The story of HMS Venomous

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The lives of the men who were


when HMS Hecla was torpdoed and sunk

on 11 - 12 November 1942

Sketch of HMS Hecla sinking by Lt H.H. MacWilliams SANF

Only one of the men who survived when HMS Hecla was torpedoed is known to be alive today

The men who were saved when HMS Hecla was torpedoed and sank off the north African coast on the 11 - 12 November 1942 formed the "HMS Hecla, HMS Marne and HMS Venomous Association" which held its first reunion at Stratford on Avon on the fiftieth anniversary of her loss in 1992.

Some left written accounts and Norman Johns, the Secretary of the Association, put me in touch with others who recalled their memories of that long night. The lengthy chapter in A Hard Fought Ship weaves together their stories with the facts given in the reports of proceedings written by the commanding officers and the memories of the officers and men of HMS Venomous. The publication of the previous edition of  A Hard Fought Ship in 2010 led to me being contacted by survivors in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the UK as well as by the families of some of those who died.

Norman John  "crossed the bar" on January 3rd 2016, aged 92 years and the Association he formed no longer exists but the publication of the new edition of A Hard Fought Ship in May 2017 has led to further contacts with the  families of the men on HMS Hecla 75 years after her loss on Armistice Day 1942. Whether they lived or died the events of that night changed their lives and the lives of their families.

There were 858 men aboard HMS Hecla when she was torpedoed and all their names are on the crew list
Click on the link for a complete list of the officers in HMS Hecla when she was torpedoed and sunk

If a member of your family is on the crew list do get in touch to tell his story.


Crossed the Bar: L - Z
Some of these men survived but have "crossed the bar"
the stories of those who died have been told by their families

Have you a family story to tell?

Return to INDEX and PART 1: A - K

Robert Alan Lancaster, Acting Engine Room Artificer 4th Class MX75372

I was contacted by Beth Lancaster, his grand daughter, who bought a copy of A Hard Fought Ship as a Christmas gift for her father:

Robert Lancaster Jr (2019)Robert Lancaster Snr (1947)Right: Robert Lancaster Snr (1947)

"My Grandad was on HMS Hecla when she was hit by the torpedo.  His name was Robert Lancaster. I grew up with him often telling me about this traumatic time but as a child, and despite the repeated telling of the story, I really didn't appreciate the enormity of his experience until quite recently. He used to tell me that he had to swim for fifteen hours before being rescued. And how the first ship that came to rescue them was also sunk. My father has better recollection of my Grandad's time in the navy. I know that he was stationed in Simon's Town, near Cape Town (South Africa) as I traveled there and visited the naval base and traveled on the same trainline he had taken from Simon's Town to Cape Town (v beautiful as it runs on the rocks off the seafront). My dad still has some of Grandad's memorabilia including the life vest that saved his life. Without which I wouldn't be here! My dad remembers the gathering that was held a few years ago for survivors of the Hecla, but that Grandad felt that as a lowly petty officer, he would feel awkward being there.

Left: Robert Lancaster Jr (2019)


Robert Alan Lancaster was born at Starbeck, a large village three miles east of Harrogate on 28 April 1923. He was the oldest of three sons of an engine driver who had gone to East Africa with his family to work as a train driver for Tanganyika Railways leaving his eldest son behind. Robert Lancaster (all first born sons of the Lancasters were named Robert) had left school and started work as an apprentice fitter and erector in the locomotive works of the LNER at Doncaster. Bob was called up for service in the Navy when he was eighteen in 1941. From May - August 1941 he did his basic training to become an Engine Room Artificer (ERA)
at HMS Drake in Devonport, Plymouth, and in September was drafted to his first ship, HMS Hecla. Hecla was a newly commissioned 12,000 ton Destroyer Depot Ship based at Havelfjord, Iceland, to repair and service the Atlantic escorts for the convoys which kept Britain supplied with food, fuel and armaments to fight the war.  Hecla was never in danger in this secure sheltered harbour but Bob Lancaster would have been kept very busy repairing the elderly V & Ws like HMS Venomous which berthed alongside their "Mother ship".  Click on the link for a detailed illustrated account of events while Bob Lancaster was serving aboard HMS Hecla in Iceland.

