John Hampton was born on 29th August 1873 in Great Wytheford, Shropshire, the youngest of five siblings, to Robert and Hannah Maria Hampton [née Colley] who farmed locally.
John was educated at Wellington College, circa 1890, following which it is believed he had a number of jobs before settling upon a life in the Merchant Navy.
In 1907 John married Beatrice Ellen Rollinson from Liverpool and their son, Robert Leslie was born the following year.
John had joined the Elder-Dempster Line and on the 14th April 1917 set sail from the port of Bathurst on the latest leg of a voyage, begun in Lagos, bound for Liverpool on the Steamship ‘Abosso’ [Capt. James T. Toft] on which he was serving as an Assistant Bed Steward. The vessel, with a crew of 134 had boarded 127 passengers and was carrying mail, plus a cargo of 3,500 tons of West African produce.
On the night of Tuesday 24th April 1917 they were 180 miles off Fastnet in Southern Ireland. The weather was shown to be fine, calm and cloudy, but dark, when the ship was struck in No.3 hold, and the area near the after part of the engine room, by a torpedo fired from U-boat, U-43. Prior to the strike no enemy surface vessels or submarines had been sighted in the vicinity. The 3rd Officer was on the bridge together with an apprentice, with look-outs in the crow’s nest and aft by the 6” gun; the captain having just left the bridge.
Immediately the torpedo struck the vessel the captain ordered the S.O.S. signal to be transmitted, which gave the position of the ship; at the same time signal flares were sent up. The engine telegraph on the bridge was rung up to "stop" but the ship still had plenty of forward momentum allowing the crew time to get to their allotted stations after the signal was given.
The ‘Abosso’ carried eleven life-boats, all of which were being carried outboard at the level of the rail on the boat-deck. For some reason, never explained Nos. 1, 3, and 7 life-boats were lowered before Captain Toft gave the order.
There was an inherent danger in launching boats from a ship that was still "under way", as the captain well knew, and which would inevitably lead to a loss of life. The three lifeboats contained 23 crew, 41 passengers but no officers. As the lifeboats hit the waters of the ocean they were immediately swamped with all occupants drowned.
The ‘Abosso’ when hit initially had taken a list to port, but had quickly recovered and had then begun to take a pronounced list to starboard. An hour after being hit the vessel was still underway but had slowed from her original speed of 12 knots.
At about 10.15pm a Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Magic, arrived in answer to the S.O.S. calls, but she was unable to approach close to the ship, which continued to forge ahead, albeit in a circle, with an increasing list to starboard.
Captain Toft had by now taken the great risk of lowering the life-boats despite the movement of the ship, knowing full well what might happen. At 10.25pm the last boat left the stricken vessel, which had by now heeled over to starboard. Captain Toft and several members of his crew were carried down with the vessel, but managed to fight their way to the surface and were eventually picked up by the lifeboats. Six survivors who were clinging up to the upturned No. 1 boat, which had been lowered away prematurely without orders, were subsequently picked up by the Royal Navy destroyer.
It was not until 8.00pm on 25th April 1917 before the survivors were landed; Asst Bed Steward John Hampton was not among them, presumed drowned as a result of enemy action along with 63 other souls. He was aged 44 and left a widow and a young son.
John Hampton is commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial, designed by Edwin Lutyens, and which stands across from Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress: the Tower of London. It commemorates those from the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets who died during both world wars and have "no grave but the sea". The First World War memorial takes the form of a vaulted corridor, inside which are 12 bronze plaques engraved with 12,000 names. John is further remembered within the Merseyside Roll of Honour.
After the war John Hampton’s medals were acquired by John Chidzey, AIMTA [1925-2011], among whose many interests was the collection and study of British medals and the men behind them. Upon Chidzey’s death in 2011 the medals were sold at auction in March 2012 as part of a lot of three pairs for £150.