Harold Reuben Joyner was born in West Malvern on 5th September 1885, the son of Charles and Alice Joyner, who for many years ran a hairdressing business at Link Top, Malvern. Harold joined the Royal Navy as a boy sailor in 15th May 1901, aged 15 and trained at Devonport at HMS Impregnable. He gave his previous occupation as hairdresser.
In January 1903 he joined the armoured cruiser HMS Drake, in home waters, he came of age aboard and signed on for 12 years adult service. After four years aboard Drake, Harold’s next ship was HMS Goliath in 1908-1909, for a tour of duty as part of the Mediterranean Fleet and the HMS Minotaur, the flagship of the China Station, during 1910-1912.
The outbreak of war found, by now, Able Seaman Joyner aboard HMS Edgar still out on the China Station. Returning to the United Kingdom, over the winter 1914-1915 he was posted to the shore establishment HMS Vernon which, among other things, trained naval personnel in submarine warfare. Perhaps attracted by the higher rates of pay, he joined the Royal Navy Submarine Service (HMS Dolphin) on 21st February 1915 and waited for a ship.
On 24th February 1915 Harold Joyner was posted to HMS Arrogant, a submarine depot ship and then in March 1915 to HMS Maidstone, another depot ship. Maidstone led the 8th Submarine Flotilla to its war station at Harwich in the 1914 mobilisation. She remained the principal depot ship for the offensive submarine force at Harwich for the duration of the hostilities.
On their records, it was the depot ship that was listed, not the submarine, so it is likely that he served aboard Submarine E-13, for much for much of this time.
On 14th August, E-13, along with her sister submarine, E-8 were ordered to the Baltic to intercept German shipping carrying iron order from Sweden. In the early hours of 18th August, E-13 ran aground in shallow water near Saltholm, between Malmo and Copenhagen, in neutral Danish waters. At dawn she was clearly visible and was warned by Danish torpedo boats to refloat within 24 hours or the crew would be interned for violating Denmark’s neutrality.
Despite the crew pumping out tanks and discharging fuel, it was impossible to comply with the deadline. Later in the morning a German torpedo boat, G-132 arrived, whilst initially withdrawing when approached by Danish torpedo boats, orders were given by high command to sink E-13 as she threatened critical German operations in the gulf of Riga.
Two German vessels returned to Saltholm and opened fire on the E13 with torpedoes, machine-guns and shell fire from a range of 300 yards. The submarine was hit repeatedly and set on fire. Seeing this, her commander Lt Cdr Layton ordered the submarine to be abandoned, but the firing continued while his men were in the water. The engagement ended when the Danish torpedo boat Søulven placed herself between the submarine and the two German ships, which withdrew. Fourteen of the E13’s crew were killed in the attack and one was missing, presumed killed. Among these were AB Harold Joyner.
The E13’s fifteen surviving crew members were interned at the Copenhagen Navy Yard by the Danes for the rest of the war. Layton refused to give his parole and eventually escaped along with his first officer, returning to England to continue the war. He went on to have a distinguished career and commanded the British Eastern Fleet during the Second World War.
Commemoration and burial
The Danish government fitted out the mail steamer Vidar as a temporary chapel to transport the bodies of the casualties back to Hull accompanied by the Danish torpedo boats Springeren and Støren.
Notwithstanding Denmark’s neutrality, the dead British sailors were given full honours when their bodies were brought ashore, as a contemporary report described:
There was a touching funeral scene to-night in the Sound. In a brilliant sunset the Danish torpedo boat Soridderen passed slowly in with her flag at half-mast. A naval squadron formed a guard of honour around the bodies of the British dead. At all the fortifications, and on the whole of the ships, flags were immediately lowered as a mark of respect. Hundreds of spectators were gathered at Langelinie, all of whom reverently saluted. On shore a naval and military salute was given.
The incident caused outrage in Britain and Denmark, since it was clearly a serious breach of international law. The sympathy shown by the Danish authorities was clearly appreciated in the United Kingdom and hopefully to the families of the sailors killed, as is shown in this comtemporary drawing of the scene aboard SS Vidar.
Harold was laid to rest, along with his comrades at Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery in Gosport Hampshire
After the war, Harold’s father moved to Tarrington, Herefordshire. Harold’s brother Cecil Joyner served with the 1/1st Worcestershire Yeomanry at Gallipoli and in Egypt; he survived the war.
Malvern News 28/8/1915
Daily Graphic 4/9/1915
Wikipedia - HMS E13