Yeoman of Signals Frank Coombes, O.N. 205280 served in HMS Alcantara and was at the Boxer Rebellion on HMS Glory

Dear Sir

I have been interested to read your correspondence about the battle between Alcantara and Grief in the North Sea. My grandfather, Yeoman of Signals Frank Coombes, O.N. 205280, was mentioned in despatches as a result of his actions that day.(see supplement to London Gazette 14 July 1916). He wasn't one of the wounded. I must tell you the story he told my husband and myself in 1967. My husband (a journalist) took it down in shorthand as he said it:

"Alcantara was a Portsmouth-manned ship. She went into action against the German raider Grief. Both vessels were sunk ....a great duel was fought in the North Sea. Alcantara was formerly a liner of 15,800 tons and was operating as an auxilliary cruiser. I was a Yeoman of the Signals on the bridge.  One of the signalmen spotted her (the Greif).  I looked at her through the telescope on the bridge. I didn't know what it was. She was flying the Norwegian flag and had the Norwegian flag painted on her side. We made a signal to her to stop. She replied: I am stopping my engines to adjust my machinery. She said she had come from Rio de Janeiro. But she had stopped to adjust her gunnery. The captain told the officer of the watch to man a board boat and he was sending a boarding party aboard. As the boarding party was being loaded over the side - she was about 300 yards away - she opened her gun ports...guns came out...7in guns...first salvo hit us and blew one of our guns over like a shuttlecock. Alcantara fired back...one of the first salvos hit the Grief's magazine...she went up but as she went up she fired three torpedoes and all three hit the Alcantara.  She went over and order was given to abandon ship. I was three hours in the sea - floating ice ahead of me - bobbing about."

He was extremely guarded while telling us about this, as though he might be in trouble for revealing too much, even though he was in his mid-eighties. He joined the Navy at 17 - had been a fishmonger in the Isle of Wight - and served on about 30 ships. He won the Rumanian Distinguished Conduct medal and was at the Boxer Rebellion on HMS Glory, and whenever we took him out in the car and he spotted a Chinese restaurant he would mutter "blessied Chinese".

Hope this might be of interest to you and others.

Patricia Jones

Dear Patricia,

My thanks for your mail, it is always of great interest to have a first hand account of an engagement at sea from one who was there at the time.

Your grandfather certainly saw some action in his naval time.

I wll ask my web master, Terry Kearns in Atlanta Georgia to add this report to our segment on AHOY about this fight to the death at our URL: 


I am indeed grateful for your time and interest.

Best regards.

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