Stoker 1st. Class Sydney Mulliner 111980 HMS ‘Queen Mary’
Leading Seaman Philip Harold Knowles 237423 HMS ‘Indefatigable.’
2016 is a year of very resonant Great War centenaries, not just of the Battle of the Somme in July, but also for the anniversary of the greatest battleship clash in history, the Battle of Jutland. This confrontation between the British and German navies took place 80 miles west of the Danish coast on the 31st May 1916. Release of naval personnel files has revealed two sailors with Bewdley links who became casualties in the opening stage of the battle, where British battlecruisers proved unexpectedly vulnerable to German naval gunnery, despite advantages in speed and armament. While the strategic outcome of the battle left the Royal Navy in continuing control of the sea around Britain, tactically the Germans were able to inflict damaging losses.
Sydney Mulliner was born Arley on December 16th 1892, the son of George Mulliner (1859 -1918) and Mary Morris (1861 – 1945?). George Mulliner worked as a gardener, living at Dallicott Hall Claverley, Shropshire house of Thomas J Franks a JP. In the early 1890s, his family consisted of Thomas 11, Ellen 9, George, 7 Mary 5, and Cecelia, aged 1. The family were certainly in Upper Arley at of Sydney’s birth in 1892; by 1901 the family also includes Charles 5, Rose 2, and John 2 months. (Mary Mulliner was still resident at Copse Mill, Upper Arley, when the Commonwealth War Graves compiled their register in the early 1920s.)
Sydney joined the navy as a Stoker on the 1st April 1912, and was given the service number SS111980. He gave his occupation as ‘farm labourer’, and his height was 5 feet 6 inches. He first served at HMS Victory II, a training depot at Portsmouth, then on HMS Renown, an older ship built in 1895, but used as stoker’s training vessel. He then served aboard two submarine depot ships, HMS Bonaventure, an old 1892 cruiser, and HMS Maidstone. His next posting was more prestigious, being the brand-new battlecruiser HMS Queen Mary; Sydney served aboard this famous ship from her commissioning on 4th September 1913, for the remainder of his career, and he went down with her.
Queen Mary was assigned to the 1st Battlecruiser Squadron (BCS) under the command of Rear Admiral David Beatty, and made a port visit to Brest in February 1914, and visited Russia in June. She took part in the Battle of the Heligoland Bight in 1914, but was refitting in January and February 1915.
Philip Harold Knowles was born in Birmingham 8th October 1890, the son of William Knowles (1863? – 1896?) and Mary Elizabeth Ennis (1865 – 1944). Mary was from the Pensax/Martley area, and her father was William Ennis, a carpenter from Porchbrook near Rock. In the 1891 Mary Knowles and infant Phillip are visiting Emma Slater at Gorst Hill, a relative of her stepmother Sarah Reece (nee Patrick). His sister Ada is born in Bewdley in 1892, and Philip is described as a ‘Native of Bewdley’ in Commonwealth War Grave Commission records. By the time of Philip’s death in action, his mother is remarried and is ‘Mrs R. Betts’ at ‘28 Shireland Road, Smethwick…formerly of Nechells and Bewdley’
Philip was a career sailor who served 10 years at sea, and who joined navy for twelve years on his eighteenth birthday, and whose civilian occupation was a ‘fitters’ assistant’. In an extensive naval career he served on over twenty ships and shore stations. Intriguingly the New South Wales Police Gazette of the 25th Jan 1911 describes him as ‘deserted’ from the cruiser HMS Encounter at Sydney, which formed part of the Royal Navy’s Australia Squadron. Knowles is described as ‘5 foot 8 inches…dark brown hair, hazel eyes, fresh complexion…(tattoos) flower right forearm, bird and woman left forearm….eagle right upper arm.’ Knowles is however back aboard Encounter for the 1911 census in April when moored at Tonga in the South Pacific.
His entry in the National Roll of the Great War insists he served on HMS Agamemnon in the Battle of the Heligoland Bight and Dardanelles, but naval records suggest service on Indefatigable from the of 3rd December 1913. Indefatigable did indeed take part in the bombardment of Dardanelles forts in November 1914.
Indefatigable was sunk on 31 May 1916 while also serving as part of Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty’s Battlecruiser Fleet: she was hit several times in the first minutes of the “Run to the South”, the opening phase of the battlecruiser action. Shells from the German battlecruiser Von der Tann caused an explosion which ripped a hole in her hull, and a second explosion destroyed the ship. Only two of the crew of 1,019 survived. Twenty-five minutes later, Queen Mary was hit twice by the German battlecruiser Derfflinger, and her magazines exploded shortly afterwards, leaving only nine survivors. Sydney Mulliner and Philip Knowles rest with their shipmates in the North Sea, but are commemorated on the Portsmouth and Plymouth Naval Memorials