From Benin to Jutland - A Tale of a Blacksmith's Mate
Blacksmith's Mate Samuel Charles Thorrowgood Royal Navy
The Man Samuel Charles Thorrowgood was born on 28th July 1876, at 18 Hampshire Street in Portsmouth. He was one of eight children, Arthur born in 1865, Sarah 1871, Isabella 1875, Charlotte 1879, William W 1880, Beatrice M 1883, Eleanor M 1885 and Charles F 1887. His parents were Samuel Isaac Hosea, a Gunner's Mate in the Royal Navy and Sarah Ann and he was baptised at St. Mary’s Church, Portsea near to Hampshire Street on 13th August 1876. After leaving school, Samuel became a Blacksmith and on 13th July 1894, 15 days before his eighteenth birthday and following in his father’s footsteps, he enlisted into the Royal Navy. He was given the service number 340249 and initially signed up for a period of 12 years, where he gave his year of birth as 1875! He was described as 5’.8½” tall, light hair, grey eyes with a fresh complexion and a scar on his left arm. He was appointed as a Blacksmith’s Mate, attached to the ‘Artisan Branch’.
Following his training aboard HMS Victory II he was, on 25th October 1894 posted aboard HMS St. George, a 1st Class protected cruiser built for tropical service. Here he spent the next three years and four months and during this time took part in the Benin campaign of 1897 in North West Africa. A difficult campaign that took place in dense jungles and searing heat which eventually resulted in the overthrow of the King of Benin, King Overiami, who had been involved in human sacrifices and slave trading. For Samuel’s part in this campaign he was awarded the East & West Africa Medal with clasp ‘Benin 1897’, which was posted to his next ship HMS Victory, although it is not known if he served ashore or remained aboard. He then served in HMS Vernon and Duke of Wellington until 5th October 1903. On 12th January 1902, Samuel married Annie Elizabeth Wooden, daughter of Reuben Thomas and Elsie Wooden at the Lake Road Baptist Church in Portsmouth with Reuben and Elsie acting as witnesses. They both moved to live in 52 Moorland Road, Portsmouth. Samuel subsequently served in various ships, HMS Duncan, Victory, Cressy, Victory II, Diadem, Hawke, King Alfred and on 3rd July 1906 signed on for a further period of service in the RN. In 1909 he was awarded the Royal Navy Long Service and Good Conduct Medal for 15 years service which was forwarded to him in HMS King Alfred. He then served in HMS Fisgard, Vernon and Drake until 4th September 1913 when he joined the compliment of HMS Queen Mary, a Lion Class Battle Cruiser, where he was still serving at the outbreak of World War I on 4th August 1914. During the first part of the War Samuel saw action in the battles of Heligoland Bight and Dogger Bank as well as extensive general patrol and escort duties. He was on board the Queen Mary at 2300h on 30th May 1916 when Admiral Sir David Beatty's 1st Battle Cruiser Fleet and 5th Battle
Squadron sailed from Rosyth towards Jutland Bank in pursuit of German Admiral Franz Von Hipper and his Battlecruisers, resulting in arguably one of the largest ever conflicts at sea, and known as The Battle of Jutland. It was during this famous battle that Samuel lost his life at 1626h on 31st May 1916 aged 39, when the Queen Mary was sunk by the German ship Derfflinger. It was immediately after the sinking of HMS Queen Mary that Sir David Beatty uttered the immortal words to his Flag Captain “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today Chatfield”. Samuel’s body was never recovered and he is commemorated on panel 20 of the Portsmouth Naval Memorial in Southsea and his character throughout his 22 years devoted service was described as Very Good with a war gratuity paid to his widow. Samuel’s service during World War 1 entitled him to the posthumous award of the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
