Harold joined Ilford County High School in October 1905 (shortly before his twelfth birthday). He was the son of Samuel George and Harriet Wadham. He lived at 48 Castleton Road, Goodmayes and his father was a collector of rents for the Great Eastern Railway. Previously, Harold had attended Cleveland Road School.
When the war started, Harold was working as a clerk in the Accountant General’s Office at the Admiralty.
Able Seaman Harold Wadham (London/Z/5964) drowned in the loss of his ship, the SS ‘Miguel de Larrinaga’ on 5th February 1918. He is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial.
A two-page tribute to Harold’s ‘chivalrous heroism and noble self-sacrifice’ was included in the Summer 1920 edition of the school magazine, Chronicles. After describing his sense of humour, popularity on the cricket and football field and high position in the Civil Service Examinations, it describes how he died.
‘This is the story. The British S.S “Dom Miguel de Larrinaga” was homeward bound with grain from Newport News (Vancouver) to a French port. At such a time (February 1918) the safe transport of grain was of vital importance to the Allies. Harold Wadham, R. N. V. R., was a gunner on board this vessel. She was overtaken by terrible weather, and the cargo shifted. Repairs were attempted, then the rudder-pole broke and she became completely helpless before a hurricane. The captain ordered the crew to the lifeboat, but it could not take all. The captain then asked for nine volunteers to surrender their places and remain with him on the half-submerged vessel to enable the rest of the crew to reach safety. Immediately, Harold Wadham stood beside his captain with two officers and six men. The 27 men in the boats were rescued by a warship, and although the ten heroes on the doomed vessel sent up rockets for 40 hours- the last at 3. a.m., February 5th- when the warship arrived on the spot at dawn, only wreckage and spars were found.’
Lord Knutsford, chairman of the management of London Hospital, to whom Harold left a legacy in his will, summed up the heroism of his last hours;
‘We can imagine those last 40 hours- the calm courage, the deep satisfaction, the carelessness as to whether the world ever knew of what they had done- and amidst this the rockets going up. Those rockets, in all likelihood sent up by Gunner Wadham, are the beacon lights to the School for as long as it stands. They speak from the tempests of mid-Atlantic of all that is greatest in human life.’
Research by Andrew Emeny, History Teacher at ICHS
ICHS school records and magazines
Ilford County High School started life as the Park Higher Grade School in 1901 in Balfour Road, Ilford. It was renamed Ilford County High School (or initially County High School, Ilford) in the years after the school’s management was transferred from Ilford School Board to Essex Education Committee in 1904.