Stoker Leslie Follett

Stoker First Class Leslie Follett was a young man from Marton Junction who went to sea at an early age.  In 1914 he was on a Norwegian vessel when it was inspected by the Germans.  Claiming that he was Norwegian he was not made prisoner and when his vessel arrived in Britain he joined the Royal Navy.  Posted to the battle cruiser HMS Queen Mary, Leslie was lost when the ship went down in the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

Born at Marton Junction on 9 July 1894, Leslie Raymond Follett was the son of Charles and Annie Follett.  Leslie went to sea at a young age and was serving as a cook on a Norwegian vessel in 1914.  As part of their naval operations the vessel was boarded and inspected by German authorities and to avoid being taken prisoner he gave his nationality as Norwegian.  This sufficed and he was left on board.  On the vessel arriving in a British port Leslie left and entered the Royal Navy.

New Zealand was immediately astern of Queen Mary when that ship suffered a catastrophic explosion and blew apart.

Leslie entered the Royal Navy on 11 November 1914 under a special engagement, whereby as a Stoker you served five years full time and seven years in the Royal Fleet Reserve, thus his official number was SS 116258.  His name in the Navy was simply ‘Leslie Follett’, without any middle name.  In the rate of Stoker second class he was posted to HMS Victory II for basic training, which was located at Chrystal Palace.  Things did not go smoothly and in February 1915 Leslie spent five days in cells, before being posted to HMS Queen Mary on 13 June 1915.

HMS Queen Mary sinking at the Battle of Jutland painted by Chief Petty Officer Eddie Fitzgerald
HMS Queen Mary sinking at the Battle of Jutland painted by Chief Petty Officer Eddie Fitzgerald

Launched in 1912 Queen Mary was a modified Lion class battle cruiser, mounting eight 13.5 inch guns as main armament.  Some 42 boilers arranged in seven boiler rooms gave the ship a top speed of 28 knots. As a stoker, Leslie’s primary job was to keep the boilers stoked with coal.  On 15 July he was rated Stoker first class.

Queen Mary was part of the 1st Battle Cruiser Squadron which was commanded by Rear Admiral Brock, the other ships being HMS Princess Royal and HMS Tiger.  The 2nd Battle Cruiser Squadron was commanded by Rear Admiral Pakenham and comprised HM Ships New Zealand, Indefatigable and HMAS Australia, while the 3rd Battle Cruiser Squadron under Rear Admiral Hood, comprised HM Ships Invincible, Indomitable and Inflexible.  In overall command of the Battle Cruiser Fleet was Vice Admiral Sir David Beatty in HMS Lion.

Mounted piece of ring bolt from HMS Queen Mary which landed on the quarterdeck of HMS New Zealand during the Battle of Jutland
Mounted piece of ring bolt from HMS Queen Mary which landed on the quarterdeck of HMS New Zealand during the Battle of Jutland

On 31 May 1916 the Grand Fleet was on an operational sweep of the North Sea, with the 1st and 2nd Battle Cruiser Squadrons (less HMAS Australia) and the 5th Battle Squadron (battleships) well in advance to the south.  At about 4.00pm the battle cruisers of the German High Seas Fleet were encountered, which turned to the south to lure the British towards the battleships of the High Seas Fleet.  Beatty followed with his battle cruisers, both forces firing as ships came into range.  New Zealand was immediately astern of Queen Mary when that ship suffered a catastrophic explosion and blew apart.  The ships were travelling at their maximum speed close astern of each other and New Zealand actually passed over the spot where Queen Mary exploded and some of the debris that had been thrown into the air landed on board. Of the nearly 1,300 men on board there were only 20 survivors, one of which was Sub Lieutenant Peregrine Dearden from Canterbury who was rescued by the Germans and taken prisoner.  Dead at the age of 21, Stoker first Class Leslie Follett is commemorated on the Naval Memorial in Portsmouth.