Your article: ‘Don’t forget the men who gave their lives at sea’

St John's Methodist Church Roll of Honour.
St John's Methodist Church Roll of Honour.

There is another Roll of Honour in Market Weighton, in St John’s Methodist Church.

It contains the names of 11 men from the congregation who gave their lives in the Great War. Of those 11, nine are also listed on the Market Weighton War Memorial but two aren’t, Arthur Galland and Tom Jennings, killed within four weeks of each other in 1916.

Arthur died on the bloodiest day in British military history, first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916. Tom died from wounds, also in France, earlier in June.

1 July 2016 is, not surprisingly one of the six dates that the government has chosen for official commemorations of the centenary:

4 August 2014 – to mark the centenary of entry of the British Empire to the War

25 April 2015 – commemorative event to mark the Gallipoli campaign

31 May/1 June 2016 – commemorative event marking the Battle of Jutland commemorating the war at sea

1 July 2016 – commemorative event marking the Battle of the Somme at Thiepval Memorial, France

31 July 2017 – commemorative event marking the start of the 3rd Battle Ypres (Passchendaele) at Tyne Cot Memorial, Belgium

11 November 2018 – commemorative activity marking Armistice Day

There are two other men out of those 11 that were killed on the same day and it is another day whose anniversary will be officially commemorated, for they were killed at the Battle of Jutland. Like on the first day of the Somme when whole battalions were devastated, each losing hundreds of men, when a large ship sank often the whole crew was lost. Whereas the missing of the Somme are commemorated on the memorial at Thiepval, those lost at Jutland are commemorated on Portsmouth Naval Memorial. John Henry Fox went down with 856 others on the cruiser, HMS Black Prince. Ernest Strangeway went down with 1.265 others on the battle cruiser HMS Queen Mary.

The Battle of Jutland was fought by the British Grand Fleet under Admiral of the Fleet John Jellicoe against the German High Seas Fleet under Admiral Reinhard Scheer. The battle was fought from 31 May to 1 June 1916 in the North Sea, near the coast of Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula. It was the largest naval battle and the only full-scale clash of the fleets in the war. The High Seas Fleet’s intention was to lure out, trap and destroy a portion of the Grand Fleet, as the German naval force was insufficient to openly engage the entire British fleet. This formed part of a larger strategy to break the British blockade of Germany and to allow German mercantile shipping to operate. Meanwhile, the Royal Navy pursued a strategy to engage and destroy the High Seas Fleet, or keep the German force contained and away from Britain’s own shipping lanes.

The Royal Navy and the Imperial German Navy had been involved in an “arms race” before the war with Winston Churchill one of the instigators of a massive warship building programme. Jutland was where it should have come to a head and that investment perhaps pay bigger dividends than it did, for despite having the smaller fleet, German gunnery was better than that of the British and they inflicted greater losses. The German plan was to use Vice-Admiral Franz Hipper’s fast scouting group of five modern battlecruisers to lure Vice-Admiral David Beatty’s battlecruiser squadrons into the path of the main German fleet. However, the British learned from signal intercepts that a major fleet operation was likely, so on 30 May Jellicoe sailed with the Grand Fleet to rendezvous with Beatty

On the afternoon of 31 May, Beatty encountered Hipper’s battlecruiser force long before the Germans had expected. In a running battle, Hipper successfully drew the British vanguard into the path of the High Seas Fleet. By the time Beatty sighted the larger force and turned back towards the British main fleet, he had lost two battlecruisers from a force of six battlecruisers and four battleships, against the five ships commanded by Hipper. The more accurate German gunnery and its effect on the British Battlecruiser Fleet caused Beatty to exclaim “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.” As Beatty withdrew, he drew the German fleet in pursuit towards Jellicoe’s main British force. On the night of 31 May the two fleets, totalling 250 ships between them, directly engaged twice.

The British Official History describes the demise of HMS Black Prince:

“...The cruiser Black Prince which, at the first meeting of the two main fleets had followed her flagship, Defence, into action and been roughly handled at the time that Defence had been blown up and Warrior disabled, had been left behind by the Grand Fleet’s turn to the southward after deployment. For some reason which will never be known, she was still at this time far astern of and out of touch with the British fleet, but when a line of battleships was dimly seen ahead, it was no doubt thought that they were the British squadrons. Course was altered to close them. At a bare half-mile range, the German recognition signal flashed out. The horrified Captain Bonham, swung his ship away in a desperate effort to escape, but it was too late. In the battleship Thuringen the same deadly efficient night action procedure that had been displayed at the head of the line went into play. Brilliantly lit by half-a-dozen searchlights, the Black Prince was raked from stern to stem by a tornado of shells and lay a helpless wreck before she could even fire a shot in reply. As she drifted down the German line, ship after ship opened up on her, Thuringen, Ostfriesland, Nassau and, finally, as the fleet flagship Friedrich der Grosse, added her quota, the Black Prince met the same end as the Defence, blowing up with a tremendous explosion, vanishing with all hands...”

The British Official History describes the demise of HMS Queen Mary:

“... At 4.10, Hipper was then 11 miles away abaft the beam of the Lion, he inclined inwards a couple of points, and as Admiral Beatty simultaneously altered still more to port to press his van, he was able at 4.17 to re-open fire at extreme range. The Lion had not yet been able entirely to master the fire that was smothering her. To the Germans she must have been invisible, for the Derfflinger, mistaking the Princess Royal for the flagship, began firing on the next astern, which the Seydlitz was also engaging. Thus the Queen Mary, at from 15,800 to 14,500 yards, became the target of both these ships. For about five minutes she stood it gallantly. She was fighting splendidly. The Germans said that full salvoes were coming from her with fabulous rapidity. Twice already she had been straddled by the Derfflinger, when at 4.26 a plunging salvo crashed upon her deck forward. In a moment there was a dazzling flash of red flame where the salvo fell, and then a much heavier explosion rent her amidships. Her bows plunged down, and as the Tiger and New Zealand raced by her to port and starboard, her propellers were still slowly revolving high in the air. In another moment, as her two consorts were smothered in a shower of black debris, there was nothing of her left but a dark pillar of smoke rising stem-like till it spread hundreds of feet high in the likeness of a vast palm tree...”

In total, 14 British and 11 German ships were sunk, with great loss of life. After sunset, and throughout the night, Jellicoe manoeuvred to cut the Germans off from their base, hoping to continue the battle the next morning, but under the cover of darkness Scheer managed to escape.

Both sides claimed victory. The British lost more ships and twice as many sailors, and the British press criticised the Grand Fleet’s failure to force a decisive outcome but in reality the German High Seas Fleet had also failed in what it had set out to do and it hardly left port for the rest of the war. The German Navy turned its efforts and resources to unrestricted submarine warfare. It was the destruction of Allied and neutral shipping which by April 1917 had help trigger the USA’s declaration of war on Germany.

Although most of the men on the Market Weighton War Memorial were killed on land and popular memory and culture always associates the First World War with trench warfare, we do well to remember that others also gave their lives at sea, like Arthur and Tom, the Bell brothers lost when their troopship was sunk and the oldest man on the memorial, Robert Henry Davison, who was lost when HMS Clan McNaughton sank.

Several readers have spoken and written to me with extra information on the men I have featured. If you would like to get in touch with me I can be contacted through Chris Clubley and Co or directly at The Mortgage Advice Centre and Yorkshire Building Society agency on 01430 871112.

With thanks to the Imperial War Museum, Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Great War Forum.