George Alfred Shurlock

Information provided by his daughter, Nancy Shurlock (born Annie Elizabeth Shurlock)

 

George Alfred Shurlock was born in Albury, in September 1871, to James and Louisa Shurlock; he was the fifth of nine children, although, sadly, not all were to survive to adulthood.  George spent his childhood in Albury Heath, where the Shurlock family had been for decades.

Prior to the First World War, George had been working as a house painter on the Duke of Northumberland’s estate in Albury Park, an area of 150 acres that the Percy family had acquired in 1890.  Only four months before the outbreak of war, George married Mary Anne Cumper, who had been a family friend for many years.  The pair were unusual for the period in that they married much later in life than was the norm: on their marriage certificate, George is recorded as 43 years old and Mary as 35.  The marriage was a happy one, and was soon followed by the births of three daughters: Nancy (June 1915), Dorothy (June 1916) and Hilda (November 1919).

Much of his wartime life is unknown, or subject to uncertain family memory, but George was only called up in the latter years of the conflict and was not posted abroad.  He received his orders in April 1918, after the British Government increased the upper age limit for conscription to 50; George was 47, and had been too old to enlist prior to this extension of the Military Service Bill.  The family is fairly certain that George joined the Royal Engineers, the insignia on his cap (see his photograph) looks very much like that of the regiment.  Fortunately, the family still has his silver spoon with his service number engraved: 326867.  It is hard to trace his wartime experience because he did not serve abroad, and therefore was not awarded any medals.  However, he did spend the remaining months of the war in Chalfont St Giles, at a military camp, most likely carrying out essential war work.

Sapper Shurlock, as he would have been known, was demobbed in February 1919, meaning that he was allowed to leave his military duties and return to civilian life.  His eldest daughter Nancy recalls this occasion as her first real memory as a child, then aged nearly 4 years old.  She distinctly remembers seeing her father walking towards the family home by Albury Heath Common, running ‘as fast as [her] little legs would carry [her]’ into his arms.  Like most men of his generation, George would not talk about the war and his time with the Royal Engineers, but was largely unaffected by the conflict in the way that many were.  This was because he did not witness the horrors of the Western Front.  It was very common for returning soldiers to encounter difficulties in finding work, but George managed to secure a position as a painter and decorator for a firm called F.A. Woods and Sons.

George Alfred Shurlock died on 10 January 1941, in St Luke’s Hospital, Guildford, after suffering a heart attack.

 

The Family

The Shurlock/Cumper family contributed in many ways to the Surrey war effort.

Matthew Shurlock, George’s nephew, was killed in action on the Western Front in 21 March 1918, aged only 21.  He lies in an unknown grave in France, but is commemorated at the Pozieres Memorial.   He was a Private with the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment (Regimental Number: G/22292)

William Arthur Cumper, George’s brother-in-law, fought on the Western Front with the Royal Engineers (Regimental Number: 176621).  William survived the war, but never spoke of his experiences.  Kenny Cannons, a friend, credits William with saving his life by sharing the last of his water with him.

Fanny Elizabeth Cumper, George’s sister-in-law, worked at the Chilworth Munitions Factory, outside Guildford.

Fanny Elizabeth Cumper (right) with friend as Chilworth Munitions girls

Title: Fanny Elizabeth Cumper (right) with friend as Chilworth Munitions girls
Description: Courtesy of Nancy Crick by-nc

The Poetry of Wilfred Owen

Text by Chris Bent

“Above all I am not concerned with Poetry. My subject is War and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity”

Wilfred Owen wrote some of the best World War One poetry. The poignant images he created captured his violent and horrific experiences of war, in particular trench and gas warfare. This was in complete contrast to the romantic poems written by the likes of Jessie Pope and Rupert Brooke. His desire was to inform everyone at home of the true horrors of war and the dreadful suffering that the soldiers endured. In the Preface to a collection of poems that he was hoping to publish in 1919, he memorably states “All a poet can do today is warn”.

Even as a young man he always aspired to be a poet. The early indications for this can be found when he was a ten year old on holiday near Broxton in Cheshire. During an idyllic stay with his mother’s friends, he saw his poethood born. He loved the Romantic poets and worshipped Keats from a young age. Keats and Shelley were significant influences in his early writings.

During his time at Bordeaux, where he was providing English lessons, he was introduced to a French poet called Laurent Tailhade. They met occasionally for lunch and Tailhade provided much encouragement for Owen to further his poetry writing.

