Battle of Jutland – an eye witness account


Researching this blog has once again proved that history can be very much like a good detective story. There are a number of accounts, a number of perspectives, a number of views. And today, on the Centenary of the Battle we are still debating and talking.

We have taken an eyewitness account reported in one of our local newspapers of the time – ‘The Naval Battle’ Eltham & District Times, 16th June 1916, p.3. Our eyewitness gives his account from a narrow perspective aboard one of the 151 ships forming the Royal Navy’s order of battle.

The Battle of Jutland, 31 May – 1 June 1916, was the largest naval engagement of World War One and the only time the British and German Dreadnought battle fleets engaged one another. This account suggests very strongly that our man was part of Beatty’s Battlecruiser Fleet because it was they – rather than Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet – who first sighted the enemy. Visual contact was actually made at 14:10 GMT, with hostilities breaking out eighteen minutes later – but only on the eastern flank; the rest of the fleet was initially too far west and the battlecruisers themselves did not engage until 15:48.

That he was not aboard a battlecruiser – or one of Evan-Thomas’ supporting battleships – is clear from his stressing the mismatch between the 11” guns of the engaged enemy battlecruiser and his own squadron’s “very small guns”; destroyers, smallest of all surface fleet warships, carried guns no bigger than 4”, yet his description of his grouping as a squadron would apparently rule out destroyers since they were ordered into divisions within flotillas.

Nor does it seem likely he was on board the sea-plane carrier, HMS Engadine, which, as a novel naval weapon, would surely have merited some comment. He might perhaps have related how the launch of a sea-plane at 1445, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Frederick Rutland (‘of Jutland’) RNAS, was the first ever air reconnaissance mission undertaken during a naval battle.

So we are left with the light cruisers, ordered into three squadrons of four and armed typically with 6” guns. Does evidence relating to their battle movements, losses and material damage in any way fit the description of action in our correspondent’s letter?

Firstly, we may reasonably discount the 1st Light Cruiser Squadron. In a battle marked by poor visibility and its effect on ships’ ability to identify long-range targets, it seems unlikely that they would have had a good view of the sinking of HMS Invincible in particular, being, as they were, eleven miles away and screened by the ships and smoke of the busily engaged Grand Fleet. Their position in relation to enemy vessels is also unconvincing.
Secondly, we may reasonably discount the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron. HMS Southampton did sink SMS Frauenlob but the enemy was a light cruiser and the action brief, as Scheer’s High Seas Fleet slipped away under cover of darkness through the Grand Fleet’s rear-guard. Additionally, HMS Southampton and HMS Dublin sustained heavy damage and losses in this engagement.

The 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron, however, offers more hope. True, it was a long way from HMS Indefatigable when she exploded at around 1600, but did have a clear sight line at least to the plume of smoke, if not the ship itself; and two vessels – HMS Yarmouth and squadron leader, HMS Falmouth – were within two miles of HMS Invinclble when she sank at 1833. At the time the two were contributing to a heavy bombardment of the advancing enemy, firing torpedoes and seeing, no more than four miles away, the immobilised light cruiser SMS Wiesbaden; two disabled battlecruisers (SMS Derfflinger and SMS Luetzow); and, according to some reports, a burning Koenig-class battleship. Between 2010 and 2032, all four ships of the squadron engaged the five light cruisers of the 4th Scouting Group at a distance of four to five miles. Study of the loss assessment, moreover, shows the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron to have suffered no losses and received no significant damage.

So my tentative conclusion, from the evidence considered, is that our eyewitness was part of the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron, aboard either HMS Yarmouth or HMS Falmouth.

Blog written by James Squires

Battle of Jutland

image.jpgTo mark the Centenary of the Battle of Jutland, volunteer James has been looking through local newspapers and sources to better understand the Battle and impact on the local community.

Battle of Jutland: Which side won?

The German High Seas Fleet recognised the Royal Navy’s superiority over them, in terms of their respective size and the larger calibre and effective range of the British guns. Keen, therefore, to avoid a full-scale clash, the Germans instead chose attrition, trying to reduce the disparity by isolating and overwhelming small portions of the Royal Navy until such time as it might stand a fighting chance in a large engagement.

