ONE hundred years ago HMS Defender earned battle honours for her actions during one of the first naval battles of the First World War.
Today, sailors on board her modern-day namesake have marked the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Heligoland Blight on their ship’s maiden deployment.
Portsmouth-based HMS Defender is in the Gulf on maritime security operations.
But her ship’s company took time out of their operations to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the war.
The name is not the ship’s only link to the opening moves of the First World War.
George Thomas Dorrell, great-grandfather of the ship’s executive officer Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Keith, earned Britain’s highest military honour, the Victoria Cross, on the Western Front just days later.
Four days after HMS Defender saw action in the North Sea, at Néry in France the 1st Cavalry Brigade and L Battery Royal Horse Artillery were roused by a bombardment from heavy German guns.
As the British guns were silenced one by one, the last remaining gun continued firing under the command of Battery Sergeant-Major Dorrell until it ran out of ammunition, before the cavalry mounted a charge and repelled the Germans.
Three VCs were awarded for the crew of that last gun, including a posthumous award to the Battery Captain.
Lt Cdr Benjamin Keith said: ‘I am immensely humbled by my great-grandfather’s achievements and feel it is only fitting that we have paused today to remember all those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the First World War.
‘My family are travelling to Néry for the anniversary of the battle, to honour the brave people who fell.
‘Unfortunately I can’t attend, as I am deployed on operations until the end of the year.’
After being awarded a field commission George Dorrell eventually attained the rank of lieutenant colonel and went on to serve as a company commander in the Home Guard during the Second World War.
In a poignant service, the 230-strong ship’s company of the Type 45 destroyer mustered in the hangar to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the war.
Chaplain Michael Meachin said: ‘In paying tribute to those who fell during World War One, it is important always to look to the future with hope.
‘We have paused today to remember the huge human sacrifice of the Great War.
‘We give thanks to our forefathers who gave their lives so that we could live ours in freedom today.’
HMS Defender is the eighth ship named Defender to be commissioned.
The fifth vessel to bear the name was an Acheron-class destroyer launched 100 years prior to her successor and commissioned in 1912.
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, she and her sisters formed the 1st Destroyer Flotilla, attached to the Grand Fleet.
On August 28 1914, superior Royal Navy forces attempted to wipe out enemy cruisers and destroyers in the latter’s back yard – the Heligoland Bight, just a couple of dozen miles from the German mainland.
For the cost of 35 dead, the British force sank three German cruisers, two torpedo boats and the destroyer V187.
The latter found herself trapped by eight Royal Navy destroyers, including HMS Defender, which stopped to pick up survivors when the German ship sank.
HMS Defender earned battle honours for her actions that day – marked on a wooden board which hangs outside the cabin of the Commanding Officer on today’s Type 45 destroyer.
The commanding officer of HMS Defender, Commander Phil Nash said: ‘Today is a poignant day of remembrance for the Royal Navy.
‘It is with great pride that we serve today on HMS Defender while contributing to the UK’s security and pause to think of those serving on the ship bearing the same name 100 years ago and the sacrifices they made for us.’
‘HMS Defender has a significant list of battle honours and today we take time to remember the first of those.’
HMS Defender continues her patrols whilst on operational deployment in the Gulf and is due to return to the UK in December.