Whilst in Craiglockhart Hydropathic Establishment he famously met Siegfried Sassoon who was to become a significant influence in the development of his poetry. Sassoon became a mentor figure and original manuscripts survive today that show his contributions to some of the most highly acclaimed poems, such as Anthem for Doomed Youth. Owen’s doctor, Arthur Brock, also provided him with encouragement for his poetry as a form of rehabilitation.

Sassoon also introduced Owen to Harold Munro who became another strong influence. He regularly visited Munro’s poetry bookshop in Bloomsbury, London.

Owen’s poems were remarkably completed in just over a year. His style became innovative as he experimented with various forms. However, it is his use of pararhyme that we most remember him for today. Only five poems were published in his lifetime. Of these, three appeared in The Nation and two in the Hydra (the Craiglockhart journal he edited).

Whilst at Witley, Owen’s manuscripts suggest that A New Heaven and Purple were written. Though neither were his most significant poems, A New Heaven has elements that can be seen as a precursor to Anthem for Doomed Youth.

In 1919 Edith Sitwell produced Wheels which contained seven of his poems. One year later Siegfried Sasson edited Poems which contained 23 poems. However, it was not until 1931 when Edmund Blunden edited The Poems of Wilfred Owen with 42 poems that his recognition was ensured. A significant revival of public interest was brought about in the 1960s with the C Day Lewis edited Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen which contained 80 poems. His popularity remains as strong as ever in the 21st Century.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

Title: Anthem for Doomed Youth
Description: Wilfred Owen: The War Poems, ed. Jon Stallworthy (Chatto & Windus, 1994) by-nc

“What passing bells for these who die as cattle?

       -Only the monstrous anger of the guns

       Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

Can patter out their hasty orisons

No mockeries for them; no prayers nor bells,

       Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,

The shrill demented choirs of wailing shells;

       And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?

       Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes

Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes

The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;

Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,

And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

 

The manuscript above shows Owen’s poem ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ with Siegfried Sasson’s amendments. The First World War Poetry Digital Archive constructed by the University of Oxford contains many poems together with a selection of letters written home. The media available includes original manuscripts and photographs.

Read more about Wilfred Owen in Surrey:

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-edward-salter-owen/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-owen-at-witley-camp/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-owens-letters-home-from-witley-camp/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-owen-in-guildford-and-godalming/

 

Acknowledgement for ‘Anthem’ is made to:  Wilfred Owen: The War Poems, ed. Jon Stallworthy (Chatto & Windus, 1994)

http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/search?query=wilfred+owen&collection=&Search=Go

Wilfred Owen in Guildford and Godalming

Text by Chris Bent

 

During his time at Witley camp, Wilfred was keen to explore the local area. He developed a genuine affection for some of the nearby towns and villages.

One Sunday evening, 20th June, 1916, Wilfred wrote to his mother Susan :

This afternoon I borrowed a (very groggy) bicycle and rode through Godalming to Guildford, in perfect weather. I accomplished being alone and conversed with no creature all the five hours. Guildford is an old town of great charm, with suggestions of Shrewsbury. I had tea in an old casement overlooking the High Street: a real old lattice Bay, no shams: I remained there an hour longer so pleasant was the place…Guildford seems to exist in another age than Buildwas (an Abbey in Shropshire) & Much Wenlock. It is a rather peculiar type of country, neither mountain nor plain. There were some lovely bits of road, field, cottage and street. As I was coming back the footpaths undulated with saluting arms.

Godalming

Title: Godalming
Description: Godalming High Street, photograph by by-nc

Guildford High Street

Title: Guildford High Street
Description: Guildford High Street, photograp by-nc

Two weeks later he was telling his mother:

I made my usual sally into Guildford and had a happy enough ramble around Thorpe’s Bookshelves and the Town and the little River, where there are Punts and Canoes. It is hardly wide enough for skulls.

Guildford Bookshop

Title: Guildford Bookshop
Description: Guildford Bookshop, photography by Chris Bent by-nc

The Thorpe book business was established in 1883 with the shop in Guildford High Street opening just a few years later. Sadly, the demand for specialist books declined and the shop closed in January 2003. The structure remains and is a Grade II listed building.

Ten days before the battalion moved on to Oswestry and then Southport, Wilfred met his brother Harold at Witley and told his mother:

Harold came over yesterday afternoon in response to my telegram. He came out with me on my Afternoon Work and we had a little supper in Guildford. He stayed the night in my Hut where I am now writing at present.

