DATELINE 1916: Grief as news of Jutland losses reaches Portsmouth

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The George Hotel, Queen Street, Portsea: the tiling below the left hand ground floor window has the inscription Jewell & Sons Ale, a unique survivor of this former Portsmouth brewery.
Pictures: Steve Wallis/Amberley

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Portsmouth, as the first naval port of the kingdom, is well accustomed to the receipt of startling naval news and tidings of disaster are taken withj that solidity which is characteristic of a service community and in fact the British race.

When, however, the issue of a special edition of The Evening News gave details of the serious losses sustained by our Fleet in the North Sea battle, there was quite a shock throughout the town and district.

The streets were filled with people when, about half past seven, the papers were issued and there was a continuous clamour for copies as fast as the presses could turn them out.

In Commericla Road, small crowds of people gathered round the possessor of a paper, and the battle and its result was the one great theme of conversation until a late hour, for in this unprecedeneted war there had never previously been a naval action of such dimensions, and the British Navy had not been called upon to bear anything approaching such a serious loss.

The news quickly spread to the outlying districts and in the artisan portions of the town, where so many Naval men have their homes, there was naturally much consternatuion.

At least six of the vessels lost, inc;luding the Queen Mary, Invincible and Black Prince were Portsmouth commissioned ships, the three cruisers alone having a total complement of not less than 2,400 men.

Of the tropedo craft known to have been sunk the Ardent, Fortune and Sparrowhawk belonged to this port and each carried a crew of from 100 to 150 men.

In the absence of official casualty lists, there was no actual knowledge of the loss in human life, though it was recognised that it must be very heavy and the shock to many wives and mothers was a terrible one.

Two women in Commercial Road were seen to fall in a faint upon reading the news of the losses sustained and throughout the night the sorrow and anxiety in innumerable homes were tragic.

Naval men assembled in little knots in the principal thoroughfares, discussing the news available andf the possibilities of what actually happened.

Of one thing they were tolerably certain: that if a dozen or more British ships had gone, the enemy must have suffered in a similar measure.

The Admiralty despatch gave little information as to how the German Fleet had fared but Jack was satisfied that the British ships had hit back hard.

As to the battle itself, it seemed as though the British squadron had been caught by the German Battle Fleet before Admiral Jellicoe’s main strength could get to the scene and, as the initial despatch indicated, the enemy ships made a dash to port immediately the odds became more even.

This morning’s news bore out the view that the German losses must have in some measure equalled our own and as the day wore on anxiety for further details, particularly as to the casualties, was very evident.

*Word for word, this is an article published in the Portsmouth Evening News on June 3, 1916 as news broke of the Battle of Jutland, which had started three days earlier.

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