During the first day of the Battle of Jutland, 31st May 1916, three local men lost their lives in this great clash of 250 warships when the German Navy tried to break a naval blockade in the North Sea. The two days of the battle saw the loss of 25 ships and 8,500 men, three-quarters of whom were British. Despite the huge losses, the blockade held.
Lieutenant Commander Leonard Hubert Lindner and Ordinary Telegraphist Elias William Wright were killed when their ship, H.M.S. Indefatigable, was sunk after being hit by shells from the German battlecruiser, Von Der Tann, which ripped a hole in Indefatigable’s hull, causing the ship’s magazine to explode and blow the ship in half. Only two of the 1,019 crew survived. According to one of the survivors, the ship’s Captain, C. F. Sowerby, survived the sinking but died of his wounds before he could be rescued.
On the same day Able Seaman Francis Smitten was killed in the same battle, when his ship, H.M.S. Black Prince, was sunk with all 37 officers and 820 men lost.
Leonard Lindner was the fourth son born to parents Frederick William, a merchant, and his wife, Lucy. Frederick’s father, Maximilian, was born in Germany and came to Britain c. 1870, where he was German Vice-consul to Birmingham until about 1895. By 1881, Frederick was living at The Hermitage, Lode Lane, Solihull with his wife and family. Leonard was born there on 23rd April 1883 and was baptised at St Alphege Church, Solihull on 23rd May 1883. He lived there until at least the age of seven. The house was badly damaged in a fire in 1905 and took ten years to rebuild. In the meantime, the family had moved to Leamington Spa. When the house was restored in 1915, Mr Lindner loaned the premises for the duration of the war, to be used as a Red Cross Auxiliary Hospital.
Leonard was destined for a career in the Royal Navy, and attended a “naval crammer”, Mr Littlejohn’s Navy School at Greenwich, which cost about £50 per year and coached cadets wanting to pass the demanding Royal Naval Entrance Examination. He left Mr Littlejohn’s establishment at the age of 12 or 13, and entered the Naval Training Ship, Britannia, at Dartmouth. He entered the Royal Naval College, Osborne in January 1898, and served on many ships, including as a Midshipman on the Royal Oak in Malta in 1901, and H.M.S. Grafton in Portsmouth in 1911, before attaining the rank of Lieutenant Commander in June 1912. He was appointed to the battlecruiser Indefatigable in December 1913 and became the ship’s navigation officer.
33-year-old Leonard Hubert Lindner is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial, and at Alveston, Warwickshire. As far as we know, he isn’t commemorated on any memorials in Solihull.
His brother, Philip Edward Lindner, was killed in 1918. His first cousin, Frank James Donovan Lindner, served as a Captain with the South Staffordshire Regiment. He survived the war and, in 1921, married the widow of Lieutenant William Henry Furse, who died on 1st July 1916.
If you have any further information about the Lindner family, please let us know.
Also lost whilst on board H.M.S. Indefatigable was Ordinary Telegraphist Elias William Wright, who was born in Solihull on 22nd May 1898, according to the Royal Navy and Royal Marine War Graves Roll (on the Ancestry website, available free of charge from library computers). He died just over a week after his eighteenth birthday.
We haven’t been able to find out much about him. At the time of the 1911 census he was living at 13 Lea Road, Sparkhill, with his parents, Percy (a 45-year-old compositor, born in Leeds) and Eunice (aged 35, born Bromsgrove). The census gives the family name as Hanson-Wright, although Elias’s birth in 1898 was registered just under the name Wright, not Hanson-Wright. He also served in the Army as Elias William Wright. He was the second child and the eldest son of the five children born to Percy and Eunice Wright.
As far as we know, Elias William Wright isn’t commemorated on any war memorials in Solihull, although his name is listed on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.
If you have any further information on the family, please let us know.
Francis Smitten, known as Frank, was born in 1894, the ninth child and eighth son of parents William and Caroline who had ten children, all of whom survived infancy. In 1911, Frank was aged 16, and living at home with his parents at Copt Heath Wharf. He and several of his brothers were listed as labourers in the sewage works. One of his brothers, Thomas (1890-1942) had enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1908 for a term of 12 years and, at the time of the 1911 census, was a 20-year-old Able Seaman serving aboard the destroyer, H.M.S. Goldfinch.
Just over a year later, on 5th June 1912, Frank also joined the Royal Navy, enlisting at Portsmouth and being posted to the shore-based accounting and holding barracks, H.M.S. Victory I. The following month, he was posted to H.M.S. Bulwark, serving from 28th July 1912 to 5th February 1913. The following day he was posted to H.M.S. Black Prince, on which he served until his death. He was promoted from Ordinary Seaman to Able Seaman on 14th February 1914.
Mystery surrounded the loss of the Black Prince at the time, as no one saw her sink. After the war, however, German records provided an account of the ship’s movements after she last made contact with British forces at 20:48 on 31st May. It seems she became separated from the British fleet and approached German ships in error a few minutes before midnight. By the time she realised the mistake, the Black Prince was a sitting duck for the German guns.
The Sunday School children at Knowle had adopted the Black Prince as their ship and asked that, instead of school prizes, Christmas cards should be bought and sent to each man aboard the ship. Poignantly, the silk white ensign sent by the ship’s company as a thank you gift to the children arrived at Knowle vicarage on the same morning that news arrived of the ship being lost with all hands. The flag was installed in Knowle parish church, with a plaque from the children in memory of the ship’s company, including Frank Smitten. Knowle Parish Magazine May 2016 includes a photograph of the flag in situ at the back of the church. As the flag deteriorated over the years, parts of it were framed and hung near the plaque.
Frank Smitten’s name is also commemorated on war memorials in Catherine-de-Barnes, Knowle and Solihull, as well as on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.
Frank Smitten’s great-niece has been in touch with us to say that her grandfather, Harry, was one of Frank’s brothers, and that Harry named his son Francis Harry Smitten (born in Coventry in 1918) after his late brother. The family also lost other relatives – Frank’s first cousins once removed, brothers William Henry Smitten (1886-1915) and George Arthur Smitten (1888-1916), who were the only sons of George Smitten (1819-1907), Frank’s great-uncle.
The Hampshire Telegraph, 24th November 1916 carried the following item from Rev. Thomas Downing, ,Vicar of Knowle:
I write to ask you to let me know the best way of bringing before the men and their relations the following: Last Christmas the children of the Sunday-school here sent cards to the ship’s company of H.M.S. Black Prince. The men on board made a flag and sent it to the children but alas! the flag arrived on the very day of the great sea fight. We are putting up a little memorial in the church, and I thought that perhaps the widows of the men might, some of them, like to know about it and have a photograph. But the difficulty is to get at them, and I thought that you might be able to help me, as the ship was from Portsmouth.
Some of the letters received by Rev. Downing are preserved at Warwickshire County Record Office.
If you have any further information about any of these men or their families, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
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