The Story The medals awarded to Samuel Charles Thorrowgood were acquired in June 1997 from Gordon’s Medals following a ‘windfall’ when the Halifax Building Society became a Bank. They were of interest as a casualty of World War I had always been desired and to have a victim of the Battle of Jutland, together with another campaign medal and an Edward VII long service award seemed unusual. It must be remembered that back in 1997, home computers were a relatively new development, the internet not as well advanced as it is today (2013) and any research usually had to be undertaken by travelling to various locations in the UK. There followed several months, indeed years of visits, slowly piecing together Samuel’s life story. They included St. Catherine’s House and the Public Records Office (now The National Archives) in London, Portsmouth, visiting his old houses, the War Memorial and the local library checking local parish records. A professional was also employed to undertake additional detailed research. The story expanded massively as the two specific campaigns Charles had been in, Benin and Jutland, were looked at in detail; as were the lives of Admirals Jellicoe and Beatty. Research was as diverse as the Ward Room in HMS Excellent, Portsmouth, where a superb portrait of Jellicoe was hanging, Trafalgar Square, where the two fountains are dedicated in honour of the Battle as well as the Admirals busts in bronze on the rear wall below the National Gallery. RAF Duxford also featured where the Ship’s Bell from Admiral Jellicoe’s Flagship at Jutland, HMS Iron Duke was discovered hanging by the Guard Room. Many aretfacts from the battle were also acquired over the years, mostly made from the teak of Iron Duke. The story took another unexpected turn in May 2000, when Samuel Thorrowgood’s medals were entered and displayed for the President’s Cup at the Birmingham Medal Society’s bi-annual convention in Knowle, winning joint first place. However one of the visitors, luminary within the medal collecting world, Oliver Stirling-Lee, happened to mention, almost in passing, that he possessed the Navy Long Service Medal belonging to Samuel's Father,
Samuel Isaac Hosier Thorrowgood! Arrangements were made for Oliver to bring the medal to a meeting of the BMS the following year, and in May 2001 for a very brief time, the medals of Father and Son were re-united. Sadly Oliver passed away four years later and enquiries revealed that his collection, including Samuel senior’s Long Service Medal were being auctioned at Dix Noonan & Webb in London in eight days time, on Wednesday 2nd March 2005! Cutting it fine indeed. A bid was placed on the medal, and thankfully it was won and after an unknown number of years, re-united with his sons medals. It came with much research already undertaken by Oliver which was helpful.
Included in the research was the fact Samuel Senior was also entitled to the British Crimea Medal with clasp ‘Sebastopol’, 2nd China Medal with clasp ‘Canton 1857’ and the Turkish Crimea Medal. As they were issued by the Royal Navy, they had all been unnamed at the time of award, possibly explaining why they had been separated in the first place; however this also made it possible for the group to be fairly easily, if expensively, fully reunited. Having now got Father and Sons medals, and a substantial amount of information, it was assumed research was virtually complete. However, following a random entry placed onto the HMS Queen Mary web site, an e mail was received in May 2006 from a Michael Thorrowgood, who claimed he may be a relative of both Samuels! Following further exchanges and telephone calls it was established that he was the Great - Great Grandson of Samuel senior! Additionally he made contact with his Cousin, Ian Thorrowgood, who it transpired not only knew, very well, a colleague of the authors, but had a much sought after photograph of Samuel Isaac Hosier, although sadly not Samuel Charles. A further visit was made to Portsmouth in August 2013, 16 years after their initial acquisition, for further photographs of the various properties to be taken digitally. Once again this story is an example of not only ‘a small world’ but how, to quote another medal luminary John Tamplin, “Research never ends” An incredible journey that is not yet finished, in bringing two men back from their graves and remembering them for posterity.
The Benin Campaign 1897 (6th February - 7th August)
Ship’s Motto: Animo Opibusque Parati Type: 1st Class Protected Cruiser
Built By: Earle Hull
Launch Date: 23rd June 1892
Completion: 25th October 1894
Dimensions: 378 ½ x 60 x 23 ¾
Displacement: 7,700 tones
Speed: 18 knots Coal 1256 tons
Armaments: 2 x 9.2” 10 x 6” QF 12 x 6pdr 5 x 3pdr 4 x 18” Sub’d
Other Details: Sheathed in wood & copper for tropical service which added 350 tons to the displacement & reduced her endurance & speed by ½ knot.
