1918-2008: Ninety Years of Remembrance

Soldier Record

Edwin Vile

Contributed by: Ninety Years of Remembrance, on 2008-11-04

Edwin Vile
Rank
First Name Edwin
Surname Vile
Year of Birth Unknown
Year of Death Unknown
Regiment Royal Navy
Place of Wartime Residence North Tauton, Devon

Edwin's Story

Edwin Vile was serving on HMS Cornwall as 1st Class Stoker. In a letter from Port Stanley to his sister, he gives a graphic account of the Battle of the Falkland Islands, 8 December 1914, in which he took part. It was a British naval victory over the Imperial German Navy.

The LEIPZIG was one mass of flames and sinking

Letter

December 8th 1914

[…] I have good news to tell. You have certainly seen the report in the papers of our great victory here. Our spirits were all brought up tip top over the action. It was simply grand. We had a signal from our flagship HMS INVINCIBLE, to say we could write anything about the action we liked. Of course, who should know what really did take place if we don’t? It was something like this –

Admiral Sturdee was sent out here with two big battle cruisers to avenge the MONMOUTH, and GOOD HOPE. They made a record speed all the way. As soon as they arrived we all coaled and proceeded south to meet the Germans. After days of waiting and watching, the day came – the 8th. We arrived here (Port Stanley) on the morning of the 7th, and prepared for coaling, but were not going to start until next day. We were seven war ships, and two armed merchant ships. On the morning of the 8th two strange war ships were reported from the hill across to be approaching the Islands from the South. They happened to be Germans, five war ships in all, and hot stuff at that. Well, we got up steam as quickly as we ever could, and steamed out of harbour to engage them. As soon as they saw our big ships come out, which they never expected were out here, they did a nip to get away. But we had the speed. It was a stern chase, and in a few hours we were over hauling them. It was the grandest sight I have ever seen. Our big ships were firing a long while before we started. We were having a lovely view from our ships until the Bugle rang out ‘ACTION’. Then we knew we were close on the enemy, and everyone gave a great cheer, and hurried to his station. Then, just after, all one could hear was our guns, and German shells whizzing around. Of course, it was we or them that were going to sink, but everyone was as cool and collected as at ordinary battle practice, and none seemed to see any fear. Well, we and the LEIPZIG were at it for more than four hours. Our firing was remarkable, and about 8 o’clock pm I witnessed the most terrible thing I have ever seen. The LEIPZIG was one mass of flames and sinking. She had caught fire earlier in the evening. This was the result of our 6” shells. She had two out of her three funnels blown away, and her after-mast. We never had a man injured, but our ship sustained a lot of damage. For the five German ships that sunk the Good Hope and Monmouth it was exactly five weeks and two days before the four of them were sunk themselves. It’s the first ship I have seen sink. As soon as we knew she was done in, we went up close to her, and the Captain gave orders to lower all boats, and pick up the survivors. She sank before the boats reached her. We picked up one officer and three men. All the remainders were gone. The survivors say there were only 18 men living when she went down. They say it was terrible. She was a mass of flames. And then it got dark. It was an awful sight. We had a message of congratulations from the King on our splendid victory, which is of such great importance to the British Empire. In our squadron we had eight men killed and several injured.

Edwin Vile Served a total of 28 years in the Royal Navy, including ten years on HM submarines. He served 16 years as 1st Class Petty Officer, and during World War Two he received 9 service medals service on the HMS destroyer Beagle.

Published by the BBC with permission from the Imperial War Museum. Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders. The IWM would be grateful for any information leading to copyright holders whose details are not currently known.

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