Derry is particularly significant to sailors during the Battle of the
Atlantic for providing much needed rest and relaxation to Allied
sailors following convoy duty. By April 1943 the
shore base at Londonderry, HMS Ferret, was responsible for 149 escort
and anti-submarine patrol vessels, two thousand shore-based personnel
and twenty thousand British and Canadian seamen.
From late 1940 to early 1942 HMS Venomous was part of the First Escort Group at Londonderry, Northern Ireland, which with the ships of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) escorted the convoys across the Atlantic during the longest battle of the Second World War. HMS Venomous remained an Atlantic escort until April 1942 interrupted by major repairs after detonating a mine in Liverpool bay on New Year's Eve 1940 and repairs and refit after a collision with the flotilla leader, HMS Keppel, in November 1941. After a major refit Venomous escorted Arctic Convoy PQ.15 to Murmansk on the Kola Inlet in Northern Russia and returning convoy QP.11 in April and May 1942. Find out more about the convoys escorted by Venomous while based at Londonderry.
Lt Homer McPhee RN (1919-2006) was a popular Canadian officer on HMS Venomous in 1941. He was born at Vancouver in 1919 and worked his passage across the Atlantic to join the Royal Navy as a boy sailor in 1936. He transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) after the war, lived for a time in Northern Ireland with his family and retired from the RCN in 1979 as its longest serving officer. He shared a cabin with Sub Lt John Tucker RNR (1920-2011) who described the convoy system in A Hard Fought Ship.
Some crew members came from Northern Ireland and others met their future wives there. And some like Jack Bolton (near left) did both. Jack did not fancy being a foot slogging soldier so travelled the twenty miles from his home at Strabane to Belfast for a medical and joined the Royal Navy. After basic training at HMS Arthur in Skegness (wheree eight men were killed in a bombing raid) and a three month course as a torpedoman at Devonport he was drafted to HMS Venomous at Londonderry. Venomous was at sea escorting Arctic Convoy PQ.15 to Murmansk and Jack stayed in a boarding house for a month until her return. The girl he was courting and later married was working in a shirt factory across the road from the naval base. Jack joined Venomous in June 1942 as Seaman Torpedoman, AB(ST), Official Number D/JX 342131. He will be 93 on the 22 February 2016 and lives in Telford, Shropshire, but still has family in Northern Ireland.
Jack was in the same mess as "Micky" (Joseph) Addis, a Bosun's Mate, ON SSX17322 (below left), who joined Venomous when she came out of Reserve in 1939. Addis came from Belfast and having been on the ship so long tended to throw his weight around and was regarded as a bit of a bully by the younger ratings. He had his own place in the mess where nobody else was allowed to sit and on one occasion "saved up his daily tot of rum, went on a binge, hit a sailor and was locked up for a few days".
(AX/19952) was born in Coleraine, fifty miles east of Londonderry, and
was in the Merchant Marine (as a cabin boy) before joining the Royal
Navy Reserve in March 1938. He was in the armed Merchant Cruiser, HMS Hector, on the Eastern Station for two years. After she was bombed and sunk by Japanese aircraft at Colombo he was posted to Venomous in August 1942 in time to take part in Operation Pedestal, the relief of Malta.
By then he was a 23 year old Leading Seaman, older and more experienced
than the Hostilities Only (HO) ratings on the lower deck.He was on "B" Gun Crew with Cyril Hely and appeared in some of his photographs (right) and remained with Venomous until she de-commissioned at Falmouth in October 1943. He was made a Petty Officer and spent two years at HMS Ferrett, the shore base at Londonderry as a gunnery instructor. He returned to the Pacific with the repair depot ship, HMS Artifex. One of his shipmates was PO Kenneth Collings, a Sick Berth Attendant on HMS Hecla who was rescued by Venomous when Hecla was torpedoed and sank off the coast of North Africa on 11 November 1942.
John Carson was one of six CW Candidates who joined HMS Venomous In September 1942
for six months sea time on the lower deck before being sent to HMS KIng Alfred for officer training.