 

Read more about Wilfred Owen in Surrey:

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-edward-salter-owen/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-owen-at-witley-camp/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-owens-letters-home-from-witley-camp/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/the-poetry-of-wilfred-owen/

 

Acknowledgement for the Letters is made to: Wilfred Owen: The Collected Letters, eds. Harold Owen and John Bell (Oxford University Press, 1967)

Acknowledgement is made to the Wilfred Owen Literary Trust

Wilfred Owen’s Letters Home from Witley Camp

Text by Chris Bent

Wilfred Owen wrote some of the most memorable poems of the First World War. The beauty of his writing can also be found in the many hundreds of letters that he sent to family and friends, mostly to his mother Susan. These letters give us a rich perspective of his life, his beliefs and his values. Those written from Witley camp are a treasure of memories of life at camp and the men who were based there. Extracts from some of these letters are summarised below. Owen was generally very happy at Witley and liked the camp, though initially his arrival there was a shock to the system.

Witley and Milford camps

Got a car from Milford to the Camp 2 or 3 miles off: a vast affair on the top of the hill with Pines interspersed amongst the huts. The Officers’ huts form a big settlement apart….The site is delightful for a camp; but we are all confined to it.  Susan 18.6.1916

I am an exile here, suddenly cut off both from the present day world and from my own past life. I feel more in a strange land than when arriving at Bordeaux! It is due to the complete newness of the country, the people, my dress, my duties, the dialect, the air, food, everything….. I have nearly got together my camp effects, Bed, chair, wash-stand, etc all necessary here. Shall be glad of socks as soon as you can send them. Would you include my enamel mug, left on my dressing table.  Susan 19.6.1916

Food & Drink

Supper was an informal meal today. I was helped to an enormous portion of pies and things. Susan 18.6.1916

Your Thursday Parcel arrived only this morning. Many loving thanks for the Chocs. But you really mustn’t send any more. I fare sumptuously every day. Susan 20.6.1916

The Mess at 8 o’clock is a fairly dignified performance. We get food “a la Grand Hotel” always. Colin 19.6.1916

Soldiers

I know nothing of the officers, other than our Set of “Artists” and nothing of my duties. The men seemed a fairly superior crowd. Susan 18.6.1916

The generality of men are hard-handed, hard-headed miners, dogged, loutish, ugly (but I would trust them to advance under fire and to hold their trench), blond, coarse, ungainly, strong, unfatigueable, unlovely, Lancashire soldiers, Saxons to the bone. Susan 19.6.1916

I am “commanding” numbers of wounded men, now restored. It gives me a great deal of pain to speak severely to them, as now and again need is. I am beginning to pick out the Intelligent and the smart “laads” from amongst the uncouth and ungainly. But I have no individual dealings. My Servant is a Grandfather, with medals of old wars and sons fighting. Susan 3.7.1916

Duties

Had to assist inspection of kit, this morning. I see a toothbrush and a box of polish missing. I demand in a terrible voice “Where’s your TOOTH-BRUSH?” and learn that the fellow has just returned from overseas”…….My most irksome duty is acting Taskmaster while the tired fellows dig: the most pleasant is marching home over the wild country at the head of my platoon, with a flourish of trumpets and an everlasting roll of drums.  Susan 19.6.1916

I am perfectly well, not a bit worried or overworked: though I trod on knife-edges at the first. Susan 20.6.1916

We have been expecting the King to visit our trenches and have worked overtime every day this week. Our anxiety begins again tomorrow! I give an extra ten minutes to shaving every morning in consequence. It is most annoying. Susan 3.7.1916

Training

I have had an exam today: a written one yesterday and an oral one held in the open air this morning. I don’t greatly care if I fail: it means I stay in England longer……We have to get up at 5.45 for strenuous physical drill. Our Sergeant-Major gives it us……I gave “Eyes Front” when I meant “Eyes Left” in passing a guard this afternoon!! The Sergeant Major never even smiled. Nor did I!  Colin 19.6.1916

I often have a Platoon completely to myself on the Moors (The Surrey Downs). Red-Hats gallop up to us at startling speed, or sometimes whizz up in motors, but they never stay long, or criticise. Susan 3.7.1916

