Their war lasted just seven weeks – their grave, the dark, cold North Sea.
The scene was of utter devastation and heartbreak with hundreds of bodies left floating on the water and in the depths as three British navy ships were sunk in just an hour-and-a-half by a German U-boat.
The tragic loss at the start of the First World War was a huge blow, not just to the grieving families of the sailors – including hundreds from Kent – but also to the reputation and morale of the Admiralty.
In total, 1,459 men and teenage boys perished off the Dutch coast on September 22, 1914, and very few bodies were ever retrieved – the sea their final resting place.
That's almost as many as who died in the Titanic disaster just two years earlier, whose story continues to engage and fascinate audiences.
But after the initial shock, other tragedies of the brutal four-year conflict occupied the headlines and the story of the sinkings of HMS Cressy, Aboukir and Hogue faded from memory, save by naval historians and family descendants.
That was until Dutchman Henk van der Linden first began investigating the incident after discovering the graves of sailors whose bodies had been washed up on the beaches of Holland.
He produced an English language version of a book, called The Live Bait Squadron, in 2012 – so called because the ships were deemed "sitting ducks" – which was the first authored account of what happened.
And just two years later, a service of commemoration was held at Chatham Dockyard to mark the 100th anniversary of the tragedy with the unveiling of a plaque to those who died, which was attended by some of their descendants.
"Henk really is to be credited for getting the story out there," says retired Royal Navy officer Stuart Heaver, from Whitstable, who was already working on his own book which revisits the tragedy in his newly-published account, The Coal Black Sea.
Published by History Press, it gets its title from the grim scene as the torpedoed ships disgorged hundreds of tons of coal into the sea.
Heaver's research delves deeper into the alleged political shenanigans at the Admiralty to shift blame onto the mariners and the personal stories of those who perished – as well as that of the U-boat crew who were deemed heroes in their homeland.
He reveals how the loss of the three ships was a shocking blow to the county, leaving behind heartbroken parents and widows struggling to feed their children with no support from the state.
It also examines how the ignominious loss provoked widespread criticism of the then highly-ambitious First Lord of the Admiralty, 39-year-old Winston Churchill.
"While the families of the victims grieved, Churchill succeeded in playing down the significance of the disaster and shifted the blame to those serving at sea to save his faltering career," says Heaver.
He believes the Admiralty was embarrassed by such an early devastating assault on British forces which gave huge kudos to the German navy.
"Reading transcripts of the inquiry into the sinkings, it's clear that the aim was to shift blame onto the mariners, many of whom were merchant seamen who joined the Naval Reserve at the start of the war," he said.
"The language is subtle but the inference is there that they simply weren't up to it.
"It certainly wasn't Churchill's finest hour."
Heaver's interest in the story was sparked eight years ago when he visited a small village in Suffolk where he has family roots and his grandmother used to live.
"I was looking at a war memorial outside the pub in Westleton to 14 men and saw the name William Potter who I was aware was my great uncle who died in the war, " he says.
"But I did not know any details until I read the inscription that he was lost in the sinking of HMS Cressy.
"Then a few names down, I saw another name, David Spindler, a stoker who also died on the ship on the same day.
"As I was walking around the nearby churchyard, the curate approached me and asked if I was looking for anyone in particular. I explained my connection to the Potter family and he then produced a grave record about my great uncle Will and Spindler which really fired up my interest.
"I couldn't understand why, despite my own naval background, I had heard so little about this great tragedy."
It led Stuart on an exhaustive trail through national archives, the Imperial War Museum and dozens of other sources including newspaper archives and documents to reveal what he believes is the real story behind the maritime disaster – instead of the one which "dishonours" the men who lost their lives.
"Because so many mariners had been enlisted from the same towns and villages, it meant that brothers and mates were among the casualties with multiple telegrams recording them as 'missing, feared dead' delivered to the same and neighbouring addresses on the same day," he says.
The heartbreak for so many grieving families so soon into the start of the war was felt in towns and villages across Kent, says Heaver.
"The more I researched this, the more it was clear there had been a huge injustice to the reputations of those brave men," he said.
"I hope my book exposes this false narrative and corrects over a century of misinformation and fake news to honour those who lost their lives in the worst naval catastrophe of the First World War."
The many Kent mariners who lost their lives
There were many grief-stricken families in Whitstable where, by September 1914, more than three dozen men from the town were serving in the Royal Naval Reserve.
Eight working in the oyster fishing industry all joined HMS Cressy on the same day. But just six weeks later, only two returned.