Hecla iced up at Havelfjord 1941 HMS Douglas alongside Hecla awaiting repair
Left: The view from the boat deck of HMS Hecla of the distinctive craggy cliffs at Havelfjord
Right: HMS Douglas was rammed in thick fog and lies alongside HMS Hecla awaiting repair
Courtesy of Robert Lancaster Jr

USS Vulcan replaced Hecla as the depot ship for the Atlantic escorts and in March 1942 she returned to the Clyde for a short refit. HMS Hecla left Greenock on the 15 April 1942 with Capt E.F.B. Law RN in command as part of Convoy WS.18 "outward bound" for Freetown and South Africa to round the Cape of Good Hope and join the Far Eastern Fleet at its new base in Mombassa, a welcome change from the cold and tedium of Havelfjord.

Bob Lancaster and J.P. Thompson in a park at Caope Town
PO Lancaster and Thompson at Rhodes Memoriasl;, Capew Town, 1942Disaster struck as she crossed the Agulhas Bank to the East of the Cape and detonated a mine killing 21 men and severely injuring over a hundred. Hecla was lucky not to sink and limped back to the South African naval base of Simon's Town on False Bay and was in dry dock under repair for six months. This was a happy time for the ship's complement. They enjoyed the sun and the hospitality of South African families who invited them to stay on "uphomers".

Bob Lancaster helped with repairs and was promoted from ERA 5 to ERA 4 and became a Petty Officer. The two photographs were taken
on a run ashore to Cape Town, a short train journey north from Simon's Town, with his shipmate Jackie Thompson, PO John P Thompson, Acting Engine Room Artificer 4th Class (MX75368), who was killed  when Hecla was torpedoed. Bob is on the left in the photograph on the left and on the right in the photograph with the two girls in front of the Rhodes Memorial on the right.

HMS Hecla did not resume her journey round the Cape to join the Eastern Fleet at Mombassa when her repairs were completed. She received new orders to head north to support the allied landing in North Africa, Operation Torch. She left Simon's Town in October, called in briefly at Freetown where she was joined by her destroyers escorts, an elderly V & W Class destroyer, HMS Venomous, and  the modern M Class destroyer escort, HMS Marne.

The events of the "longest night" when HMS Hecla was torpedoed and sunk and Venomous rescued 500 men while fighting u-boat ace Werner Henke in U-515 are described in detail in Chapter 13 of A Hard Fought Ship (2017).

The rescue of a local man from Doncaster received extensive coverage in the Yorkshire Evening Post  on Wednesday 4 December (click the cutting to view full size). Many years later Bob Lancaster wrote up his own account which is reproduced here. It is very similar to that of other survivors and its vividness comes from the knowledge that it is written by somebody who was there and is describing in his own words the events he remembered.

Most of the survivors returned to Britain on the Reina del Pacifico, a passenger liner requisitioned by the Admiralty for use as a troop carrier. On arrival at their home port of Devonport they were kitted out with fresh clothes, given a travel warrant and sent off on two weeks survivors leave. Bob Lancaster arrived home a few days after the death of his father who had returned home from Tanganyika while he was in HMS Hecla.

Bob Lancaster spent Christmas at home but soon after returning to Drake at Plymouth he was sent on a diesel electric course at Chatham before being sent to the USA to join one of the 78 Captain Class frigates being
built in the USA for the Royal Navy under the Lend Lease Agreement. They were designated as Destroyer Escorts (DE) in the USN but as Frigates in the Royal Navy as they had no torpedo tubes.

The use of diesel and turbo electric power plant speeded up the production process by eliminating the need for gearing. They were slower than the Royal Navy's steam turbine powered destroyers (23 knots as against the 36 Knots of the V & W Class) but had "long legs" (long range). The shipyards worked 24 hours a day, employed women welders and were eventually able to turn out two destroyers a week.

