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News from Jutland

News of the great battles of the Great War took time to reach home. With no instantaneous method of communicating information to the public, information filtered through newspapers, telegrams, letters and rumours. This was true of the lengthy land battles, but also of the shorter naval battle at Jutland on 31 May-1 June 1916. News came through over the next week and it was confusing. There were great losses, but what should be made of the result?

Damage to the HMS Queen Elizabeth, being worked on in dry dock after the battle of Jutland © IWM (Q 23212)

Damage to the HMS Queen Elizabeth, being worked on in dry dock after the battle of Jutland © IWM (Q 23212)

Londoner Georgina Lee was out of town at the time, but her diary gives a good indication of how the news filtered back:

Saturday June 3: There has been a great naval battle in the North Sea, and it was very serious in our losses. With a naval force which included 28 battleships and 5 battle cruisers we attached a powerful German fleet of 34, off the coast of Jutland, with the result that we have lost 3 battleships Queen Mary, Indefatigable and Invincible and several other warships. Over 2,000 men on the Invincible died: there were only 6 survivors.

Sunday June 4: The naval battle was a far bigger affair than anything we dreamt of. In their endeavour to get through our blockade the German High Fleet were frustrated, for they fled back to their ports when they found Sir John Jellicoe with the main fleet coming to the rescue of Admiral Beatty’s cruiser-fleet. By their hasty retreat, when confronted with our Dreadnoughts, they robbed us of the opportunity of another Trafalgar.

Monday June 5: The Battle of Jutland is now being viewed in the light of a British victory, as news comes into the Admiralty of fresh German losses. It is now stated that the Germans lost 18 ships to our 14. This, taken with the fact that the Germans fled back to their harbours and that Jellicoe remained in possession of the high seas, goes to show that our Fleet got the best of the encounter.

Well-connected business-man F.S. Oliver recorded a similar evolution of news from the battle in his letters to his brother. On Saturday 3 June, he commented “We heard abut the Naval Battle last night, but so far I don’t feel that I understand exactly what it amounts to. One thing, however, is quite clear – it will shake up the British people more than anything which has so far occurred in the war. That is a good thing, whatever evil may be done in other directions.” By the 8th, he was criticising the “lily-livered Liberal papers” for scaremongering in their (accurate) reporting that the Royal Navy had suffered greater losses than the German Imperial Navy. Like Mrs Lee, he also alluded the Trafalgar, in this case to demonstrate that the victors in great naval battles did not immediately scuttle off to their ports pursued by the enemy. Thanks to reports of a German victory, he implies, “Saturday was not a very pleasant day in London, neither was Sunday (no place is more unpleasant I think at times of crises and excitement than a nerve centre)… On Monday morning, however, the situation was set out in quite a rosy light.”

Contrary to what Lee and Oliver had heard in the days after the battle, the Germans had in fact lost fewer ships and men during the battle. It is fair to say, though, that it was a success from the British perspective because, as the London County Council’s record of war service puts it “Their [the Germans’] fleet did not continue the contest, but in the darkness of the early morning of 1st June returned to port. Our blockade was maintained, and never again did they venture to dispute our naval supremacy.

 

One group of people in London who must have longed for news over those days were the families of the sailors involved in the battle. As Mrs Lee’s diary shows, the loss of ships was known quite early on. Families and friends of sailors would have known what ship they were serving on. According to the ‘British Royal Navy & Royal Marines, Battle of Jutland 1916 servicemen transcription‘ some 38,890 men served at Jutland, of whom 4,856 were born in London (presumably not including the areas of Essex, Surrey and Kent that are now in London) and another 360 from Middlesex.

So great were the casualties on 31 May 1916, that the record-keepers made a stamp to mark service records with men's date of death. In this case Benjamin V. Brown from Wapping.

So great were the casualties on 31 May 1916, that the record-keepers made a stamp to mark service records with men’s date of death. In this case Benjamin V. Brown from Wapping.

