A Mother’s Loss: A Tale of Two Brothers

London born brothers Harry and William Guinan were working class lads who, like thousands of others of their generation, were subjected to the horrors of the Great War. One was a soldier, and the other a sailor. Both brave young men, who like so many others, made that ultimate sacrifice, for King and country. This is their story...

Harry Albert Guinan Stoker 1st Class was my grandfather’s brother and also the brother of David Baverstock’s Great grandmother and served aboard the Battlecruiser HMS Indefatigable. On the 31st May 1916 a young 19 year old Harry along with his fellow crew members lost his life within minutes of the start of the famous battle of the Dreadnaughts at Jutland.

Stoker 1st Class Harry Guinan in uniform. He was one of the crew of the HMS Indefatigable

The HMS Indefatigable: Launched on 28th October 1909, she took part in the Mediterranean and North Sea

The HMS Indefatigable was hit several times in the first minutes of the "Run to the South", the opening phase of the Battlecruiser action. At 4.00 the German battle cruiser SMS Von der Tann fired torpedoes, hitting the Indefatigable in the rear turret. She fell out of formation to starboard and started sinking towards the stern and listing to port. At 4.03 precisely her magazines exploded after more hits from the Von der Tann, blowing the bottom out of the ship, while large pieces were blown 200 feet in the air. The Indefatigable sank very quickly and all except two of her crew of 1,019 perished in the blast.

The SMS Von der Tann: Launched on 20th March 1909, the ship was part of numerous raids on the British coast prior to the Battle of Jutland. She was scuttled 21st June 1919, 7 days before the signing of the Treaty of Versailles.

The last moments of HMS Indefatigable

An extract from the Official History; “Naval Operations" by Sir Julian S. Corbett. 1923 tells of the Indefatigable's final moments; "At the other end of the line the duel between the Indefatigable and the Von der Tann had been growing in intensity till, a few minutes after 4, the British ship was suddenly hidden in a burst of flames and smoke. A salvo of three shots had fallen on her upper deck and must have penetrated to a magazine. She staggered out of the line, sinking by the stern when another salvo struck her; a second terrible explosion rent her, she turned over and in a moment all trace of her was gone"

Extract from Harry Guinan's service record: He trained in HMS Vivid II Shore Establishment in Devonport before being assigned to the HMS Indefatigable.

Harry is commemorated at the Plymouth Naval Memorial

Private William George Guinan, my grandfather’s older brother and also the brother of David Baverstock’s Great grandmother, lost his life during the Dardanelles campaign at Gallipoli, Turkey in 1915. William was a career soldier and served with the 1st Battalion the Essex Regiment, having enlisted in 1908 at Warley, near Brentwood in Essex. Prior to the 1914-18 war, William also saw overseas service in Quetta India which is the provincial capital Balochistan (now in modern day Pakistan).

At 9.30.am on 25th April 1915 the 1st Essex, under command of Lt Col Godfrey Faussett, landed on the beach at Gallipoli having disembarked from the Troop Ship HMT Dongola, they immediately came under fire. By 2pm they had managed to make a small foothold by taking Hill 138 and the first enemy defensive fortification, at the cost of 3 officers and 15 other ranks killed with 8 officers and 87 other ranks wounded.

From then on it was slow going with small gains made under heavy fire. On 2nd May 1915 another small advance resulted in the taking of another defensive redoubt at the cost of 31 wounded, 5 missing and 14 killed, which included the Commanding Officer Lt Colonel Faussett.

The 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment on the beaches at Gallipoli

The 5th May 1915 saw another attack on Fir Tree Wood that was fiercely resisted and beaten back. The Division lost nearly half its strength in this attack although 1st Essex was comparatively lucky with 15 men killed and 142 wounded. The wounded men included Captain Bowen.

After a period of rest and reorganisation, on 18th May 1915 the 1st Essex were back on the attack and this time took Fir Tree Wood at the cost of 6 dead, 20 wounded and 3 missing.

On 4th June 1915 a further attack was planned during which 9 men killed, 36 wounded and 9 were missing. The fatalities included Lieutenant Liebenthal and Lieutenant Wolfe, while 2nd Lieutenant Pegler and 2nd Lieutenant Hellen were amongst the wounded.

The advance made some ground which was lost during a counter attack on 6th June 1915, during which C Company, led by Captain Shepheard, lost 65 of its 70 men when it was hit by a surprise attack from the rear. Amongst the men killed from the Essex Regiment on the 6th June 1915 was Private William George Guinan age 25 years.

The Medal Card of William Guinan (Guynan is the Anglicised version of the name Guinan)

William is commemorated on the Helles memorial in Turkey

Within the space of a year a mother lost her two sons, both in the prime of their life. It is an all too familiar story among families in Britain, Europe and beyond.

We will remember them.

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