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Charles Robert Francis

Able Seaman, J/1961 H.M.S "Tipperary"
Killed in Action, 01/06/1916, aged 23, when his ship was sunk at the Battle of Jutland

No Known Grave, but Remembered on :
Ewhurst War Memorial,  Memorial Plaque and Book of Remembrance
The Portsmouth Naval Memorial (panel 12)
The headstone of his mother, Eliza, St Peter & St Paul's Churchyard, Ewhurst


Charles Francis remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial

 

 

 

CHARLES ROBERT FRANCIS, the third son of Frank and Eliza Annie (1), was born on 31st August 1892 in Shalford, Surrey (2). The 1901 Census notes that the family lived at Cotton Row (3) and that his father was a general labourer. At this time Charles had two elder brothers, Frederick (b 1890) (4) and Alfred (b 1890), and two younger sisters, Harriet (b 1895) and Bessie (b 1897).

On 26th June 1908 Charles joined the Royal Navy as a ‘boy’, aged 15, and served in various shore based schools and ships including the cruisers HMS Euryalus (1909), HMS Leviathan (1909), the battleships HMS Revenge (1909) and HMS Venerable (1909-10). On 31st August 1910 Charles, aged 18 enlisted as an Able Bodied Seaman for 12 years service. During his service, apart from attending various shore based schools (probably for torpedo instruction) Charles served aboard the cruiser HMS Hampshire (1911, sunk in 1916 whilst carrying Lord Kitchener), the battleship HMS Revenge (1912) and the Eclipse Class cruisers HMS Venus (1912), HMS Dido (1915). He probably joined HMS Tipperary in December 1915.

Charles served as an Able Seaman on HMS "Tipperary", a Faulknor class Destroyer Leader, commanded by Captain Charles John Wintour. Tipperary led the 4th Destroyer Flotilla, of the Battle Fleet, of the British Home or 'Grand' Fleet, commanded by Admiral Sir John Jellicoe. Tipperary displaced 1610 tons and had a main armament of six 4 inch guns and a secondary armament of four 21 inch torpedo tubes. She could make a top speed of 31 knots and had a normal compliment of 197. Originally built as one of four Faulknor Class Destroyers for the Chilean Navy, her delivery was halted by the commencement of the First World War and Tipperary and her sister ships were commissioned into the Royal Navy (5)

On 30th May 1916, intercepted German signals indicated that the German High Seas Fleet would be putting to sea to challenge the British control of the North Sea. Late on the 30th May the British Grand Fleet put to sea from its base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands.  Initial contact was made with the German High Seas Fleet off the coast of Jutland on the afternoon of the 31st May 1916.


HMS TIPPERARY

   THE NIGHT OF 31st MAY/1st JUNE 1916  

At 12.03am Captain Wintour had become aware of a line of battleships closing through the darkness on his starboard side and converging on his course. To his port side lay the ships of the Royal Navy's 5th Battle Squadron. With the lead ship on his starboard quarter at a range of little more than 1100 yards a recognition signal was flashed out, which brought the immediate reply of  powerful searchlights which illuminated the Tipperary.  The battleships were the German ships "Westfalen", trailed by "Nasau" and "Rheinland". Between the battleships and the British 4th Destroyer Flotilla lay the German light cruisers "Stuttgart" and "Hamburg".


SMS WESTFALEN

The  German dreadnought SMS "Westfalen" of the the German 1st Battle Squadron, 1st Division immediately opened fire on Tipperary with her secondary 5.9inch (15cm) armament. Tipperary was raked with 92 rounds of 5.9inch and 45 rounds of 3.5 inch shells, which reduced her to a blazing wreck within minutes, carrying away her bridge and all on it. A quote in a German observer wrote that:

"The Tipperary put up a courageous fight, but the oil fuel caught fire and soon enveloped the ship ion a fiery halo; charge after charge exploded in the ready ammunition racks near the guns, and shell after shell struck the ship forward, but the crew of the after gun continued to fire until the last man was killed." (6)

At 1.10am the German torpedo boats S53 and G88 encountered the burning wreck of the Tipperary and rescued 8 crew members from a raft in its proximity. At 3am the damaged German cruiser "Elbing" was scuttled by its crew, who then took to their ship's cutter. Nearby was the still burning, slowly sinking wreck of the Tipperary, and the cutter rescued the Tipperary's surgeon from the icy waters. She then encountered about a hundred of the destroyer's crew drifting partly in the water and partly on a life raft. They were unable to take any further survivors on, but burnt flares in the area with the hope, which proved in vain, of attracting British ships to their aid.

