Epping’s war connections:

1916 - The Battle of Jutland

In memory of Stoker 1st Class Walter J. CHATER (HMS Queen Mary)

son of Sarah Luniss (formerly Chater) of High Street, Epping

HMS QUEEN MARY left South Queensferry on the Firth of Forth shortly after 10pm on Tuesday 30th May 1916. She was part of the Battle Cruiser Fleet commanded by Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty. Setting an easterly course, she steamed throughout the night at a speed of 20 mph.

At 3.45pm on Wednesday 31st the bugle call “Action Stations” was sounded. By now the fleet were off the coast of Jutland. The sounding of action stations was the usual routine in that area, and the crew still did not expect to meet the German fleet. They were soon informed, however, that the enemy were in sight, and that they were to be prepared to engage them at any moment.

Beatty’s flagship, HMS Lion, was the first to open fire, and a minute or two later the Queen Mary joined in. The enemy were around ten miles distant at the time. The Queen Mary exchanged fire with two German battle cruisers, Derfflinger and Seydlitz. Great damage was inflicted on the Derfflinger. In the words of her commander, Von Hase, “Several shells pierced our ship with terrific force and exploded with a tremendous roar that shook every seam and rivet”. At 4.26pm there was a huge explosion on the Queen Mary. All machinery was instantly put out of action as the hydraulic pressure had failed. All the electric lights went out, and the ship was almost in complete darkness

A huge column of black and yellow smoke hung over the forepart of the ship. The masts and funnels had  fallen inwards, but she remained on an even keel. The crew were ordered up on deck, but before the order could be carried out the ship began to heel slowly over to port, giving those below no chance of escaping. Stoker Chater, based in the engine room, would most likely have been among them. Then, in a sudden movement, the ship then rolled right over onto it’s port side, her stern high up in the air. Several men slid down the deck into the sea. Some of them struck the port rail, and were killed before they hit the water. All this had taken just ninety seconds.
There were only twenty-one survivors. One thousand two hundred and sixty-six men lost their lives.

The official history of the battle said of the Queen Mary “ For about ten minutes she withstood it gallantly. She was fighting splendidly. The Germans say full salvoes were coming from her with fabulous rapidity. Twice already she had been straddled by the Derfflinger, when at 4.26 a salvo crashed upon her deck forward. In a moment there was a dazzling  flash  of  red flame where the salvo fell,  and then  a  much  heavier explosion rent her amidships.”

The two German ships engaged by the Queen Mary did not escape unscathed. As we have read, Derfflinger was damaged by the Queen Mary, and managed to limp back to Wilhemshaven. Seydlitz was hit by a torpedo from the destroyer HMS Petard at 4.50pm. After thirty-six hours she too reached Wilhemshaven and was beached in the entrance to the harbour. 

Stoker Chater is one of the ninety-six servicemen from the First World War who lost their lives and are commemorated on the War Memorial in Epping. He is also commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial on Southsea Common. The inscription at Portsmouth reads “ In honour of the Navy and to the abiding memory of those ranks and ratings of this port who laid down their lives in the defence of the Empire and have no other grave than the sea.”

John Duffell, The Royal British Legion, Epping & District Branch, 2001

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picture courtesy of the Royal British Legion