Francis John William Harvey VC

b. 29/04/1873 Sydenham, Kent. d. 31/05/1916 HMS Lion, off Jutland.

Francis John William Harvey (1873-1916), the only Royal Marine to earn the VC during a “big ship” action, was born on 29th April 1873 at Kirkdale Villa, Upper Sydenham, Kent, the son of Commander John William Francis Harvey RN and Elizabeth Edwards Lavington nee Penny. At the age of 11, his family moved to Courtney Lodge, Southsea, he entered Portsmouth Grammar School, following in his father’s footsteps. Francis was a talented linguist. He passed out 33rd out of 693 candidates for Sandhurst and 2nd out of 12 accepted for officer training in the Royal Marine Light Infantry.

Francis J W Harvey VC

He chose the Marines, keeping up the family traditions. He was appointed 2nd Lieutenant in the Portsmouth Division RMLI on 1st September 1892, and attended the Royal Naval College and, on his return, in the following July, was promoted Lieutenant. Before taking his first sea-going appointment aboard HMS Wildfire in October 1894, he found time to gain a qualification in military law. He also studied naval gunnery and became an expert. Following courses on HMS Excellent, he passed as an instructor in January 1896 and, after nearly two years aboard HMS Phaeton, he was appointed Assistant Instructor of Gunnery at Plymouth Division.

A brief spell on HMS Edgar was followed by an appointment to HMS Diadem of the Channel Fleet, during which he was promoted to Captain. After a gunnery refresher course, he joined HMS Royal Sovereign, the first of several big ship appointments between 1903 and 1909, including the Duke of Edinburgh, St George and Inflexible. In 1910, he became Instructor of Gunnery at Chatham, being promoted Major the following year. Glowing reports of his abilities saw him get the plum job in the new battlecruiser HMS Lion, which he joined as senior marine officer on 12th February 1913, two weeks before Admiral Beatty hoisted his flag. It was to be his final appointment.

After 22 years of peace time service, he finally went to war in August 1914. By the end of the month, he had received his baptism of fire at the Battle of Heligoland Bight when Lion’s guns accounted for the cruisers Koln and Ariadne. In January the following year, he was in action in the Battle of the Dogger Bank, where the Lion destroyed the battlecruiser Blucher.

On 31st May 1916, during the Battle of Jutland, Harvey, although mortally wounded by German shellfire, ordered the magazine of Q turret on the battlecruiser Lion to be flooded. This action prevented the tons of cordite stored there from catastrophically detonating in an explosion that would have destroyed the vessel and all aboard her. Although he succumbed to his injuries seconds later, his dying act may have saved over a thousand lives and prompted Winston Churchill to later comment: “In the long, rough, glorious history of the Royal Marines there is no name and no deed which in its character and consequences ranks above this”.

Harvey was buried at sea from the quarterdeck of HMS Lion on 1st June 1916, along with 98 other men. Harvey, was was married with a son, was posthumously mentioned in Admiral Jellicoe’s Jutland despatch. His VC, gazetted on 15th September 1916, was presented to his widow, Ethel nee Edye, at Buckingham Palace on 29th November 1916. In time, his medal, together with his 1914-15 Star, British War Medal 1914-20, and Victory Medal 1914-19, passed to his son, Lieutenant-Colonel John Malcolm Harvey, the King’s Regiment. Six years before his death in 1979, he presented them to the Royal Marines Museum, Southsea, Hampshire.





Thomas Stewart – Images of Harvey’s name on the Chatham Naval Memorial and of his medal group at the Royal Marines Museum.