There were 46 turbo electric (Buckley Group) and 32 diesel electric (Evarts Group) Frigates in the Captain Class. The intention was to name them after Captains in Nelson's Navy but he had too few captains and it became necessary to go further back in time. Bob Lancaster was to join HMS Byard, a turbo electric (Buckley) Frigate named after Captain Robert Byard, being built at Bethlehem Hingham Shipyard south of Boston.

"From Britain came officers and men in thousands to man this new construction. They made the most of their stay in the US, that oasis of food, skyscrapers, "old fashioneds" and pretty girls"
Reminiscences of The Spirited Horse, being the story of HMS Byard

According to his Service Certificate Bob Lancaster was at HMS Asbury just outside New York on 1 May 1943 but since this was a transit base for crews picking up ships allocated to the Royal Navy under the provisions of Lend-Lease he would have been at Hingham preparing HMS Byard for service with the Royal Navy within
a few days.

Bob Lancaster's hand written account of what happened when Hecla was mined and later torpedoed. Press cutting about loss of HMS Hecla in
HMS Byard

Warrant Engineer J.H. "Henry" Hathaway RN tells the story of HMS Byard in "Reminiscences of The Spirited Horse" (1945) with illustrations by Robert T Back who had previously served in HMS Venomous and obtained postwar fame as a marine artist. The two paintings of Captain Class Frigates  by Robert Back are privately owned and are not in "The Spirited Horse". The pennant number K315 identifies the one at sea as HMS Byard but the harbour scene painted in 1944 (censors stamp on reverse) is probably also of HMS Byard.

HMS Byard at sea
HMS Byard in harbour - at Belfast?
The ship's Company of HMS Byard
The ship's company of HMS Byard with AB R.T. Back on left in second row from front
From "Reminiscences of the Spirited Horse"

HMS Byard had three commanding officers and the second Lt Cdr E.R. Ferris, CO from January to June 1944, "was the first US citizen to command one of His Majesty's ships by appointment. The previous one, Paul Jones, was not appointed by "My Lords";The Spirited Horse

Her First Lieutenant, Lt J.W. Edwards, DSC, RN, was one of the pre-commissioning party at Hingham. "An energetic young gentleman, he had a great deal to do with the successful commissioning and, later, smooth running of the ship. He was and is a great favourite with the ladies. In fact it is on record that the Stores Officer, Boston, requested the Commanding Officer to ask No 1 not to walk through the Stores Dept during working hours as his presence prevented the female staff concentrating on their work. His DSC was awarded for good work in the sinking of U841" From the Spirited Horse.

After Commissioning on 18 June 1943 HMS Byard and seven other Captain Class Frigates formed the Fourth Escort Group based at Belfast: HMS Bentinck, the Group Leader with Cdr E.H. Chevasse as Senior Officer, HMS Byard, Calder, Drury, Bazely, Pasley, Blackwood and Burgess. Captain D at Belfast, had his office aboard HMS Caroline, a First World War Light Cruiser which is now a museum ship. It would be inappropriate to give here a detailed account of the sterling service of HMS Byard and her sister ships in the Fourth Escort Group recorded in the "Spirited Horse (published 1945) but I have to mention the sinking of U-841, the first u-boat to be sunk by one of the 78 Captain Class Frigates in the Royal Navy. For those who are interested click on the link to read  some pages from the Spirited Horse as a PDF

On 27 August 1943 R.A. Lancaster  D/MX 75372 passed his examination as ERA 4th Class and Lt Cdr L.H. Philips, the CO of HMS Byard,  signed his Certificate. On the 21 November Warrant Engineer J.H. Hathaway and Lt Cdr Phillips signed his Engine Room Artificers History Sheet recommending him for the rating of Chief Petty Officer. CPO Robert Lancaster made some rough notes on his service career which included these brief remarks about what it was like to be in the engine room during an attack on a u-boat:

"Apart from the usual engine room noises, screaming turbine and pumps, etc which you have to accept as part of the job, the noise made when in action against u-boats from dropping and firing depth charges and gunnery are tremendous and are felt as well as heard. Joint Group attacks on u-boats were a regular occurrence."

