Portsmouth rallies to remember a tragedy which scarred the city for generations

The altar for the Drumhead Ceremony on Southsea CommonThe altar for the Drumhead Ceremony on Southsea Common
The altar for the Drumhead Ceremony on Southsea Common
IT WAS a tragedy which left more than 3,000 families in Portsmouth forever scarred.

Yesterday the city and relatives of those who made the ultimate sacrifice during the Battle of Jutland were united once again, this time in remembrance, 100 years on.

Hundreds of people gathered at the Southsea Common naval memorial to pay their respects to those killed in the 1916 naval battle.

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It cost the lives of 8,500 men – more than 6,000 of them were British.

Of the 15 British ships sunk, six were from Portsmouth, with some 3,300 men lost. This was more than half of the navy’s total losses.

Event organiser Commander Andy Green said it was vital the tragedy was remembered by future generations.

‘It’s really important for Portsmouth to remember these sacrifices because the whole of the city was affected by the losses of Jutland,’ he said.

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‘Some 3,300 men were lost – that’s 3,300 households who were without a father, brother or uncle and it’s really, really important that the young people remember that they are who they are today because of the sacrifices of their forefathers.’

The 45-minute service was held in front of 330 guests, including MPs and high-ranking military officers as well as 284 descendants of sailors who either fought in or were lost in the battle.

Wreaths were laid by Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt and seven other guests including Minister for Portsmouth Mark Francois, Keith Simpson of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Portsmouth Naval Base Commander, Commodore Jeremy Rigby.

Hymns were accompanied by Portsmouth Military Wives’ Choir and the RM Band Collingwood.

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One of the readings was given by Able Seaman (Writer) Emily Ellison, who spoke about Victoria Cross winner John ‘Jack’ Cornwell.

The 16-year-old boy sailor continued to stand alone at his post awaiting orders on board the cruiser HMS Chester, despite being seriously injured with steel shrapnel in his chest.

The brave teenager survived the battle but later died in hospital on June 2, 1916.

AB Ellison, 25, who is based at HMS Nelson in Portsmouth, said: ‘I was honoured to be asked to be part of it.

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‘The courage of people like Jack Cornwell is incredible. I can’t even imagine joining the navy at 15.’

Cmdr Green said he was pleased at the number of people who lined the parade route and attended the service.

He added: ‘It was pleasing to see so many residents from Portsmouth lining the parade route and attending the commemoration service, paying their respects to the many brave officers and men from the city who died in the battle of Jutland.

‘The large turnout was made all the more poignant because of the 6,000 officers and men who lost their lives at Jutland, the great majority were attached to Portsmouth.

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‘Many lives were irrevocably altered by the events that occurred at sea in those few hours on May 31, 1916 and the impact on the city of Portsmouth lives on to this day.’

n Remembering those lost at Jutland - pages 32-36