When I think about World War I, I picture trench warfare on the Western Front. I don’t think I’m alone in that – memories of the conflict tend to focus on the sacrifices of the Army in France and Belgium. The actions of our Navy – equally courageous and vital to the War effort – are all too easily forgotten.
We’ve attempted to redress the balance a bit, with the launch of our Royal Navy and Royal Marine War Graves Roll, 1914-1919. This new collection remembers over 40,000 brave sailors who lost their lives during the War, and in many cases tells you where they’re buried.
The main role of the Navy was to keep opposition forces pinned to their own coast and maintain dominance of important trade routes – especially the North Sea. Its main concern was small-scale raids by the German Navy and their new weapon – the U-Boat submarine. Robert Abbott and Claude Abel were just two of the men killed aboard HMS Cressy in the first U-Boat raid, less than a month after the outbreak of war.
That’s not to say there weren’t any large naval battles. The most extensive was the Battle of Jutland off the coast of Denmark, where the British Navy lost over 6,000 men. Our records show that one of these – John Cornwell aboard HMS Chester – was just 16 years old. He was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for his courage.
If you have relatives that fought and died at sea during the Great War, hopefully this new collection will help to make sure their sacrifices are remembered – alongside those of their Army colleagues.