The WW1 Naval casualty records shows that 5,705 died on 31 May and 1 June 1916, including over 650 from London and Middlesex – a casualty rate of around 12.5%. Among them were William R.C. Wiseman from Peckham, and George Dorling from Shepherd’s Bush, who had worked for the London Fire Brigade before the war.

Acting Leading Stoker William Richard Charles Wiseman of HMS Invincible.

Acting Leading Stoker William Richard Charles Wiseman of HMS Invincible.

George Dorling from Shepherd's Bush, who died on HMS Queen Mary

George Dorling from Shepherd’s Bush, who died on HMS Queen Mary (image posted on IWM Lives of the First World War by Maggie Coleman)

 
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Posted by on 2 June 2016 in Events, Ordinary Londoners, War Dead

 

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The Squire brothers: on the Somme and at Jutland

In June and July 1916 the British army and navy took part in their largest battles so far in the Great War. London brothers Alfred and Sydney Squires played their parts in the two battles respectively, but their experiences were dramatically different.

Alfred Webb Squires worked as clerk for Nestlé’s and Anlgo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company in Eastcheap in the City in 1914. Sydney Charles Squires had also been a clerk before joining the Royal Navy in November 1910. They were the only surviving sons (by 1911) of Alfred Squires, a dock clerk with the Port of London Authority, and his wife Ann, nee Webb. Alfred junior lived with his parents in Arthurdon Road, near Ladywell cemetery in South London.

By the summer of 1914, Sydney was a sick bay attendant at Haslar Royal Navy Hospital in Gosport. Within days of the outbreak of war, on 8 August 1914, Alfred joined the 9th Battalion of the London Regiment – Queen Victoria’s Rifles. He went out to France with them in November 1914.

In the summer of 1916, Alfred was a stretcher bearer with his battalion, which went into battle at Gommecourt on 1 July 1916 as part of the 56th (London) Division, described by Martin Middlebrook as probably the best Territorial division in France at that time. The attack on Gommecourt was a diversionary attack alongside the main offensive at Albert. The events were vividly described by journalist Philip Gibbs in his post-war book Now it Can be Told:

“The Londoners of the 56th Division had no luck at all. Theirs was the worst luck because, by a desperate courage in assault, they did break through the German lines at Gommecourt. Their left was held by the London Rifle Brigade. The Rangers and the Queen Victoria Rifles — the old “Vics” — formed their center. Their right was made up by the London Scottish, and behind came the Queen’s Westminsters and the Kensingtons, who were to advance through their comrades to a farther objective. Across a wide No Man’s Land they suffered from the bursting of heavy crumps [of shell fire], and many fell. But they escaped annihilation by machine-gun fire and stormed through the upheaved earth into Gommecourt Park, killing many Germans and sending back batches of prisoners. They had done what they had been asked to do, and started building up barricades of earth and sand-bags, and then found they were in a death-trap. There were no [British] troops on their right or left. They had thrust out into a salient, which presently the enemy saw. The German gunners, with deadly skilled, boxed it round with shell-fire, so that the Londoners were enclosed by explosive walls, and then very slowly and carefully drew a line of bursting shells up and down, up and down that captured ground, ravaging its earth anew and smashing the life that crouched there — London life.”

This map (apologies for the image quality) from Martin Middlebrook’s book The First Day on the Somme shows the salient the Londoners pushed on into as they advanced south of Gommecourt. The “Vics” are the second from the left of the four foremost battalions in the diagram.

 

The attack on Gommecourt. From Martin Middlebrook 'The First Day on the Somme'

The attack on Gommecourt. From Martin Middlebrook ‘The First Day on the Somme’

 

London life certainly was smashed that day. The Queen’s Westminster Rifles suffered over 500 casualties, with all 28 officers and 475 of their rank and file killed, wounded or missing by the end of the day. Queen Victoria’s Rifles suffered heavily too, with nine officers and 212 other ranks listed as killed on that day by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission database.

