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From For Evermore: A selection of Royal Navy stories

We’ve dipped into For Evermore to pick out some tragic, inspirational, and interesting stories of Royal Navy casualties of the World Wars. Which one intrigues you the most?

Stories from For Evermore

The Royal Navy in the World Wars

Oil painting showing several Royal Navy warships at sea. In the foreground are large deck guns of the closest vessel.

Image: The Second Division at Jutland (© IWM Art.IWM REPRO 000323)

The Royal Navy’s contribution to both World Wars cannot be underestimated. From fighting set piece engagements like the Battle of Jutland, to coastal defence, to troop transportation, to convoy protection, the senior service was exceptionally busy during both epoch-defining conflicts.

Many of our fantastic For Evermore contributors have added to our online stories archive with tales of their relatives who served aboard the ships of the Royal Navy.

Of course, not all casualties were sustained at sea. Some tragically lost their lives in training or accidents or from illness.

Head to For Evermore to read all the Commonwealth naval stories in our archive today. 

We’ve taken a very small selection of those intriguing, moving and interesting stories our brilliant For Evermore contributors have shared on For Evermore.

Read on to see them – and don’t forget to share your story on For Evermore too!

Petty Officer Victoria Ellen Whitehall

Petty Officer Victoria Ellen Whitehall outside a naval college building in her WRNS uniformImage: Victoria Ellen Whitehall, WRN officer and victim of a Luftwaffe bomb

Sally McGlone, a regular For Evermore contributor, has been doing sterling work sharing the stories of the many women in Commonwealth War Graves’ care.

One such story is that of Petty Officer Victoria Ellen Whitehall of the Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS).

Ellen was born in 1901, the daughter of Arthur David and Ellen Florence Foulkes.

The daughter of Arthur David and Ellen Florence Faulkes, Ellen was born in 1901.

At the time of the Second World War, Victoria was serving as a Petty Office with the WRNS, at HMS Britannia II, a Royal Naval College training facility at Dartmouth.

On September 18 1942, the college was hit by a Luftwaffe bomb, striking a foyer used by trainee officers to navigate around the building.

Several local civilians were sadly killed in the blast while the only naval casualty was Petty Officer Ellen Foulkes. In her honour, the Officer Training Division at Britannia Royal Naval College is now named after Ellen.

Ordinary Seaman Edward Arda

Edward Arda in his WW1-era British Naval Uniform.Image: Ordinary Seaman Edward Arda, casualty of the Battle Jutland

One of the functions of For Evermore is for families to share and preserve the stories of their relatives who served and fell in the World Wars.

Hazel Arda delved into her family history to share the tale of her relative Ordinary Seaman Edward Arda.

Edward was born in Bedminster, Somerset but soon moved with his family back to the Arda’s native Manchester.

Edward enlisted in the Royal Navy 10 May 1915 at the age of 17. An article in the Ashton under Lyne Reporter (10 June 1916) states that he “always had a hankering after the Navy”.

Edward’s Brother, George Arthur, also served, joining the Royal Marines in September 1914.

Edward first served aboard HMS Powerful, a Royal Navy training sip, but in 1915 transferred to HMS Victory. He moved once again a short while later, this time being assigned to the new “super-dreadnought” battleship HMS Malaya.

Aboard Malaya, Edward first served as a Boy 2nd Class but by November 1915 had reached Boy 1st Class. In March 1916, Edward was rated Ordinary Seaman.

Malaya was one of the many Royal Navy ships involved in the Battle of Jutland: the largest naval battle of the First World War.

She was peppered by fire from the German High Seas Fleet and was hit at least eight times. Malaya took heavy damage and many casualties. 65 of her crew were killed at Jutland or succumbed to their injuries later. Many of those wounded suffered severe burns, including Edward Arda.

Following Jutland, Edward was moved to HMS Victory alongside a number of his wounded comrades. He died of the wounds he suffered at Jutland on June 3 1916, aged just 18 years old.

Edward is buried at Rosskeen Parish Church Extension, Invergordon. His headstone bears the following inscription, chosen by his family:

“As we loved him so we miss him ever in our thoughts”

Skipper Thomas Crisp VC

Painting of Thomas Crips VC in his Skipper's uniform.Image: Thomas Crisp, smack skipper and Victoria Cross recipient

Malcolm Peel has diligently been adding the stories of Commonwealth Victoria Cross winners on For Evermore and has uploaded several naval entries.

One that caught our eye was the story of Skipper Thomas Crisp VC, commander of a Q Ship and recipient of Britain’s highest military honour.

A Q Ship is a civilian vessel repurposed by the Royal Navy and outfitted with guns to act as decoys to protect vital war effort operations, such as fishing fleets, from U-boat attacks.

Thomas was born into a family of shipwrights and fishermen in the seaside town of Lowestoft in 1876. He had a long career working on vessels of all shapes and sizes prior to his wartime career. Sailing and the sea were really in Thomas’ blood.

The Q Ship programme was launched by the Admiralty in 1915 and the following year Thomas found himself skippering the HM armed smack I’ll Try. The vessel was equipped with a 3-pounder gun.

A smack is a traditional British sailed fishing vessel, which makes Thomas’ achievement all the more startling.

In February 1917, I’ll Try had its first clash with German U-boats in the North Sea. She was sailing with the larger smack Boy Alfred when two submarines burst from the water nearby. After a close call avoiding the sub’s torpedoes, both smacks scored hits on their targets.

Thomas and Boy Alfred’s skipper were awarded Distinguished Service Crosses for their actions that day.

In July I’ll Try was renamed Nelson. In August, she went out in the North Sea again alongside Boy Alfred which had been renamed Ethel & Millie. Thomas’ son was part of the crew.

Another U-boat surfaced out of range of Nelson’s 3-pounder, equipped with an 88mm cannon. She peppered Nelson with shells with striking Thomas and cutting both his legs off.

Despite suffering terrible wounds, Thomas was able to radio for assistance and commanded his men to abandon ship, commanding them to throw him overboard rather than let him slow them down. His crew refused but were unable to move him. Thomas died in his son’s arms shortly after.

For his selfless actions in face of his terminal wounds, Thomas was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

His medal citation, as published in the 20 November 1918 edition of the London Gazette gives more details:

“On the 15th August, 1917, the smack "Nelson" was engaged in fishing when she was attacked with gunfire from an enemy submarine. The gear was let go and the submarine's fire was returned. The submarine's fourth shot went through the port bow just below the water line and the seventh shell struck the skipper, partially disembowelling him, and passed through the deck and out through the side of the ship.

“In spite of the terrible nature of his wound Skipper Crisp retained consciousness, and his first thought was to send off a message that he was being attacked and giving his position. He continued to command his ship until the ammunition was almost exhausted and the smack was sinking. He refused to be moved into the small boat when the rest of the crew were obliged to abandon the vessel as she sank, his last request being that he might be thrown overboard.”

Thomas’ son, Thomas Jr., received his father’s medal at Buckingham Palace in December 1917.

As Thomas has no known grave but the sea, he is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial.

Share your stories today on For Evermore

For Evermore: Stories of the Fallen is our online resource for sharing the memories of the Commonwealth’s war dead.

It’s open to the public to share their family histories and the tales of the service people commemorated by Commonwealth War Graves so that we may preserve their legacies beyond just a name on a headstone or a memorial.

If you have a story to tell, we’d love to hear it! Head to For Evermore to upload and share it for all the world to see.

Tags Royal Navy For Evermore First World War Second World War