As Beatty’s line of battlecruisers engaged their German counterparts on the afternoon of the 31st May, the attached destroyers were roughly 2miles ahead of HMS Lion heading south. The ships of the 13th Destroyer Flotilla were steaming in three divisions under overall command of Captain J.U. Farie on the Light Cruiser Champion. The destroyer HMS Turbulent was at the rear of the division headed by the Narborough. At 4.15pm they were ordered to launch a torpedo attack on the German battlecruisers.
Destroyers were the lightest warships to fight at Jutland. They were used for patrolling and raiding, as well as to screen battle fleets during major actions. With no armour plating and small guns, the speed of these vulnerable ships was paramount in both defence and attack. The torpedoes they carried could cripple or even sink big ships but could only be launched when perilously close to the enemy. Rushing full speed into a storm of shell would strain the nerve of every man on board.
HMS Turbulent was a new Talisman Class destroyer, launched on 1st January 1916 and completed by 1st May. Her crew of ninety ranged in age from sixteen year old Boy Telegraphist Kenneth Alfred John Moore to men in their forties such as the Chief Stoker, Arthur Cole. Around a fifth of the crew were Londoners, as was Rotherhithe born Able Seaman Walter Boughen, a 24 year old married man with a son. Walter Boughen had joined the Navy in October 1909, serving on Armoured Cruisers before the war, and was on HMS Chatham when war was declared, operating in the Red Sea. In November 1914, the Chatham was involved in operations against the German commerce raider SMS Königsberg. In May 1915 the Chatham returned to the Mediterranean to support the Allied landings at Gallipoli. In 1916 she returned to home waters and joined the 3rd Light Cruiser Squadron of the Grand Fleet. AB Walter Boughen had joined the crew of the Turbulent just 19 days before, on the 12th May 1916.
Walter Boughen was married before the war in 1913 to Mitcham born Ethel Mary Pearcey, their son Charles Alfred Boughen was born on 14 May 1914. Ethel remained at her parents home at 2 Benedict Terrace, Belgrave Walk, Mitcham, during the war years. Walter’s return from the Mediterranean and the knowledge he would serve in home waters must have seemed like very good news.
Actions stations sounded and the ships of the 13th Flotilla swung round to close on the enemy at full speed, German destroyers were sent to prevent them getting within torpedo range. The two destroyer flotillas charged towards each other at a combined speed of more than 60 knots with guns blazing and black smoke belching from their funnels. Torpedoes launched by H.M.S. Petard and H.M.S. Turbulent sank the German destroyer V29, the tube crew on the Petard fired their last torpedo at the German Battle Cruiser Line at some 9,000 yards before both ships turned North when the leading ships of the German High Seas Fleet had already hoved into view. It may have been a torpedo fired by the Petard that stuck SMS Seydlitz at 17:57 ripping a 40-foot hole in her hull.
As the Turbulent and Petard returned to Beatty’s line, they came across the damaged Nestor, who refused their help, further on a huge oil patch was passed were HMS Laurel had stopped to pick up men in the sea. HMS Petard rescued one man who was in fact Petty Officer E. Francis, a survivor from the after-turret of the Queen Mary. Both the damaged destroyers Nestor and Nomad were sunk by the concentrated fire of the German High Seas Fleet, but not before the surviving crew members had managed to abandon ship and taken to the small boats. The survivors were picked up by a German destroyer and Commander Barry Bingham of the Nestor, with others, were held as prisoners for the rest of the war. The award of Commander Bingham’s VC was announced in September 1916, whilst he was in captivity. His citation reads:
For the extremely gallant way in which he led his division in their attack, first on enemy destroyers and then on their battlecruisers. He finally sighted the enemy battle-fleet, and, followed by the one remaining destroyer of his division (Nicator), with dauntless courage he closed to within 3,000 yards of the enemy in order to attain a favourable position for firing the torpedoes. While making this attack, Nestor and Nicator were under concentrated fire of the secondary batteries of the High Sea Fleet. Nestor was subsequently sunk.
