Commander Loftus William Jones: Fighting to the Very End!

Loftus William Jones was born in 1879 in Petersfield, Hampshire, a small town 17 miles to the north of the Naval Base at Portsmouth. His Father was Admiral Loftus Francis Jones, who retired from the Navy twenty years after his son was born in 1899. Given his Father’s position in the Royal Navy and the traditions of the day, a career in the Navy was the obvious choice for Loftus, and he attended the Royal Navy Academy in Fareham before going on to HMS Britannia in 1894, a shore-based training establishment.

Commander Loftus William Jones V.C.

On completion of his training he was posted to HMS Royal Sovereign, a pre-dreadnought battleship, as a midshipman. From this point, until he took command of HMS Shark in 1914, he became something of a nomad, moving from ship to ship, and holding more than 25 separate appointments. This gave Loftus a rounded education in the ways of the Senior Service. In 1901 he served aboard HMS Spiteful, a torpedo boat destroyer which at the time was only two years old. This suited Loftus more than the big ships, as he discovered that he preferred serving aboard the smaller vessels.

His first destroyer command was HMS Success, a four-year-old B-Class torpedo boat destroyer. He married in 1910 and would spend the rest of his time up until his promotion to commander serving in destroyers. In 1914, in what would become his final appointment, he was given command of HMS Shark. Shark was an Acasta class destroyer built in Wallsend by Swan Hunter. She was launched in 1912 and had a top speed of 29 knots, relatively fast for the time. Her armament consisted of 3 four-inch Mark IV guns, 1 QF 2 pounder pom-pom gun, and 2 single torpedo tubes.

HMS Shark

Shark was part of the 4th Flotilla, which at the outbreak of war became part of the Grand Fleet based out of Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. In 1916 the Grand Fleet took part in a huge naval battle with the Imperial German Navy’s High Seas Fleet off Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula.

On the afternoon of the 31st of May 1916 Commander Jones in HMS Shark led a division of destroyers to attack a German battlecruiser squadron. The fighting was intense, and HMS Shark’s bridge was hit by a German shell, disabling the steering gear, and killing or wounding many of the bridge crew. The commanding officer of another destroyer selflessly placed his ship between Shark and the enemy, in an attempt to protect her, but Jones, realising that this would almost certainly see the other vessel destroyed, ordered her to remain clear.

Jones had been wounded himself but made his way to the aft steering position to help to connect and man the aft steering gear. In the meantime the Germans had shelled and destroyed both the forward and aft gun positions. Jones now made his way to the midships gun, and personally took command of it, ensuring that it continued firing. Shark was being pummeled from close range by the German light cruisers and destroyers, and a few minutes after arriving at the position Commander jones was hit by a shell which tore off his leg above the knee.

Battle of Jutland WW1

Despite the severity of his wounds, Jones to everybody’s amazement, remained in position giving orders to the gun crew while a chief stoker improvised a tourniquet in an attempt to stem the bleeding. In the greatest traditions of the Royal Navy, Jones noticed that the Navy Ensign was not properly hoisted and ordered that another be raised in its place. Moments later Shark was dealt the fatal blow by the enemy.

HMS Shark was struck by a torpedo, fired from one of the German destroyers. She sank quickly, leaving only a few survivors in the water. These survivors were later picked up by a neutral ship, sadly Commander Jones was not amongst them. He had gone down with his vessel, fighting to the very end despite suffering wounds that would have incapacitated most men immediately.

Kviberg Cemetery War Memorial CWGC

This courageous and selfless commander refused to give in, and even when he was certain the ship would soon sink, he ordered his crew to prepare by donning lifejackets, while he himself remained at his station and continued fighting to the very end. For his immense bravery, and selfless actions he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross by the King in 1917 and is remembered on the war memorial Kviberg Cemetery in Sweden.  

Nursing at the Front: The Forgotten Heroes of the Great War

Trawling through the newspaper archives from 1914 to 1918 I came across the occasional story of awards for nurses, for their courage under fire at the front. Given the current global situation we find ourselves in, and all the praise rightfully directed at the amazing doctors and nurses of the NHS, I decided that this was worth a little more investigation.

Nurses at the Front

Stories of courage and gallantry from the fighting men at the front are easy to find and are so numerous that it would be impossible to research and write about them all. Was I did find rather odd was the lack of stories about the red cross nurses, who worked tirelessly all along the front, rarely complaining, just quietly getting on with their vital work. The stories that did find their way to print very rarely named the nurses who were to be commended officially.

There is the story of a Scottish physician, Doctor Elsie Inglis, who set up the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service. Field hospitals staffed by volunteers, and set up on the battlefields of Belgium, France, Serbia, and Russia. At the outbreak of war Dr Inglis offered her services to the war office and was reportedly told to “go home and sit still!” Undeterred Dr Inglis set up her field hospital.

