In May 1915, Princess Irene was moored in Saltpan Reach, on the Medway Estuary in Kent between Port Victoria and Sheerness, being loaded with mines in preparation for deployment on a mine laying mission. At 11:14 GMT on 27 May, Princess Irene exploded and disintegrated. A column of flame 300 feet (100 m) high was followed a few seconds later by another of similar height and a pall of smoke hung over the spot where Princess Irene had been, reaching to 1,200 feet (400 m). Two barges lying alongside were also destroyed. A total of 352 people were killed, including 273 officers and men, and 76 dockyard workers who were on board. On the Isle of Grain a girl of nine was killed by flying debris, and a farmhand died of shock. A collier half a mile (800 m) away had its crane blown off its mountings.
The victims, whose bodies were recovered, were buried at Woodlands Road Cemetery, Gillingham. A memorial service led by Randall Davidson, the Archbishop of Canterbury for the victims was held at the Dockyard Church, Sheerness on 1 June 1915.
A Court of Inquiry was held into the loss of Princess Irene. Evidence was given that priming of the mines was being carried out hurriedly by untrained personnel. A faulty primer was blamed for the explosion. A worker at Chatham Dockyard was named as a suspect, but a thorough investigation by Special Branch cleared him of any blame.
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