Belfast Telegraph

Steward's diary recalling WWI sea battle donated to HMS Caroline

By Adrian Rutherford

The granddaughter of a steward who served on-board HMS Caroline has donated some of his treasured possessions to a museum celebrating the ship's role in the First World War's greatest sea battle.

Jan Thornton's grandfather Albion Percy Smith was steward to Captain Henry Ralph Crooke, who commanded the ship during the Battle of Jutland, where British and German forces clashed off the coast of Denmark.

Moored in Belfast since 1924, Caroline is the last remaining vessel from the battle and is now a floating museum.

During a visit to the city, Mrs Thornton boarded the ship and handed over some of Mr Smith's items from his service between 1915 and 1917, on behalf of her mother Olive Thornton and aunt Jose Loosemore.

These items include diaries written by Mr Smith while on board, a cigarette box gifted by Captain Crooke in recognition of his service and Christmas cards from the captain.

Albion Percy Smith was 26 when he served on HMS Caroline after joining the Royal Navy in 1915.

His diaries tell of the sights witnessed during the Battle of Jutland, which he described in letters home as "the most terrible sea fight I've ever known".

The battle was fought over 36 hours from May 31 to June 1 1916 and involved around 250 ships.

It saw the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet clash with the German High Seas Fleet. More than 6,000 Britons and 2,500 Germans died.HMS Caroline fired four-inch and six-inch rounds and torpedoes in the battle.

It has been berthed at Alexandra Dock since 1924 and was used as a training vessel until it was decommissioned in 2011, before being turned into a museum.

Mrs Thornton said it was important to visit the ship.

She added: "The restoration of HMS Caroline and the important re-telling of the Battle of Jutland as one of the most historic sea fights of the First World War has been meticulously curated by the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

"I am delighted to donate my grandfather's personal artefacts from his HMS Caroline days, and particularly his poignant words from his own diary.

"My family and I have been able to tour the ship itself, walk across the bridge and explore the new visitor and exhibition centre in the Pump House where the Christmas cards, cigarette box and the diaries will be housed, and will help tell the story of this historic event for years to come."

Victoria Millar, curator at HMS Caroline and the National Museum of the Royal Navy, said it was a special gesture.

"We are humbled that the Thornton and Loosemore family have decided to donate Albion Percy Smith's HMS Caroline possessions, and they have completed our collection of artefacts and stories curated to share the history of HMS Caroline's role in the First World War and the Battle of Jutland," she said.

"We're looking forward to opening the new exhibition centre in the renovated Pump House, the latest site at Alexandra Dock that will complete in the coming days, ahead of the Dockland Festival."

The completion of Alexandra Dock is the biggest regeneration project undertaken in recent years in the Titanic Quarter.

It includes a £20m investment in the restoration of the Pump House, refurbishment of Alexandra Dock, installation of a new bridge and the full remodelling of the HMS Caroline, which was completed in 2017.

Belfast Telegraph

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