Dr Elsie Inglis

Where the British government had shunned the offer of support, the French government gratefully accepted, and the first hospital was set up in France. Another unit was set up in Serbia, which Inglis would lead herself. Volunteer nurses arrived in their hundreds, and eventually around fourteen teams were sent to battlefronts right across the continent.

Unarmed, often working under canvas which gave no protection from enemy air attack, and dealing with the most horrendous injuries, and diseases brought about by most unsanitary conditions in which they would also live and work, these courageous nurses, who rarely slept, would spend hours treating physical and mental injuries, comforting the men at their lowest points, and watching men die. Some of the nurses would succumb to the very diseases they were trying to treat.

Nurse Louisa Jordan

One of the volunteers for the Scottish Women’s Hospitals was Louisa Jordan from Glasgow. Jordan had worked at several hospitals in Scotland before volunteering for foreign service. She travelled to Serbia and joined the 1st Serbian unit. In 1915 Serbia suffered from a typhus epidemic, and Jordan was placed in charge of the typhus ward that was set up in response. She volunteered to look after Doctor Elizabeth Ross, who had answered an appeal by the Serbian Government for Doctors. While treating patients she had contracted typhus. Tragically both died of typhus; they knew there was the risk of this when they volunteered, and they volunteered all the same.

Dr Elizabeth Ross

This article is dedicated to all the Doctors and Nurses, past and present who have worked, and continue to work in hospitals, both civilian and military, all around the globe.

The Ashchurch Rail Disaster: an Avoidable Tragedy

Wrecked Engine

At just after 9pm on a freezing January evening a freight train of some 24 wagons was being shunted between sidings in the sleepy Gloucestershire village of Ashchurch. A relatively routine operation that had been carried out here hundreds of times before. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary as the railway foreman strolled along beside the engine overseeing the operation. Just then he heard a noise he recognised, a noise that struck fear into his heart. The Bristol to Leeds express mail train was approaching from the south, in its path, and barely visible in the fog was his freight train.

At twenty-five past six in the evening on the 8th of January 1929, a freight train of 16 carriages left Gloucester headed for Ashchurch, where it would pick up more wagons, and then remain there until 10.25pm, when all the passenger and mail trains were clear, and it could continue its slow run north without holding anyone up. Its driver was a Mr Reynolds, who was on board with the Fireman Mr Trotman, and the Guard Mr Gardener. They arrived at Ashchurch at 7.20pm and pulled up in the Provender Store Sidings.

At five past eight the fast mail train from Gloucester to Leeds left Gloucester Station on time, headed for the first stop of the journey at Ashford. Half an hour behind the Leeds bound train the Birmingham Express mail train left Gloucester approximately 6 minutes late; six precious minutes that sealed its fate.

The Wrecked Mail Train

Back in Ashford the freight train was waiting patiently for the Leeds express mail train to clear the station, there was no particular hurry, after all, they were not due to depart until later that evening. The Leeds train arrived on time and left promptly at 8.40pm. Things were running on schedule, and railway foreman Bunn sought permission from the signalman Mr Horne to commence the shunting operation that would take the freight train, now consisting of twenty wagons, from one set of sidings, to another on the down line. The two men spoke briefly on the telephone, with Bunn asking Horne “how is the fast mail running”, before telling him that “we are ready to go to Ashchurch junction with about 20 wagons on.” Horne did not reply to the first question, simply stating “Right, come in then.” Foreman Bunn, a man of 28 years’ service, six of which were at Ashchurch, seemed a little surprised by the response, but got to work immediately carrying out the move, with first involved shunting the train up onto the up line, and then backing it across onto the down line and into the sidings.

Bunn was walking slowly besides the engine when he heard the approaching mail train. He hurriedly signalled the driver by waving his hands, urging him to hurry up. There was no chance of reversing the move in time. Just as he was shouting to the driver, he heard a detonator explode as the fast-approaching mail train ran over it, this was followed by a violent collision which threw Bunn to the ground and covered him in dirt.

Ashchurch Station

At the time of the impact, the Guard on the fast mail train, Francis Molson was standing in his box carriage, when it seemed to collapse around him. The impact threw him clear of the train and he landed in a field surrounded by mail bags. Despite having broken his arm and suffering other injuries he ran back to the signal box to ensure that the line had been stopped, and then joined in with the rescue operation, managing to pull several people from beneath the wreckage. He modestly heaped praise on other postal workers who came to help, playing down his own contribution, and describing them as the finest men he had ever seen. Francis Molson refused medical treatment until he had been assured that nobody remained trapped within the wrecked train.