Four who lost their lives lived just a few yards away from each other in Middle Wall and Waterloo Road.
The wife and three children of one of them, George Keam, were picking hops when they heard the news. She is said to have collapsed in shock.
A family photo was later taken with an image of the dead hero, George, superimposed in the background.
The others eventually confirmed dead were Henry Phillips, of Waterloo Road, Frederick Down, of Middle Wall, James “Fred’ Wootton, also of Middle Wall, Jack Baker, of Fountain Street and Charles Jordan, of Albert Street.
The tragedy also claimed the lives of many men from Thanet.
Fred Terry, a greengrocer's errand boy from Mill Lane, Birchington, was serving on HMS Aboukir and was just 17 when he died.
In Broadstairs, two telegrams containing grim news were delivered to the families of two men in the same street who died on HMS Cressy. James Horn, 35, lived with his wife at Rose Cottage in Reading Street and Thomas Miller, 24, lived with his parents nearby.
Also lost was Charles Setterfield, 24, of Livingstone Road, St Peters, who was on HMS Aboukir, and blacksmith Robert Brenchley, of St Peter’s Park Road, who was 46 and married when he was lost on HMS Cressy.
Many families in Margate were left grieving after the deaths of Reuben Boulden, Arthur Brenchley, James Shrubshall, James Huckstep, Albert Bowden and George Emptage.
From nearby Westgate, William Pointer was also to perish. He had joined the Navy when he was 16 and served 12 years, qualifying as a diver. Tragically, his younger brother, Frederick, was also to give his life in the service of his country the following year.
With Chatham being the home port, the Medway Towns were badly affected. Among many casualties was William Clarke, a married man from Old Brompton, aged 31, and Joseph French, 34, from Rainham.
Tragically, brothers James and Thomas Hussey perished. They were both married with seven children and lived next door to each other in Cross Street.
One of the five bodies landed by Titan at The Hook in the Netherlands was that of Horace Farmer from Chatham, who served on Cressy.
Also lost on Cressy and never found was James Turner from the town – his parents pleading in local newspapers for news about their son. Another casualty was Ernest Carter, 25, who lived in Station Road.
But a rare survivor of the Cressy sinking was William Stevens from Gravesend who later described how he saw the captain, Robert Johnson, go down with the ship.
Three seafaring brothers from Customs House Road in Deal joined HMS Cressy at the outbreak of war but two never returned to their already widowed mother.
Louis and Albert Penn were able seaman but only their younger brother Hubert survived.
A ditty box – a container used by sailors to store odds and ends – belonging to Louis and containing a few personal effects was washed up on a Dutch beach and returned to his mother.
Among the few survivors was able seaman Dolbear from Dover who was in the sick bay of Cressy at the time of the attack.
He later gave a harrowing personal account of his escape and how he clung desperately to a mess table in the freezing water until being rescued and pulled into the SS Flora by another Dover man, Charles Davis.
A list of the missing from Dover, all serving on Cressy, was published which included William Terry, Willie Chittenden, John Back, George Henry and George Bull.
Only Bull, who had worked at the local coastguard station, eventually made it home safely.
Other casualties were Harry Crascall, aged 36, who had been working as a barber in Dover, Allen Loram, 32, and William Terry, along with Frank Crittenden, 35, from Eythorne.
Thomas Beerling, 21, from Staple near Wingham, was also killed, as was, painfully for his family, his brother Alfred two years later while serving in the Army.
Henry Wickenden, 36, from Linden Crescent, Folkestone, perished and left a widow, but she re-married just three months later.
In Gravesend and Northfleet, William Lovatt and George Povey lost their lives.
As the appalling death toll was confirmed, memorial services were held at parish churches around the county.
In the small farming village of Hernhill near Faversham, a service was held at St Michael’s Church for Charles Arnold, 26, who served on Cressy, and petty officer Harvey, who died on Aboukir. Both are commemorated on the war memorial in the corner of the churchyard opposite the Red Lion pub.
Lieutenant Commander Walter Grubb, from Hollingbourne, near Maidstone, was the gunnery officer on HMS Cressy. He was also the brother of the then-vicar of Shepherdswell and had been married only a year when he was lost.
Among the other casualties from the town and surrounding area were John Jones, 48, from East Malling, Arthur Martin, 25, from Bower Street, Maidstone, Arthur Styance from Loose, George Watson, from Peel Street, Maidstone, and Thomas Clifton, 23, who also lived in the town. All were serving on HMS Cressy.