‘Wrecks of humanity’ were lying everywhere on the ship

Albert's ship HMS Southampton in 1916. She is  flying the flag of a Rear Admiral at her fore-mast head.
Albert's ship HMS Southampton in 1916. She is flying the flag of a Rear Admiral at her fore-mast head.
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In this second part of the journal of Chief Petty Officer Writer Albert Symonds during the Battle of Jutland, almost a century ago, we read of the horrors of being on a ship at action stations at night.

Here, Albert describes much of the action that followed until darkness fell and his ship, HMS Southampton, went into night action.

Petty officer Albert Symonds in happier days visiting Spain in 1911.

Petty officer Albert Symonds in happier days visiting Spain in 1911.

Albert, whose diary was loaned to me by his granddaughter Sarah Pilbeam, of Widley, wrote:

‘At 10.15 a line of cruisers were seen on the beam. I found Mr Babbage, the bosun, who said he could see German cruisers. It was a German scouting group of four ships. At that moment, 10.20pm, one of the ships to our rear fired out to starboard and a shell detonated on a ship on the beam.

‘I dashed down to the waist and stood behind a 5.3in gun and instantly became dazzled by a mass of searchlight beams. We switched on our lights and opened fire. I have a recollection of seeing a line of cruisers but I can only remember one, a four-funnelled craft of the Rostock class, about 1,500 yards away.

‘I think our 5.3in gun had fired two rounds when there was a blinding flash as our ship was enveloped by a hail of shells. I seemed to be standing in a fire. Passing aft on the port side I observed a fire was in full blast.

‘A Royal Marine sergeant major gallantly dashed forward to turn on a fire main but no water came. A shell had pierced the pipe. This shell caused the death of the gun’s breech worker and loader.

‘We saw that the fire main would not work and we managed to get a hose up the hatch and bring it around. While doing this I looked up at the boat deck and saw a sight which almost paralysed me with horror.

‘An enormous fire was raging between the second and third funnels. It lit the whole ship and I could feel the heat. At every moment I and the ship alongside thought that we would blow up. (I must explain that while all the time this was going on six German ships, two heavy and four light cruisers, were concentrating on us.)

‘While trying to put out the fire another shell burst on the starboard searchlight killing three men up there and hurling the remains of it down on top of us in the waist.

‘Having put out the fire, I moved to the boat deck falling over three dead men, and met the commander. While the fire had raged we were lit up from stem to stern and an open target for the German ships.

‘Once the fire had died down they put out their lights and sheared off.

‘With the fire doused all was in darkness and I groped my way forward and passed a number of dead men. I came across a boy, Mellish, a splendid little chap. One arm and a leg were off. He was bleeding to death, quite conscious and most plucky. I had him taken below where he died an hour later. (This lad was J/30028 Thomas Charles Mellish aged 16.)

‘On reaching the bridge I met the commander. Most of the port 3in gun crew were dead by their gun as were the starboard side 3in gun crew who were lying dead on the deck.

‘I was ordered aft to report casualties and stopped to see some dead put over the side then went down hatch F to the central passage which in places was running with blood. ‘In the stokers’ bathroom doctors were doing an amputation. No murmur rose, not a sound, not a groan came from those wrecks of humanity lying on the deck, the tables and the sideboard.

‘The scene on the upper deck defies description and in places was so horrible that I will not describe it here.

‘There were not many atheists on board us at 11pm though there might have been some at 10pm.’

Sadly, space stops me here but if anyone wishes to see the full report please let me know. Sarah has given me permission to copy it.