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Jutland’s ‘unknown victim’ identified ahead of battle’s centenary

Harry Gasson
13 May 2016
An unknown victim of the greatest naval battle ever fought in Europe has been identified on the eve of the clash’s 100th anniversary. For the past 99 years, the last resting place of Able Seaman Harry Gasson has been marked by a headstone simply bearing the inscription of ‘A British Seaman of the Great War – Known Unto God’.

Research by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has pinned the identity of the sailor down to a 32-year-old married able seaman from Ore, near Hastings, one of ten men from cruiser HMS Castor killed in the North Sea battle between the British and German Fleets on May 31 1916.

Gasson’s body was recovered from the North Sea nearly four months later and he was interred in a public cemetery at Esbjerg on the west coast of Jutland on September 30 1916.

Now his body has been identified thanks to the efforts of two historians working on behalf of the war graves commission.

As a result, a new headstone will be installed over the grave and rededicated by Navy chaplain the Rev David Simpson at 11am on May 31 in a service involving Danish and British representatives, among them the MOD’s Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre and the CWGC, and attended by Harry Gasson’s relatives.

In the fading light of Wednesday May 31 1916, Cdre James Hawksley sighted what he thought were German destroyers to the northwest of his flotilla of cruisers, led by Castor, and sailed to engage.

The destroyers turned out to be the German Fleet’s main battle line and at a range of just a mile, the guns of both sides opened fire while British destroyers sent torpedoes towards the enemy vessels. The engagement lasted no more than five minutes, with Castor hit ten times. Ten of her crew were killed, several more wounded.

Images courtesy of the Imperial War Museum/

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