Lt J.W.Edwards DSC RN (1921-98) was invalided out of the Navy with TB and after the war married Betty Williams who lives in a small village near Falmouth in Cornwall. One of her proudest possessions is a beautiful model of HMS Byard, one of two, the other was installed in the Wardroom of HMS Byard. It was made and presented to the Mess by Mr R. Love, the son of Mr R.H. Love, RN, the first gunner of the Byard. It took four months to make. The craftsmanship was  praised by the well know ship modeler and author, the Rev William Mowll.

Model of HMS Byard

CPO Lancaster remained in HMS Byard until 8 November 1945 when he returned to HMS Drake at Plymouth prior to his discharge from the Navy on 20 July 1946. He met his wife, Phylis Louise Amery, at Plymouth in 1946; she was in the ATS at York. They married and had one son who in accordance with family tradition was given Robert as his first name. Bob returned to his old job at the Locomotive Works of the LNER at Doncaster where his son still lives today.

Bob still had a hankering for his life in the Navy and enrolled in the Royal Fleet Reserve at Devonport on 4 June 1948 and was recalled to service during the Korean War in June 1951. He served in HMS Caesar, a Fleet Destroyer in Maintenance Reserve, and was given responsibility for the generators providing power and lighting to all the Reserve Fleet Destroyers. He then joined HMS Illustrious, a carrier carrying out aircraft trials with the Home Fleet. He reverted to Reserve status in December 1952 and worked as an engineer for a variety of employers including the Ford Motor Company, Thorp Marsh Power Station and British Nylon Spinners, Doncaster. He died on 23 Feb 2008 aged 85.


U-534 was built at Finkenwerder on the Elbe near Hamburg in late 1942 and was sunk off the coast of Denmark near Elsinore on 5 May 1945 while heading for Kristiansand in Norway. She was discovered in 1986 by a Danish wreck hunter, Aage Jensen, and raised on 23 August 1993 by the Dutch salvage company Smit Tak. U-534 was part of the Warship Preservation Trust's collection at Birkenhead Docks until the museum closed on 5 February 2006. In 2007 the Merseytravel Transit Authority acquired the submarine and cut it into sections to allow visitors better visibility without entering the U-boat. It opened to the public as the U-Boat Story exhibition at the Woodside Ferry Terminal on 10 February 2009. Former Chief Petty Officer Robert A Lancaster was photographed by his son on on the deck of U-534 at Birkenhead before it was cut into sections.
It is an astonishing sight to see a veteran on the deck of a u-boat and his son wearing the lifejacket which saved his father's life when Hecla was torpedoed.

Bob Lancaster Jnr wearing Hecla's life jacketU-Boat
Bob Lancaster Snr on the deck of U-534 and at the starboard control wheel in the engine room of the Frigate HMS Plymouth in the Birkenhead museum
And his son wearing the life jacket worn by his father when HMS Hecla was torpedoed

Father and son were approximately the same age when these photographs were taken in the late 1990s and in January 2019
Courtesy of Bob Lancaster Jnr

Harry Lavender, Temporary Leading Stores Assistant MX82035

By the time my father, Harry, was 10 years old his Mother had passed away and the whereabouts of his father was unknown. Fortunately, this small boy was found living on the streets of Oldham by a kindly District Nurse who persuaded her married sister to take him into her family and adopt him. His Mother's name was Giles but he took the name of his adoptive parents when he was a young man. Time passed and the boy grew into adulthood, married my Mother and War, ironically, was declared during their honeymoon. Very soon after this my father was called up and his father in law, a career Royal Navy man, suggested he apply for the Navy. He did his training at a requisitioned Holiday Camp on the Yorkshire coast and subsequently sent to Devonport. He managed to get extra time off whilst hospitalised after injuring his knee in a Navy Football Match. But soon it was time for active service - I believe he served in corvettes (Morpeth Castle) before being assigned to HMS Hecla at Greenock.

