The Battle of Jutland

The Battle of Jutland was the last major battle in world history to be fought mainly by battleships. On May 31-June 1st 1916 151 British and 99 German ships blasted shells and torpedoes at each other near the Jutland Peninsula in Denmark. By the end of the engagement 6,094 British servicemen and 2,551 German had been killed with another 674 and 507 wounded. On the British side 3 battleships, 3 armoured cruisers and 8 destroyers had been lost – over 113,000 tons of valuable shipping. Both sides claimed victory – the German fleet has contained in the North Sea but the British lost significantly more ships and twice as many men.

HMS ‘Queen Mary’ had been part of the 5th Battle Squadron which had been tracking the German Scouting group. Travelling south at roughly 14,000m parallel to each other, the battle-cruisers engaged in the opening phase of the action, The ‘Run for the South’.

At 16.25 HMS ‘Queen Mary’ was hit by a combined salvo from ‘Derfflinger’ and ‘Seydlitz’. Both forward magazines exploded, sinking the ship with all except 9 of her 1,275 crew. A gunner officer aboard the ‘Derfflinger’ recorded

A vivid red flame shot up from her forepart; then came an explosion forward, following by a much heavier explosion amidships. Immediately afterwards she blew up with a terrific explosion, the mast collapsed inwards and the smoke hiding everything.’

Geoffrey Bennett ‘Naval Battles of the First World War’queen-mary-explosion

One of the 1,266 men who died aboard the ‘Queen Mary’ was 18 year old Gilbert Henry Batchelor from Bromley-by-Bow, a Private in the Royal Marines Light Infantry who is remembered on his family’s grave in the Cemetery.

Geography could play a significant part in deciding which service or regiment a man would join. Men from counties like Devon or Hampshire would often enlist in the Navy or the Marines due to the seafaring tradition in those areas and because of the large naval bases at Portsmouth and Plymouth. The Batchelor family, originally from the south of England is a perfect example of this trend. Gilbert Henry was the middle son of Ernest and Edith Batchelor who originally came from near Stonehenge, Wiltshire. Ernest enlisted in the Royal Marine Light Infantry on 2nd April 1889 around 6 years before marrying Edith. In the 1901 census the family is recorded as living at Alexandra Street, Alverstoke. Ernest is a sergeant in the Royal Marines and there are two sons; George aged 4 and Gilbert aged 2.

By 1911 the family has extend with an additional son, Alfred Frederick aged 7. Edith, who is recorded as the head of the household with her husband on board a ship somewhere, states that she has been married for 16 years and had had three children, all of them alive. The oldest son, Ernest aged 14, was employed as a grocer’s assistant. Their given address is the Royal Marine Barracks, Forton, Alverstoke in Gosport. The residents there are all the wives and children of serving men who are living in the married quarters which had been added to the barracks in the 1890’s.

Following in his father’s footsteps, Gilbert enlisted into the Royal Marine, Portsmouth Division in London on April 15th 1915, 5 days after his 17th birthday. He died when the ‘Queen Mary’ sank off the coast of Denmark. Just four months after Gilbert’s death, his older brother Ernest also died, in September 1916 at the age of 20. The youngest of the three brothers survived until 1963, dying at the age of 59 in Christchurch, Hampshire. The family grave is in Square 50 at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park and although Gilbert is not interred here, he is remembered in the inscription. He is also commemorated in the inscription on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial, Southsea

For those ‘who laid down their lives in the defence of the Empire and have no other grave than the sea.’

2020-02-12T15:27:16+00:00May 15th, 2016|

Training the Troops

As part of our ongoing Heritage Lottery funded WW1 Hidden Histories project, the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park Heritage Volunteer Team have had the pleasant task of training new project volunteers. These ‘newbies’ have all been inspired by the project launch back in February and are keen to help out by researching the lives of some of the 205 men commemorated on the Cemetery’s War Memorial. A variety of on-line sources, the National Archive and local record offices will be used to provide invaluable information about the men’s service careers and other genealogical web-sites will build up a fuller picture of their home lives, their family and the life they left behind when they enlisted in the Great War.

Hopefully during the research process people will find that their families have personal memorabilia – letters, photographs etc – which they will share with the Heritage Team.

Some of the volunteers are researching a member of their own family who is buried in the Cemetery. Others are following up on a theme which particularly interests them such as a specific regiment in the Army, someone who lived near their home or simply a name or an occupation which sounds interesting.

