It was a poignant moment for members of the town’s naval association Wednesday November 1 as they gathered at St Mary’s Priory Church for the annual HMS Monmouth Remembrance Service,

News only broke in September that the seventh ship to bear the name HMS Monmouth, known as The Black Duke, was being scrapped, ended a long line of Monmouth’s who had served their Queen and country.

Last week’s service was to remember the crew of the sixth HMS Monmouth that was sunk at the Battle of Coronel on November 1st 1914, the entire crew of 734 were lost.

The Monmouth Branch of the Royal Naval Association, their Standard borne by Tony Martin, were joined by Standards from the Royal British Legion (Caroline Bright), Royal Engineers, Ian Donald, Association of Wrens (Christine Walker), her husband John held the Royal Air Force Association Standard and the Standard of the Torfaen RNA, having its first appearance since its inauguration in September, was carried by Jim Attenborough.

The service was taken by the Reverend Catherine Haynes who is also the RNA honorary branch chaplain. The Last Post was played by Robert Morgan MBE, President of Lydbrook RBL.

A wreath was laid by Commodore (Retd) Tobin Elliot. Adrian Hamilton gave the Royal British Legion Act of Remembrance and said the Naval Prayer.

The Battle of Coronel took place off the coast of Chile on 1st November 1914. Commanded by Admiral Cradock, a small squadron of ships including HMS Monmouth took on the East Asia Squadron of the German fleet, commanded by Admiral von Spee.

Cradock’s fleet - Good Hope (his flag ship), Monmouth, Glasgow and the converted liner Otranto; Canopus, slowed by boiler trouble - came across the two modern battle cruisers – SMS Scharnhorst (von Spee’s flag ship) and Gneisenau with light cruisers Leipzig and Dresden; the Nürnberg having been despatched north to investigate suspect shipping.

The British ships were outmanoeuvred and outgunned and Cradock knew it.

Cradock sent his two weakest ships, the armed merchantman Otranto and the light cruiser HMS Glasgow, away and took on the Germans with just Monmouth and Good Hope.

Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had sixteen 8.3 in guns whereas Cradock only had two 9.2-inch guns on his flagship, but a number of 6-inch guns as yet out of range.

At about 7pm, the German ships opened fire from a range of seven miles on the British squadron, Spee’s flagship, Scharnhorst, engaged Good Hope while Gneisenau fired a salvo into HMS Monmouth.

The German shooting was very accurate, with both armoured cruisers quickly scoring hits on their British counterparts, starting fires on both ships while still outside range of Cradock’s numerous six-inch guns.

With inferior firepower after HMS Canopus had become detached from the group, the British squadron then lost more ground to the Germans as night fell and the weather got worse.

Silhouetted against the sunset glow, Cradock’s ships were easier targets than von Spee’s and high winds caused the British guns to be less effective as they were mounted lower down in the vessel and troubled by rolling waves.

British gunners were unable to respond effectively to the German shellfire as the German ships could not be seen in the dark, whereas Cradock’s ships stood out against the glow of the sunset.

One shell from Gneisenau blew the roof off Monmouth’s forward turret starting a fire, causing an ammunition explosion that completely blew the turret off the ship which further gave away her position.

Just after 9pm, the Nürnberg passed close by to Monmouth and found her listing and burning, refusing to surrender despite Nürnberg illuminating her flag with its spotlight in the hopes that Monmouth would strike her colours and surrender. There was no response from the British ship. Nürnberg finished Monmouth off with 75 shells and she sank with all hands, only shortly after Admiral Cradock had gone down with his ship, HMS Good Hope.

It was said that at a celebratory reception marking the Germans’ victory somebody raised a glass and said “Damnation to the British Navy!” It is claimed that Admiral Spee replied that neither he nor his officers would drink to such a toast, and declared instead: “I drink to the memory of a gallant and honourable foe.”