Sumner, John David

Sumner, John David (John)

Chief Gunner

HMTB No. 96, Royal Navy

Drowned at sea on Monday 1 November 1915 (aged 42)

No known grave


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Plymouth Naval Memorial, Devon, England (Panel 5)

Portaferry (Ballyphilip) Parish Church of Ireland Church (St James)

Monument erected in the adjoining graveyard


The death of Chief Gunner John David Sumner was reported in the 6, 13 and 20 November 1915 editions of the Newtownards Chronicle.  Under the headline Portaferry Officer on Lost Torpedo Boat it was reported initially that Torpedo Boat No. 96 had sunk in the Straits of Gibraltar on 1 November 1915 after a collision and that two officers and nine men were missing.  Then Chief Gunner, John David Sumner’s widow Jane who was living at Kildare, Devon Terrace in Plymouth received a telegram confirming that her husband had died.

John David Sumner and Jane Rutherford were married on 12 December 1907 in Portaferry Presbyterian Church.  John David Sumner from Portaferry was a son of John Sumner, a coastguard.  Jane Rutherford from Portaferry was a daughter of John Rutherford, a bootmaker.

John and Jane Sumner had at least one child, a daughter named Charlotte Eleanor, who died in infancy on 30 October 1909 and was interred in Plymouth Cemetery.

John David Sumner was born on 22 August 1873 in Portaferry and he was a son of John and Ellen Sumner (nee McMullen).

John David Sumner’s father John died of nephritis in Dundalk on 25 May 1898 (aged 53).

John David Sumner’s mother Ellen died of heart disease in Mill Street, Portaferry on 11 September 1912 (aged 65).

John David Sumner was well-known in Portaferry and he belonged to naval families on both his father’s and his mother’s side.  He joined the Navy at the age of 14 and had 28 years of service when he died.  After his initial training, he served aboard the cruiser Raleigh and in 1894 he saw active service in West Africa for which he received the Africa General Service Medal (Gambia Expedition).  He next saw service in 1900 during the Boxer Uprising in North China and for that he received the China Medal.  Later he served in the Persian Gulf and also in home waters.  He commanded Torpedo Boats and Destroyers continuously from March 1910 and was made Commander of Torpedo Boat No. 96 in December 1914.

In the early morning of 1 November 1915 an auxiliary cruiser collided with and sank Torpedo Boat No. 96 in the Straits of Gibraltar.  It was pitch dark at the time and neither vessel carried lights.  Only eight men from the torpedo boat were saved.  Chief Gunner John David Sumner was one of those who died and he is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial in Devon; in Portaferry (Ballyphilip) Parish Church of Ireland Church (St James) and on a monument erected in the adjoining graveyard.

In naval records it is recorded that John David Sumner was born on 22 October 1873 in Portaferry and he joined up on 22 October 1891 for a period of twelve years.  He was 5 feet 5 inches tall with dark brown hair, hazel eyes and a fair complexion.