The aim of the project is to build up a whole picture of each serviceman – as a man who was more than just a service number and a name on the War Memorial. The untimely death of each man had a profound impact on his home community as well as his own family.

If anyone would like to help out with the research, please contact the Heritage Team.  We can help you with some training and the best places to start.


2020-02-12T15:27:16+00:00April 15th, 2016|

Bow History Day

Members of the Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park Heritage team, who are currently busy researching the servicemen commemorated on the War Memorial, are also supporting other like-minded history buffs in the local area.

Bow Church History Day was the perfect opportunity to catch up with people involved in other research projects, share information, discuss avenues to explore and enjoy a sociable cup of tea!

One of the key aspects of the research project is to highlight the fact that all 205 men commemorated on the WW1 plaques had a life beyond that of being a serviceman. The majority, who were old enough, had an occupation in the local community before they joined up which was put on hold when they enlisted. They also left behind family and friends whose everyday life was permanently altered by their absence and subsequent permanent loss. We are hoping to build up a picture of each man’s whole life – even if it was only a tragically short 17 or 18 years.

The Heritage team are going to build as complete a picture of each individual as we possibly can through researching various sources – the London Metropolitan Archive, the National Archive at Kew, Bancroft Road and the wealth of on-line sources which are currently becoming available

britons-your-country-needs-you-war-is-hell-storeThe Team is also really hoping the descendants and families of each service man will be able to share any memories or memorabilia that they have with us. It would be wonderful to have picture to put with the names of these men who made the ultimate sacrifice for King and Country.


Please get in touch if you can help in any way or if you would like to help research one of the 205 names on the War Memorial.

2020-02-12T15:27:16+00:00March 15th, 2016|

‘Hidden Histories’ Launch

Hidden HistoriesSaturday saw the absolutely brilliant launch day for the Tower Hamlets

Funded by a generous £10,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Heritage volunteer are undertaking a project to research the 205 servicemen commemorated on the eleven plaques on the War Memorial. All of these men died during the 1914-18 Great War and, unusually for Commonwealth War servicemen, are buried in the cemetery.

To raise the profile of this major heritage project, the Friends held a series of talks based around the theme of WWI and its impact on the local area along with help and advice on how to research your family’s involvement in this historic period. Over 150 people called in to find out about the project and one of the talks was so popular it had to be re-run because we couldn’t fit everyone into the room ! And we were worried no-one would turn up !!! The Commonwealth War Graves Commission talk was particularly interesting because it explained how the beautiful Cemeteries built after the end of the conflict were designed.

The Soanes Centre was also full to overflowing with memorabilia dscn0694
and local history stalls along with art work. Three splendid individuals from ‘Tommy 14/18 Great War Living History Enthusiasts’ decked out in authentic WWI military dress showed visitors both replica and original memorabilia including a reproduction of the ‘Wipers Times’ newspaper from the trenches at Ypres.

The day was certainly a real success for the heritage team as a number of people linked to named individuals on the War Memorial talked to us about treasured items and memories that they have of related to these family members. Several people also offered to help with the research project as we try and develop a whole picture of these men’s  lives before and during the war.                                                                                                                                            dscn0706


2020-02-12T15:27:16+00:00February 15th, 2016|

Researching a soldier of the Great War

As more and more keen amateur genealogists, military historians and local researches become interested in the 100th anniversary of the Great War, an increasing number of invaluable sources are becoming available online and at local record offices.

The most obvious place to begin researching a particular individual casualty ofcwgc WW1 is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission  The man’s service number is particularly useful, especially if the name is a very common one – Smiths and Jones’ will appreciate this ! Additional detail might also include names and addresses of parents, siblings and wife.

Using this information pay-to –use sites such as Ancestry  and Find My Past will open up a wide range of further sources to investigate the man’s life before entering the military.

The 1911 census returns will list the occupations, birth places and census-returnfull names of the family. The number of children born and the number currently alive are also recorded. It is then possible to research whether brothers served in the War and whether they survived.  The family can hopefully be traced back through the census as far as 1841 and links can be made with weddings recorded in local parishes. London is particularly well documented in this respect and the records can provide addresses of the happy couple along with the groom’s and the respective fathers’ occupations.

