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One of the first things you can see when you enter the Masonic Hall at Clevedon is the Hallam Lodge Honours Board. Most of us probably don’t give it a second look apart from occasionally we may look to see how many of the names it contains we are able to remember. However, beneath those well respected names of many Past Masters there is a small brass plaque.
The story behind HMS Lion is one of bravery and strength in the face of adversity, and it is amazing that any part of her survived the First World War, let alone part of her be in Clevedon!
HMS Lion was laid down at the Devonport Dockyard, Plymouth, on 29 November 1909. She was launched on 6 August 1910 and was commissioned on 4 June 1912. She was one of the new Naval battlecruisers nicknamed the “Splendid Cats” and served as the Grand Fleets flagship during the First World War.
On 31st May 1916 she was part of the Fleet sent to intercept the Germans in the North Sea, in what became known as the Battle of Jutland. Lion was hit by a 12 inch (305 mm) salvo from the German battlecruiser Lützow which blew the roof off "Q" turret. Dozens of Royal Marines were killed, but a far worse catastrophe was averted when Major Francis Harvey, the mortally wounded turret commander, both of whose legs had been severed, with his last breath ordered the magazine doors to be closed. The magazine flooded, thereby preventing the cordite propellant from setting off a massive explosion. How close the ship came to destruction was later discovered when several of the gunnery crew had been found dead, with their hands still clutching the magazine door handles.
The Damaged Q turret
However, whilst explosion was averted a flash fire resulted. The gun in Q turret was loaded and ready to fire, the shock from the German strike sent a loaded shell back down the breach into the gun well where the cordite ignited along the ammunition supply trunk, the flash fire went two ways straight up through the hole in the turret and along the corridor where a switchboard team, electrical repair party and medical station were situated, all these men lost their lives.
A Royal Naval report afterwards stated “It is to be remarked that the clothes and bodies of these men were not burnt, and in cases where the hands had been raised involuntarily, palms forward, to protect the eyes, the backs of the hands and that part of the face actually screened by the hands were not even discoloured. Death to these men must have been instantaneous."
Major Francis John William Harvey was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross - this is the citation published in the London Gazette, 15 September 1916: "Whilst mortally wounded and almost the only survivor after the explosion of an enemy shell in "Q" gunhouse, with great presence of mind and devotion to duty, ordered the magazine to be flooded, thereby saving the ship. He died shortly afterwards."
Following the action Lion was towed back to Rosyth shipyard where Q turret was removed and underwent 6 weeks of refitting , damage to her showed she had been struck 14 times. Amazingly thanks to the actions of Major Harvey from a crew of 1092 , Lion only lost 99 men and suffered 51 wounded. Her post Jutland war was fairly quiet patrolling the North Sea but keeping out of range of the German Fleet!
She was consigned to scrap under the Washington Naval Treaty in 1924, she was cut in two at Hebburn ,Co. Durham, and the stern part was towed down the Tyne to Blyth, Northumberland, to be broken up. Because of a heavy ground swell, the stern part broke away from the tugs, but it was picked up again and the destination was reached.
W.Bro Parker who donated the Teak Panel which was part of her cabin fittings was the founding Treasurer of Hallam Mark Lodge when it was consecrated in 1921, records don’t immediately indicate his profession, or connection to HMS Lion, though there were 2 crewmen on board Lion with the same surname.
So with such an horrific incident it is quite remarkable that a teak panel survived and how lucky we are to have a tangible piece of history before our very eyes. It is a poignant reminder of the horror of war, particularly at the time of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Jutland when over 8000 sailors lost their lives.
Should you be fortunate enough to visit the Masonic Hall at Clevedon, take a moment to look at the brass plaque and give a thought for those servicemen and women who have lost their lives for our freedom.
Secretary, Hallam Lodge MMM No 730
Photographs of Lion and Q turret are artistic work created by the United Kingdom Government is in the public domain.
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