I am most frightfully hard-worked. It is one of the worst weeks I ever had in the army. Work begins at 6.30 and never finishes all day. I am deaf with the 7 hours continual shooting and stomach-achy with the fasting from food. Susan late July

I am now as well up in Gas Warfare as can be. It is some satisfaction to feel knowing in these matters, because I am sure it will be used more and more. Gregg and I have devised a slight improvement in the P.H. Helmet but it is not worth noising abroad since the Helmet is really out of date now, displaced by _ But, here I am beginning to “Leak information” (when I have to read daily a solemn W.O. letter, saying that no talk of the War is ever to be indulged in, even in private letters and so on!). Susan early August 1916

I was on Bomb throwing with real live Mills Grenades. I went to sleep in a safe spot when I had thrown my own; but the noise was too frightful to go on. After lunch I fell asleep; and remained so long after the rest had fallen in! But none noticed me! Arriving back in camp I was called upon suddenly to lecture on Discipline. I was now feeling “rotton” but I thought obedience in this case would make a good opening verse for the Lecture; and so it did. Susan 22.8.1916

Read more about Wilfred Owen in Surrey:

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-edward-salter-owen/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-owen-at-witley-camp/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-owen-in-guildford-and-godalming/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/the-poetry-of-wilfred-owen/

 

 

Acknowledgement for the Letters is made to: Wilfred Owen:  The Collected Letters, eds. Harold Owen and John Bell (Oxford University Press, 1967)

Acknowledgement is made to the Wilfred Owen Literary Trust

 

 

Wilfred Owen at Witley Camp

Text by Chris Bent

Whilst teaching in France during 1915 and with conscription imminent, Wilfred Owen decided he should join up. He initially joined the 2nd Artist’s Rifles Officer Training Corps on the 20th October, 1915. For the next seven months he received his training at Hare Hall Camp, Gidea Park, Essex.

Then on the 4th June 1916 he was informed of his commissioning to the 5th battalion of the Manchester Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant. The Regiment were training at Milford Camp at this time.

Wilfred Owen's Army Orders

Title: Wilfred Owen's Army Orders
Description: “Owen's Army Orders,” The English Faculty Library, University of Oxford / The Wilfred Owen Literary Estate via First World War Poetry Digital Archive, accessed October 30, 2015, http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/collections/item/5036. by-nc

On the 18th June, 1916 Owen took the train from London to Milford and then by car to the camp. Whilst the battalion were based at Milford camp, the officers quarters were set apart to the west of Witley North Camp. He was stationed in Block E1.

Witley Camp

Title: Witley Camp
Description: W by-nc

It was twelve days into his time at the camp that the worst single day for deaths and casualties in British Military history occurred. That was the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1st 1916, a date that still resonates with us to this day. Little did Owen know that within six months it would be the location of his first experiences of the Western Front.

Manchester Reg

Title: Manchester Reg
Description: “Wilfred Owen with 5th (Res) Manchesters,” The English Faculty Library, University of Oxford / The Wilfred Owen Literary Estate via First World War Poetry Digital Archive, accessed December 21, 2015, http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/collections/item/5030 by-nc

Owen (seated on the ground second from the right) and his fellow officers of the 5th Manchester’s at Witley in 1916.

Training at Witley was over by the 24th September 1916 when the battalion moved to Oswestry, Southport and Fleetwood. On the 11th December 1916 he received his orders to proceed overseas and was in France by the end of the year.

Orders Overseas

Title: Orders Overseas
Description: Wilfred Owen's Orders Overseas by-nc

Acknowledgement for use of images to: http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/permitteduse

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen

Wilfed Owen

Title: Wilfed Owen
Description: by-nc

Research and text by Chris Bent

Wilfred Edward Salter Owen (1893 to 1918) is arguably the most admired and respected poet of the First World War. His poetry differed significantly to the romantic vision of war and was characterised by its poignant images of the horrors of trench and gas warfare. To this day, his poetry is widely read and has been part of the school curriculum for nearly fifty years.

Born in Oswestry to Susan and Tom, he had two brothers (Harold and Colin) and one sister (Mary).   Tom worked for the railway company and the family lived in Birkenhead and Shrewsbury.

He was educated at the Birkenhead Institute and Shrewsbury Technical School. When schooling was over he became lay assistant to the vicar of Dunsden, near Reading. This was partly due to his mother who was a devout Christian and brought her son up as an Anglican of the evangelical school.  This was not a good experience though for Wilfred and he lost his faith in his Low Church background whilst there.

