Charles Waye Ayson – who was connected to my mum’s family – had an eventful Great War. He was involved in a highly secret operation in 1914 and survived the sinking of a ship in British waters in 1917. Here, I look at his story.
Charles was lucky to be alive after his ship was attacked by a German submarine in the Great War.
He had been a leading stoker in HMS Ariadne for just four months when disaster struck the Royal Navy minelayer.
The ship was torpedoed and sunk off Beachy Head – the chalk headland in East Sussex – on July 26, 1917.
Thirty-eight of the 677-strong crew were killed in an explosion that tore the Ariadne apart.
She was the 100th vessel to be destroyed by the submarine UC-65, which was commanded by one of Germany’s most decorated officers.
As a leading stoker – working in the bowels of the Ariadne – Charles would have been at the greatest risk of dying in the attack.
How he came to escape the explosion and sinking is not known. His service records only confirm that he was in the ship at the time of the attack.
Five days after the loss of Ariadne, James Pudner was informed by the Admiralty that his Dawlish-born son, Gilbert had died in the sinking.
Shortly after his death was announced in local newspapers in Devon, Gilbert’s sister received a telegraphic message dispatched from Paddington, London.
It read: ‘Bring sandwiches 8 train tonight – Gilbert Pudner.’
His sister met the train and, reported The Western Times on August 10, 1917, ‘sure enough, there was her brother safe and well, except for weakness, on his way to Devonport.
‘In her overjoy, she failed to ask any particulars of him as to his rescue before the train proceeded on its way,’ said the newspaper.
Writing about the destruction of the Ariadne, Otto Steinbrinck, commander of UC-65, said the ship was crippled after a torpedo hit her aft tunnel.
‘The crew was on the upper deck when a shot hit her under the foremast. The ship immediately heeled over,’ he said.
‘We dived immediately. When we surfaced again, nothing was to be seen of the cruiser but the hull.’
Charles found himself at the centre of a top-secret operation as he served in the cruiser HMS Theseus in August 1914.
When Russian forces captured copies of a code book for the German Navy, Theseus was sent from Scapa Flow to Alexandrovsk in Russia to collect them.
They were formally handed to Winston Churchill, who was First Lord of the Admiralty, on October 13 that year and provided valuable defence intelligence.
Charles left Theseus on November 28, 1914 and joined the armoured cruiser HMS Essex on April 15, 1915 when she was assigned to the 7th Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet.
The ship, which patrolled the seas between the Azores, Madeira, Cape Verde and Gibraltar, captured a German merchant vessel SS Telde, on May 3, 1916 in the Canary Islands.
Charles left the Essex on August 23, 1916 and joined Ariadne on March 21, 1917. He left the Navy in the summer of 1919.
Born on April 16, 1882 in Okehampton, Charles was the son of James David Ayson (1856-1921) and Elizabeth Waye (1856-1908). He married Minnie Smith (1884-1918) in 1909 in Plymouth. In 1939, he was living at 301, North Road, Plymouth and still working as a stoker. He died in Plymouth in 1962, aged 80. Minnie, born in 1884 in Plymouth, died on November 21, 1918 in Plymouth, aged 34.
Charles was connected to my family through marriage. His sister, Mary Jane Ayson (1891-1969), married Walter Frank Bradford (1893-1953) on November 9, 1918. Walter – who served in the Coldstream Guards in the Great War – was the son of Thomas Bradford (1865-1936) and Hannah Reed (1870-1940). Thomas was the son of Richard Bradford (1840-1925) and Elizabeth Bowden (1845-1879). Richard was the brother of Eliza Bradford (1854-1945), who married Daniel Arscott (1857-1922) in Lewisham, Kent on January 14, 1901. Daniel was my great-grandfather.
Gilbert Pudner, who survived the sinking of the Ariadne, was aboard the cruiser HMS Pegasus on September 18, 1914 when she was attacked by the German warship Konigsberg. The ship sank with the loss of 31 lives. Gilbert was among 55 men who were seriously wounded. He died in Bristol in 1926, aged 49.
Among those who died in the Ariadne were Leading Stoker Thomas James Kidston, of Bishopsteignton, who had been in the Navy for 22 years, and is remembered on Bishopsteignton War Memorial, and Petty Officer Isaac Hill, of Chevithorne, who is remembered on Ottery St Mary War Memorial.
The German submarine UC-65 sunk 106 ships before she was torpedoed, with the loss of 23 crew, on November 3, 1917.
CHARLES IS ONE OF MORE THAN 500 MEN AND WOMEN FEATURED IN MY A-Z OF MEN AND WOMEN CONNECTED TO MY FAMILY WHO SERVED IN THREE WARS
HMS Ariadne before the Great War. A Public Domain image (from Wikimedia Commons).