Mar 20

Reflecting on the Jutland Centennial

Monday, March 20, 2017 11:10 AM


The Battle of Jutland—where my grandfather, Sir John Jellicoe, commanded the British Grand Fleet on 31 May, 1916—was, and has remained, one of the most controversial battles of all time. Britain’s expectations of a second Trafalgar were hopelessly unrealistic but fed by a very active press. Britain’s navy had basked in its glory for more than one hundred years, thought and acted as if it were invincible and received a rude shock on the day. When an easy-to-understand victory, ready packaged for the national media to exploit was not achieved, the search for scapegoats began. My grandfather became the scapegoat.

Last year, 2016, Jutland’s centenary year, the battle was in danger of being largely forgotten or at least overshadowed by the memory of the war in the trenches. It’s ironic that in an age where maritime power is increasingly important, Britain has largely forgotten her monumental maritime heritage. The consequences of a momentary interruption to sea trade with globalized, interdependent and “just-in-time” economies would be catastrophic. My task was to make sure the battle was not only remembered, but that it was understood more clearly and that the judgement of my grandfather’s role could be more established.

History must be passed on to expand horizons and learn what we can from the past. Today’s younger generation has decidedly different media consumption habits and engages in an almost diametrically opposite manner to my own generation. The book had to be written, as much as anything, to establish the story but then it also needed to be taken into a digital world. A site, Jutland1916, was launched and site traffic topped out at 5,300 on the day. It will continue to be supported as a way of housing new content with stories of the ships and men who served on them. It is becoming a recognized research tool. An animation explaining the course of the battle was also developed. This was a primary vehicle to help convey a complex story with as much simplicity and in as engaging a way as possible. The 24-minute animation has been translated into German and had 350,000 plays online and will probably be seen by another 500,000 exhibition visitors in the UK, Germany and Denmark. It was even used at the United States Naval War College in 2016 as a precursor to the U.S. Navy’s Jutland war game. An event which, though I could not attend personally, I was very proud to have contributed to. A documentary film was produced and has now been re-run on British national TV four or five times and will be shown on the Smithsonian channel in the United States on March 20th. Co-ordination between numerous exhibitions in Europe was encouraged and facilitated. Museum directors who had not known each other until 2015 have now started to use a cooperative model of sharing artifacts, content and ideas.

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I’m happy to see the book, Jutland, The Unfinished Battle, hold its own. Robert Massie was kind enough to read early drafts and gave me both the encouragement and advice I needed. The book was a shortlisted nomination for the Mountbatten Award and has, I believe, been accepted as a work that, despite my own connections, avoided bias and told an engaging and clear story of the battle and its aftermath. In its pages was a QR code for readers to find primary source material on the Jutland1916 site when they wanted. Given the fundamental role of the United States Navy in 1917 after America had entered the war, I’m equally happy that I will have a chance to talk one-to-one with audiences in the United States about Jutland, my grandfather’s friendship with Admiral William Sims, USN and that the Jutland documentary has been taken on by the Smithsonian channel.

Writing “yet another book” on Jutland was a daunting task as I was neither a historian nor a writer by training. Rather, I spent the last forty years of my life in communications and marketing. Given the often-vitriolic debate between the rival camps following the battle’s end that seemed to linger on through the century, it wasn’t easy to write critically about my grandfather, someone whom I never knew but a person whom I came to greatly admire. I feel now that we accomplished many of the goals that we set out to—certainly the most important: the literature was expanded, major exhibitions launched, national media attention given, old memories preserved and new stories found. What more could one have hoped for?


A schedule of this author’s U.S. talks follows.

4/3/2017 New York, NY 11:30 A.M., Naval Order of the U.S., Racquet & Tennis Club, 370 Park Ave., New York, NY 10022
4/4-6/2017 Newport, RI “Echoes of the First World War in the Twenty First Century,” U.S. Naval War College, Newport, RI
4/9/2017 Leesburg, VA 2:00 P.M., Thomas Balch Library, 208 West Market St., Leesburg, VA 20176
4/10/2017 Annapolis, MD 7:00 P.M., “Maritime Lecture Series.,” U.S. Naval Academy, Mitscher Hall, Annapolis, MD 21402
4/11/2017 Washington, D.C. Noon, Ralph Bunche Library, U.S. Department of State, 2201 C ST., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20520
4/11/2017 Washington, D.C. 6:30 P.M., University Club-Military History Legion, 1135 16th St., NW, Washington, D.C. 20036 | Members only.
4/12/2017 Washington, D.C. Noon, “Lunchtime Lecture Series,” National Museum of the U.S. Navy Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.
4/14/2017 Laurel, MD 2:00 P.M., “Colloquium Lecture,” JHU’s Applied Physics Laboratory, 11100 Johns Hopkins Rd., Laurel, MD 20723 | Open to the public.
5/2/2017 Miami, FL 6:30 P.M., Books and Books, 927 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach, FL 33139
5/6/2017 Los Angeles, CA Battleship Iowa BB 61, Pacific Battleship Center, 250 S. Harbor Blvd., Berth 87, Los Angeles, CA 90731



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