The Battle of Jutland was fought off Denmark's North Sea coast, involving around 250 ships and 100,000 men of the British and German Navies. It was the only major naval engagement between battleships in World War One, with victory claimed on both sides.
Tactically the battle of May 31st, 1916, into the early hours of June 1st, is now considered a draw, but for Britain it was a strategic victory as it meant that the German surface naval threat had to a large extent been neutralised and the Britain's supply lifelines were more safeguarded, other than from submarine attacks which would eventually bring the United States into the war in 1917.
Jutland was a battle that had been anticipated and the British were forewarned thanks to codebreakers. The German Navy was being built up for about a decade before the outbreak of war, but had avoided direct confrontation with the British Navy until it was decided to attempt to break out and lure the British High Fleet into ambush in small sections.
Following an initial skirmish, British Admiral Sir David Beatty withdrew, drawing the German fleet into the path of the main British fleet commanded by Admiral Jellicoe. Fourteen British and 11 German ships were sunk before the German fleet managed under cover of poor visibility and growing darkness to return to port.
The battle cost the lives of over 6,000 British sailors, among them two 16-year-old boys from Luton. It also claimed the life of 16-year-old Essex lad Jack Cornwell, who was awarded a posthumous VC for gallantry in the battle, and who would be commemorated in Luton on the Comrades of the Great War float in the Peace Day parade that preceded the riots in which the Town Hall was burnt down.
First news in Luton of the battle was carried in the Saturday Telegraph on June 3rd, 1916. It contained an Admiralty report that three British battle cruisers, two cruisers and eight destroyers had been sunk with one cruiser abandoned after being badly damaged. It was reported that 11 German ships had been destroyed/sunk with several other ships damaged or disabled.
Sixteen survivors had been taken to Holland by a trawler, and a Danish steamer had arrived at Hull with seven men, two badly injured, one of whom later died. Danish fishermen reported hundreds of British and German bodies floating on the surface of the sea.
By the time the Luton News was published on the following Thursday, details of those known to have drowned, were missing or were safe began to appear in print. It said: "Locally, we record some individual cases where Luton men are to be chronicled amongst those who bravely fought and died. Doubtless there are others, about which we should be grateful for information so that their gallant deeds may receive like recognition."
The following from Luton or with Luton connections were mentioned in the Luton News and Saturday Telegraph over the following two weeks:
LOST IN ACTION
Signal Boy J/34280 Frederick George Darby, aged 16, killed or died as a result of enemy action while serving on HMS Black Prince (sunk). Son of Mrs Mary Ann Darby, of 7 Princess Street, Luton. (Chatham Naval Memorial).
Signal Boy J/34158 Arthur Olney, aged 16, killed or died as a result of enemy action while serving on HMS Queen Mary (sunk). Son of Mrs Susan Olney, of 32 Hibbert Street, Luton. (Portsmouth Naval Memorial).
Gunner RMA/12399 Edmund Charles Dexter, Royal Marine Artillery, aged 26, killed or died as a result of enemy action while serving on HMS Invincible (sunk). Son of Edmund E. Dexter, of 5 Warwick Road, Luton, he was married with a wife and three-month old baby living in Portsmouth. (Portsmouth Naval Memorial).
Leading Stoker K/22633 Frederick Neville, aged 29, killed or died as a result of enemy action while serving on HMS Queen Mary (sunk). The native of Luton and former pupil of Dunstable Road School had been in the Navy for five years before returning to civilian life for a year, working at Luton Gas Works, and then returning to the Navy four years before the Battle of Jutland. (Portsmouth Naval Memorial).
Engineer-Lieut John McLennan Hine, aged 44, killed in action on HMS Invincible (sunk). He was married with four young children and his family had lived in Rothesay Road, Luton, prior to 1910. (Portsmouth Naval Memorial).
Sub-Lieut Frank Alan Single, aged 20, killed or died as a result of enemy action while serving on HMS Warspite (damaged but returned to port). He was the nephew of Luton hat manufacturer Mr J. C. Kershaw. (Queensferry Cemetery, West Lothian).
MISSING, BELIEVED KILLED
Seaman Henry Shedrick Joseph Hill, 19, son of Mr and Mrs Henry Hill, of 94 Cobden Street, Luton, was reported lost in the Battle of Jutland while serving on HMS Turbulent (sunk). Naval records reveal, however, that he was wounded and taken as a prisoner of war before being repatriated in 1918 and invalided from the service. He married Gertrude Currie in Luton in 1919.
Seaman Victor Whittemore, at first reported lost while serving on HMS Queen Mary, confirmed in a letter to his mother at 42 King's Road, Luton, that he had survived the sinking.
First Class Boy Francis James Allen, aged 17, serving as a gun sighter on HMS Warspite, confirmed in a letter to parents Mr and Mrs Samuel Allen, of 59 Warwick Road, Luton, that he was safe. He had joined Warspite at Easter 1915 after training at Shotley Barracks. The former regular attender at All Saints Church, Luton, was home on leave in November 1915 and hoped to be home again shortly.
Seaman Thomas Fensome, youngest son of Mr and Mrs George Fensome, of 93 Hitchin Road, Luton, had served on HMS Warspite, which was damaged in the battle but was credited by its crew with having sent two enemy cruisers and several destroyers to the bottom. The former Diamond Foundry and Hayward Tyler employee was in the ship's magazine below decks during the battle.
Chief Engineer Artificer Frank Holt was another survivor from the Warspite. The former Queen Square and Waller Street schools pupil had been in the Navy for 15 or 16 years and was returning from Australia when war broke out. He was married and a father living in Devonport. His own father, Francis Holt, lived at 53 Adelaide Street, Luton.