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100 years ago: Salford remembers WW1 naval catastrophe at The Battle of Jutland


Today marks the centenary of the largest and most decisive naval battle of the First World War: The Battle of Jutland.

Commanded by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe, the British Royal Navy’s Grand Fleet fought against the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet, under Vice-Admiral Reinhard Scheer.

Around 250 ships clashed off the coast of Denmark on 31 May and 1 June 1916.

The battle was to have a heavy price.

With a combination of sea-mines, bombs and heavy shelling the British saw 6,094 men killed and 674 wounded.

The Royal Navy saw the demolition of three battle-cruisers, three armoured cruisers and eight destroyers.

One can only imagine the horror of this conflict, young men barely out of school facing a horrible death by burning or drowning in the freezing North Sea.

After the conclusion of the 36-hour battle the war would drag on for another two years and the casualties would continue to mount up.

This forward 5.5in, 13500kg gun was manned by Boy 1st class Jack Cornwell when he won his Victoria Cross during the Battle of Jutland on the light cruiser HMS Chester  © IWM (ORD 115)

This forward 5.5in, 13500kg gun was manned by Boy 1st class Jack Cornwell when he won his Victoria Cross during the Battle of Jutland on the light cruiser HMS Chester © IWM (ORD 115)

The image above shows the size of weaponry being used: during the Battle, HMS Chester fired just one salvo before being badly damaged by German gunfire: the forecastle received a direct hit, killing or wounding every member of Victoria Cross winner Jack Cornwell’s gun crew.

Cornwell was hit in the chest by a shell fragment but he remained at his post, awaiting orders from the bridge. Two days after the battle, on 2 June 1916, Cornwell died in hospital aged only 16 and was buried at Grimsby.

Mine blast blows huge hole in German battleship OSTFRIESLAND © German First World War Official Naval Collection

Mine blast blows huge hole in German battleship OSTFRIESLAND © German First World War Official Naval Collection

The Salford City Reporter and the Eccles Journal from May/June 1916 reported on local men who had fought and died in the Battle of Jutland.

Amongst these were Stoker William Rustage who was killed on the HMS Marlborough, he lived in Broughton but was buried at Weaste Cememtery with full naval honours.

We learn that William Rustage’s funeral service was held at the New Church on Frederick Road before being taken through the streets of Salford for internment with the service being led by Mr H. Barnes.

Floral trbutes from family, friends and fellow shipmates were piled high around the grave including one from Sir Cecil Burney who was Vice-Admiral of the Fleet.

Sailors point to a shell-hole in the side of HMS CHESTER after the Battle of Jutland, 31 May 1916 © IMW/Surgeon Parkes Collection

Sailors point to a shell-hole in the side of HMS Chester after the Battle of Jutland, 31 May 1916 © IWM/Surgeon Parkes Collection

Damage to the superstructure of HMS COLOSSUS, the flagship of the 1st Battle Squadron. She was hit twice and suffered five casualties. © IWM (Q 55600)

Damage to the superstructure of HMS Colossus, the flagship of the 1st Battle Squadron. She was hit twice and suffered five casualties. © IWM (Q 55600)

A letter from a fellow Stoker, George Dockey, was sent to William Rustage’s mother. He wrote ‘it might be a little consolation for you to know that he [Rustage] died at his post of duty and did not suffer in any way’.

He then adds that he has six yards of serge (a durable fabric) belonging to her son and if she needs it to contact him, adding, ‘with deepest sympathy’.

The gun crew of "P" turret of the battlecruiser HMS NEW ZEALAND posing for a group portrait after the Battle of Jutland © IWM (Q 64301B)

The gun crew of “P” turret of the battlecruiser HMS New Zealand posing for a group portrait after the Battle of Jutland © IWM (Q 64301B)

SalfordOnline.com traced several other men who died in the battle, they are as follows.

Stoker, Charles Batty, 28, who died on the HMS Black Prince, he lived at Colliers Building, Whit Lane.

Seaman, Frank Gillespie, 18, lost on the HMS Indefagitable, who lived at Union Street, Salford and had joined the navy only two months previously.

Stoker, Harry Traynor, 18, also lost on the HMS Indefagitable who lived at Marple Street, Pendleton.

Harry was the youngest of four brothers: his eldest brother Frank, 22 was killed in 1914, his two other brothers, Tom and Sam were serving in the army.

Seaman, Robert Edwards, 19, was lost on the HMS Invincible, he lived at Mocha Street, Broughton.

Stoker, John Coates, 19, was lost on the Queen Mary, he lived at New Park Street, Salford.

Stoker, Sidney Blythe, 22, was lost on the HMS Indefagitable, he lived at Clyde Steet, Lower Broughton, Salford.

Ironically enough both sides in this naval conflict claimed it as a victory.

The Germans stated that the British had lost more men and ships than their fleet, whilst the British insisted that it was a victory for them because the German Fleet had sailed back to port and would not come out in force again.

In this situation the British could place Germany under a naval embargo and hopefully starve them to surrendering.

Later this week SalfordOnline.com will recall stories of men from Eccles who took part in this campaign and were lucky enough to survive.

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Tony Flynn

SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.