Albert Loader (spelt as Loder on the memorial) was born on 21st April 1883 in Winchester, probably at 9 Clement Street where his parents and siblings were living during the census in 1881. Albert’s parents, Edward Loader and Emily (nee Roberts), married in Shoreditch at the end of 1873. Emily was only 21.
In the 1881 census Edward is aged 33, a grocer’s porter, born in Devon. Emily is 29. Emily and her 5 children were all born in Winchester.
In the 1891 census the family is living at 17 Hyde Close. Edward, now 44, is a porter. Albert is 8 years old and has 6 siblings (one has left home).
In the 1901 census the family, except for Albert, is now living at 16 Hyde Close. Edward is still a grocer’s porter, and two of his sons have followed him in the trade: James, 16, is a draper’s porter, and Thomas, 14, a grocer’s porter. Since the last census two more daughters have been born.
In the 1901 census Albert, now 17, is a “Boy” on HMS Prince George, a 1st class battleship under the command of Captain R A J Montgomerie. The census was taken on 31st March, 3 weeks short of Albert’s 18th birthday. On the night of the census the ship was anchored in Gibraltar Bay with 744 men on board: 53 Boys, 545 Seamen, and the remainder officers.
Albert enlisted in the Royal Navy on his 18th birthday. He signed up for 12 years and was given the service number 203514. His previous occupation is given as errand boy. He is described as 5’ 2 ½” tall with dark hair, brown eyes and dark complexion. He also has tattoos of a man and a woman on his left arm. In his career Albert served on over a dozen ships, including several stints on Victory I.
In the 1911 census Edward, 63, is now a porter for a wine and spirit merchant. Emily states that she has been married for 39 years and has had 11 children, 2 of whom have died. Only Florence, aged 16, is living with them at 16 Hyde Close. (NB is the address of 17 Hyde Close in 1881 a mistake? Or did they move next door?)
By the 1911 census Albert had progressed to becoming an Able Seaman. He is 29, still single, and is on board HMS Grafton in Portsmouth.
His conduct had been good, but in September 1914 he was given 28 days detention for “drunkenness and insubordination”. Again in November 1914 he was given “7 days cells”. It should be noted that Albert’s father Edward had died a few months before these incidents, aged 69.
In 1916 Albert was aboard the cruiser Alcantara in the Skagerrak (the sea between Norway and Sweden). On 29th February 1916 lookouts aboard Alcantara spotted smoke off the port beam so her commander Captain T E Wardle manoeuvred closer to identify where the smoke was coming from. Unbeknown to them the smoke was from SMS Greif.
A few minutes later another cruiser in the area Andes reported that her lookouts had sighted a ship with two masts and a black funnel headed north-east. The two British vessels closed on Greif until within range to signal one another. Captain Wardle ordered this vessel to stop and two blank rounds were fired. The Germans hove to and signalled that they were from Trondheim and were headed for Rio de Janeiro. At about 0940 the British were close enough so they lowered a few boats with a boarding party to take command of the seemingly harmless steamer.
At this moment the raider revealed her intentions, raised the German flag, unmasked her guns and opened fire on Alcantara at a range of 800 yards. The first discharge struck Alcantara ’s bridge which caused heavy damage and destroyed the communications equipment. Further shots hit and sank some of the boarding party’s boats and also knocked out the Alcantara ’s steering gear. Alcantara increased her speed and began returning fire as the Germans attempted to flee towards the Norwegian coastline. Her first shot struck and disabled Greif ’s poop gun, killing the crew in the process.
For several minutes the two vessels duelled at close range until gun fire was heard by Andes which was about five miles from the battle area. She closed to within three miles of SMS Greif and opened fire. Her first shots struck the bridge of the German raider and destroyed its steering gear. Greif launched two torpedoes at Alcantara; the first one hit amidship and the second passed under the stern. By the end of the engagement, the British knocked out another German gun and set her fuel tanks on fire; one shot entered the hull of Greif, exploded, and slowed the vessel to a sinking halt. Reports say that both Greif and Alcantara were struck several times at or below the waterline which left the British vessel in a sinking state as well.
German fire ceased at 1018 and a few minutes later the Royal Navy sailors spotted lifeboats being lowered from the burning Greif. The British kept up their fire and as the German commander climbed down the rope to his life boat, shrapnel struck him in the neck and he was beheaded. Several moments later the order to abandon Alcantara was issued; the list was so great that many of the ship’s complement walked down the ship’s side. At 1102 Alcantara was under water, and at 1108 it sank. Around this time Comus and Munster arrived to pick up survivors. Wardle and his surviving crew were in the water for about twenty minutes. By this time the Greif was well ablaze and at 1300 she also sank. 280 Germans perished along with 72 Britons (2 of whom died later of their wounds). Five German officers and 120 German seamen were rescued and taken prisoner by Andes and Munster.
Captain Wardle was later criticized for manoeuvring too close to the German raider before knowing its true identity. Assuming Greif was a harmless merchant ship cost Wardle his vessel and several men. Despite this he was recognized for bravery and awarded the Distinguished Service Order and eventually became a rear admiral.
The log book for the Alcantara exists, but there is no entry for 29th February 1916; this presumably went down with the ship that day.
The website www.naval-history.net lists all those who perished that day, including Albert:
LOADER, Albert, Able Seaman (RFR B 6022), 203514 (Po), Alcantara, 29 February 1916, ship lost.
Albert was aged 34. His body was never recovered. He is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. Albert’s medal entitlement was issued to his sister, possibly Florence. Two years later, in February 1918, Albert’s younger brother Thomas Bernard LOADER died of wounds in Flanders.
Albert’s widowed mother Emily died in the September quarter of 1918 aged 66, only months after Thomas’ death.