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Royal Battle of Jutland letters to go on display

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Media captionKing George VI recounted the experience of coming under fire from enemy torpedoes

Letters written by two future kings about the Battle of Jutland during World War One are to go on public display for the first time in May.

The correspondence by George VI and his brother Edward VIII will feature in a Portsmouth exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the key naval clash.

King George, then Duke of York, talked of coming under fire from torpedoes.

His elder brother, then Prince of Wales and in the Army, wrote of his pride at the role of the British Grand Fleet.

The Battle of Jutland, fought over 36 hours on 31 May 1916 between the Royal Navy and the German High Seas Fleet, was the biggest sea engagement of the war.

It saw the loss of 6,094 Royal Navy seamen and 2,551 Germans, but failed to break Britain's blockade of the North Sea.

Both letters were sent to their father's personal assistant.

King Edward wrote: "It does make one feel proud of the service when one hears how those ships met their end, with their guns firing as they went down."

And referring to the poor health suffered by his brother, Prince Albert, he said: "I'm so glad old Bertie was in the fight as it will buck him up a lot."

King George was 20 years old and a junior officer on the dreadnought HMS Collingwood.

In the aftermath of the clash, on 11 June 1916, he wrote: "I am quite all right and feel very different now that I have seen a German ship filled with Germans and have seen it fired out with our guns. It was a great experience to have gone through and one not easily forgotten."

He added: "We had torpedoes fired at us which we got out of the way of luckily".

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Edward VIII and George VI during World War One

More than 80 other items from the Imperial War Museums' collection, including a Jan Gordon painting showing the Jutland wounded being treated, the ship's bell from HMS Warspite and a battle-damaged lamp from HMS Chester will also be on display from 12 May at the National Museum of the Royal Navy.

King Edward's letter from 14 June 1916 also recounted his experiences in Ypres in Belgium, where soldiers fought in the trenches.

Life was "pretty dull and monotonous... and very depressive on account of the wet and cold weather we had in the last 10 days," he said.

But he acknowledged the "troops in the line get a fearful bad time of it".

The Duke of York became king in 1936 when Edward abdicated to marry divorcee Wallis Simpson after less than a year on the throne.

Nick Hewitt, head of heritage development for the NMRN, said Jutland "was a very important moment" during the war. The Duke of York, he said, was "very aware, as they all were, of the key moment they were involved in".

Mr Hewitt told the BBC there had been an effort to keep the future King Edward out of the firing line during World War One "because it would be catastrophic if the heir to the throne was killed in action".

He said: "The future George VI - there's no expectation he will become king at this point - and he is exposed to exactly the same risks as everybody else."


Battle of Jutland

Image copyright Imperial War Museum/PA
Image caption HMS Warspite and HMS Malaya seen from HMS Valiant during the Battle of Jutland
  • Biggest naval engagement of World War One
  • British lost 14 ships and the Germans lost 11
  • British flagship was HMS Iron Duke which was under the command of Admiral Jellicoe
  • The Queen's father - the then Prince Albert, Duke of York - took part and was mentioned in despatches for his action as a turret officer aboard HMS Collingwood
  • Both sides claimed victory

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