Among the other casualties in the “Vics” was Rifleman Squires, with gunshot wounds (meaning either bullets or other projectiles, such as shrapnel or shell fragments) to his right shoulder and his back, broken ribs and a punctured lung. He passed through 2/1st London Field Ambulance and 43 Casualty Clearing Station (at Warlencourt) before going on to No 2 Canadian General Hospital at Le Treport. He was sent back to the UK a few days later. In October, he was awarded the Military Medal. As we have seen before, this was a new medal established during the war and only awarded for bravery in the field.  No further details of A.W. Squires’s award are available online, but it seems safe to assume that he earned it for his bravery on 1 July 1916.

By November Alfred Squires was fit enough to rejoin his unit, but only in the UK – he worked as a grenade instructor, but never went back out to the Front. In 1918 he got married, and was demobilised after the war in 1919.

Sydney’s battle experience in June 1916 was considerably less dramatic. Although he was now based on board a ship, the HMS King George V, that took part in the Battle of Jutland, its participation was minimal. The Wikipedia page summarises it briefly: “King George V was lightly engaged during the battle, firing nine 13.5-in rounds at the German battlecruiser SMS Derfflinger, which missed. King George V was undamaged in the battle.” Sick-bay attendant S.C. Squires was probably not as busy as his comrades on other ships that day when over 6,000 British sailors were killed and over 600 wounded. He served on a number of other ships and stations over the next six years before leaving the navy in 1922, after twelve years’ service.

Experiences of the Great War could vary enormously. Both Squires brothers played their part in the major battles of 1916 – indeed both worked to help the sick and wounded – but their experiences were wildly different. Thankfully both survived the war.

Sources

Map from Martin Middlebrook ‘The First Day of the Battle of the Somme’

Findmypast: SC Squires service record

Ancestry: AW Squires service record

The Long, Long Trail – as ever an indispensable source of information.

Battle of the Somme website’s transcription of Philip Gibbs ‘Now It Can Be Told’

 
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Posted by on 1 July 2014 in Award-winners, Ordinary Londoners

 

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A Naval wedding in Hackney

On Monday 14 May 1917, a group of naval ratings drew a motor car through the streets of Hackney. Inside was Petty-Officer Philip Henry Baker and his bride Ethel.

Philip and Ethel Baker's wedding in the Daily Mirror (15/5/1917)

Philip and Ethel Baker’s wedding in the Daily Mirror (15/5/1917)

Philip Baker was born in Bromley-by-bow in 1892, the son of Alice and ‘blind-house fitter’ Henry.  Ethel Kain was 5 years his junior, daughter of undertaker Thomas Kain.

As Petty-Officer Baker, Philip was serving as a stoker on HMS Broke, and was involved in the Battle of Dover Strait the month before his wedding. Along with another ship, the Broke attacked German torpedo boats that had shelled Calais and Dover. Both British ships rammed German vessels. The commanders and many of the men on the two British ships were awarded medals for their actions (although Baker was not among them).

On 14th May, Philip Baker was back on dry land to marry Ethel at St John-at-Hackney church.

Philip and Ethel's Banns of marriage

Philip and Ethel’s Banns of marriage

 
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Posted by on 28 February 2013 in Ordinary Londoners

 

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The Royal Naval Division memorial

In the corner of Horse Guards Parade, partly hidden behind the Admiralty Citadel is a memorial to an unusual Great War fighting force: the Royal Naval Division. These naval men served as infantry at Gallipoli and on the Western Front.

The Royal Naval Division memorial

The Royal Naval Division (RND) was an odd hybrid unit, seamen serving as and alongside footsoldiers. It was both a category of naval personnel and a fighting unit of the British Army, although the two were not for long the same thing. The history and the make-up of the Division told well elsewhere, but a brief summary is that Winston Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, formed the Division from surplus naval troops (mainly reservists) as the Germans rapidly invaded Belgium in 1914. The Division first saw action in the (unsuccessful) defence of Antwerp in October – many of the RND escaped over the border to the neutral Netherlands and were interned there.

