Leysdown disaster: Drowned scouts honoured 100 years on

By Peter Jackson
BBC News

image captionThe life-size bronze scout memorial at Nunhead Cemetery was stolen in 1969

Memorial services have been held in London and Kent for eight boy scouts who drowned 100 years ago on a trip up the Thames.

One is believed to be the great-great uncle of football star David Beckham.

On 3 August 1912, 24 boys set sail along the Thames for a two-week summer camp in the country - a rare opportunity to escape the capital's crowded streets.

The boys, aged 11 to 14, from the 2nd Walworth troop, and five adults navigated from Waterloo Bridge to Erith, where they slept overnight under the sails.

Hours later, eight scouts and another boy from a training ship died when their boat capsized in a sudden and violent storm at Leysdown on the Isle of Sheppey in Kent.

"They were just turning into Leysdown and they were hit by this squall," said historian Rex Batten.

"The boat went over, it righted itself, and the next time it went over the boys were thrown out and they were lost.

"The coastguards saw what had happened. Unfortunately they couldn't get there in time to save all the boys."

'Too exhausted'

Among the victims were patrol leader William Beckham, 12, whose brothers John and Edward both survived the ordeal.

Edward is understood to be David's great grandfather.

A wreath was laid at a service at Leysdown Cemetery and a service was held at the ruined chapel in Nunhead Cemetery, Southwark, attended by relatives of 12-year-old victim James Skipsey.

Brothers Noel and Thompson Filmer also lost their lives. Their father - an ex-naval man - was on board the cutter, and became trapped for part of the time under a sail.

Tom Redman, 79, a former coastguard on the Isle of Sheppey, said: "Mr Filmer said that his two boys were so exhausted when he tried to get them out, he just had to let them go.

"He said they couldn't help themselves and he was too exhausted as well."

Tens of thousands lined the streets of Walworth for, what the papers at the time described as almost a state funeral.

Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, arranged for a destroyer to transport the bodies back to London.

There is also a permanent memorial at Leysdown Cemetery to ensure the young scouts of 2nd Walworth are never forgotten.