A HARD FOUGHT SHIP
The story of HMS Venomous

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AB Reginald Walter Williams (1900-46)
Joined as a boy sailor in 1916 and was an AB on HMS Venomous from 1920-3


When Bob Moore began researching the story of HMS Venomous in the 1980s there were still a few men alive who had served during her first commission, including Lt Brian de Courcy-Ireland RN who was born in 1900 and died in 2001, Midshipman Renfrew Gotto RN (1900-82), Sub Lt Charles Robertson and Mid Reginald ("Rex") S. Young RN (1902-96) but it came as a very pleasant surprise to be contacted in May 2015 by Don Williams whose father, AB Reginald W. Williamson (1900-45), served on Venomous from 23 September 1920 to the 5 February 1923. Sadly, he did not keep a journal like Brian de Courcy-Ireland and Renfrew Gotto but his son sent me scans of his photographs taken aboard Venomous and a copy of his service record from which it was possible to put together this brief illustrated account of his life.

Reginal Williams with the cap ribbon of HMS Ganges with his family

Reginald Williams was an apprentice fitter when he joined the Royal Navy as a sixteen year old boy sailor on the 22 January 1916 and was sent to HMS Ganges, the boys' training establishment at Shotley on the opposite side of the River Stour from Harwich, on the 20 May. The photograph of him with his parents and brothers (the younger brother wearing a a sailor suit), was taken at this time. He left Ganges after his six months shore training on the 17 October and after three months at HMS Victory, Portsmouth, was posted to the battleship, HMS Kent, on the 11 January 1917, as Ordinary Seaman (OS) R.W. Williams.

HMS Kent (1901)
The 10, 000 ton Monmouth Class armoured cruiser HMS Kent was built in 1901 and scrapped at Hong Kong in 1920


The Log Books of HMS Kent for the two and a half years Reginald Williams served on Kent from January 1917 until she went into Reserve at Hong Kong in August 1919
can be seen on the Internet. Events are recorded day by day and one can click on the date to display the Log book for that day. OS R.W. Williams was one of 156 ratings from the Portsmouth depot who joined HMS Kent at Devonport, Plymouth, at 0930 on the 11 January 1917. She left for Sierra Leone on the 21 January and from there to Simonstown and Cape Town in South Africa on convoy escort duties. She was on the run from Sierra Leone to Cape Town for the whole of 1917 and returned to Devonport on the 4 June 1918 when she narrowly avoided being involved in the collision between Kenilworth Castle and Rival. Most of the ship's company were paid off but Williams stayed aboard and she was recommissioned and resumed escort duties on the West African run on the 8 July 1918.

Reginald Williams enlisted for 12 years on the 1 August 1918, the month Kent rounded the Cape and headed for Port Louis on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean and from there to Diego Garcia in the Chagos Islands. She was in Singapore on the 21 September but departed on the 4 October for Hong Kong. On the 21 December she left for Shanghai where she spent Christmas but on the 28 December she was on her way to Nagasaki in Kyushu, Japan. On the 1 January 1919 she was en route for Vladivostok to support American and Japanese forces in action against the Bolsheviks:

"A British man-of-war [HMS Kent] has been maintained at Vladivostok, and has worked in co-operation with the British Military Mission supporting Admiral Koltchak. Naval guns were mounted on an armoured train which, was used with conspicuous success on the Ufa front. These guns were afterwards mounted in barges and steamers (on the River Kama) being finally turned over to the Russians, and the British naval personnel being withdrawn." From Royal Navy Estimates, 1919-20

On the 20 March Reginald Williams was rated as Able Seaman (AB), long overdue one would have thought. On the 23 June after nearly six months in Vladivostok HMS Kent left for Wei Hei Wei on the Chinese coast and Hong Kong. At 9 am on the 7 August 1919 9.0 am: "HMS Kent paid off into Dockyard Reserve. Discharged ship's company to HMS Tamar." HMS Tamar was the Royal Navy's shore base at Hong Kong. By September Reginald Williams is at HMS Cadmus in Colombo, Ceylon, and soon afterwards on his way home to Britain and HMS Pembroke, the Royal Navy's shore base at Chatham on the River Medway. He must have been glad to be home.

