Tyne’s role in famous sea battle comes to the fore

Peter Coppack, left, and Nick Jellicoe at the Old Low Lights Heritage Centre in North Shields.
Peter Coppack, left, and Nick Jellicoe at the Old Low Lights Heritage Centre in North Shields.

It was appropriate on Trafalgar Day, October 21, that when the Toast to the Admiral at Collingwood’s Monument took place it was attended in this centenary year of the Battle of Jutland by the grandson of Sir John Jellicoe, the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Fleet, which met the German High Seas Fleet in a crucial clash on May 31, 1916.

Nick Jellicoe, making his first visit to Tyneside, was the guest of the project when he launched our new book, Tyneside and the Battle of Jutland, by Peter Coppack, at the Old Low Light Fishing and Maritime Heritage Centre.

He gave a thought provoking talk reviewing the significance of the battle and the ensuing controversy surrounding the action and tactics of the fleets that has continued for 100 years.

Earlier, after attending the Toast, he was fascinated by his visit to the Watch House of the Tynemouth Volunteer Life Brigade, where he met members and guests who had attended the event.

Nick Jellicoe has kindly written a foreword to the book, which reviews the crucial role of the Tyne in the story of the greatest naval encounter of the First World War. Not only did the river’s shipyards construct many of the capital ships and other vessels engaged in the battle, but many local men were in the crews that fought at Jutland.

The development of Sir John (Jackie) Fisher’s fleet of Dreadnought Battleships and heavily armed Battlecruisers was closely linked with the naval shipyards on the river, and after the battle many of the damaged vessels were brought into the Tyne for repairs.

The book has many stories of the actions relating to locally built ships, as well as an overview of the development of the opposing fleets and the smaller scale actions from 1914 to May 1916 that preceded what many hoped would be a definitive encounter.

There was public disappointment, not to say anger, that Sir John Jellicoe had not pressed home what some saw as his advantage when the German fleet turned for its home port on realising it was confronting the Grand Fleet, rather than just Vice Admiral Beatty’s battlecruiser squadrons.

Jellicoe had acted with caution in accordance with his view that he would not risk his capital ships in pursuit of a retreating enemy who might be leading him into a trap – submarines or a minefield.

He would be heavily criticised. However, the ‘armchair admirals’ did not have the burden that Jellicoe carried of knowing, as Churchill put it, that he was the “one man who could have lost the war in an afternoon”.

Tyneside and the Battle of Jutland is available from North Tyneside libraries, the Keel Row Bookshop, Old Low Lights Heritage Centre, and online at www.northumbriaworldwarone.co.uk

The project workroom (Room B9) at Linskill Community Centre, North Shields is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for enquiries and for anyone to bring information about relatives lost in the war. The Memorial Garden is open for public visits during the opening hours of the centre, 8am to 5pm daily.