Memorial event at CWGC Memorial at Portsmouth (Photo: Centenary News)

Britain’s Royal Navy commemorates the Battle of Jutland in series of memorial services

Posted on on 31 May 2016
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The British Royal Navy marked today's 100th anniversary of The Battle of Jutland with memorial events at Plymouth, Chatham and Portsmouth. Here’s a report by Centenary News from the ceremony at Portsmouth Naval Memorial:

At the event in Portsmouth today, 100 sailors marched through the town, led by the Royal Marines Band Collingwood, to Southsea Common war memorial where a 45-minute ceremony and service was held, during which wreaths were laid at the base of the memorial column.

About 50 veterans from the Royal British Legion and Royal Naval Association, plus Royal Marines and sea cadets, also joined the parade. Guests at the service included the British Armed Forces Minister, Penny Mordaunt, local councillors, and descendants of sailors involved in the battle.

Keith Simpson, of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, said: We gather here today to remember those who died, whether in British or German ships, those who suffered terrible wounds, and those whose lives would be forever altered by their experiences.”

Commodore Jeremy Rigby, Portsmouth Naval Base Commander, said: “The Battle of Jutland was the greatest naval encounter of the war. More than 100,000 sailors and marines were engaged in 250 ships. Over just a few hours of battle, 14 Royal Navy vessels and 11 German ships were lost, along with 6,000 Royal Navy and 2,500 German sailors.”

And Councillor Ken Ellison, the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth, said: “While, today, we rightly remember the fallen, spare also a thought for those left behind. Survivors and eyewitnesses who carried the images of battle for the rest of their days. The families of the fallen, who struggled to come to terms with their loss. Some widows remarried, but many did not. Some children would enter orphanages. Lives would be irrevocably altered."

During the service, excerpts from letters and citations were read out, describing what happened to some of those who took part in the battle – including the story of the Marine major who was awarded a posthumous VC for saving Admiral Beatty’s flagship by flooding a damaged gun turret magazine; and 16 year old Jack Cornwell who stayed at his post despite being badly injured, and who was also awarded a VC.

The commemoration was attended by the Executive Editor of Centenary News. Here are his personal views on the event:

It felt highly appropriate. The remembrance event on Southsea Common was held under grey skies, with a fair amount of rain, and was buffeted by a blustery wind.

No better way, really, to remember the Battle of Jutland, which was fought 100 years ago today in the North Sea off Denmark’s Jutland peninsular.

The battle certainly deserves to be remembered. It was a ferocious event, marked by a mismatch between the advanced technology of the weaponry on board the ships and the vulnerability of their defence systems. During the battle, partly because of this mismatch, 25 ships were lost along with more than 8,500 men.

Astonishing numbers, even for the First World War.

In all, the remembrance event was well organised and, despite the weather, quite moving. But it felt low key.

It can’t have helped that it was held on a weekday, and that the weather was poor. But the tone of the service also seemed to reflect the fact that Jutland has not become as well known as many of the other First World War battles. 

In the run up to the anniversary, some historians have argued that it was actually a strategically crucial battle. They said it penned in the German High Seas Fleet, and allowed the highly damaging blockade of Germany to continue. It also led to Germany pursuing its U-boat campaign, which helped bring America in to the war.

Admiral Lord West, in a BBC radio programme this month, said although Jutland was “tactically a close fought thing”, it was “a dramatic strategic success, which directly set the stage for Allied victory in the First World War”.

These arguments are well made, and make sense. 

But the Battle of Jutland has never been regarded as a success by the UK as a whole. Perhaps it was the dreadful loss of life. Or the reports of tactical errors and communication problems. Or, perhaps, it was the widespread disappointment of a British public who in 1916 had been hoping for another Trafalgar, a disappointment that lingered on in the public memory for years afterwards.

But however it was and is viewed, then and now, the Battle of Jutland, the greatest sea battle of the First World War, was remembered today on a windy and wet Southsea Common in a dignified and thoughtful way. 

See More Photos from the remembrance event here