He came from a farming family in County Down but worked at banks in Dublin
and Belfast before enlisting in the RNVR on the 27 May 1942. He was
thirty when he joined Venomous
as one of the CW Candidates in time to escort Arctic Convoy PQ.18 to
Archangel. PQ.17 had been a disaster and
nerves must have been on edge as they set off for Iceland where the
convoy assembled but once again their elderly worn out boilers let them
down, "condensoritis", and they had to go to Belfast for repair
(200 boiler tubes had to be replaced) making it impossible for them to
escort PQ.18. His fiancee lived in Belfast and he invited his fellow CW
Candidate, Alex Campbell from Edinburgh to visit her house where they
had a much needed hot bath. There is a recording of Alex Campbell being interviwed by the IWM in 2009 which can be heard online.
The six CW Candidates were aboard Venomous when HMS Hecla was torpedoed off North Africa on the 11 November and left Venomous at Gibraltar in February 1943 to return to England for officer training. John Carson was commissioned and as Sub Lt J. Carson RNVR his first posting was to LSE 1 (above) commanded by Lt Geoffrey N. Spring RNR who had been rescued by Venomous in November 1942 when his previous ship, HMS Hecla,
was torpedoed. Lt
Spring credited John Carson with his rescue and asked for him as one of
his officers. LSE 1 had seen action off the D-Day beaches as an LST
(Landing Ship Tank) but had been converted into a landing craft repair
ship, an LSE. In September 1944 John Carson was promoted to lieutenant
but remained on LSE 1 until 28 February 1946 when he transferred to HMS
Sefton at Singapore for two months before returning to Britain and being discharged from the RNVR in August.
Carson saw his year old daughter for the first time when he returned to
Ireland in the late summer of 1946 and resumed his career in banking.
He retained his link to the Navy during the Cold War. The Royal Naval
Mine Watching Service, a civilian organisation, was formed in 1952 as
part of the auxiliary forces of the British Naval Service. Its intended
role, should war break out again, was to man observation points
overlooking ports and strategic waterways in order to report mines
dropped by aircraft. In January 1952, John Carson became the Mine
Watching Service Officer for Belfast. This branch of the RNMWS was
based on HMS Caroline,
which had taken part in the Battle of Jutland during World War I, and
was the last floating training ship of the RNVR. The ship remains
afloat in Belfast docks and is being restored for the 2016 centenary commemorations of the Battle of Jutland.
In 1962 the RNMWS was transformed into the Royal Naval Auxiliary
Service, intended as a short-notice response force to help disperse
shipping in British ports in case of a nuclear strike. John Carson's
retirement from the Bank was all too short, as
he succumbed to bowel cancer just before his sixty-ninth birthday in
1981. He is survived by a son and a daughter.
HMS Venomous at Halifax, Nova Scotia
was a Short Range Escort (SRE) which left the "empties" at Iceland and met the
next incoming convoy. But Fred Thomas, the RDF
operator, and Lt John Tucker RNR recalled that on several occasions they made a quick dash
into Havelfjord to refuel before rejoining the convoy and continuing
westward to the ports on the Atlantic seaboard of Canada: Saint John in New Brunswick, St Johns in Newfoundland and Halifax in Nova Scotia.
The "No 1" on HMS Venomous in 1941 was Lt Angus Mackenzie RNR, a strong willed decisive character known affectionately as "Bloodie Mackenzie". In 1971 Mackenzie visited his daughter Sheena at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and looking down on Bedford Basin from the newly built bridge across the narrows recalled how different it was when Venomous was there in 1941. The Basin was so packed with ships that he could go ashore by walking from ship to ship. Some years after his death at Majorca in 1975 Sheena Mackenzie arranged for her father's ashes to be scattered in Bedford Basin, where the convoys assembled for the Atlantic crossing.
The Canadian launch of A Hard Fought Ship took place at the Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax on the 18 June 2011. The author, Captain John A. Rodgaard USN (Ret), spoke about HMS Venomous and signed copies of his book. Moored alongside the
Museum on the waterfront at Halifax is HMCS Sackville the last survivor of the 120 Canadian built corvettes which escorted the convoys to
HMCS Sackville, the last surviving Canadian built wartime corvette, now a museum ship in Halifax
Sheena Mackenzie, the daughter of Lt Cdr Angus Mackenzie RNR, "No 1" on Venomous, 1940-1, and long time Halifax resident with Captain John Rodgaard USN (Ret)
Captain John Rodgaard addressing the audience at the Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax
Courtesy of Sheena Mackenzie