When Admiral Beatty’s Battlecruiser Fleet pursued that of Admiral Hipper on the afternoon of 31st May 1916 in ‘the run to the south’, the Germans had a golden opportunity to eliminate a powerful force; for, unbeknownst to Beatty, he was steaming straight towards the entire High Seas Fleet, his intelligence from the Admiralty suggesting it was still in harbour. Quickly realising the trap into which he had fallen, Beatty ordered an about turn, before leading the Germans on ‘the run to the north’, hoping to draw them towards Admiral Jellicoe’s advancing Grand Fleet and into a full-size engagement against impossible odds.

It was soon the High Seas Fleet caught in a trap, and it was only the tactical nous of their Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Scheer, which twice rescued them from desperate situations. His crowning moment, however, was slipping through the British rear-guard under cover of darkness to nurse his battered fleet back to harbour.

If victory at sea goes to the fleet sinking the larger tonnage, destroying more enemy ships, or inflicting the heavier losses, then the laurels of victory at Jutland must go to Germany: the High Seas Fleet lost only 62,300 tons to the Royal Navy’s 113,300 tons; eleven ships to fourteen; and 3,058 hands killed, wounded or captured to the Royal Navy’s 6,945. Both sides were disappointed that, having lured the enemy into traps, neither was able to finish him off. This was especially so for the Royal Navy which, with its strong heritage, was hoping to add Jutland to the already celebrated ‘Glorious First of June’ with a victory as decisive as that of Nelson at Trafalgar.

Yet the strategic position in the North Sea on 1st June 1916 remained unchanged; the British retained control and the High Seas Fleet was reduced to ‘a fleet in being’, pinned into Wilhelmshaven and unable to break the blockade that was slowly strangling Germany’s ability to wage war. As one American newspaper journalist wrote: ‘the German fleet has assaulted its jailer, but remains in jail’. The surface fleet impotent, Germany soon resolved to use unrestricted submarine warfare, ultimately hastening the entry into the war of the United States.

So, to answer the question of ‘which side won?’, we may conclude neither and both, depending on how victory is measured.

Blog written by: James Squires

Dorothea Louise Charlotte FOWLE – VAD

Dorothea came from a family with a strong sense of service to their country and with the legacy of social and financial advantage.  She, along with her father and four brothers, was born in India. Her father, Trenchard, and her grandfather had served in the Indian Civil Service and her youngest brother, Adam, had died there before at only a few weeks of age. However, by 1911 the family returned to Kent to live at Dane’s Place, Gold Street in Cobham near Gravesend.   Her brother, also called Trenchard, joined the Indian Army as a British Officer in 1905 followed by his brother, Louis, the following year.  Louis died in 1915 at Gallipoli and their younger brother, William a captain in the Royal Engineers, died of his wounds in 1916.  Trenchard went on to become knighted in 1937, for his services to the Indian Political Service.  Meanwhile, Dorothea joined the VADs as a dresser and, whilst at the Brook, passed her Electrical Examination.  After leaving the Brook, she trained as a Masseuse in St Thomas’ Hospital and later worked in the Exeter War Hospital.  She married Col. W.D. Hall in 1922 and later lived in the south west, dying in Salisbury in 1982 having had three sons.

Charlton House_0006
The Brook during World War One. Postcard 

We do not know what the ‘electrical’ training Dorothea received had been nor how she administered it but we do know that she later became a masseuse.  However, electrical treatment had been used in two different ways at this time: to ease muscular pain and as a form of cure for shell shock; the latter being, to us today, rather controversial.  We have a picture of what it was like from the trilogy of ‘Regeneration’ books by Pat Barker (and the film of the same name) which includes the work of the army doctor W.H.R. Rivers and the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon.  The post-war effects of shell-shock on some of its sufferers is captured in George Orwell’s ‘Down and Out in Paris and London’.

