The story of HMS Venomous

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The HMS Hecla, HMS Marne and HMS Venomous Association

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. 

I am still being contacted by the families of men who served on HMS Hecla. The sister of one of the men who died e-mailed me on the 26 January 2015:

William James Brown (1920-42)"My only brother aged 22, D/KX.108222 Temporary Acting Leading Stoker William James Taylor, was reported Missing Presumed Killed when HMS Hecla sunk off Morocco in the Mediterranean on 11 - 12 November 1942, I was only 4 years old but will always remember this tragedy.
I attended the 1992 reunion at Stratford upon Avon and took some old pictures of my brother Bill, showed them around to some survivors and he was recognised by his shipmates, who told me Bill was seen swimming and helping others to the ship attempting to rescue the stricken crew in the water. It transpired that he was exhausted by his efforts to save his shipmates and was lost, killed by drowning."

Jean Carson Bell atended the book launch for A Hard Fought Ship on the 9th May 2017 and met members of other families who had lost relatives when HMS Hecla sank on the night of 11 - 12 November 1942.

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

Cadet from TS VenomousHecla Reunion 1992
Left: Cadets of TS Venomous, the Sea Cadet Corps unit at Loughborough, marching to the anniversary service
Right: In front row from left, Norman Johns, Fred Lemberg (New Zealand), Les Proctor (Canada) and Henry Huntley with crew members of the survey ship HMS Hecla seated

Courtesy of Fred Lemberg

VeteransVeterans, 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

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

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 is told on this web site.

Anniversary dinner, 1992Menu 2A Hard Fought Ship - signed copyThe 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.

The story of the Hecla is told on this web site and in the definitive hardback edition of A Hard Fought Ship which will be published on 9 May 2017 and can be ordered now. Please get in touch now if you would like to contribute family stories or photographs to the web site - click "contact online" at the foot of this page. 

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.

Bill Forster
Holywell House Publishing

November 2017 will be the seventy-fifth anniversary of the loss of HMS Hecla and some survivors are still alive today.
The full story of the sinking of HMS Hecla and the rescue of the survivors by HMS Venomous and HMS Marne is  told by John Rodgaard in the third edition of
A Hard Fought Ship: the story of HMS Venomous

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

Return to Home Page for HMS Hecla

Holywell House
Holywell House Publishing
88 Holywell Hill, St Albans, Hertfordshire AL1 1DH, Britain
Telephone: +44 1727 838595
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