – 27 May 1918)

Mary Ann Snell (née Stephens) had lived almost all of her early life in Bathpool. She was the daughter of the village blacksmith and she married a Royal Navy sailor in Plymouth in 1882. They set up home in Bathpool. Later, her husband George left the navy with a pension and became the village postman. They had six children, all born in Bathpool, two daughters (Clara and Sarah) and four sons (Claude, George, Richard and Henry). In 1908 Mary’s life changed when her husband died. She moved into North Hill village and from there she moved to St Stephen’s in Launceston.

Her eldest son Claude had chosen a career with the Royal Engineers, having enlisted in July 1905, a few days after his 21st birthday. This normally meant that he would do three years’ actual soldiering before being transferred to the reserve for nine years. Instead he chose to do the full twelve years’ service in the regular army. In the 1911 census he is recorded as an electrician whilst serving as a sapper with the Royal Engineers on Gibraltar.

The second son, George, joined the Royal Navy before transferring to the RAF (see page 28 for more about George). The third son, Richard, followed in the footsteps of his father and brothers and enlisted on the 4th December 1914, soon after the outbreak of the war. Richard was initially accepted into the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry but was home within four weeks. He was discharged as ‘unlikely to be fit for war service’ because he had a ‘general debility’. It was also discovered that he had added three years to his age of 16 years 3 months, clearly being too young to join up. Mary could have seen this as a good omen for the safety of her sons. If she did, she was sadly very wrong. Claude and George were never to return from the war.

CDP_CS.JPGOn 27th May 1918, Acting Lance Corporal Claude Snell 14693 of the Royal Engineers was lost at sea during the sinking of the Union Castle steamship HMT Leasowe Castle. It was a member of a convoy en route from Alexandria, in Egypt, to Marseilles.

The Leasowe Castle was employed as a hospital and troopship from 1917 onwards. On 20th April 1918, while operating as a hospital ship, she was torpedoed off Gibraltar by the German U-boat U35 but managed to reach port for repairs. Less than six weeks later she was again torpedoed, this time by UB51, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Ernst Krafft. This resulted in her sinking off the North African coast, 100 miles west of Alexandria. 92 men were lost. The ship was carrying 2,900 troops at the time.

On board were the Warwickshire and South Notts Yeomanry Battalion of machine gunners, another company of the Machine Gun Corps and a few attached officers and details. Claude would have been in one of these details. Survivors were picked up by a Japanese destroyer and the convoy sloops HMS Lily and HMS Ladybird.

Seventy years later, one of the survivors, Fred Marshall, described his experience: "We were on transports going to Marseilles. Six transports and about two cruisers, seven destroyers and a couple of sloops named the Lily and the Ladybird. When we were torpedoed it was just midnight. The officer in charge of us on board came round to ask for volunteers to lower the rafts after the crew had got the lifeboats down. Then, once finished, he stepped up to me and my mate: ‘Come on boys, the decks are awash, every man for himself’. So we scrambled over the side and the ship stood up. The deck was above water. We had life jackets on which was just as well since I couldn't swim very well. It was sixteen minutes past one when my watch stopped; of course they wouldn't go in those days, they weren't waterproof. I swam about out there, and we were anxious that we couldn't get as far as we would want because of the suction of the ship [when it went down]. The crew consisted of a load of Lascars who took the life boats to the rescue ships, the Lily and Ladybird and others. When they got there they got onto the ships themselves [and then] they let the lifeboats go. It was one of these which I swam out to. We just wore shorts. The sergeants and the sergeant majors, they kept their breeches, as did the officers. Up came somebody in the dark beside of me, my Sergeant Major Legg. We went to clamber up into the boat together, and he said to me, ‘Let go of me you bloody fool, I can’t get up there with you hanging on to my breeches’. So when we eventually rolled into the boat, I was free, minus one sock and one shoe. He had his breeches full of two or three gallons of water which had held him down from getting in the boat. That made me laugh, did that. Having got into the boat there was only one oar left. About five or six other fellows gathered together and got into the boat, and we tried to get away with only one oar. As she was going down we tried to get the boat 50 yards from her so she wouldn't suck us down. Eventually around came this motor-boat with two sailors in who chucked us a line and towed us to where we got on the Ladybird. ... There was so many of us on this little sloop that the captain of the ship asked us to get more equally spread all over the ship to keep her balanced."

