A HARD FOUGHT SHIP
The story of HMS Venomous

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The 50th Anniversary of the sinking of HMS Hecla
11 - 12 November 1992


Norman Johns, one of 556 survivors of the sinking of HMS Hecla, formed The HMS Hecla, HMS Marne and HMS Venomous Association with shipmates Harry Cliffe and George Male in 1990, the year in which A Hard Fought Ship: the story of HMS Venomous was first published. They wrote to Navy News and the editors of all the national papers and most of the local papers in Britain inviting the men who served on the three ships to get in touch and join the Association. 

On the 11 November 1992, the fiftieth anniversary of the loss of the Hecla, some 200 members, including seventy survivors, attended a memorial service and anniversary dinner at Stratford on Avon. The sea cadets of TS Venomous under the command of Lt Robert J. Moore marched with the veterans to the war memorial in Stratford before attending the church service and two members of the crew of the survey ship HMS Hecla A-133 joined the veterans.

In 1992 the veterans who served on the three ships were photographed and exchanged memories of that long night off the coast of north Africa. Some like Les Proctor who lives in Ottowa, Canada, Fred Lemberg from New Zealand and Fred "Slinger" Woods in Australia had come a long way to meet their old shipmates.

Wreath laying
Wreath laying ceremony at the War memorial in Stratford with Rev B.S. Nichols on left
Courtesy of Fred Lemberg

Veterans Veterans, 1992

Reunion of veterans of HMS Hecla, HMS Marne and HMS Venomous at Stratford on Avon in 1992
Left: George Male, Monty Moncrieff, Fred "Slinger" Woods, Les Rowles and Harry Cliffe (back row) and Lt Surgeon Steve L. Hetherington and Capt John Coleman (front row)
Right: Harry Haddon, Cyril Hely and Ron Hargrave

Veterans
Reunion of veterans of HMS Hecla, HMS Marne and HMS Venomous at Stratford on Avon in 1992
Back row: Ron Hargrave, Capt John Coleman, Cyril Hely and unknown.
Front Row: Ron Eley, John White, Harry Haddon and David Hoggins

Cadet from TS Venomous
Cadets of TS Venomous, the Sea Cadet Corps unit at Loughborough, marching to the anniversary service


Hecla Reunion 1992
Crew member of the survey ship HMS Hecla A-133 join the veterans who survived the sinking of HMS Hecla
Front Row from left
: Norman Johns (stoker), Stan Jusom (AB), Fred Lemberg (AB), Les Proctor (EA3) and Henry Huntley (EA4) with LS Setterfield and Alex O'Donnell  of the survey ship HMS Hecla seated

Alex O'Donnell mailed: "Yes, that's me front right, age 23. Myself and 'George' Setterfield never bought a drink all day!
The hangover was, to this day, the worst I have ever experienced!"

Middle row: Ron Harris, Les Rowles, Peter Lee (AB), C. McKerney, McLoughlin
Back row: Unidentified, Monty Moncrief (SBA), Ted Colman (EA), J.Coulton (AB), B. Hughes (STO)
Courtesy of Fred Lemberg

All attempts to trace the family of "Jimmie" Button, the Anti-submarine Bosun on HMS Venomous, who had dived in repeatedly from the quarter deck to save the lives of the men struggling in the water were unsuccessful but George Male, one of those he rescued, made sure that his bravery was remembered at the anniversary dinner by including a tribute to him on the menu he designed. The story of Lt Herbert James Brown Button RN has now been discovered and is told on this web site.

Anniversary dinner, 1992 Menu 2

A Hard Fought Ship - signed copy The cake

With the growth in numbers the annual reunion of the Association moved to Solihull, Birmingham, in 1993. At the last meeting in 2003 the veterans were each presented with glass paperweight engraved with the crest of HMS Hecla made by the Dartington Glass Company. The Royal Navy survey ship, HMS Hecla, was paid off that year and the men who served on Hecla in 1941 - 2 were invited to the ceremony and presented with half pint beer mugs engraved with the ship's crest. Robert J. Moore, the author of the first edition of A Hard Fought Ship, died on the 24 February 2007.

Norman Johns "crossed the bar" on January 3rd 2016, aged 92 years, 73 years after Hecla was torpedoed off the coast of North Africa and he was rescued by HMS Venomous. He led a long fulfilling life and the veterans of HMS Hecla and their families owe him a great deal for having started the Association and organised the reunions. Norman Johns had no children but his Great Nephew, Nicholas Johns, now lives in the "Old Chandlery" at Instow and holds the files for the The HMS Hecla, HMS Marne  and HMS Venomous Association. Norman's own memories of that long night and his subsequent life as yacht rigger and ferry operator at Instow can be read on this web site.


The 75th Anniversary of the sinking of HMS Hecla
11 - 12 November 2017

Back Cover of A Hard Fought Ship (2017)Only three of the men aboard HMS Hecla on the night of the 11 - 12 November are known to be still alive today and two of them live in Australia. There will be no reunion on this year's anniversary but the families of the men who died that night and the lucky ones who survived will remember them on Armistice Day. You can click on the links below to read the stories of the three men who are still with us.

Fred "Slinger" Woods was born in Lancashire and was a member of the Sick Bay team on Hecla and lives in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, Australia, with his daughter Lorraine. who mailed me this month: "My Dad is actually in hospital at the moment, recovering from an operation to fix his broken hip. Unfortunately he fell onto the concrete floor in the garage a few weeks ago.  I tell you, he's a tough old nugget.  I'll let him know about Reg Bishop, but he won't be able to see the photos, until he is allowed out of the rehab ward, in a couple of weeks time."

Les Mortimer was born in Birmingham but lives in Melbourne, Australia, and and his grand daughter mailed me some time ago that: "Pa is in a nursing home now. He had a rough year and was very ill. He has recovered and is now cheeky as ever. Pa is not remembering people and events as much now."

I have recently been contacted by a great nephew of Charley Stocker, the elderly AB who who helped save the life of Les Mortimer only to loose his own when he became trapped in the scrambling net as Venomous accelerated away to follow an Asdic contact for the U-Boat which sank Hecla.

Reginald H Bishop JX351192 is fit and well and lives with his wife in their home near Norwich.

I was contacted by his son earlier this year: "My 94 year old father, Reg Bishop, was a member of the crew on board HMS Hecla when she was torpedoed and he was one of the lucky ones picked up by HMS Venomous after a considerable time in the water."

The full story of the Hecla is told in the definitive hardback edition of A Hard Fought Ship which was published on 9 May 2017. The painting of Hecla sinking at the top of the back cover (right) is by the South African war artist Lt H.H. McWilliams SANF and the photograph at the bottom is of HMS Venomous entering Casablanca with her deck crowded with survivors.

The publication of the hardback edition of A Hard Fought Ship has led to further contacts with the families of the men aboard Hecla that night and the stories they told me can be read on this new page about "The men who lived and died when Hecla was torpedoed 75 years ago on the night of 11 - 12 November 1942".  Please get in touch now if you would like to contribute family stories or photographs to the web site.

Bill Forster
Holywell House Publishing



  Buy the new hardback edition online for 29 post free in the UK
Take a look at the Contents Page and List of Illustrations


The names of all the men in HMS Hecla when he was torpedoed are on this website
And stories told by survivors to their families are still being received today 75 years after the disaster
Return to Home Page for HMS Hecla



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