KIFF Bertie

Category: Military
Rank: Petty Officer Stoker 298725
Regiment or Ship: H.M.S. Formidable
Service Number(s): 298725
Occupation: Seaman
Date of Birth: 27.07.1883
Place of Birth: St. Pancras, London
Date of Death: 01.01.1915
Place of Death: At Sea Place of Burial / Memorials:

His body was not recovered for burial but his name appears on the memorials in Chatham (the Chatham Naval Memorial), in Bexhill, and in Newington, in Kent.

Address: 3, Devonshire Cottages, Newington, Sittingbourne, Kent

Photos and newspaper articles

Family Information

Parents:    Frederick Kiff, born 31st March 1852 in Hertfordshire; died 25th February 1943, in London and Louisa Saint, born 1850 in Crewkerne, Somerset; died June 1918 in St. Pancras, London


 Frederick Kiff born in 1878 in St. Pancras, London.

Harry Kiff born in 1879 in St. Pancras, London.

Albert Kiff born in 1881 in St. Pancras, London.

Louis Kiff born in 1886 in St. Pancras, London.

Mabel E Kiff born in 1888 in St. Pancras, London.

William Charles Kiff born in 1892 in St. Pancras, London.

Marriage:       Bertie married Naomi Florence Stubberfeld in Catsfield, on Christmas Day, in 1910. She was born in 5th November 1881, in Catsfield, Sussex, and died on 25th August 1948 at No. 20, North Road, Sidley, Sussex. Her parents were William Stubberfield (1850-1935) born Hooe, Sussex & Eliza Munn (1856-1919) born Catsfield, Sussex

The couple had two children:-

Herbert George Kiff, born 25th September 1911, in Milton, Kent – died October 1990 in Bexhill.

Evan Kiff, born 16th May 1914 in Milton, Kent – died June 1992 in Bexhill.

First World War Experience

Bert Kiff’s Naval Service began in 1901 when he joined at the aged of eighteen and while one sheet of his service records has survived it has only one line on his service in WW1 and that gives the date he joined H.M.S. “Formidable” and the date it was sunk.

The following is the basic story on the sinking of the “Formidable”, during which Bert Kiff died. This has been put together from many on-line websites with care taken to be as accurate as possible but the reader is advised to carry out his/her own research if greater detail is wanted.

On 1st January, 1915, the battleship H.M.S. “Formidable” was bringing up the rear of a line of warships from the Fifth Battle Squadron, which was taking part in gunnery exercises, just off Portland, Hampshire.

The squadron should have been protected by destroyers, but was flanked only by two light cruisers. There had already been delay, so the admiral on the flagship denied the captains permission to zigzag or to lower their torpedo nets (the admiral was afterwards disciplined). H.M.S. “Formidable” had had engine trouble, which was why she was the last in line and in a more vulnerable position. With rough sea conditions and the wind increasing submarine attacks would have been difficult to carry out and so were not thought to be a significant threat.

Unknown to the Squadron, however, a German U-Boat (U-24, under the command a Kapitänleutnant (Lieutenant commander) Rudolf Schneider) had been tracking the squadron all day and chose its moment in which to send a torpedo straight into the starboard side of the “Formidable”, causing it to take on water and list sharply.

At the time of the first explosion, the seas were mountainous and it was pitch dark – it’s reported that it was assumed that she had struck a mine.

The damage to the Formidable was severe causing it to lose steam and immediately keeled over by about 20 degrees to starboard. The captain, Arthur Noel Loxley, ordered all watertight doors closed and the crew to be piped to collision quarters.

It was reported, by those sailors who survived, that Captain Loxley, his second-in-command, Commander Ballard, and the signaller stayed at their posts throughout, sending flares and rockets off at regular intervals. There was no panic, the men waiting calmly for the lifeboats to be lowered. Someone played ragtime on the piano, others sang. The Chaplain risked his life going below to find cigarettes.

Kapitänleutnant Rudolph Schneider stayed in the area to confirm his kill but, 45 minutes after the first strike, having decided to make sure that the Formidable was finished, he sent another torpedo into the stricken warship from just 160 metres away.

This second torpedo hit the ship on the port side, blowing the boilers up, and rocking it back on to an even keel. Metal, wood, and debris rained on to the men in the boats as well as the Formidable and the German U-boat itself.

More water rushed in, the dynamos failed, all lights went out. There was no more time for trying to launch lifeboats; even the piano was thrown overboard in the hope of using it as a raft. Men were dying of cold in the water; a few who had been in for more than half an hour got to a lifeboat and were pulled aboard. For the crew of 746 only three lifeboats were afloat, into which only somewhat over two hundred managed to pile. At 4:45 the “Formidable” capsized and sank, twenty-five miles off Portland Bill.

 This is how the “Bexhill Observer” reported the death of Bert Kiff:-


News has reached Bexhill of the death of Petty officer Bert Kiff, son-in-law of Mr. and Mrs. J. Stubberfield of 20, Silvester-road, who was unfortunately drowned when H.M.S. “Formidable” sunk in the Channel on New Year’s Day. During seventeen years service the deceased sailor has been on many ships, and was on the “Bedford” when it was wrecked some four years ago. The deceased, who was married about four years ago at Catsfield, leaves a widow and two children.

Additional Information

Bertie Kiff joined the Royal Navy, in 1901, at the age of 18, so had many years experience well before the outbreak of WW1. Below is some of the information, taken from his the records of his pre-war service.

It was on the 25th October 1901, that Bertie signed on to the Royal Navy, at Chatham, for 12 years; he gave his occupation as “labourer”. His height, at that time, was given as being 5 feet 3 1/2 inches and he had dark hair, brown eyes, and a dark complexion. Under “Wounds, Scars, Marks, etc.,” it states that he had “Female on right forearm. Scar on chest.”

His first ship was the H.M.S. “Pembroke II” and his rating, Stoker second-class. He served on many ships but seven times on the “Pembroke II”. His conduct was always given as “Very Good”.

His commitment was due to end in 1913 but it is unclear from his record what actually happened because it shows that he joined H.M.S. “Formidable” on 1 April 1911 and served until his death 1 January 1915.

Before the war, Bert, his wife, and two sons lived in Newington because it was close to the Chatham dockyards. After his death, his widow, Naomi, and their sons moved to Bexhill where her parents lived in Silvester Road.

Bertie Kiff’s son, Bert Kiff, gives what he remembers of his father, his family, and their life in Bexhill, in the book “Bexhill Voices” (page 118), which is on sale at the Museum.

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