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Helensburgh commemorates Battle of Jutland

17 May 2016
Helensburgh gathered to remember the First World War’s only full-scale clash of battleships when a Battle of Jutland commemorative event was held in the town’s Colquhoun Square on Saturday 14 May.

Serving sailors and soldiers were joined by members of veteran associations, cadets, and local dignitaries for a parade through the town culminating in a poignant drumhead service.  

The event was to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the monumental sea battle which took place from May 31 to June 1, 1916, in the North Sea near the coast of Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula. 

During a major clash between the British Grand Fleet and the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet a total of 9,823 sailors from both sides tragically lost their lives.   

The parade was led by HMS Neptune Volunteer Band and included a marching platoon from HM Naval Base Clyde, members of the 1st Battalion of the Scots Guards, and D Company, 51 Highland, of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

Representing the veterans were members of the Royal British Legion Scotland, the Royal Navy Association, Royal Marines Association, the Submarine Association and Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders Association.

Also participating were the Helensburgh Clan Colquhoun Pipe Band, Sea Cadets, Army Training Cadets and members of the Guides and Brownies.

Helensburgh’s Battle of Jutland event is one in a series of such events happening around the country to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle.

Taking the salute from the dais at Colquhoun Square was Lord Lieutenant of Dunbartonshire, Rear Admiral Michael Gregory OBE, who was joined by Lord Lieutenant of Argyll and Bute, Patrick Stewart, Provost of Argyll and Bute, Councillor Len Scoullar, and Naval Base Commander Clyde, Commodore Mark Gayfer RN.  

The drumhead service – a type of religious service held by the military and so-called because drums are used as an altar – was conducted by Reverend Neil Allison and Royal Navy Chaplain Reverend Mark Dalton.  

During the service, local schoolgirl Chloe Maguire (12) read from Ephesians 6:10-18 and Rear Admiral Gregory spoke about the Battle and the bravery and sacrifice of those who took part.  

The Battle of Jutland was one of the largest and fiercely-fought naval battles of all time. Among the Royal Navy ships taking part was HMS Valiant, a Queen Elizabeth class battleship built in Govan by Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company. The bell from the warship, which now has pride of place at HM Naval Base Clyde’s Valiant Jetty, was transported to Colquhoun Square especially for the event .  

Two other battleships from the Grand Fleet – HMS Neptune and HMS Vanguard – also have special significance to HM Naval Base Clyde. HMS Neptune is the name of the Base’s shore establishment while today’s HMS Vanguard is a ballistic submarine home-ported at Clyde.  

During the First World War, the Royal Navy enjoyed control of the seas and used their numerical superiority to blockade German ports. Realising that they could not openly engage the British Fleet, the German Navy devised a plan to lure and trap a portion of the Grand Fleet in order to ultimately break the blockade.  

But German radio signals were intercepted and decoded by the British and sensing that something was afoot, British Admiral Sir John Jellicoe ordered the Grand Fleet to sail from bases at Rosyth, Scapa Flow and Cromarty.  

The German High Seas Fleet was led by Vice Admiral Reinhardt von Scheer and on May 31 the two navies clashed near the Jutland Peninsula.  

Both sides claimed victory. While the Royal Navy did not destroy the German High Sea Fleet, and lost more ships than their enemy, the Germans retreated to harbour and at the end of the battle the British crucially retained command of the sea.  

The battle was to have important consequences for the future course of the war.  Both sides were wary of future naval conflicts, realising, as Sir Winston Churchill once observed, that an unfavourable battle could “lose the war in an afternoon”.  After Jutland the Germans confined their activities to the Baltic Sea and thereafter relied on a policy of unrestricted submarine warfare, attacking Allied and neutral shipping.  By April 1917 this policy led to the USA’s declaration of war on Germany tipping the balance in favour of the Allies.    

Helensburgh’s Battle of Jutland event is one in a series of such events happening around the country to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the battle.

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