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’
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.’