b. 13/11/1879 Petersfield, Hampshire. d. 31/05/1916 Jutland.
Loftus William Jones (1879-1916) was born into a naval family on 13th November 1879, the second son of Admiral Loftus Francis Jones and Gertrude nee Gray, of Hylton House, Petersfield, Hampshire. With an admiral for a father, it was hardly surprising that “Willie”, as he was known in the family, should join the Senior Service, which he did via Eastman’s Royal Navy Academy, Fareham, an establishment he hated, and HMS Britannia, which he entered in 1894. Two of his three brothers, Lewis and Frank, served in the Navy. Frank took part at the Battle of Jutland, while the third brother, Charles, broke with tradition and joined the Indian Army.
From 1896, when he joined the Royal Sovereign as midshipman, until taking command of HMS Shark in 1914, he had no fewer than twenty-eight different appointments. Most lasted little than a year. In one of his shortest spells on any ship, he was temporary watchkeeper aboard the cruiser Argonaut for just ten days during 1903, a year in which he served on five different ships!
Big ships, seemed not to his liking, so when appointed to command the gunboat Sandpiper, on the China Station in 1903, this marked the beginning of a long association with small ships. He was appointed to Success in 1905, the first of his destroyer commands, which was followed by Chelmer (1908-10), Gurkha (1910-13) and Linnet, an appointment he took in June 1914. He was then promoted to Commander. In 1910, he had married Margaret Annie Dampney, of Netherbury in Dorset, and before the end of 1914, they would celebrate the birth of a daughter, Linnette, named after his new destroyer.
The opening months of the war were busy for Jones. Linnet was one of four destroyers from the Harwich Patrol’s Third Flotilla involving in the sinking of the German minelayer Konigen Luise on 5th August 1914, the navy’s first victory of the war. At the end of August, he was involved in the victorious Battle of Heligoland Bight. It was his last major action before he was given command of HMS Shark on 11th October 1914. Two months later, as leader of the 2nd Division of the Fourth Flotilla based at Cromarty under Admiral Beatty’s command, he was heavily engaged in the enemy raids on the Yorkshire coast.
On the afternoon of the 31st May, 1916, during the action, Commander Jones in H.M.S. "Shark", Torpedo Boat Destroyer, led a division of Destroyers to attack the enemy Battle Cruiser Squadron. In the course of this attack a shell hit the "Shark's" bridge, putting the steering gear out of order, and very shortly afterwards another shell disabled the main engines, leaving the vessel helpless. The Commanding Officer of another Destroyer, seeing the "Shark's" plight, came between her and the enemy and offered assistance, but was warned by Commander Jones not to run the risk of being almost certainly sunk in trying to help him. Commander Jones, though wounded in the leg, went aft to help connect and man the after wheel. Meanwhile the forecastle gun with its crew had been blown away, and the same fate soon afterwards befell the after gun and crew. Commander Jones then went to the midship and the only remaining gun, and personally assisted in keeping it in action.
All this time the "Shark" was subjected to very heavy fire from enemy light cruisers and destroyers at short range. The gun's crew of the midship gun was reduced to three, of whom an Able Seaman was soon badly wounded in the leg. A few minutes later Commander Jones was hit by a shell, which took off his leg above the knee, but he continued to give orders to his gun's crew, while a Chief Stoker improvised a tourniquet round his thigh. Noticing that the Ensign was not properly hoisted, he gave orders for another to be hoisted. Soon afterwards, seeing that the ship could not survive much longer, and as a German Destroyer was closing, he gave orders for the surviving members of the crew to put on lifebelts. Almost immediately after this order had been given, the "Shark" was struck by a torpedo and sank. Commander Jones was unfortunately not amongst the few survivors from the "Shark" who were picked up by a neutral vessel in the night.
The name of Commander Jones became headline news with one headline “Captain Fought On Though His Leg Was Shot Away”. The first naval reports of the activities of the Shark were more restrained. Eventually on 15th September 1916, Commander Jones’ name appeared in the list of honours for Jutland among the men mentioned in despatches. He had been recommended for a posthumous honour. Mrs Jones was keen to have her husband’s gallantry officially recognised, and she visited and interviewed as many survivors of the Shark as she could find. She wrote a narrative, and sent it to the Navy. Over the next six weeks, statements were taken and signed.
The actions of Mrs Jones were successful as his VC was gazetted on 6th March 1917, and on the last day of the month, his widow travelled to Buckingham Palace to receive the honour she had done more than anyone else to secure. Four years later, Margaret Jones took her daughter to Fiskebackskil in Sweden to see the fine memorial erected by the local people to her father.
Linnette Sheffield (her married name) returned to Sweden in 1991 for a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of Jutland. Her father’s grave had been moved to Kviberg Cemetery in Gothenburg in the 1960s, but the people of Fiskebackskil had not forgotten. Earlier that year, she had presented her father’s medals on loan to the Royal Naval Museum in Portsmouth, saying “I’m so proud of this medal, but I did worry about it being burgled.” Subsequently it was withdrawn from the Museum and sold privately, and now forms part of the Ashcroft Collection in the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IW MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: KVIBERG CEMETERY, GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN. PLOT II, ROW C, GRAVE 4.
Loftus Jones' medals including VC on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (August 2014).
Petersfield War Memorial
St Peters Church, Petersfield
Wife's grave in Loxwood, Surrey
War Illustrated, 23rd June 1917
War Illustrated, 23rd June 1917
War Illustrated, 17th June 1916
Courtesy of Carol Pollard