War at Sea
The sea was an important battleground during the war, and the Royal Navy was the most powerful maritime force in the world. It quickly established a blockade of Germany, restricting the movement of the German High Seas Fleet and merchant shipping. The Battle of Jutland, fought off the Danish coast in 1916, was the most significant encounter between British and German naval forces, but Commonwealth sailors and Royal Marines served across the globe in warships and merchant vessels. Many fought on land as part of the Royal Naval Division, and the Royal Naval Air Service played an important role in the skies. The reach of the Royal and merchant navies was world-wide, and naval graves can be found from north Russia to South Africa, and from America to the Far East. Yet most sailors who died during the war have no grave but the sea, and their names are inscribed on memorials.
The sites selected below represent just some of the CWGC cemeteries and memorials where naval personnel are commemorated:
After the Armistice, it was decided that each of the three main manning ports - Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham - would have an identical memorial to commemorate sailors with no grave. In the form of an obelisk which would serve as a mark for shipping, they were designed by Sir Robert Lorimer. More than half of the British casualties of Jutland are among some 9,600 First World War sailors named here.
Standing on the Hoe, the Plymouth Naval Memorial commemorates more than 7,200 sailors of the First World War who sailed from the important naval base of Devonport. Unveiled in 1924, it also bears the names of many sailors from across the Commonwealth.
The Chatham dockyard played an important role in the First World War and was the closest naval base to the key theatre of the North Sea. Overlooking the town, the Chatham Naval Memorial was unveiled by the Prince of Wales (the future King Edward VIII) on 26 April 1924. It commemorates more than 8,500 sailors of the First World War.
Merchant Navy Memorial, Tower Hill
The Merchant Navy played a vital role during the war, transporting supplies of food and fuel, materiel and men, around the world. More than 17,000 sailors lost their lives, many when their ships were sunk by U-boats. Standing in Trinity Square Gardens, on Tower Hill, near the Port of London, this memorial commemorates over 11,900 merchant mariners of the First World War.
Scapa Flow, at the heart of Orkney, was the home of the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet in the First World War. Sailors began to bury their comrades here in 1915. This is the final resting place of more than 440 Commonwealth sailors, including several of those who died of wounds sustained during the Battle of Jutland, along with thirteen German sailors who died while their ships were interned here after the Armistice.
Rosyth played a key role in the navy's war. Of the 180 servicemen buried at Queensferry, most were sailors. A new naval medical facility was created during the conflict, and hundreds of men were treated at the site and at the nearby military hospital at Craigleith. Some of those who failed to recover were laid to rest here, as well as at least 40 sailors killed during the Battle of Jutland or who died as a result of their wounds.
The Auxiliary Patrol, which later became the Royal Naval Patrol Service, operated out of Grimsby. Trawlers were used for minesweeping operations and anti-submarine patrols, as local fishermen knew the waters well and their boats were ideal for the task. In all, more than 670 fishing vessels were lost over the course of the war. Over 100 men of the Royal Naval Reserve were buried here during the war years.
Fredrikstad Military Cemetery
Norway was neutral during the First World War, but her merchant fleet suffered the loss of many ships to German U-boats. Norwegians cared for the bodies of servicemen found on their shores, laying to rest 18 sailors of the Royal Navy in Fredrikstad in late June 1916, many of whom were casualties of the Battle of Jutland. The graves of others lost in action off Norway were later brought here from smaller burial grounds.
Sweden remained neutral through both world wars, but the Swedish people cared for the bodies of servicemen found in their country, including those of sailors and airmen. Many were in isolated or inaccessible locations, so in 1961 the Swedish authorities made land available in Kviberg Cemetery to gather a number of these graves together - it is now the final resting place of over 110 Commonwealth servicemen.
The Battle of the Falkland Islands was fought on 8 December 1914, between British ships and the cruisers of Admiral Graf von Spee's East Asiatic Squadron who had destroyed a British squadron off Coronel the previous month. More than 1,800 German sailors perished off the Falklands when the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau were sunk. This is the final resting place of ten sailors of HMS Kent.
On 23 April 1918, Commonwealth sailors and marines, in a collection of monitors, destroyers, motorboats, launches, old cruisers and submarines, and Mersey ferry-boats, attacked the mole at Zeebrugge in an attempt to block the canal leading to Bruges and to the German submarine headquarters. Several members of the Royal Navy who died on the mole and have no known grave are commemorated here.
From warship bombardments and submarine missions to casualty evacuation and supplies, naval forces played a key role at Gallipoli. More than 1,400 of those commemorated here served with the Royal Navy, many of them members of the Royal Naval Division who were killed in fierce fighting around Krithia.
Gosport was home to many factories and military facilities, along with Haslar Naval Hospital. Funeral processions marched down the road known as 'Dead Man's Lane' to this cemetery. Among those buried here are the crew of the submarine L55, lost in Russia in 1919 and brought back in 1928.
The 63rd (Royal Naval) Division was part of the Commonwealth forces which captured Beaumont-Hamel on 13 and 14 November 1916, in the final phase of the Battle of the Somme. Many Royal Navy personnel originally buried in 'R.N.D. Cemetery' were brought here after the war.