At approximately 2.00am HMS Tipperary finally sank (estimated position 56.12N006.06E) and at approximately 5.00am 4 wounded survivors of HMS Tipperary were taken on board HMS Sparrowhawk. HMS Sparrowhawk had been in collision and was no longer seaworthy. She was sunk at 8.00am after her crew and the survivors of Tipperary had been taken on board HMS Marksman.

 
Approximate position of the loss of HMS Tipperary

Of the 197 crew members of HMS Tipperary, 185 had died (11 officers and 174 men) including Able Seaman Charles Robert Francis. 8 men were taken prisoner and 4 wounded men were saved by British forces. The Battle of Jutland had cost the Royal Navy 3 battle cruisers, 3 cruisers, 8 destroyers, and  6,945 casualties. The Germans lost 1 battleship, 1 battle cruiser, 4 light cruisers, 3 destroyers, and 3,058 men.

In his report following the action, Admiral Sir John Jellicoe made the following mention of the loss of HMS Tipperary:

"During the night the British heavy ships were not attacked, but the Fourth, Eleventh and Twelfth Flotillas, under Commodore Hawksley and Captains Charles J. Wintour and Anselan J. B. Stirling, delivered a series of very gallant and successful attacks on the enemy, causing him heavy losses. It was during these attacks that severe losses in the Fourth Flotilla occurred, including that of Tipperary with the gallant leader of the Flotilla, Captain Wintour.  He had brought his flotilla to a high pitch of perfection, and although suffering severely from the fire of the enemy, a heavy toll of enemy vessels was taken, and many gallant actions were performed by the flotilla."

Charles Francis was lost at sea and has no known grave, but is remembered on the The Portsmouth Naval Memorial (panel 12), the Ewhurst War Memorial, Plaque and Book of Remembrance, and on the headstone of his mother, Eliza Annie, who died on 15th November 1918 and lies in Ewhurst churchyard. Her body was discovered at the bottom of a well and whilst the inquest was inconclusive, it was thought within the village that she had taken her own life 4 days after the Armistice, possibly due to the loss of her son.  The Commonwealth War Graves Commission register entry for Charles indicates that his family had subsequently moved to Burstowes Croft, Ewhurst (7). In 2009 Charles's bronze Memorial Plaque became available for purchase on the internet and was purchased in the view that it be retained within the village. Such plaques were cast for the next of kin of any serviceman who died in the conflict and was accompanied by a letter from the King stating:

“I join with my grateful people in sending you this memorial of a brave life given for others in the Great War”

 
  Notes:
(1) Died 15th November 1918, aged 43, buried in Ewhurst Churchyard
(2) 1901 Census & BDM online (Hambledon).
(3) Cotton Row can be found to the north east of the parish  (link to map, see orange arrow)
(4) Frederick served in Royal Navy and survived the war. He was born in 1890 in Cranleigh. Mentioned in Surrey Advertiser 19/9/14, 17/5/15
(5) Tipperary's sister ships, HMS Botha, Broke and Faulknor were refitted and delivered to the Chilean Navy in 1920.
(6)Der Kreig in der Nordsee, p368
(7) Probably during the 1930's, as Burstowe's Croft was home to John Knightly Ledger until then, father of Denis Ledger.

Other Sources:
Jutland, The German Perspective (V E Tarrant)
Jutland 1916 (Charles London)
RN Personal Records Online (PRO)

 

 

 

 

Andrew Bailey, Ewhurst, Surrey
andy@ewhurstfallen.co.uk
Copyright©2005