History@Portsmouth

University of Portsmouth's History Blog

Don’t believe everything you read…

Dr Rob James, Senior Lecturer in History, recently worked with a local community group, Portsdown U3A, on a Heritage Lottery Funded project that sought to find out the impact of the Battle of Jutland on the people of Portsmouth and the local area. With the help of research assistant and PhD student John Bolt, and a team of Online Course Developers at the University, Dr James created an online map using the data collected by members or Portsdown U3A. One of the most interesting findings made by the U3A when conducting their research was that one celebrated V.C. holder – Commander Loftus William Jones – was born in Portsmouth, not Petersfield, as had been originally claimed.

Historical ‘facts’ are always open to question. This has never been more evident than in the research uncovered by Portsdown U3A, a local community group based just off Portsea Island. Members of Portsdown U3A, keen historians of the Battle of Jutland – the most famous sea battle to take place during the First World War – had always believed that Commander Loftus William Jones, who served on the battlecruiser H.M.S. Shark during the battle, had been born in the leafy market town of Petersfield, Hampshire. They had very little reason to doubt this. The town had long-celebrated ‘their’ war hero. Loftus William Jones’ parents, Admiral Loftus Francis Jones and Gertrude (née Gray), called Petersfield ‘home’ and it was long-believed that this was the town where Commander Jones was born. Documentary evidence supported this. The UK’s official public record, The Gazette, recorded that Jones was born in the town on 13 November 1879. The UK Victoria Cross Medals 1857-2007 website similarly documented Petersfield as his place of birth. In 2014, The Telegraph repeated the claim, and as recently as 2016 a biography of the Commander was published carrying the title Commander Loftus William Jones: Petersfield’s Only VC. A brief internet search undertaken while writing this blog still throws up a series of entries claiming Petersfield as the town in which Commander Jones was born.

Image from Wiki https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loftus_Jones

Commander Loftus William Jones

However, research by members of the Portsdown branch of the U3A has uncovered startling new evidence: that Commander Jones was not born in Petersfield as originally believed, but in Southsea, Portsmouth! While undertaking their research into the casualties of the Battle of Jutland who had been born in Portsmouth, one of the Portsdown U3A researchers decided to look into the life of Commander Jones because he had been awarded a posthumous V.C. It was while doing this research that they went through the census from 1881-1911 and found a record showing that Commander Jones was born in Southsea. Astonished to discover this, the U3A researcher investigated further at the Portsmouth History Centre. Here they discovered that a ‘Loftus William Jones’ had been baptised at St Jude’s Church in Southsea on 7 December 1879, and that his parents were Captain Loftus Francis Jones RN and Gertrude Jones, residing in Southsea. Finally, they managed to uncover a copy of Jones’ Birth Certificate at Portsmouth Register Office, and this demonstrated without doubt that he was born in Portsmouth on 13 November 1879. [1] A long-believed ‘fact’ had been shown to be a falsehood!

It is no surprise that the life (and death) of Commander Jones has garnered such interest. He had an illustrious career in the Royal Navy. He was educated at Eastman’s Royal Naval Academy in Fareham, near Portsmouth, and rapidly rose through the ranks. On 30th June 1914 he was promoted to Commander, and from October of that year he was appointed as Commander of the destroyer HMS Shark. Later that year HMS Shark led a flotilla of four ships along the east coast of England against a number of German light cruisers and destroyers. This action culminated in the Scarborough Raid in December 1914, for which the work of Commander Jones was commended by the Admiral of the Fleet, David Beatty. [2]

On 31st May 1916 Commander Jones led HMS Shark at the Battle of Jutland.  The ship came under heavy enemy bombardment in the battle, and shells hit the bridge and main engines, causing major damage. Commander Jones was wounded but attempted to carry on despite facing significant enemy fire. After the Shark was struck by a shell Commander Jones lost most of one of his legs but continued to command the vessel by giving orders to his gun’s crew. Finally, a torpedo struck the Shark and the ship rapidly sank. There were only six survivors.  Commander Jones was not one of them. Despite being helped onto a raft by two of his crew, his injuries were too severe and he died, along with 7 other officers and 79 men. [3]

Commander Jones was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross, the highest award of the honours system in the UK, because of his brave actions. It is no wonder Petersfield wanted to claim him as one of its own. However, thanks to the diligent work of the Portsdown U3A the birthplace of Commander Jones can be settled once and for all, and the community group can rightfully state that ‘Portsmouth has another V.C.’! [4]

 

Notes

[1] ‘The Battle of Jutland: Don’t believe everything you read’, The Battle of Jutland Exhibition, Exhibition panels produced by the Portsdown U3A Jutland Research Project 2016-2017.

[2] Information Sheet no 090, Loftus Jones VC, Library and Information Services, National Museum of the Royal Navy, http://www.nmrn-portsmouth.org.uk/sites/default/files/Loftus%20Jones%20VC.pdf, last accessed 27 January 2018.

[3] The London Gazette, 6 March 1917, http://www.roll-of-honour.com/Hampshire/Petersfield.html, last accessed 27 January 2018.

[4] ‘Battle of Jutland: Don’t believe everything you read’.

 

The online map and full details of the project undertaken by Portsdown U3A and Dr James is available to view on the Port Towns and Urban Cultures website http://porttowns.port.ac.uk/.

 

 

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