HM MTBD Venomous
This water damaged photograph of Venomous is hand inscribed HM TBD Venomous
Torpedo Boat Destroyer (TBD) was no longer used on official documents but still in use by the men who served on destroyers
Courtesy of Don Williams

The Navy attached destroyers as "tenders" to the shore base where the ship's company was officially located for pay and administrative purposes. Venomous returned from her adventures in the Baltic to her home port of Chatham on the 28 December 1919 and AB Reginald Williams probably joined her then but was transferred to HMS Columbine, the shore station at Port Edgar on the Firth of Forth, a depot for Torpedo Boat Destroyers of the Grand Fleet, on the 23 December 1920. For details of her service quelling political unrest in Ireland and social unrest in England and the pleasant contrast of a winter cruise to North West Spain in 1921 see chapter two of A Hard Fought Ship. 

The ship's Company of HMS Venomous
The ship's Company of HMS Venomous photographed at Hull in April 1921
The officers in the front row (from left) are: Gunner (T) F.A. Dunn RN, Lt S.B. de Courcy-Ireland RN, Lt J.A.B. Wilson RN, Cdr Somerville P.B. Russell RN (the CO), Eng Lt W.H. Pudner RN, Sub Lt E.O. Adams RN, Lt G.H. Thompson RN and Mid R.S. Young RN.
Double click on image to zoom in and view close up
Courtesy of Don Williams

The peacetime routine in the Navy combined exercises with occasional cruises plus competitions between ships at cricket or football in northern waters and regattas and "pulling competitions" with the ships whaler in the warmer waters of the Mediterranean to keep the men alert and physically fit.

Practice torpedo firing
A practice torpedo firing during the Spring Cruise with the Atlantic Fleet, January 1921
Courtesy of Don Williams


Cricket TeamFootball team - HMS Venomous
Reginal Williams and his shipmates on HMS VEnomous

Reginald Williams is second from left in the front in this informal picture of shipmates on HMS Venomous
Courtesy of Don Williams

On the 22 August 1922 Venomous returned to the Baltic, revisiting the Baltic States whose independence she had protected against Bolshevik aggression and a renegade German general in 1919. It was Summer and she did not experience the freezing conditions of her previous visit but Reginald Williams brought back a photograph of Venomous heavily iced up which must have been taken at Biorko in The Gulf of Finland as the harbour froze up for the winter of December 1919.

HMS Venomous iced up in the Baltic, 1919HMS Venomous from bow showing guns
HMS Venomous iced up in the Baltic in 1919 and in warmer waters
Courtesy of Don Williams

Reginald Williamson, Hong Kong November 1918Reginal Williamson, HMS Venomous 1921Reginal Williamson 1919

Three studio portraits: 19 November 1918 (HMS Kent), 6 March 1919 (Vladivostok on HMS Kent) and Xmas 1921 (HMS Venomous)
Courtesy of Don Williams

HMS Venomous recommissioned on the 6 February 1923 into the 4th Flotilla of the Atlantic Fleet before leaving Chatham for the Mediterranean. Reginald Williams left his ship and six weeks later on the 23 March 1923 paid 36 to buy himself out of the Royal Navy and become a civilian. This was a large amount of money, the equivalent of at least 1,800 today. He married soon afterwards and made a new career in the civil service, a more suitable job for a married man with a family.


References

To understand the background to the presence of the Royal Navy at Vladivostok see:
The Allied Intervention in Russia, 1918-1920: The Diplomacy of Chaos;
Ian C. D. Moffat (Palgrave Macmillan, 26 Feb 2015)


For an outline of Royal Navy Operations in Russian Bolshevik waters in 1919 see:
http://www.naval-history.net/WW1AreaBaltic1919.htm


The story of HMS Venomous is told by Bob Moore and Captain John Rodgaard USN (Ret) in
A Hard Fought Ship




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