From 1913 to 1915 he worked as an English teacher at the Berlitz School in Bordeaux and also tutored his own pupils. When war broke out he was in no hurry to join up but eventually felt the need to and returned to England in September 1915. On October 20th he passed his medical at the HQ of the Artists’ Rifles in Euston. For the next seven months he was trained at Hare Hall Camp, Gidea Park, Essex.

On June 4th 1916 he was commissioned to the 5th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment as a 2nd Lieutenant. For the next three months his training was based at the large camp at Witley in Surrey. There he initially found his men rough and uncouth. He gained their respect in particular due to his exceptional shooting skills and in time came to love them and thought he could have no finer men fighting alongside him.

As 1917 started, he was transferred to the Western Front and within weeks was standing for 50 hours in a flooded dugout in No Man’s Land at Serre. This had a significant impact on his mental state. By April he was at Savy Wood where there was very heavy fighting. He was hit by a shell explosion that mutilated the friend alongside him. After some time he was rescued and sent to the 13th Casualty Clearance Station at Gailly, suffering from what we now understand to be shell shock. By June he was back in England.

Within 10 days of returning to England he was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh which specialised in psychiatric treatment. There he met Siegfried Sassoon, who had a significant impact on the development of his poetry. Sassoon had similar views about the war and provided inspiration and encouragement whilst reviewing his poems.

In November 1917 he was discharged from Craiglockhart and was thought fit enough for light regimental duties. This he carried out for the next nine months at Clarence Gardens Hotel, Scarborough and the Northern Command Depot at Ripon. He could have seen out the remaining months of the war safely in England. However, by this time he had a deep desire to return to his men and was convinced that he needed to be at the Front to continue to provide the agitated messages through his now much developed poetry.

At the end of August he left Folkestone to return to his battalion who had been withdrawn and were now at Corbie near Amiens. By September he was back in the front line trenches and in October he won the Military Cross for his bravery at Joncourt where he seized a German machine gun.

Tragically, Wilfred Owen was killed in the last week of the war whilst trying to lead his men over a pontoon bridge at Sambre Canal, Ors. His grave is at the village cemetery Ors and his parents heard the news of his death on Armistice Day, 11th November, 1918.

 Read more about Wilfred Owen in Surrey:

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-owen-at-witley-camp/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-owens-letters-home-from-witley-camp/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/wilfred-owen-in-guildford-and-godalming/

https://www.surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk/story/the-poetry-of-wilfred-owen/

 

More information can be found on the Wilfred Owen Association website.

http://www.wilfredowen.org.uk/home/

Surrey’s Jutland

1916 sees the centenary of the controversial Battle of Jutland. This fight between the British Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet and the German Navy’s High Seas Fleet for dominance of the vital North Sea routes occurred just off the coast of Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula on 31 May and 1 June 1916. The British fleet was commanded by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe and the German by Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer. Outnumbered, the German plan was to divide and thereby conquer the British fleet. After an initial early scare and early British losses, following a day’s battle the German High Seas Fleet made its escape under cover of darkness. Both sides claimed victory, but the German High Seas Fleet was incapacitated and never again challenged British naval dominance.

Surrey, as a landlocked county, did not supply many men to the Royal Navy, but a number of Surrey men are known to have been involved in and killed during the Battle of Jutland. This piece explores and remembers their contribution.

William Edward Clayton was born to William and Hettie on 16 October 1898 in Havant, Hampshire.  He was the eldest of five children. By 1911, the Clayton family had moved to Ottershaw and to the Horsell area of Woking by 1916. Clayton joined the Royal Navy on 14 January 1915 with the service number J/33617, initially serving on HMS Impregnable. He was serving on HMS Indefatigable as a Boy (First Class) at Jutland when it was sunk by a German battlecruiser only ten minutes after the commencement of hostilities. A Boy (First Class) denoted ‘a boy [seaman] aged 16 to 18 under training, who had previously served for between 9 months and 18 months, and had shown sufficient proficiency in seamanship and accumulated at least one good conduct badge’. Telegram Number 995 from the Commander-in-Chief, Grand Fleet (on 2 June 1916) to the Admiralty stated:

At 3.50 p.m. on 31st May V.A.C. Battle Cruiser Fleet reported himself engaged with enemy Battle Cruisers steering about E.S.E. enemy to the Northward. INDEFATIGABLE was sunk 10 minutes after commencement of action by shell exploding in Magazine.

