Robert Percy Windebank was born on 19th February 1881, the son of George and Emily Windebank of 20, Homewell, Havant, Hampshire U.K..
He enlisted into the Royal Navy on his 18th birthday on 19th February 1899 for a 12 year engagment as Boy second class 190016. His height was 5 feet 41/2 inches, his hair dark, his eyes brown and of a fresh complexion. He had a scar on the back of his right hand and faint tattoo marks on his left arm, his occupation was listed as a garden boy.
He served on several ship and shore stations starting with St Vincent, Alexandra, Mars, Trafalgar, Victory, Excellent, Revenge, Goliath and finally being paid off on Victory at the end of his engagement, his character was always very good.
He then joined the Royal Fleet Reserve as an Able Seaman PO/B/4075 and joined HMS Good Hope when she was bought out of mothballs at the start of the First World War his time starting on 2nd August 1914. He served on her until she was lost with all hands on the 1st November 1914 in the 'Battle of Coronel'
He is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, panel 3.
The Battle of Coronel took place on November 1st 1914 off the Chilean coast. A British squadron of four ships, obsolete armoured cruisers HMS Good Hope and HMS Monmouth, the light cruiser HMS Glasgow and the armed merchant cruiser Otranto, under the command of Rear Admiral Sir Christopher Craddock were engaged by the German East Asiatic squadron under the command of Vice Admiral Maximillian Graf von Spee.
The German squadron, which left its base of Tsingtao after Japan declared war on Germany on August 24th 1914, consisted of two modern armoured cruisers, Sharnhorst and Gneisenau and the modern light cruisers Dresden, Leipzig and Nurnberg.
Craddock's vessels were hopelessly outmatched, his two armoured cruisers had been hurriedly brought out of mothballs and had reservist crews, while the German vessels had long been in commission.
Sir Christopher Craddock
The German heavy ships could deploy a main broadside of six 8.2 inch guns each, whereas only Good Hope, with two 9.2 inch guns, could match their range. In the battle, Good Hope was sunk with all hands, including Craddock, while the modern Glasgow and Oranto escaped. The end of Monmouth was recorded by the German official historian and is particularly poignant.
'Having been crippled by the German cruisers, Monmouth, listing badly and her upper works a shambles, encountered the Nurnberg, whose captain offered the Royal Navy ship the chance to surrender'. 'The offer was refused: the Nurnberg was so close that her crew could hear the surviving British officers calling their men to the few remaining guns. Monmouth attempted to ram Nurnberg but failed, and Nurnberg opened fire, tearing open the unprotected parts of her decks and hull'. 'She heeled over further and further, until she capsized and went down, her ensign still flying.'
Then, 36 days later, on December 8th 1914, Spee took his squadron to bombard the Falkland Islands, running straight into a powerful British squadron which had been sent to hunt him down. This time it was Spee that was outmatched, as the British squadron consisted of two battle cruisers, Invincible and Inflexible, three armoured cruisers, Kent, Cornwall and Carnarvon, and two light cruisers, Bristol and Glasgow.
By the end of the day, all of Spee's squadron had been sunk except Dresden. Spee died aboard his flagship, Sharnhorst, which was lost with all hands. Dresden was trapped by a British force in Cumberland Bay, Chile and scuttled on March 14th 1915. By this time nine out of ten men that had fought at the battle of Coronel were dead!