This story is the result of an investigation of documents held by Surrey History Centre. The file (SHC ref. CC7/4/4, nos. 1-50) contains correspondence and insurance claims on behalf of Surrey County Council Education Department employees who had been killed in action during the Great War. The cases date from 1915 to 1918.
Name: Frank Vincent Wise
Occupation: Assistant Teacher, Bagshot Council School
Birth Place: Virginia Water, Surrey
Residence: Virginia Water, Surrey
Date of Death: 31st May 1916 (DOB 15th September 1891)
Age: 24 years
Location: Battle of Jutland
Regiment: Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, H.M.S. Invincible
Regimental Number: London Z/2954
Frank Wise was born, baptised and raised in Virginia Water, Surrey. By 1901 his mother, Katherine, had been widowed and was living with Frank in Christ Church Cottage, Virginia Water. He was her only child.
By 1911, Frank had moved to New Cross, Deptford, London, where he was attending teacher training college.
There is no information as to when he became an assistant teacher at Bagshot Council School.
Frank enlisted into the Royal Navy on 20th August 1915, appearing to initially be assigned to the Royal Naval Division (R.N.D.). The R.N.D. was formed in September 1914 to fight on land alongside the Army. It consisted of men brought together from the Royal Naval Reserve, Royal Fleet Reserve, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, a brigade of Royal Marines, Royal Navy and Army personnel. In Frank’s case, he qualified for the R.N.D. as a member of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, and his posting was probably more administrative than physical.
He was temporarily assigned to HMS Pembroke, a shore-based garrison, on 26th of November 1914, before joining HMS Invincible as a signaller on 1st December 1915, on which he remained until his death.
HMS Invincible was a battlecruiser launched in 1907, weighing 17,250 tonnes, mounting eight 12-inch guns. She had already seen action at the Battle of Heligoland Bight and the Battle of Falklands in 1914, and now led the 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron into the fight at Jutland.
Entering into action, she was the lead British ship, coming within 9,000 yards of the enemy fleet before opening fire at around 6:20 p.m. Ahead were the German flagship SMS Lützow and SMS Derfflinger, each with eight 12-inch guns, plus other German ships, including the Koenig. Invincible’s steady fire inflicted heavy punishment on the German ships. Commander von Hase of the Derfflinger said “several shells pierced our ship with a terrific force and exploded with a tremendous roar which shook every seam and rivet”. A senior British officer later said, however, that the Germans were also “pouring hot fire into [HMS Invincible]”. At 6:33 p.m. the Invincible blew up; the official history describes the moment:
“Flames shot up from the gallant flagship, and there came again the awful spectacle of a fiery burst, followed by a huge column of dark smoke which, mottled with blackened debris, swelled up hundreds of feet in the air, and the mother of all battle cruisers had gone to join the other two that were no more (referring to other ships lost that day).”
One survivor, Marine Bryan Gasson, described the moment the ship was hit:
“Suddenly our starboard midship turret manned by the Royal Marines was struck between the two 12-inch guns and appeared to me to lift off the top of the turret and another from the same salvo followed. The flashes passed down to both midship magazines…The explosion broke the ship in half. I owe my survival to the fact that I was in a separate compartment at the back of the turret.”
Only six crew survived. 1,026 crewmen, including Frank, perished.
Incredibly, one of the survivors, H.E. Dannreuther, wrote a letter to Frank’s family dated 8th June 1916:
‘The Invincible was hotly engaged with the German battle-cruiser Derflinger and was giving her a severe hammering when the end came quite suddenly.
At 6.34 p.m. May 31st there was a tremendous explosion aboard – the ship broke in half and sank in 10 or 15 seconds.
Only seven of us ever came to the surface again after the ship sank, and three of these disappeared shortly afterwards.
Death came quickly to everyone and our brave fellows died the death that I am sure they would have chosen, and one of which you may well think with pride and satisfaction. Everything was going splendidly at the time – everyone seemed with joy and enthusiasm…
I remember F.V. Wise well – a fine fellow and much respected and like aboard. My only consolation I can offer is that he died as I am sure he wished to die – for no finer could fall to the lot of men – and that his end was sudden and painless.’
After his death, Frank’s mother, Katherine, pursued an insurance claim with Surrey County Council which had taken out an insurance policy on behalf of Frank. She had no other source of income apart from an Admiralty payment that would end in November 1916. In the correspondence around the claim her character was described as ‘excellent’. She eventually received £88 and 15 shillings, paid out at 5 shillings a week allowance, with the proviso that if she needed more there was money available.
Frank’s body was never recovered, and he is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial, Kent.
He was entitled to the 1914/15 Star, War Medal and Victory Medal.
Surrey History Centre File CC7/4/4
National Archives file reference ADM 337/38/91: Frank Vincent WISE, Service Number: Z/2954 RNVR
J.J. Colledge and B. Warlow, Ships of the Royal Navy… from the 15th Century to Present (London, Chatham Publishing, 2006).
Sir Julian S Corbett, World War 1 at Sea: Naval Operations, Volume 3, Spring 1915 to June 1916 (London, Longmans Green and Co., 1923).
Battle of Jutland, 30th May to 1st June 1916, Official Despatches with Appendices (London, HMSO, 1920).
Commonwealth War Graves Commission – https://www.cwgc.org/
Ancestry website – https://www.ancestry.co.uk/