Stores assistants on Hecla
Shipmates, Havlfjord, Iceland, 19 October 1941
Rear row from left: "Harry Lavender, Don Preece, Reg Hall"
Front row from left:
"Perkins (Tavistock), Sturgess (Wales), Wood (Lancs)"
Leading Supply Assistant, Eric Wood (D/MX.65093) died when Hecla sank
Courtesy of Christine Denovan-Smith, daughter of Don Preece

Stores Assistans on Hecla at Iceland
Supplies Assistants on HMS Hecla at Iceland, dated 2 November 1941
"Perkins, George D. Deller, Wood
(astride Lavender), Plummer, Russ and Don Preece below"
Leading Stores Assistants George D. Deller (
MX68964) and Supplies PO George Plummer (D/X.126(U) died when Hecla sank
Courtesy of Christine Denovan-Smith, daughter of Don Preece

The Hecla hit a mine off South Africa, lives were lost but she managed to get to the Naval Base at Simon's Town. Several happy, relaxing months were spent here while the ship underwent repairs. My father had wonderful memories of Cape Town where he enjoyed the hospitality of welcoming South African families. It was noticeable that the local population were either warm and friendly or hostile, he discovered later the Afrikaans were officially supportive of the Germans. I discovered recently while in Simon's Town that the Hecla was registered into the dry dock on three separate occasions during the summer of 1942 finally leaving in October.

The rest of the story involves the sinking of the Hecla by torpedo off North Africa. His Action  station was in the Magazine Deck and by the time he arrived there he found no one else on duty so he went up top and found the highest point of the ship. He stayed with the ship for as long as he could before he decided to leave, the ship was listing so much he walked down the hull as if he was walking down a beach. He was in the water a long time bobbing up and down before eventually he saw the lights of a ship and made for her. Someone shouted “Jack, catch hold of the rope”, he missed it the first time but got it on the second attempt and climbed up the scrambling nets onto what he remembered as a very hot deck. It was HMS Marne whose stern had been blown off by torpedo, lost her steering and was floating around aimlessly.

Not much more is recalled, he spent the rest of the War on North Atlantic convoys then minesweeping in the English Channel towards Calais - a decoy for the forthcoming Normandy landings.

My father returned to civilian life working in Shipping, import and export, in Manchester. We were a family of five, three well cared for children and wonderful loving parents. He was born on 12 September 1910 and passed away peacefully in 2000 just before his 90th birthday, predeceasing his wife, our Mother, who reached the age of 97.
Michael Lavender

Leonard Charles Lee, Stoker 1st Class KX104873 MPK

Leonard Lee grew up
at Ilford in Essex and he and his wife Vera had a son, Robert Leonard Lee, who  was born on 3 December 1942, three weeks after his father's death.

Charles Reginald Levein, Temp. Leading Seaman J113851 MPK

Charles Reginald Levein, Temp LS
It is mainly the grand-children of the men who served in Hecla who contact me these days. Ian Levein ordered a copy of A Hard Fought Ship (2017) and explained by e-mail that:

"I was actually investigating my family tree and specifically my grandfather who died on the ship. When I searched online for the ship, the website and book came up.

Although he was from Plymouth he actually married my grandmother who is from Aberdour in Fife.  He died when my father was two and an uncle a new born so not sure he would have seen much of his sons. However, his legacy is that one of his grandsons, my cousin, Craig Levein, went on to play, captain and manage Scotland's  National football team, playing for Scotland in the World Cup in Italy, 1990."

Ian Levein sent me this photograph of his Grandfather - but nothing else.

Terence A Mahoney, Able Seaman JX237247 MPK

Laura Tawn e-mailed me as follows:

"I am the grand-daughter of Able Seaman Fred WARDLE who was aboard HMS Hecla in November 1942. His best friend was Able Seaman Terence Mahoney who sadly did not survive. Granddad named his son, my Dad, after Terence & I wondered if there were any family members of Terence I could contact?"

