Historic new home for family’s war diaries

Jan Thornton on board HMS Caroline
Jan Thornton on board HMS Caroline

The Sussex-based family of a man who chronicled the largest sea battle of the First World War have found a new home for his historic records.

Seaman Albion Smith served on HMS Caroline - the sole survivor of the Battle of Jutland in 1916 - as personal steward to the captain. Now his family - daughter Olive Thornton, from Warnham, and grandaughter Jan, have handed over some of his belongings to HMS Caroline, now a floating museum docked at Belfast.

Among Albion Smith’s effects are diaries he wrote during the Battle of Jutland, Christmas cards and a cigarette box.

The museum - HMS Caroline - has undergone a £20million restoration project - and has now been announced as a finalist in National Lottery Awards 2018, the annual search to find the UK’s favourite lottery-funded projects.

Albion Smith’s grandaughter Jan said: “The restoration of HMS Caroline and the important re-telling of the Battle of Jutland as one of the most historic sea fights of the First World War has been meticulously curated by the National Museum of the Royal Navy. I am delighted to donate my grandfather’s personal artefacts from his HMS Caroline days, and particularly his poignant words from his own diary.

“My family and I have been able to tour the ship itself, walk across the bridge and explore the new visitor and exhibition centre in the Pump House where the Christmas cards, cigarette box and the diaries will be housed, and will help tell the story of this historic event for years to come.”

Captain John Rees, chief of staff at the National Museum of the Royal Navy said: “Over the past six years, contractors, staff, management and officers have worked tirelessly to restore HMS Caroline to its Great War glory and tell the historic story of the Battle of Jutland. We have always proceeded with this project on the basis that it is a fundamental part of Ireland’s and Northern Ireland’s joint histories. But we also acknowledge it as one of the world’s most significant historic maritime assets. We are immeasurably grateful to those who have taken the story of Caroline into their hearts, and those who have supported us by donating their families’ treasured possessions from the war years, such as the Thornton family. Albion Percy Smith has helped us learn a great deal about the Battle of Jutland thanks to his diaries and letters, so to have those in our museum is a great asset.”