Loos, Gallipoli, Somme and Paschendale. These names are seared into our memory, bywords for the scale and suffering of the First World War. Today we add the Battle of Jutland to this sombre roll call, the war’s biggest sea battle.
One hundred years ago, the might of the British and German fleets clashed in the North Sea off the Danish coast. Some 100,000 sailors took part. One in ten were wounded and 8,500 killed, including 6,000 of our own men.
Many on board were teenagers. Jack Cornwell was just 16 years old when he died at Jutland. He was awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military award for bravery. Another young sailor, 15 year old Jack Hunter, had yet to finish his naval training when he sent a telegram home to his mother saying “can’t come home for summer holidays, going mobilising”. He survived, not only the battle but also the war. Relatives of both young men will be in Orkney today.
These stories, and many others, live on through the re-telling by those that came after them. We are very fortunate to be with so many descendants in places forever linked to Jutland and the war at sea. Together we will pay our respects at St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall and at Lyness Cemetery on Hoy.
In recognition of the losses suffered by our naval towns across the country, there will be commemorations in Portsmouth, Plymouth, Chatham and Rosyth. British and German ships will return to the waters off Jutland Bank.
Five of my relatives died in the First World War and I know that they, like those involved in the Battle of Jutland, and all who volunteered in that bloody campaign, believed they were going to fight in a just cause.
Jutland may not have been the decisive victory hoped for but their sacrifice was not in vain. They neutralised the threat from the German navy. Our Merchant Navy was able to keep our country fed and equipped with materials. The Harwich Force and Dover Patrol protected the Channel.
They fought to prevent the domination of a continent, and in defence of British values.
So, rightly, today we give thanks and pay tribute to all who served at sea during the First World War. Their sacrifice is one we must never forget.