John May

Military Information

  • Date of enlistment: June 1904
  • Place of enlistment: Customs House Dundee
  • Service no: 1963U
  • Rank: Leading Stoker
  • Service Occupation:
  • Awards:
  • Regiment/Service: H.M.S. Bulwark
  • Unit/Ship: Royal Naval Reserve
  • Place of Death: Lost at Sea, west of Sheerness
  • Age at Death: 37
  • Date of Death: 26.11.1914
  • Burial Country:
  • Cemetery: Portsmouth Naval Memorial
  • Grave/Mem Ref no: Panel 6

Personal Information

  • Date of Birth:
  • Place of Birth:
  • Address: 10 Dens Brae, Dundee
  • Occupation: Fireman, Anchor Works, Dundee
  • Mother:

    Mrs Mary May, 10 Dens Brae, Dundee

  • Father:

    John May, 10 Dens Brae, Dundee

  • Siblings:

    Mary Harrison, sister

  • Spouse:

    Mary Catherine Patterson (formally May) 15 Hunter St, Dundee

  • Children:

    2 Boys & 1 Girl

More about John May

John has no known grave but is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. He was serving on H.M.S. Bulwark which was attached to the Channel Fleet, conducting patrols in the English Channel. On 26 November 1914 while anchored at Sheerness she was destroyed by a large internal explosion with the loss of 736 men. There were only 14 survivors of the explosion and of these, 2 died later in Hospital. The explosion was believed to have been caused by the overheating of Cordite charges that had been placed adjacent to a boiler room bulkhead.

John May   19634   Royal Navy


Another Dundee man lost his life in the Bulwark disaster.

Mrs John May, Hunter Street, has received intimation that her husband was killed in the explosion on board the battleship at Sheerness.  May, who was 36 years of age, was a reservist, and reported himself for his training period three days before war was declared.  He held the rank of chief stoker.  For the past four years he was fireman at Anchor Works.

Dundee Courier 2nd December 1914

Tragedy has followed tragedy in this home circle.  About a fortnight ago Mrs Harrison learned that her brother John May, a leading stoker on H.M.S. Bulwark, had lost his life when that vessel was wrecked by an explosion. May, who was also a reservist, and was employed as a fireman in Anchor Works (Messrs D. M’Master & Co.).  His wife, who resides in Hunter Street, has three young children–one boy and two girls.  This double blow has made the families the object of considerable sympathy in the neighbourhood.

Dundee Courier 10th December 1914

John May was the son of Mr John and Mrs Mary May, 10 Dens Brae, Dundee and the husband of Mary Catherine Patterson (formerly May) of 15 Hunter Street, Dundee. He volunteered to join the Royal Naval Reserve as a Stoker at the Customs House, Dundee Docks in June 1904. He was recalled to the Navy in July 1914 and drafted to HMS Bulwark, a pre dreadnought battleship. He was rated up to Leading Stoker on 22 October of that year. A powerful internal explosion ripped the Bulwark apart just before 8am on 26 November 1914 while she was moored west of Sheerness in the estuary of the River Medway. All of the ship’s officers were killed in the explosion and only nine ratings survived. A total of 741 men were lost. Only about 30 bodies were recovered after the explosion. In terms of loss of life, the incident remains the second most catastrophic accidental explosion in the history of the United Kingdom. John May is named on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial on Southsea Common, Hampshire. There is a report of the sinking in the Peoples Journal of 12 December 1914.

Iain Stewart and Iain Birnie

Information supplied by Gary Thomson, additional information and image kindly supplied by Michael Caldwell.

Further information supplied by Iain Stewart and Iain Birnie

Can you tell us more about John May'? Some additional facts, a small story handed down through the family or perhaps a picture or an heirloom you can share online. Contact our curator...

THANK YOU for your interest in helping the Great War Dundee project. Please complete the short form below and a curator will contact you in the next few days.

    I am writing to: