Evan William Harris Vaughan was born in Wellington, Shropshire, United Kingdom on 4th June 1887, the only son amongst three sisters, to Catherine Annie Vaughan [née Mansell] and Evan Hancock Vaughan, a farmer and veterinary.
After his education at Wellington College at the very beginning of the 20th Century he became, in his own words, a ‘Motor Driver’. In 1913 he married May Lillian Harris and they spent a period of their married life together living in Buckinghamshire and also in Hammersmith, London.
On 23rd January 1917 Evan enlisted in the Royal Navy and carried out his initial training at the shore establishment in Chatham; ‘HMS Pembroke’, until 17th March when he joined the crew of ‘HMS Vanguard’.
‘HMS Vanguard’ was a St Vincent class battleship built in Barrow-in-Furness from where it was launched on 22nd February 1909, the eighth ship to bear the name. The vessel took part in the Battle of Jutland in May 1916 but did not suffer any battle damage nor sustain any casualties, after which it did not see any significant action.
On Monday 9th July 1917 whilst anchored in Scapa Flow the entire ship was totally destroyed by an internal explosion with neighbouring ships being deluged by wreckage and human remains. Out of a total complement of 845 men aboard ship only 3 survived the explosion, with one later dying of his injuries. The casualties amongst the officers would have been far higher had some not been aboard another ship at the time attending a concert.
Amongst the dead, presumed drowned following the explosion on board, was Ordinary Seaman Evan William Harris Vaughan, Royal Navy. He was 30 years old and left a young widow. The Admiralty Board of Enquiry later attributed the internal explosion to faulty cordite in one of the ammunition storage areas. The destruction and subsequent loss of life on ‘HMS Vanguard’ remains to this day the most catastrophic accidental explosion in the country’s history, and one of the worst accidental losses to befall the Royal Navy.
What remains of ‘HMS Vanguard’ lies in 46½ feet of water, well south of the Barrel of Butter, to the west of Calf of Flotta and to the north of the island of Flotta. Today the wreck of HMS Vanguard, being a designated war grave, is afforded statutory protection under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986.
Ordinary Seaman Evan Vaughan is commemorated both on the Chatham Naval Memorial in Kent and on the Naval Memorial within Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery on the island of Hoy in the Orkney Isles. He is further remembered on his grandfather’s gravestone in Wellington Cemetery, Shropshire; on the town’s own memorial and the Shropshire Roll of Honour.
On 12th September 1975 the Royal Navy Command Clearance Diving Team were granted special permission to dive the wreck and confirmed that the original explosion destroyed most of the explosive ordnance aboard ship blowing it apart in the process.
The current and eleventh vessel within the Royal Navy to bear the name ‘HMS Vanguard’ is the lead boat of her class of Trident ballistic missile submarines based at Faslane in Scotland. It is hoped that she will not be called upon to fire in anger.