Claude Snell was one of the 92 who died and his body was lost at sea. His name is recorded on the Chatby Memorial in Alexandria as well as the North Hill and Launceston War Memorials.



George was the brother of Claude and he joined the Royal Navy in 1909 on a 12 year service period. In the 1911 census he is shown as being an Able Bodied Seaman at Devonport, Plymouth.

He transferred to the RNAS in early 1917 and in April of that year George was posted to RNAS Howden which was an airship station near York (shown here). The station covered the east coast ports to protect its shipping from U-boat attacks.

George was been transferred to East Fortune a station near Edinburgh. This station had an airship base at Chathill, Northumberland. This was to be George’s final posting and he was a corporal working as an aircraft rigger in the RAF (the RNAS having been recently merged into the newly created Royal Air Force).

George died on the 18th of November 1918 at Wold House auxiliary Red Cross Hospital, near Diffield having been admitted after contracting influenza and double pneumonia.

He is buried at Nafferton All Saints New Churchyard, Driffield, Yorkshire.


From “The Fallen of North Hill Parish”

George Snell (1891 – 18 November 1918)

George was the younger brother of Claude Snell (see page 20). George was born in 1891 and was two days short of his sixteenth birthday when he entered the Royal Navy as a boy on 13th May 1907. His twelve year service period as a man started when he was eighteen in 1909.

His early naval career saw him serving on ships in home waters as well as in the Caribbean, the Mediterranean and around the East Indies. At the outbreak of World War One he was serving on HMS London, part of the 5th Battle Squadron which was assigned to the Channel Fleet and based at Portland. Their first task was to escort the British Expeditionary Force across the English Channel. The squadron transferred to Sheerness on 14th November 1914 to guard against a possible German invasion. It was whilst here that George was promoted to leading seaman. On 19th March 1915, HMS London was transferred for service in the Dardanelles Campaign. She joined the squadron at Lemnos on 23rd March 1915, and supported the main landings at Gaba Tepe and Anzac Cove on 25th April 1915. The London, along with battleships HMS Implacable, HMS Queen, and HMS Prince of Wales, was transferred to the 2nd Detached Squadron which had been organised to reinforce the Italian Navy in the Adriatic Sea when Italy declared war on Austria-Hungary. She was based at Taranto, Italy and underwent a refit at Gibraltar in October 1915 during her Adriatic service. In October 1916, the London returned to the United Kingdom and was paid off at Devonport Dockyard.

After two months based at HMS Vivid, a shore establishment, George was transferred to the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS), HMS Daedalus at Lee-on-Solent. Naval aviation began in 1917 when the RNAS opened the Naval http://www.fleetairarmarchive.net/daedalus/short184_liftoff.jpgSeaplane Training School. Initially, the aircraft (Short 184 Seaplanes as shown here) had to be transported from their temporary hangars to the top of the nearby cliff and then lowered by crane onto a trolley which ran on rails into the sea.

On 12th March 1917 George was posted to RNAS Howden which was an airship station fifteen miles south east of York. It was opened in March 1916 to cover the east coast ports’ shipping from attacks by German U-boats, but Howden-based airships never engaged in direct combat. The base and its complement transferred to the Royal Air Force when it was established on 1st April 1918.

After almost a year at Howden George transferred again, this time to the East Fortune airship base, 25 miles east of Edinburgh. This airship base had a mooring station 60 miles south at Chathill in Northumberland, and this proved to be George’s final posting. He was here as Corporal George Snell 314912 of the RAF and was employed as a rigger. Throughout his career with the Royal Navy, the RNAS and the RAF, his conduct was always recorded as “Very Good”.

George’s final days were spent at Wold House, an auxiliary Red Cross Hospital near Driffield in Yorkshire.  Auxiliary hospitals were attached to Central Military Hospitals, which looked after patients who remained under military control. The convalescent patients at these hospitals were generally less ill or less seriously wounded than those at other hospitals. Servicemen preferred the auxiliary hospitals to military hospitals because they were not so strict, less crowded and more homely.

George died from influenza and double pneumonia on 18th November 1918, one week after the armistice was declared. He was buried in the local Nafferton All Saints New Churchyard.



George and Claude Snell are remembered on the war memorials in North Hill and Launceston.


The banner images are replicas of the cap badges worn by Claude and George.

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