(http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/jutland-death-sea/source-2/)

William Clayton was killed on 31 May 1916 at the tender age of 18; his body could not be recovered for burial. His father was listed as his next of kin and so was notified of his eldest son’s death.

Douglas Durrant, James Fagence, Albert George Gale, John Alfred Knight and Arthur Edward Provins all served aboard the ill-fated HMS Queen Mary. Douglas Durrant had been born in Watford, Hertfordshire, and was an Able Seaman when, at the age of 21, he was killed when the Queen Mary sank. His mother had, by that time, settled in Dorking and so Durrant’s name is inscribed on both the memorial in South Street and that in St Paul’s Church there. James Fagence was born on 4 September 1865 in West Horsley. He had worked as an Engine Driver in Barrow in Furness, Lancashire, experience that must have helped him to rise to the rank of Chief Stoker, as which he was in charge of the ship’s engines, on board the Queen Mary. Albert George Gale was born on 22 August 1894 to George and Annie, of Dorking. Before the war, Albert worked as a cleaner at West Croydon railway station, for the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway Company. He joined the Royal Navy on 10 December 1912. When Albert was killed, he had reached the rank of Stoker (First Class). His next of kin was his mother, who was living at 5 Junction Road, Dorking. John Alfred Knight was born to John and Emma in Kingston on 10 February 1882, but by 1916 the family had moved to 3 Dormer Villa, St John’s, Woking. Knight first joined the Royal Navy on 22 September 1904, aged 22, serving on HMS Nelson; at Jutland, he was serving as Stoker Petty Officer, service number 307399, aboard the Queen Mary. He was accompanied by fellow Woking man Able Seaman Arthur Edward Provins, who had been born in 1897 in Buckinghamshire, but who had moved to 3 Walton Road, Woking, some time before 1916. Provins’ rank meant that he was a seaman with more than two years’ experience at sea and considered ‘well acquainted with his duty’.

On 31 May, HMS Queen Mary was struck by a shell from the German ship Derfflinger, detonating one or both of its forward magazines. The resulting explosion broke the battlecruiser in half near its foremast. A second shell from Derfflinger may have hit further aft. As the after part of the ship began to roll, it was rocked by a large explosion before sinking. Of Queen Mary‘s crew, 1,266 were lost while only twenty were rescued.

Three Surrey men, Thomas Henry Carpenter, Henry Alexander Potter and Edward Alfred Whapshott served on HMS Invincible, which was also sunk in the opening phase of the battle. Carpenter was born on 13 July 1886 to Charles and Jane of Knaphill. He served on HMS Invincible as a Leading Stoker, under the service number K/12394. Henry Alexander Potter had been born in Sutton in 1887. He entered Royal Navy service on 30 May 1904 aboard HMS Impregnable and was listed on the 1911 census as a Leading Telegraphist with the Navy in the Far East (service for which he earned the Naval General Service Medal [Persian Gulf], an award which marked participation in operations against pirates, gun-runners and slavers). Edward Whapshott was born on 16 December 1898, to Theresa and William of Prews Cottages, Send. Whapshott first joined the Royal Navy on 4 July 1914, on board HMS Impregnable, and by Jutland he was serving as a Boy Telegraphist aboard the Invincible, where he would have aided in ship communications, aged only 17.

This Private Navy Report on the loss of the Indefatigable also discusses the sinking of the battlecruisers Queen Mary and Invincible:

‘“Indefatigable”, “Queen Mary” and “Invincible” that were lost, were blown up during the early part of the action when engaged with enemy Battle Cruisers. These three ships sunk before they had received heavy punishment and the deduction is that flame reached the turret magazines causing them to explode’.

(http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/education/resources/jutland-death-sea/source-4/)

HMS Black Prince was an armoured cruiser which formed part of Rear-Admiral Robert Arbuthnot’s ill-fated 1st Cruiser Squadron. During the early engagement, the Black Prince became separated from the rest of the force and later during the night came into contact with the German High Seas Fleet after mistaking it for the British fleet. Powerful searchlights were turned on her and she was engaged by up to five battleships at point blank range; she was sunk without returning fire. All 858 crew members perished instantly.