Battle Honours: Lowestoft 1665 Velez Malaga 1704
Four Days Battle 1666 Genoa 1795
Orfordness 1666 Copenhagen 1801
Solebay 1672 Baltic 1854
Schooneveld 1673 Benin 1897
Other Information: December 1897 Flagship – Cape of Good Hope & West Coast of Africa.
Depot Ship 1909. Saw extensive service in World War I although obsolete.
Scrapped: Sold on 1st July 1920 & scrapped by S.Castle of Plymouth
In 1897, during the Niger Campaign, a British expedition was mounted to put an end to the bloody reign of Chief Overiami, the King of Benin which was in North West Africa and whose capital, Benin City was known as The City of Blood. The expedition followed the murder by Overiami’s followers of a peaceful British mission visiting his capital with the object of persuading the King to abolish human sacrifices and slave hunting in his domains. Under the command of Rear Admiral Sir Harry Rawson, Commander in Chief of the Cape Station, a fleet of nine gun boas, HM Ships: Alecto (76), Barrosa (31), Forte (320), Magpie (86), Philomel (337), Phoebe (258), St George (456), Thesus (551) and Widgeon (79) conveyed the force of approximately 2,000 men up river to their starting points. The expedition which landed on 9th February 1897, included parties of Marines and Sailors, with a force of Hausa native troops as an advance guard, and natives from Liberia known as Kroomen, who acted as carriers in the centre of the file. The force was armed with Maxim guns, light artillery and rocket tubes. Admiral Rawson himself took command of the Expeditionary Force, and the column of men had to in single file through dense unchartered bush with temperatures in excess of 130oF. No map or sketch was available to show them the way and they only moved forward by the hearsay of prisoners captured en route, which was not always reliable. There were constant skirmishes and fights with the enemy during the day, and at night or as dusk was approaching the column would halt in a clearing and form a hollow square with the field guns at the corners. During the night attacks were continuous from the enemy and very little rest or sleep was had. A shortage of water was also becoming a problem and each man had to be limited to two quarts per day. As the column progressed through the thick jungle it became obvious they were getting closer to Benin City because of the human sacrifices, bodies horribly tortured and then mutilated, which were lying around the route into it. After just over a week of continual advancing in these appalling conditions Benin was sighted, and after fierce fighting was eventually captured on 18th February 1897; but victory was dearly bought with one Officer killed and two severely wounded and three men killed with twenty four wounded. Chief Overiami escape but was hunted down and captured some months later. The city was secured and the troops were horrified by the place, the ghastly sights and awful odour, human remains and corpses strewn in all directions and in one building an altar deluged with human blood. In fact blood was everywhere, smeared over bronzes, ivory and even the walls, and everywhere the evidence of death and torture. Where no humans had been available, animals had been offered up instead. On 19th February the Naval party marched back to their ships, leaving the Hausas to garrison Benin. They were however still short of water and progress was difficult because of the number of casualties who had to be carried. The Kroomen were found to be terrible cowards and would often drop the wounded under fire from some of the remaining pockets of resistance. The force eventually made it back to their ships, and so ended ‘a successful punitive expedition thanks to British administration and the Royal Navy’. Those taking part in the expedition, or remaining on board one of the ships received the East & West Africa Medal with clasp 'Benin 1897'.
The Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916
Type: Battle Cruiser
Built By: Palmers
Launch Date: 20th March 1912
Completion: August 1913
Dimensions: 703 ½ x 89 x 28
Displacement: 25,500 tons
Speed: 27 ½ knots
Armaments: 218 x 13 ½ “ (4x2) 16 x 14” 4 x 3pdr 2 x 21” TT Sub
Compliment: 977 peacetime
Other Information: Joined 1st Battle Cruise Squadron shortly after Dogger Bank action – 24th
Fate: Blown up and sank at the Battle of Jutland 31st May 1916 by the German
ship Derfflinger. 1266 men killed in action. Only 20 survivors of a crew of
58 officers and 1228 men.