There were clear cultural differences between different nationalities with regard to shell shock or as we would call it today – Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  The effects of four years of intense conflict and the highly-industrialised nature of the warfare meant many combatants returned from war suffering nervous breakdowns or other psychological disorders such as mental confusion, deaf-mutism, abnormal and/or restricted movements and delusion – apart from many physical injuries.  The term ‘Shell shock’ was banned in 1917 as a diagnosis in the British Army, having been first used in The Lancet in 1915 to describe reactions to being near an exploding shell.   In Belgium, known there as kloppe, its victims was largely ignored but in Britain and Germany these conditions were often described as malingering or cowardice and treatment frequently took on aggressive methods to get men back to the front as quick as possible.  Treatments could also have included massage, baths and anaesthesia using chloroform or ether and there was some development of psychotherapy to treat war neuroses, as was offered for officers at Craiglockhart in Edinburgh.  But diagnosis and treatment was based on class with the upper orders seen as being in need of rest and recuperation whilst working-class men, being labelled work-shy and hysterical; they  were often court martialled with some being sentenced to death.  Some men might have been offered electrotherapy – including two very painful forms – torpillage and psychofadism.  The press picked up on some cases of soldiers refusing this treatment, considering it to be torture, and after having raised issues regarding the rights of the wounded; this all at a time when the press was heavily censored on the effects of trench warfare – Lloyd George confided in December 1917: “If people really knew [the truth], the war would be stopped tomorrow. But of course they don’t know, and can’t know.”     electrotherapy link with photos

Blog written by: Jill Austen

Edith Baker – VAD

Edith Baker of 72 Swain Rd. Plumstead. Was born about 1882; she was the eldest child of Charles & Eliza Baker, her siblings being George, Ethel H, Maud H, Doris. In 1911 she was a school teacher living with her family at 72 Tuam Road having lived at 21 Piedmont Road in 1901 when she was 9.

Edith’s Red Cross record states: Lady Superintendent VAD, Ward & Surgery duties, Charlton House Hospital.  Other information:  10 day County Office service 1916, 1 week Star & Garter 1916, 10 day County Office 1917, 2 weeks County Office 1917.  Acted as Assistant Commandant from Oct to end of December 1917 Rendered service during Red Cross recruiting week. Stimulated interest in Red Cross work among school children which resulted in gifts of money. V kind to Charlton Home Aux. Hospital.

Charlton House
Charlton House around the turn of the century 

We can see how her teaching experience was brought into good use in informing children at the time about the work she had done and so encouraging donations form the children and their families.

Edith’s service probably followed that of many other Red Cross volunteer nurses.  VAD classes and examinations had been offered locally until 1916 when they were centralized at the College of Ambulance in Vere Street where Edith probably went. The training was for seven weeks and was residential, there they received instruction, board, lodging and half-a-crown a week for laundry, but no other pay.  Examinations were in the sixth week and fees were 1s 6d for evening candidates, 2s for daytime candidates and were supervised by two Red Cross Officers.  Home nursing and first aid certificates followed with a month’s trial on the wards and three months ‘hard work’ before being fully accepted full-time.

The importance of rehabilitation and care of disabled servicemen was enhanced by the procurement of the Star & Garter Hotel in Richmond – the deeds had been presented to Queen Mary after she had expressed her concern for the long term care of those men disabled in war.  It was converted into a ‘permanent haven’ with the architectural services of Sir Edwin Cooper given free to convert the building into a beautiful and well-designed one for the men’s ease of movement, many of whom were in wheelchairs.  It accommodated 180 men with over 60 staff and included a cinematograph hall, workshops and a gymnasium.  Here, during her one week placement, Edith would have learnt the most up to date methods of disability care.  The workshops aimed to teach the men crafts and skills with their work being exhibited and sold annually from 1924 with prestigious guests such as the Duchess of York (later the Queen Mother) visiting.


Blog written by: Jill Austen

Wash Day – Well Hall Estate

The Well Hall Pioneer Circle considered wide ranging issues political social and domestic. During October 1916 the subject of wash day came up. It was reported that ‘washing-day was condemned as one of the most exhausting of the house wifely work days’. The women called for more laundry centres for small groups of houses (as well as cooperative kitchens and day nurseries).

Washing was a very physical activity. Without washing machines friction was needed to clean garments and this came from rubbing – either rubbing cloth against cloth or cloth against a washboard probably of metal at that time – or of drubbing with a dolly poster. Both of these would probably take place in a metal tub and with the help of a bar of hard household soap like  ‘Sunlight’. Water would first have been heated in a copper – we know that the kitchens on the estate were each supplied with one of these – and then baled into the tub. Whites needed to be washed separately from coloured and a little bag of Ricketts Blue might be used to keep them sparkling white. After washing clothes might be rung to make more effective use of the rinse water. Once rinsed undoubtedly in cold water to save time and fuel – clothes were either hand rung or put through the rollers of a hand operated mangle. These were not cheap items and Eda Biddlecombe in her diary mentioned that her mother bought one secondhand from a Mrs Parry probably a resident of Bexleyheath where the family used to live. The mangle is brought around by Carter Paterson.

