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Remembering Jutland

Albert Edward Townley

My maternal grandmother was luckier than many women of her generation in that only one of her sons lost his life during the Great War. All the same, she nearly went out of her mind when the sad news arrived about her first born and she never really recovered from it. According to my mother, who was only nine at the time, she grieved for Albert for the rest of her life and never ceased to blame Admiral Sir John Jellicoe for his death and that of so many other British sailors.

A.E.Townley plaque

The fact that his surname was misspelled on the bronze plaque she received afterwards only served to add insult to injury and it’s a wonder that she kept it. Many families threw their ‘Dead Man’s Penny’ away in disgust. However, both it and the memory of Albert have been passed down the family and will continue to be so. His name is included on the war memorial in Brighouse, the King’s Book of York Heroes, which can be seen in the crypt of the Minster, and also on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.


Jutland leaflet

I set off for the centenary exhibition knowing that I would be deeply moved by the suffering of the thousands of men and boys killed and injured during the biggest and bloodiest battle in naval history. Just like my grandmother, I would find myself in tears wondering whether Albert had been blown up on board his ship or drowned in the North Sea. What I didn’t expect to feel was sympathy for Admiral Jellicoe and Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty. Much has been written since about their tactical mistakes and willingness to sacrifice safety for speed, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. It’s only fair to remember that this was the first major battle at sea since Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. In 1916, the ships were much further apart and yet signalling was still largely done with flags and lamps.  During the film shows, which had commentary from serving crews played over original footage, it became clear that mist and then the smoke of battle made it very difficult for much of the time to see what was going on.

Portsmouth monument

It was dull and very windy by the time I made my way to the memorial and I apologise for the poor quality of the photograph.

Portsmouth monument Maggie

Touching Albert’s name amongst those of around 10 000 sailors lost during WW1 was a very poignant moment. My grandmother would have been pleased to know that, here at least, his surname is spelled correctly.


At best, the Battle of Jutland was a draw. The British lost far more men and ships, but the German High Seas Fleet never again challenged the Royal Navy in the North Sea. I hope that my poor grandmother derived a little comfort from that.

15 July, 2016 - Make the first comment on this story

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