Every service man had a detailed record kept from his attestation papers through his service record to his pension payment. The originals of these documents are kept at the National Archive at Kew Some of these are available from online research site but many were destroyed during the 2nd World War. marine-formFor the ones which survived, the information is amazingly detailed, from the man’s height and eye colour, the date they joined, their transfer between regiments or ships, promotions and even offences they may have committed and the resulting punishment.

Some of the records can include quite detailed and distressing information about the serviceman’s death. Our Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park men all died ‘at home’ which does not actually mean they died at their family’s home but is a term to distinguish those who died in Britain rather than in action or abroad.

With the date of death the researcher can use Freebmd to find the relevant information about the death certificate issued for each casualty and with the relevant year and quarter and the registration district a copy of the certificate can be ordered from the General Register Office.

Some detailed diaries have survived from different regiments and although these rarely mention any of the rank and file, they can give valuable detail about the regiments movements, their participation in specific battle and their allocation of troops.

Using these different sources it is easy to become ‘hooked’ on tracking down the life story behind a name on a monument. If you would like to research one of the 205 names on the Tower Hamlet Cemetery Park War Memorial please get in touch with the heritage team.

2020-05-05T12:37:11+01:00January 9th, 2016|

It will all be over by Christmas

The declaration of War against Germany in August 1914 was greeted with almost universal approval across Britain. The conflict was seen as just and thousands of men joined the long queues to sign up. One of the reasons for this enthusiasm was the firmly held belief that the war would be over by Christmas and that if the enthusiastic young men did not get themselves over to Europe soon the whole thing would be over and they would have missed out. This probably changed when reports started coming back from the Front detailing the heavy losses and train loads of severely wounded servicemen arrived back to receive treatment, especially after the Battle of Mons.

Famously, over Christmas 1914 a number of widespread but unofficial christams-truceceasefires ‘broke-out’ along the Western Front. French, German and British soldiers crossed No Man’s Land, exchanged seasonal greetings, chatted and shared their food. Joint burial ceremonies were organised and prisoners swapped while several meetings ended with carol singing. Games of football were played and the whole affair must have been surprisingly convivial, considering the gruesome battle ravaged surroundings.

The Christmas truces were not so widespread the following year due partially to strongly worded orders from the high command of both sides forbidding fraternisation. The war had also become more bitter during 1915 after the horrors of the Somme and Verdun and the use of poison mustard gas.

Every soldier, sailor and airman received an embossed brass gift box presented by the princess-mary-tinPrincess Mary Gift Fund containing a variety of items including tobacco, chocolate, a Christmas card and a photo of the royal family. £162,000 was raised through public donations to fund this scheme. These boxes became treasures possessions and, once empty, were used to store letters and photographs from home.

Tragically the war was not ‘all over by Christmas but would drag on through three more long, hard years.

2020-02-12T15:27:16+00:00December 15th, 2015|

We will remember them


Every November Remembrance Day is special, but somehow the last two, coming in the middle of the 100th anniversary of the Great War, seem to hold even more significance. As we lose the last of the generation who fought in the ‘war to end all wars’ it is becoming increasingly important to record and preserve the memories of events which shaped our world.

Sunday November 8th was a particularly busy day at Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park as over 200 people attended the annual Remembrance Day service held at the War Memorial. Local people, councillors, Friends of the Cemetery Park, Scout and Army Cadets all took time out from their busty weekends to commemorate the sacrifice of a previous generation.

Two years into the national commemoration of the 17 million men and women who gave their lives during World War I, it was particularly poignant to read the names of the 205 men, some of them tragically young recorded on the 11 WWI plaques on the War Memorial. Every one was a special life and every one was loved and mourned by their family and friends, from the youngest, 16 year old G. W Ellerbeck who died on 21-11-18 to Rifleman B Pickhaver who died on the last day of the conflict, 11-11-1918. 2013-11-10-10-48-07

After a short service and the traditional laying of the scarlet poppy wreaths, a large group strolled through the autumn trees to the civilian War Memorial which commemorates local people killed during Zeppelin raids, the Blitz and other incidents which brought the full horrors of modern warfare all too close to home.

Although the day was a really sombre reminder of the lives lost during any conflict, it was also a thoughtful way for the current generation to show that they value the sacrifice of a previous one.


2020-02-12T15:27:16+00:00November 11th, 2015|