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Royal letters shed light on Navy’s greatest 20th-Century battle

Jutland letters
4 April 2016
Letters from two future kings give fresh insight into the battle of Jutland – how it was experienced by sailors and perceived by the country.

Notes written by Princes Edward and Albert – the future Edward VIII and George VI respectively – in the aftermath of the clash are being donated by the Imperial War Museum to the largest exhibition ever held honouring the men of Jutland.

“It was a great experience to have gone through – and one not easily forgotten.”

Thus did the future king of Britain and its Empire describe the greatest naval battle ever fought in European waters.

A short, personal account of the Battle of Jutland – the epic clash between British and German ‘castles of steel’ in the North Sea 100 years ago this May – by George VI will be among the prized items on show to the public at the most comprehensive exhibition ever staged on the encounter.

Prince Albert – as he was known then – served in the forward turret of battleship HMS Collingwood, whose 12in guns damaged the German battle-cruiser Derfflinger and cruiser Wiesbaden in the battle.

Collingwood came through the battle unscathed – 14 British and 11 German ships were lost, and more than 8,500 men on both sides died.

I feel very different now that I have seen a German ship filled with Germans and have seen it fired at with our guns

Prince Albert, the future King George VI

“I feel very different now that I have seen a German ship filled with Germans and have seen it fired at with our guns,” the then 20-year-old prince wrote.

“How and why we were not hit or damaged beats me, as we were being fired at a good part of the time. The ship ahead of us was hit but it did not do any damage. We had torpedoes fired at us which we got out of the way of luckily.”

Like most men in the Grand Fleet, the young officer was convinced Jutland was a British victory.

“Nothing is ever talked about up here now except the action,” he wrote. “People exchange notes from other ships and get all sorts of interesting items.”

Also being loaned by the Imperial War Museum to the National Museum of the Royal Navy for its 36 Hours – Jutland 1916, the Battle that Won the War exhibition is another royal letter, written by the future Edward VIII.

Albert’s older brother was touring the Ypres sector of the Western Front when news of Jutland battle came through and buoyed morale at a time when the weather was dreadful and the Germans continuously shelled the men in the trenches.

“It does make one feel proud the service when one hears how those ships met their end, with their guns firing as they went down,” the Prince of Wales noted.

The IWM is also donating the bell of legendary battleship HMS Warspite – which took a hell of a hammering at Jutland, but survived to serve with distinction in WW2 – a lamp from the cruiser Chester, aboard which boy Jack Cornwell earned the VC for his brave stoicism, and a shrapnel-damaged Bible, also from the Warspite, to Portsmouth for the duration of the exhibition.

That opens on May 12 in the building formerly occupied by the Mary Rose Museum at the entrance to the historic dockyard and will run until November 2018 – the 100th anniversary of the end of WW1.

More than two dozen archives, collections and museums are loaning artefacts connected with Jutland for the battle.

Entry to the exhibition can be purchased for £10 (adults) £5 (children) or as part of an all-inclusive package to see Portsmouth’s naval heritage.

Details can be found at jutland.org.uk

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