Barrow Hill man, George Exford, had been a full time regular with the Royal Marine Light Infantry for almost 12 years and had only 5 months left to serve when war broke out in August 1914.
On the day that war was declared, he was on board the Royal Navy’s newest Battlecruiser, HMS Queen Mary, and was so impressed by the ship that he had sent a picture home on which he had written, “A beauty isn’t she? And as good as she looks, can knock spots off anything afloat.”
The Queen Mary had sailed to the war base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands that week where the fleet awaited instructions. As the first stroke of 11pm boomed out from Big Ben in London, a telegram, was flashed to the ships and establishments under the White Ensign all over the world. It read, “Commence hostilities against Germany.”
George died aboard HMS Queen Mary at the Battle of Jutland.
The Battle of Jutland (31 May – 1 June 1916) was the largest naval battle of the First World War. It was the only time that the British and German fleets of ‘dreadnought’ battleships actually came to blows.
The German High Seas Fleet hoped to weaken the Royal Navy by launching an ambush on the British Grand Fleet in the North Sea. German Admiral Reinhard Scheer planned to lure out both Admiral Sir David Beatty’s Battlecruiser Force and Admiral Sir John Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet. Scheer hoped to destroy Beatty’s force before Jellicoe’s arrived, but the British were warned by their codebreakers and put both forces to sea early.
Jutland was a confused and bloody action involving 250 ships and around 100,000 men. Initial encounters between Beatty’s force and the German High Seas Fleet resulted in the loss of several ships. The Germans damaged Beatty’s flagship, HMS Lion, and sank HMS Indefatigable and HMS Queen Mary, both of which blew up when German shells hit their ammunition magazines.
Beatty withdrew until Jellicoe arrived with the main fleet. The Germans, now outgunned, turned for home. The British lost 14 ships and over 6,000 men, but were ready for action again the next day. The Germans, who had lost 11 ships and over 2,500 men, avoided complete destruction but never again seriously challenged British control of the North Sea.
Although it failed to achieve the decisive victory each side hoped for, the Battle of Jutland confirmed British naval dominance and secured its control of shipping lanes, allowing Britain to implement the blockade that would contribute to Germany’s eventual defeat in 1918. By Nick Hewitt, Imperial War Museum.
Staveley Remembers the local men who died on 31st May 1916 and who are remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial
Private George Exford
PO/12829, H.M.S. “Queen Mary.”, Royal Marine Light Infantry
Stoker 1st Class William Charles Fletcher
SS/113952, Royal Navy H.M.S. “Black Prince”
Stoker 1st Class Thomas Holmes
SS/113076 Royal Navy HMS “Queen Mary”
Gunner Arthur Humphreys
RMA/13028, H.M.S. “Queen Mary.”, Royal Marine Artillery
Stoker 1st Class Walter Thompson
SS/111726, HMS Queen Mary, Royal Navy
You can find more information about the Battle of Jutland here