Since the beginning of World War I on 4th August 1914, a show-down between the British Grand Fleet under command of Admiral John Rushworth Jellicoe, and German High Seas Fleet under Vice Admiral Reinhard Scheer had been expected. That show-down was to come on 31st May 1916 at the Jutland Bank about 75 miles off the Danish coast.
The Germans had been longing to prove to the world that their fleet was superior to the British, who had effectively ‘ruled the waves’ since the Battle of Trafalgar 111 years before. Scheer had devised a plan to draw the British into a fight by showing part of its fleet – a scouting group under the command of Admiral Hipper – off the coast of Norway. It was hoped that the jaunty and charismatic Admiral Sir David Beatty, whose personal characteristics the Germans had studied, would immediately respond by attacking the scouting group with his Battle-cruiser Squadrons. Hipper would then lead Beatty onto Scheer; who would spring his trap and assail them with his High Seas Fleet, destroying a large part of the Royal Navy before Admiral Jellicoe’s Grand Fleet could come to the rescue. However things were not to go well for either side. On the evening of 30th May 1916, Room 40 of the Admiralty in London intercepted a message warning that Hipper was to sail the following day at 0230h. Of course it was not known this was the start of Scheer’s plan and they despatched the British Grand Fleet under Jellicoe in his Flagship HMS Iron Duke, from his base at Scapa Flow at 2030h, followed by the 2nd Battle Squadron under Vice Admiral Sir Thomas Jerram from Moray Firth at 2100h and at 2300h Beatty’s 1st Battle-cruiser Fleet and 5th Battle Squadron from Rosyth, with Beatty aboard his Flag Ship HMS Lion, all headed towards Hipper’s scouting group. At around noon on 31st May Jellicoe asked Whitehall about Scheer’s High Seas Fleet. He and Beatty were advised that Scheer was still in port at Willhelmshaven, although in fact Scheer had put to sea at 0100h that day, 12 hours previously. This was because Scheer had transferred his callsign ashore once he had left port. This vital piece of information was not relayed to Jellicoe or Beatty, thus lulling them into a false sense of security and causing Jellicoe to reduce speed, so Beatty advanced alone on the scouting groups. This was just as the Germans had planned, but they were unaware that Jellicoe had put to sea. Thus each side thought they would only be dealing with the other’s scouting forces.
About 1415h Beatty had reached a position 100 miles to the north of the Horns Reef without sighting the enemy, so he swung his force around to meet Jellicoe, 65 miles to the north. Purely by chance when his light cruiser Galatea diverted east to investigate a neutral steamer it spotted Hipper’s force. Beatty, as predicted, reacted immediately and swung his 1st Battle-cruiser force back towards Hipper. Sadly the 5th Battle Squadron under Rear Admiral H Evan-Thomas was too far away to pick up the initial signal from HMS Lion, and by the time it was received they were 10 miles astern of Beatty’s Battle Cruisers. This error would have considerable consequences on the battle to come. At 1530h Hipper spotted Beatty’s ships and activated his plan to turn his force around so as to lead Beatty onto Scheer’s Battle Fleet. This allowed Beatty to close range to 15,000 yards when both sides opened fire, the Germans causing greater damage. Lion was severely hit, Indefatigable was sunk soon after 1600h leaving only two survivors, and at 1626h the Queen Mary met the same fate. It was at this moment when Beatty who remained unperturbed uttered his now immortal words to the Captain of HMS Lion, “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today Chatfield”.
