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Commander Loftus Jones VC

Commander Jones' torpedo boat destroyer, HMS Shark, came under heavy attack from German shellfire during the Battle of Jutland. Jones, though mortally wounded, encouraged his men to the last and only left his ship when it was beyond saving.

Loftus Jones was born, in 1879, into a family with a strong naval tradition. His father was an admiral and other members of the family had been naval officers. Jones followed suit and attended Eastman's Royal Naval Academy in Fareham, Hampshire, joining HMS Royal Sovereign as a midshipman in 1896. He served aboard a great number of ships during his naval career – 28 in total. Some of the vessels he served in included HMS Spiteful in 1901; HMS Sparrowhawk, in which, as a lieutenant, he took his first command in April 1902; and a gunboat, HMS Sandpiper on the China station in 1903. Jones then joined a number of smaller boats, which he seemed to prefer. These included the destroyers HMS Success in 1905-08, HMS Chelmer in 1908-10 and HMS Ghurkain 1910-13. During this time, he rose up the ranks and, in 1912, he was made commander.

In 1910, he married Margaret Dampney and they later had a daughter, Linnette, named after the ship Jones took command of in 1913. When the First World War broke out in 1914, HMS Linnet was soon in action. On 5 August, the day after Britain entered the war, Linnet was involved in the first naval encounter of the war when it took part in sinking the German minelayer, Königin Luise, off the Thames Estuary. Later that month, Linnet was present at the Battle of Heligoland Bight, which was a victory for the British.

In October that year, Jones took command of a new destroyer, HMS Shark. Two months later, the German High Seas Fleet attacked towns along the east coast of Britain, bombarding Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby. HMS Shark, as leader of the 2nd Division of the 4rth Flotilla, played a key role in the Royal Navy's defence against this raid. Jones pursued the German ships in terrible weather and against a greater number of enemy ships. His boldness and determination to press the German raiding force was noted and he was commended by Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty for his part in the action.

During the Battle of Jutland, HMS Shark led a group of the 4th Destroyer Flotilla which, like HMS Chester, was attached to Admiral Hood's 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron. Late in the afternoon of 31 May 1916, Shark, along with Acasta, Christopher and Ophelia, met a larger formation of torpedo boat destroyers of the German 2nd Scouting Group. The British destroyers attacked but were outnumbered and outgunned, and Shark soon came under devastating shellfire. The forecastle (the upper deck) was hit and the forward gun was destroyed, along with most of its crew. The ship's forward steering gear was disabled, and Jones ordered that the aft wheel, towards the stern of the ship, be used. Whilst he was moving towards the rear of the ship, he was wounded by shrapnel in his thigh and face. A shell struck the Shark and smashed up the bridge. The engine room had also been hit and there were many casualties amongst the ship's crew, including the coxswain and surgeon.

Noticing the Shark's stricken state, the commander of the Acasta brought his destroyer near and signalled to offer his help. But Jones turned this down, saying "No, tell him to look after himself and not get sunk over this." Jones ordered his men to ready the lifeboats but, as they were lowered, they were shot away and lost. The Shark's after gun was also hit, leaving just one, the mid-ship gun, in action. Captain Jones stood beside it as two men, Able Seaman Howell and Able Seaman Hope, loaded it and fired on the German ships, encouraging and helping them in their work. At this point, Jones was badly wounded, hit by a shell which severed his right leg above the knee. While two of his men attempted to stem the bleeding from his wound, Jones continued to shout encouragement to the gun crew. They succeeded in causing some damage to the German destroyer V.48.

Jones noticed that the ship's main mast had been damaged and the white ensign was no longer flying. He immediately ordered for another ensign to be raised, saying, once it was hoisted, "That’s good". The Shark was now a scene of destruction, smashed up, laying low in the water and beyond salvation. Jones gave the order to abandon ship, crying "Save yourselves!" Although the life boats had been destroyed, a number of rafts and improvised floats were used to get away from the fast-sinking ship. Jones was put in a lifebelt and helped into the water, while the remaining crew clung to rafts and wreckage.

At around 7pm, HMS Shark suffered its final torpedo attack and sank beneath the waves. Two of its crew helped the captain onto a raft, made up of barrels lashed together, which drifted within sight of two other rafts full of survivors. Although many of them were wounded, they took up a song, Nearer, my God, to Thee, as they floated in the water. The injuries Captain Jones had received were too severe and he soon died from blood loss and exhaustion. Of his ship's crew, only seven were rescued, by a Danish steamer at around midnight. One man died on the way back to Britain, so only six survivors of the Shark's ordeal eventually landed at Hull. Captain Jones's body later washed up on the shore of the Swedish coast and he was buried by the people of nearby Fiskebäckskil in the village churchyard on 24 June.

After Loftus Jones's death at Jutland, his brave leadership in the battle was picked up and reported by the British press, and he was Mentioned in Despatches. But it was only after his widow carried out an investigation into his final hours that he was finally recommended for a posthumous Victoria Cross. Margaret Jones interviewed members of the Shark's crew that were with her husband as he worked to defend his ship. She then used their testimonies to write a report, which was sent to the Admiralty. Based on this, Loftus Jones was awarded a posthumous VC, which King George V presented to Margaret Jones at Buckingham Palace in 1917. After the war, she took their daughter, Linnette, to visit Loftus Jones's grave in Sweden. She also thanked the local people of Fiskebäckskil for building a memorial to him and so fittingly honouring her husband.

His VC stayed in the family until 1991 when, on the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland, Linnette lent it to the Royal Naval Museum. The award was acquired by the Lord Ashcroft Collection in 2012.

You can see Loftus Jones’s VC in the Lord Ashcroft Gallery at IWM London.