HMS Turbulent was now in the rearguard of the Battle Cruiser fleet, long hours followed with the strain of keeping watch in the dead of night for any sign of approaching vessels. The 13th Flotilla destroyers lost touch with their cruiser, HMS Champion, sometime around 11.30 pm and HMS Petard remained the Turbulent’s closest companion. Unknown to the British, the German Fleet was crossing their wake around midnight, with British destroyers in their path.
Events are described in the dispatch of H.M.S. ” Petard” dated 2nd June 1916:
At 12.15 a.m. course was altered to S.W. by W., and ten minutes later the line crossed ahead of a division of German Battleships. I sighted the leading battleship about six points on my starboard bow steering S.E. at about 400 or 500 yards. This ship switched on recognition lights, consisting of two red over one white light and, as some destroyer ahead of me in the line then switched on her ” fighting fights,” I think the Germans at once knew we were enemy. As ” Petard ” had no torpedoes left I could not attack, so I increased to full speed, and altered course slightly to port to avoid being rammed. I passed about 200 yards ahead of the German ship, who appeared to be one of the ” Wittelsbach ” class. As soon as we were clear of her stem, she illuminated us with searchlights, and we came under a heavy fire from her and the next ship in the line. Two salvoes seemed to strike us, and, in all, I think, we received six hits. I regret that I never saw ” Turbulent,” who was in station astern of “Petard,” after passing the German Squadron; according to the evidence of some of my Ship’s Company, I am afraid she must have been rammed and sunk.
Among Petard’s dead was the ship’s surgeon, Hugh John Dingle (RNVR), the narrative of HMS Nicator speaks of the same events:
Some time after midnight, I cannot remember the exact time, the signal to alter course to S.W. came. For some time there had been a long lull between these intermittent bursts of firing, which we took to be a flotilla attacking, when suddenly we saw challenging going on, and some ship, I do not know which, switched on its fighting lights for a second or two and then off again, apparently by accident. Then without any warning searchlights were switched on abaft our starboard beam, and settled on the Petard, ahead of us. We saw three or four big ships, obviously Germans, silhouetted for a moment; then a burst of fire, followed quickly by another, and the light went out. The Petard was badly hit, and suffered a lot of casualties. Then all lights switched on again, this time on us for a fraction of a minute during which time we thought we were in for it too, but they trained aft on to the Turbulent, two ships astern of us and as far as I can remember, the tail of the line of destroyers. She appeared to be at absolutely point-blank range, and in a few seconds a ripple of fire seemed to run the whole length of her. It looked as if she were blown right out of the water. It all happened so suddenly that we hardly realised what was taking place, and it somehow did not strike us that this was the German fleet breaking through the line, unluckily at the weakest point, just between the battle fleet and battle cruisers. When daylight came we sent our surgeon probationer on board the Petard, as their surgeon had been killed with the first salvo. With only a destroyer’s medical outfit and no anaesthetics he performed wonders, and undoubtedly saved a number of lives.
Nine lives had been lost on HMS Petard, but HMS Turbulent was lost with all hands, the fate of the ship’s company being reported on the 2nd June 1916.
At the end of the Walter Boughen was one of the 8,517 names added to the CHATHAM NAVAL MEMORIAL which stands high above the town.
Walter Boughen’s widow, Ethel, choose to commemorated him on the Mitcham War memorial.
Life began again for Ethel when she was remarried to Edmund Charles Cresswell on 13th September 1923, at St.Peter and St.Paul, Mitcham. Edmund Cresswell, a veteran of the Great War himself, he had been a near neighbour of Ethel’s before the war. No. 2 Benedict Terrace, remained their home for another decade, with Ethel’s parents as next door neighbours. Ethel had moved to Western Road by the time Walter’s son Charles Alfred Boughen married in 1936. Charles Boughen stayed in the area all his life, passing away aged 87 in 2002.
Footnote 1: Petty Officer Charles Norman Faulkner was also lost on the Turbulent. Charles Faulkner had been born in Wallington and grew up in Carshalton.