Nevertheless Scheer gave Jellicoe a second opportunity. As Jellicoe was turning south intending to place himself across the enemy line of retreat, the Germans turned North East. It is probable that Scheer believed this would bring him clear of the British, but instead it bought the leading ships of his column under heavy fire. Scheer ordered a second turn away but this time unleashed his torpedo boats. Jellicoe succeeded in turning his Battle Squadrons away to avoid the torpedoes, but suffered another loss of contact between the two fleets, which was not to be fully regained. Jellicoe tried desperately to keep the German fleet from thier base and so put the fleet into night formation, placing the destroyer flotillas astern to prevent any attempt by the Germans to pass behind the Grand Fleet. However Scheer picked his moment and turned across the British rear, whose light forces were ill prepared to deal with them. Although there were a number of brief but bloody encounters during the night, because of over emphasis on radio discipline no information reached Jellicoe to alert him of the German retreat. Several of the larger British ships sighted German units but either thought them friendly or decided against revealing their positions by either engaging or reporting the contacts. Jellicoe lost the last chance he might have had to save the day because now doubtful of the decryptions from the Admiralty, he ignored an urgent message detailing Scheer’s intent to escape through the Horns Reef.
Scheer’s assessment was that the High Seas Fleet could not achieve a decisive victory over the British. The Kaiser therefore decided that submarines would take the lead in blockading Britain, resulting in a massive increase in the destruction of merchant shipping, including American ones, which led to them entering the war in 1917.It is interesting to reflect that had the British achieved an outright victory at Jutland, it is unlikely the Germans would have deployed their submarines, and therefore America might not have entered the war. Jutland would have had little effect on the trench warfare in Europe, so possibly Britain might have been starved into submission and so lost the First World War!
Britain 14 of 149 ships and 6274 men
Germany 11 of 100 ships and 1545 men
By now Beatty had been joined by his 5th Battle Squadron who proceeded to pound the Germans causing them severe damage. It must be remembered that Jellicoe, Beatty and Jerram still believed that Scheer’s High Seas Fleet were in port at Willhelmshaven. At 1638h however a message from the light cruiser Southampton dispelled this illusion with an electrifying report “Have sighted enemy battle fleet bearing SE course N”. From this message Beatty realised he must quickly escape from such overwhelming strength, and so decided to lead Scheer north into the maw of Jellicoe’s Battle Fleet. Little over an hour later Jellicoe joined Beatty and deployed his battle ships from cruising formation into line of battle. Despite poor communication and worsening visibility, which left him unsure of the location of the enemy, his decision proved masterly; the deployment of the Squadrons on the port wing crossed the T of the enemy allowing all of Jellicoe’s fire power to be concentrated at one time, and despite further British losses with Defence and Invincible sinking, Scheer found his ships facing the entire British line, and was forced to turn away to the South West. Jellicoe did not follow for fear of becoming ensnared by the enemy, given the poor visibility due both to the approach of night and dense smoke in the air from the two coal burning fleets.
Daylight found the sea around the British empty and the Germans only four hours from port. In sinking fourteen ships including three battle cruisers, the Germans had some justification in claiming a tactical success. But the strategic intent of Scheer’s operations had not been achieved and the passing months would make such an achievement steadily less possible. None the less they had lost one battle cruiser a pre-dreadnought, nine other vessels and suffered heavy damage to their battle cruisers and many other ships. The British too claimed a tactical success because the German Fleet made no further attempts to break the allied blockade off the coast of Germany. Allied supremacy on the North Sea remained unchallenged for the rest of the war. The weaknesses discovered in the British organisation, materials, lack of delegation, inflexibility of battle orders, poor night fighting techniques and defective communications were all dealt with, together with improved designs of ships and by the end of 1916 an entire sea change had been effected. Only once more before 1918 did the Germans emerge when Scheer attempted to bombard Sunderland on 19th August 1916, but this time the British Fleet was forewarned by the Admiralty. However no further fleet encounter ever materialised.
- East & West Africa Medal: S.C.THORROWGOOD. BLKS.MTE. H.M.S. St.GEORGE.
- 1914-15 Star: 340249 S.C.THORROWGOOD. BLK.MTE.R.N.
- 1914-18 British War Medal: 340249 S.C.THORROWGOOD. BLK.MTE.R.N.
- Victory Medal: 340249 S.C.THORROWGOOD. BLK.MTE.R.N.
- Royal Navy Long Service & Good Conduct Medal: 340249 S.C.THORROWGOOD. BLKSTH'S.MATE.H.M.S.KING ALFRED
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