Wetherby War Memorial - The Great War 1914 - 1918

Midshipman Humphrey M L Durrant

Gunter, R B N
Durrant, C M
Weston, C G
Kelly, K G
Armitage, G J
Durrant, H M L
Hargreaves, J P
March, G
Dukes, W
Fowler, R
Westerman, H
Kirk, J C
Wiggins, T A
Telford, G
Harper, J W
Alexander, H W
Mason, T F
Wilkinson, W
Brown, C
Adkin, J
Barton, F
Hobman, A
Webster, A E
March, E A
Miller, G
Hannan, E
Utley, G
Walker, F
Bygrave, E W
Chapman, E
Varley, N W
Bowen, F J
Byrom, F
Backhouse, S
Dalby, M
Crossland, A
Crossley, J S
Dean, R
Frost, A E
Hodgson, F H
Holt, J
Hood, W H
Hill, W
Kitchen, T
Linfoot, E
Metcalfe, J C
Marsden, J
Pawson, W
Precious, G
Scutt, T G
Wiggins, J
Walker, E
Wood, A
Young, T
Pratt, W
Taylor, H
Dawson, G W
Lister, J
Binge, T
Atack, G
Durham, E F
Precious, G R
Wheelhouse Smith, W
Backhouse, H
Swann, J W
Burnsides, G A
Coles, W
Kelly, H W
Miles, J G
Tapsell, K

HMS Queen Mary, Royal Navy
Died Tuesday 6th June 1916

Cemetery : Dalmeny and Queensferry Cemetery, West Lothian, United Kingdom
Grave Reference or Panel Number : 657

Son of the Rev.Charles Aubrey Durrant, M.A., Vicar of Wetherby and his wife, Catherine, of the Rectory, Wetherby.

Born at Wetherby on the 16th March, 1898, Humphrey was educated at St. Peter's School, York and the Royal Naval Colleges of Osbourne and Dartmouth. It was whilst at the Royal Naval College of Osbourne that Humphrey gained the first prize in scripture.

Joining the Royal Navy in 1911, Humphrey's first appointment was to H.M.S. 'Canopus', a pre- dreadnought battleship with a displacement of 12,950 tons, commissioned on the 5th December, 1899. It was whilst serving with this ship, that Humphrey was involved in the Battle Of The Falkland Islands, 8th December, 1914. The 'Canopus' was not involved directly in the battle as she had been beached on mudflats in Port Stanley harbour intentionally, so as to provide a steady gun platform where her fire could cover the entrance to the harbour and also the south-east. However, early on the morning of the 8th December, an observation post from 'Canopus', located on the islands, spotted smoke on the horizon and identified the origin as the German Naval Squadron under the command of Admiral Maximilian von Spee. Although only having practice rounds to fire at the enemy, the 'Canopus' opened fire at 09.20hrs. at a considerable range thus, firing the first shots of the engagement. Admiral von Spee chose then, possibly due to being suspicious that Battlecruisers were present, to turn his Squadron away from the islands and flee with the British Battlecruiser Squadron under the command of Admiral Sturdee in pursuit. Unable to outrun the faster British Battlecruisers, von Spee's only option was to engage the British Squadron as the range decreased. The outcome was the loss of two German Armoured Cruisers, and two German Light Cruisers. The 'Scharnhorst', which was Admiral von Spee's Flagship, went down with all hands, including von Spee himself. The 'Gniesenau', 'Nurnberg', and the 'Leipzig', were also lost during the same action.

Sources: "The Great War, I Was There, Volume 1, The Amalgamated Press LTD. London", page 249, "Conways, All the World's Fighting Ships, Volume 2, 1906-1921, Conway Maritime Press," and "Twenty Years After, Volume 1," page 176.

In February 1915, 'Canopus' was moved to the Mediterranean, in which she took an active part in the Gallipoli Campaign, beginning with the bombing of the Turkish Forts on the 2nd March. Her role was also diversionary, and the 'Canopus' was involved in the attack at Bulair in the Gulf of Saros the following month. This was to prove crucial, as it helped to delay the Turkish forces moving south, until the main landing grounds at Helles and Anzac had been reached. These Allied landings taking place on April 25th, 1915.