Recruiting poster for the RND

Reconstituted, and following further training, the Division was sent to Egypt in 1915 and landed on the Gallipoli peninsula on 25 April in the first landing of British troops there. They served throughout the campaign there before being sent back to the Western Front in 1916, where the Division served out the rest of the war, fighting in most of the major battles.

The RND at Gallipoli – full page photo in page 1 of the Daily Mirror (15/7/15)

During this time, though, the battalions that made up the Division were – as in other Divisions of the British Expeditionary Force – moved around and the RND as a fighting unit became less naval in its make-up (the memorial remembers those from the army units that served in the RND as well as the naval personnel). Its original battalions bore names evocative of British naval history: Nelson, Hawke, Drake, Collingwood, Benbow, Hood, Howe and Anson.

In 1925, a decade after the landing at Gallipoli, Winston Churchill unveiled a memorial to the officers and men of the Division who died during the war, alongside him was Sir Ian Hamilton – the commander of the Gallipoli campaign.

Churchill and Hamilton at the unveiling ceremony (Daily Mirror 27/5/25)

The memorial was constructed at the corner of Horse Guards Parade, at the back of the Admiralty building. Its inscription lists the places that the RND served and bears the words of a sonnet by Rupert Brooke – the Division’s most famous casualty.

BLOW OUT YOU BUGLES, OVER THE RICH DEAD / THERE’S NONE OF THESE SO LONELY AND POOR OF OLD / BUT, DYING HAS MADE US RARER GIFTS THAN GOLD / THESE LAID THE WORLD AWAY: POURED OUT THE RED / SWEET WINE OF YOUTH; GAVE UP THE YEARS TO BE. / OF WORK AND JOY, AND THAT UNHOPED SERENE / THAT MEN CALL AGE: AND THOSE WHO WOULD HAVE BEEN / THEIR SONS, THEY GAVE THEIR IMMORTALITY

The view of the memorial in 1925, looking towards the Mall (Daily Mirror 27/4/25)

The same view today, blocked by the citadel.

The memorial under construction (Times 6/4/25)

Two South Londoners served as naval soldiers with the RND and had very different war stories:

Able Seaman H. Hardcastle, from Vauxhall, was a serving naval rating in 1914, but was drafted into the RND for the fighting on the Western Front.  He later rejoined his ship and saw action at the Battle of Heligoland Bight, where (according the National Roll of the Great War) the ship was sunk and Hardcastle was taken prisoner.  After a second attempt to escape, he was recaptured and moved to a punishment camp. Eventually he was sent to Holland and repatriated in England in November 1918.

Unlike Hardcastle, virtually all of Able Seaman Alexander Frederick Smith‘s war service was in the RND.  He was a surveyor from Catford and enlisted in the Public Schools Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment.  After Antwerp, most of the original Hawke Battalion, RND, had been killed, captured or interned, and the battalion was reformed incorporating men from the Public Schools Battalion in its D Company. Hardcastle served in Gallipoli throughout the fighting there and then as an anti-aircraft gunner on the Island of Imbros. After a few months in the UK from July 1916, he was sent out to France and Flanders in December and was killed in action on 18 February 1917, at Miraumont during the battle of the Ancre. He is commemorated on the Theipval memorial to the missing in France, and on the war memorial in St George’s Church, Catford.

The Royal Naval Division memorial has had an odd history since 1925.  It was removed from Horse Guards Parade in 1939, when the Admiralty Citadel was built between Horse Guards Parade and the Mall, and only re-erected in Greenwich in 1951. Forty years later it was moved back to Westminster and restored to its original location – albeit dwarfed by the citadel.

Sources:

UK National Inventory of War Memorials

Page on the RND on a site about Jack Clegg, one of its number

And (as ever) the Long Long Trail webpage on the RND

 
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Posted by on 29 November 2012 in Ordinary Londoners, War Dead, War memorials

 

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