A number of Surrey men are known to have been on board the Black Prince. John James Dermedy, born in Kilburn in 1895, was working as a blind-maker at the time of the 1911 census. He is remembered on the West London District Schools memorial in Ashford (which is part of the Surrey borough of Spelthorne). John Russell Townsend was born on 9 April 1896, to William and Jane, in Chelmsford, Essex. His parents were publicans and moved the family from Essex to Sussex (where they ran The Cricketers Inn, Rudgwick, in 1911) and then to Woking, to run the Anchor Hotel in Knaphill. Townsend was serving as a Signalman, with the service number J/1900, on board the Black Prince when it sank on 31 May. Sydney Walter Maidment was another of those 858 crew members, serving as an Able Seaman (service number J/2578). He was born on 16th July 1892 in Devizes, Wiltshire, but the family had moved to West Byfleet by the time of the Great War. Maidment joined the Royal Navy on 15 September 1908, on board HMS Impregnable. He died aged 27 and his next-of-kin was listed as his mother Blanche, who lived at 22 Ecton Road, Addlestone. Edwin Tanner (alias Turner) of Dorking was a Petty Officer aboard the Black Prince when it sank; he is remembered in his home town on the memorial in South Street.

Three men from the Surrey/Hampshire border towns were also killed aboard HMS Black Prince. William Hunt, whose parents lived at 2 Faversham Villa, Oxenden Road, Tongham, joined the Navy in 1905 when he was 16. Hunt had brown hair and eyes and at 18 years old was 5 feet 8½ inches tall. Hunt served as a Leading Seaman; he died aged 26. From the nearby town of Ash, Fred Taylor (born 29 March 1878) served on the Black Prince as a Petty Officer Stoker. Before joining the Navy in January 1898, he had worked as a labourer. The youngest of this Surrey/Hampshire border trio was Albert George Williams, who was only 17 when he was killed on 31 May 1916. Williams was born in Frimley on 22 September 1899. He enlisted with the Royal Navy on 6 March 1915, first serving on HMS Impregnable. By the time of Jutland, he had risen to the rank of Boy (First Class). His mother Eliza was notified of her son’s premature death; she lived at Hope Cottage, Wood Street, Ash Vale.

William Howard, of Woking, served as a Signalman on HMS Ardent at the time of its sinking on 1 June 1916. As a Signalman, he would have been a specialist in visual signals, semaphore, signal flags & signal lamps, to communicate with the rest of the fleet. Howard was born on 20 January 1887 to William (Snr) and Emma, and was one of six children. The family later moved to 121 Russell Cottage, Shackleford. Howard worked as a warehouse boy prior to enlisting in the Royal Navy on 2 April 1902, when he joined the crew of HMS Impregnable (service number 220176). He left a widow, Florence, who lived at the couple’s house at 23 Hipley Street, Old Woking. HMS Ardent was sunk by secondary fire from the German dreadnought SMS Westfalen.

HMS Tipperary, launched in 1915, was a member of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, which was in support of the Grand Fleet at Jutland. The Flotilla was involved in torpedo attacks on the German fleet as it retreated during the night of 31 May-1 June. Many members of the Flotilla were sunk or badly-damaged during the engagement. Tipperary was herself sunk on 1 June 1916 by a shot from the German battleship SMS Westfalen, with the loss of all but twelve of her 197-strong crew.

At least two Surrey men were victims of the sinking of HMS Tipperary. When he was killed, Ernest Alfred Colwell was 17 and serving as a Signal Boy. As such, he would have played a role in sending visual signals between ships using flags. Although Colwell was born in Shere, the 1911 census shows that his family by was by then resident in Longcross, near Chertsey and it is on that village’s war memorial that he is commemorated. Richard Randolph Stevens was one of a large family from Dorking. Born in 1894, his occupation is recorded by the 1911 census as ‘chemist porter’. By the time of the Battle of Jutland, he had reached the rank of Stoker (1st Class). Stevens’ parents still lived on Dorking at the time of his death; he is commemorated on the South Street memorial there.

These particular men are only a handful of those who fought and died at the Battle of Jutland. The battle itself was considered at the time to be a disaster, particularly given the huge losses sustained by the British fleet, which were considerably larger than those of Germany. However, Britain succeeded in its aim of preserving its naval dominance over the North Sea and English Channel and blockading Germany’s ports. On 9th January 1917, Germany began a campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare in order to destroy supply ships crossing the Channel and the Atlantic. This was to prove a costly mistake. By March 1917, seven American merchant vessels had been sunk. This, in conjunction with diplomatic issues, provoked America to enter the war, throwing its military might behind Britain and her allies.

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