Finally the clothes would be hung out to dry and, as we know from the estate rent book which set out the rules, this would need to be away from public view in the back garden. No wonder a whole day was dedicated to washing. I wonder how many of the estate’s housewives managed their wash on a Monday:

They that wash on Monday
Have all the week to dry;
They that wash on Tuesday
Are not so much awry;
They that wash on Wednesday
Are not so much to blame;
They that wash on Thursday,
Wash for shame;
They that wash on Friday,
Wash in need;
And they that wash on Saturday,
Oh ! they’re sluts indeed.
(Traditional rhyme)

Eda’s mother was doing her washing on a Friday when she got a needle in her hand and the only other mention of this chore in her diary was on a Saturday; for working women it was not easy to stick to the traditional ways! However, towards the end of her diary Eda refers to the fact that she has started an account with Laundry Mail so perhaps this was a collection and delivery service for domestic washing – more research needed!

Blog Written By: Lynne

Who worked at the Arsenal – Well Hall Estate

In November 1917 a local woman, Annie Wheeler, became a widow in difficult circumstances. Her husband, Station Sergeant William James Wheeler, a Yorkshire man by birth, was found dead with his throat cut, apparently by is own hand. Annie and he had several children. He had apparently been depressed and Annie at the inquest linked this to a blow to the head he had had five years previously since when he had complained of pains in his head.

Sergeant Wheeler was attached to Eltham Police Station but the family was living at 10, Congreve Road so we have to wonder whether there were some houses on the estate where non-Arsenal workers lived – perhaps those with some essential local jobs – or that Annie herself was a munitions worker. In 1919 Annie Wheeler was still living in Congreve Road.

A clue to another example of a non Arsenal worker is found in the minutes of the Housing of the Working Class Committee in November 1915 when the Office of Works referred to the letting of 175 Well Hall Road to a medical practitioner. However, three years later in 1918 this house was occupied by a plumber by trade – James Henry Broome and his wife, Grace – so it is not clear what happened about the proposal to have a medical practitioner on hand.

From the Deansfield Register of Admissions where the occupation of the parent is given in the Autumn of 1915, we can see that most fathers are working at the Arsenal; in all but a few examples it is the father’s name which is given. The exceptions include a few workers at the Dockyard such as John James Ketson of 31, Granby Road, a clerk in the Dockyard and David White of 39 Arsenal Rd. Three fathers are given as soldiers: Charles O’Garman of 2 Admiral Seymour Road and Robert Martin of the same address along with Charles Peart of 132 Well Hall Road. A further puzzling examples is David Rumsey listed as an invalid of 5, Dickson Rd.

In all these cases were exceptions made because of the important occupation of the man of household in whose name the tenancy would be? Alternatively, were their wives working at the Arsenal and this additionally influenced the decision to house the families? No doubt as research progresses we might find further apparent anomalies but the question remains as to how many of the women on the estate were working at the Arsenal as well as their husbands.

Blog Written by: Lynne

Norah Florence Emily Kathleen Laird – VAD

Norah Laird was born on 22nd November 1885 in Woolwich. On the 1891 census, she is listed as living on Grove Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne with her mother, father, three brothers and a servant. Her father’s occupation on the census is a Captain in the Royal Artillery.

It is clear from the census records that her early life involved a lot of travelling for her father’s work; the family had moved to 65 Hartington Road, Lancashire by 1901, before relocating to Malta by the 1911 census.

Her VAD Red Cross record shows that she served from 25th July 1916 until 2nd October 1918. Her record lists her as living at 27 Wood Street, Woolwich as a nurse without pay at the Royal Herbert Hospital in Woolwich. Prior to her service at the Royal Herbert, she worked for almost a year at a military hospital in Cambridge.

On 5th May 1918, she was presented with a Red Efficiency Stripe, which was awarded due to her service in the military hospitals; if she had worked in a naval hospital, this would have been a blue stripe. However, by October 1918 she had resigned for health reasons on the recommendation of the matron.

After the war, electoral registers show her living in Hastings with her father from 1926 until his death on 23rd May 1929. A probate was awarded to Norah on the death of her father and this record shows her to be a spinster. On 27th October 1932, she travelled to Malta to undertake ‘home duties’ at the age of 46.

Norah died aged 88 in 1973 in Maidstone, Kent.



Blog Written By: June

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