H.M.S. Canopus

It was during the Dardanelles Campaign, that Humphrey had a chance encounter with his brother Oliver, a Second Lieutenant, serving with the 6th East Lancashire Regiment, 13th (Western) Division. Part of a draft of officers to the battalion on the 8th October, 1915, Oliver survived the war, eventually finishing his service career as a Captain in the Indian Army to which his battalion was attached, to serve in Mesopotamia. His abiding memory, recounted to his family for the rest of his life, was this last meeting with Humphrey.

Humphrey and Oliver Durrant, Vicarage, Wetherby. Courtesy of the Durrant family.

When the decision was finally made to cancel operations in the Dardanelles and the final evacuation of Allied forces was completed in January 1916, 'Canopus' was assigned to the British Eastern Mediterranean Squadron. It was whilst on operations in the Aegean Sea that Humphrey had a most exhilarating experience. A newspaper article in April 1916 reports: 'Wetherby Midshipman's Thrilling Flight. Vicar's Son's Experience.

Writing from "somewhere in the Aegean Sea," Midshipman H. Durrant, son of the Rev. C. A. Durrant, M.A., vicar of Wetherby states:- Did I tell you about my flight in an aeroplane? I believe I did, but last Sunday I had another flight with the best and most daring of the aviators. When I climbed into the observer's seat he made me strap myself in and take my cap off. He gave me a bit of a shock as soon as we left the ground by shoving the elevating rudders right over, whereupon we shot, nose up, to a considerable height, leaving our (perhaps I ought to say my) stomachs somewhere down below. But this was absolutely nothing to what he did later on. He suddenly began to bank until the angle became nearly vertical, that is to say, the planes of the aeroplane were vertical (or upright) to the ground.

We kept in this position for some time, going round and round until I got quite dizzy. He then righted the machine and mounted fairly high, after which, without any warning at all, he put the horizontal rudder hard over, and we began to rush at the most colossal speed straight down towards the earth. This is called a nose dive, and he is the only aviator here who could do it. It is a most extraordinary sensation. I clutched tight on to my seat, and hoped the pilot behind knew what he was doing. My whole interior seemed to be left behind somewhere, and looking round I could see the propellers whirling round right above me. I was not sorry when he brought the machine to the horizontal again.

When we came down an English aviator (I had been flying with a Frenchman) said: 'I don't suppose you'll fly again after that!' Evidently they are quite unaccustomed to anything but straightforward flying, and were profoundly amazed at the antics of this Frenchman. I was very glad I did strap myself in because when we were banking I could feel the weight of my body pressing against the straps.'

The 'Canopus' returned to the United Kingdom and docked at Plymouth on the 22nd April, 1916. Humphrey was appointed a fortnights leave shortly after, his first since hostilities began. On May 17th, after returning from leave, Humphrey was posted to join the compliment of the Battlecruiser H.M.S. Queen Mary.

Battlecruiser H.M.S. Queen Mary, built by Palmers Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Greenock, was laid down on 6th March 1911. She was launched on 20th March 1912 and completed in August 1913.

H.M.S. Queen Mary

'Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1906-1921' states the following :
"Displacement 26,770 tons load, 31,650 tons deep load
Dimension: 703ft 6in overall length x 89ft beam x 28ft mean draught
Machinery: 4-shaft Parsons turbines, 42 Yarrow boilers, 75,000 shp = 27 1/2 knots. Coal 3,600 tons, oil 1,170 tons. Range 5620 nautical miles at 10 knots.
Armour: Belt 4-9in, bulkheads 4in, barbettes 3-9in, turret faces 9in, conning tower 10in, decks 1-2.5in. Armament : 4 x 2 13.5in/45cal Mk V, 16 4in/50cal Mk VII, 4 3pdr, 2 21in torpedo tubes."

Authors note: There are differences between various sources as to the above. Other sources that the reader may wish to pursue are: 'The Naval Annual, 1913'; 'Battlecruisiers', Chatham Press, London 1997 and; 'Jane's Fighting Ships, 1914'. 