Recovery of the Wreckage

The express mail train was carrying 44 people at the time of the collision. The collision was so severe that the express train’s engine buried itself underneath the rails and sleepers of the adjacent sidings, destroying some 75 yards of track. Two people were killed in the crash and a further eleven, including Francis Molson, the heroic guard, suffered injuries. A routine operation led to tragedy, a tragedy that was avoidable, and cost the lives of a train driver, and a company employee who was simply making his way home that cold and foggy January evening.

Captain the Reverend Edward Mellish: The Miracle of St Eloi



Of all the Victoria Cross recipients I have researched, the story of Edward Noel Mellish was the one that probably inspired me the most. A story worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster and involving bravery of the very highest order; a story of unswerving devotion to duty, not only to king and country, but a duty also to care for those brave young men who went over the top to drive back the enemy at the point of a bayonet.

Captain the Reverend Edward Noel Mellish

Edward Noel Mellish, the son of Edward senior, a Bill Broker and Mary, was born on Christmas eve in 1880. His father’s work had taken the family to China, but they had now returned to England and were living at Tenable House, Oakleigh Road, Barnet. The family had seven other children, six of whom were girls.

Edward was educated at King Edward VI School in Saffron Walden in Essex, and in 1900 he joined the Artists Rifles. He sailed from Southampton the same year aboard the SS Kildonan Castle Bound for South Africa, where his regiment were involved in the South African War.

During the conflict he and his colleagues found themselves trapped by Boers in a lonely, isolated farmhouse. Edward immediately volunteered for the near suicidal task of breaking through the enemy to summon help. As he went his comrades felt he was facing certain death, and that they had seen him for the last time. There did not seem to be more than a one in a million chance that a man could run the Boer gauntlet.

Despite the odds against it, Edward succeeded in breaking through enemy lines. Not satisfied with simply delivering the SOS message, he then turned around and went back, alone, through the encircling enemy to bring the news to his besieged comrades that help was on its way.

After the war he remained in South Africa working in a diamond mine in Jagersfontein, and also helping out at a local Native Mission in the evenings. He would often be found sitting up all night nursing dying Africans. It was this voluntary work that convinced him that his future lay with the church and the service of others.

On his return to England, Edward went to King’s College London to read theology, and in 1912 he began his service with the church. He was ordained a year later, and his first appointment was as curate of St Paul’s Church, Deptford in South East London.

St Paul’s Deptford

When war broke out, as a former soldier he was certain that there must be a job for him at the front. He applied for and was given a temporary commission as an army chaplain and was attached to the 4th Royal Fusiliers. His position meant that he could have remained at headquarters, a safe distance and nobody was going to stop him.

On the 27th of March 1916 Edward’s battalion was involved in heavy and desperate fighting at St. Eloi, near Ypres in Belgium. The enemy have constructed a complex series of defensive positions, and the fusiliers are facing murderous fire, causing heavy casualties. The British were outnumbered two to one yet managed to drive back the enemy at bayonet point.

The Battle for St Eloi

After each assault, all six feet of Edward Mellish was seen, striding out into no man’s land under heavy enemy fire, prayer book in hand, walking as though he was on a Sunday church parade. He tended the wounds of the injured and brought them back, one by one, to the British trenches. The fire was so murderous that three men were killed as he knelt beside them. This didn’t deter him, and he continued to bring in the wounded that had seemed beyond the reach of the stretcher parties.

The next day he got straight back to work, heading back out into no man’s land, without even waiting for the enemy barrage to abate. With shells exploding close by and bullets passing too close for comfort he continued his work, walking slowly and calmy out to the wounded, bringing each man back to safety. He only stopped for a breather when there was a lull in the fighting and the ambulance parties were able to go out.

His battalion was relived the next day, and he really should have left with them, instead he chose to stay and saved another 12 lives. Later that day he led out a party of volunteers and cleaned up the remaining inaccessible wounded. Describing the scene, a brother officer said, “he was walking into a tempest of fire, a prayer book under his arm as though he were going on a church parade in peace time” a Private adding “It made us think a bit more of parsons, to see how he walked quietly under fire.”

Edward was awarded to Victoria Cross in 1916, and later the Military Cross in 1918. After the war he went back to the Church becoming the Vicar of St. Marks in Lewisham. In 1939 thieves broke into the Vicarage at Great Dunmow in Essex and stole his V.C. and M.C. as well as two pounds. They left all the collection plates in the church though.

Reverend Mellish

He retired from the church on October the 1st 1953 after 5 years as the Vicar of Baltonsborough, near Glastonbury and moved to Galhampton with his wife. He died on the 8th of July 1962 aged 81, leaving behind his wife Elizabeth, and three children.