The actions at Jutland are well covered in numerous accounts and publications and the Author would therefore like to concentrate on the action that led to the destruction of the Queen Mary.

Engaged by the German Battlecruisers 'Derfflinger' and 'Seydlitz' at 16.26 hrs, a concentrated salvo from both German Battlecruisers hit the Queen Mary causing a cataclysmic explosion. On climbing out of a hatch in one of the gun turrets, Midshipman J.H. Lhoyd-Owen gave the following description of the devastation:

'An appalling scene greeted my eyes. I could see neither funnels nor masts. A huge column of black and yellow smoke shot with flame hung like a funeral pall over the forepart of the ship, casting a lurid glow over the scene. The masts and funnels had fallen inwards, but fortunately the ship had remained on an even keel.'

It was then that the ship began to heel slowly over to port, and then, suddenly, rolling right over on her port side, her stern high in the air. Sinking fast, Lhoyd-Owen jumped into the sea to become one of only 18 survivors of the Queen Mary. Rescued by the 'Laurel', after a period of time surviving by clutching to a piece of wreckage, Lhoyd-Owen recounts the condition of the other survivors that were also rescued from the water.

'One of the Midshipman and some of the men were severely injured or burnt. The Midshipman, poor Durrant, who had been in the Queen Mary only a few days, died of wounds a few hours later after landing at Rosyth.'

Source: "The Great War, I Was There, Volume 1, I Was a Midshipman in the Queen Mary, Survivor's Story of Jutland's Horror, by Lieut.-Commander J.H. Lhoyd-Owen, R.N.," published London, The Amalgamated Press LTD.

On the morning of Wednesday June 7th at 10 o'clock, a memorial service was held at St. Jame's Church, Wetherby. Business premises in the town were closed and blinds were lowered at most of the private houses in the neighbourhood of the church. There was a large congregation and many influential and notable Wetherby families attended. The members of the clergy taking part in the service were the Reverand F. Summersgill (Curate) and the Reverand A. O'Brian Newenham (Rector of Cowthorpe). Whilst the congregation were assembling, the appropriate voluntaries were played on the organ by Mr. J. Fearnley.
The service included the singing of hymns and a portion of Scripture. The concluding prayers were then conducted by the Reverand A. O'Brian Newenham, following which Mr. J. Fearnley played the "Dead March" in "Saul."
The Reverand Charles Aubrey Durrant writing from Edinburgh as regards Humphrey's death stated:
"Thank God I arrived in time and he knew me. It is a marvel to me how he could possibly have escaped drowning. One leg was so crushed that it must have been amputated, and the other ankle was broken so that he would have lost that foot as well. The burns were so awful that he was disfigured past all recognition, and he might have lost his hands as well. So we can only thank God that it has pleased Him to take him. Such a brave lad, such a gallant death! God, accept him, Christ, receive him."

The following newspaper article appeared dated after the death of Humphrey in August 1916 recorded that:

'Wetherby Midshipman Saved.'

"As was feared from the first, Midshipman Humphrey M.L. Durrant, youngest son of the Rev. A. Durrant, M.A., vicar of Wetherby, and of Mrs. Durrant, was on board the ill fated Queen Mary. It now transpires that Midshipman Durrant was one of the four officers aboard who was saved, all the remainder being lost, but he was severely injured, having a broken thigh and being badly burned.

News of this was received at Wetherby late on Saturday, and Mrs. Durrant at once left for Scotland, where her son is in hospital. Mr. Durrant has been in ill health for some time, and was not able to make the long journey.

Mrs. Durrant found her son doing nicely, though in a critical condition.

Midshipman Durrant, who was recently at home on leave after having been at the Dardanelles, and only returned to duty a fortnight ago, is 19 years of age, and took part in the naval engagement off the Falkland Isles when Von Spee's squadron was destroyed."


Humphrey is commemorated on the Roll of Honour located at Saint Peter's School, York, and also, on a memorial tablet located in Saint James Church, Wetherby.


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