Terry Mahoney's sister, Mrs V.J. Jeatt and her son Matthew, travelled from Windsor to attend the reunion at the Falcon Hotel in Stratford on the 11th November 1992. Terry Wardle and his daughter Laura Tawn would very much like to hear from them.

Edward "Ted" John May, Telegrapher SR 8184

Ted May was a Telegrapher in HMS Hecla from first commissioning to her sinking. His daughter, Julie Turner, bought A Hard Fought Ship to find out more about how Hecla came to be lost and sent me a copy of his Service Certificate and scans of his photographs so that I could tell his story on this website.

Ted May was born at Bristol on 2 July 1918. He was brilliant at mathematics and was offered a scholarship at Bristol Boys Grammar School but his father insisted he left school at 14 and started work in a saw mill. Ted's father had been traumatised by his service in the Great War and Ted was determined that he would not follow his father into the Army. He volunteered to join the Royal Navy Special Reserve (RNSR) on 28 June 1939, before the start of the war and compulsory conscription. The RNSR had been introduced at the insistence of the Admiralty to avoid the conscription into the Amy of merchant seamen, dock workers and other young men with the background and experience to be of greater value to the Navy than the Army. Volunteers had to sign up for four years service and undergo six months training. Despite having started an apprenticeship as a plasterer, the trade he was to follow after the war, Ted was accepted into the RNSR and was trained as a Telegraphist. Ted gave his Mother, Hannah Mary May, as his next of kin.

On the 19 June 1940 he joined HMS Centurion, one of four King George V-class dreadnought battleships built for the Royal Navy in the early 1910s. She had been converted into a radio controlled target ship in the 1920s maintained by a crew of 242 who sailed her to the firing range and them disembarked. Centurion was armed with a variety of weapons in June 1940 as the threat of German invasion increased and was then modified to serve as a repair ship for the local defence ships based in Devonport.

On 14 September his service certificate records that Ordinary Telegraphist Ted May was at HMS Dolphin, Gosport, home of the Royal Navy's submarine service which is near HMS Hornet, the base for the Motor Launches and MTB of Light Coastal Forces.  
The rather poor photograph is of the crew of Fairmile B Motor Launch ML 116 built at Tarbert on Loch Fyne, Scotland, in September 1940. It seems probable that he was a member of the commissioning crew sent to Tarbet for her trials and to bring her south to Gosport. HMS Dolphin in now the site of the Royal Navy's Submarine Museum.

Crew of ML 116
Ted May, Telegrapher, is on the left in the front row of this photograph of the 12 man crew of ML 116
Courtesy of Julie Turner

Ted May spent Christmas Day 1940 in the Devonport Barracks (and kept the printed Christmas menu for Breakfast, Dinner, Tea and Supper) before leaving Plymouth on 28 December to join HMS Hecla while she was being fitted out in John Brown's shipyard on the Clyde before the start of her first Commission. In March 1941 HMS Hecla was sent to Havelfjord in south west Iceland as the destroyer depot ship, repairing the destroyers escorting the Atlantic convoys to northern Canada. HMS Venomous was always breaking down and was a frequent visitor.

There was growing Icelandic resentment of British and Canadian forces occupying their land. President Roosevelt agreed to take over the defence of Iceland from Britain and in June 1941 dispatched 36,000 troops (Project Indigo). Winston Churchill stopped off at Havelfjord
on the 16 August while returning home on the battleship, HMS Prince of Wales, after signing the Atlantic Charter with Roosevelt at Argentia in Newfoundland. He was photographed coming aboard aboard HMS Hecla where he attended a service in the ship's chapel. AB Ernest Victor Frowde, known as "Fingers Frowde", played the organ.

The two photographs below taken on Hecla are quite well known and can be seen elsewhere on this website but Ted May also had two other photographs taken during Churchill's visit to Iceland on the 16 - 17 August 1941. One of Churchill on the balcony of the Iceland Parliament building in Rekjavic addressing an audience below and the other, probably taken on the same occasion, of a senior officer in the Royal Navy with a younger officer in the USN. Both are wearing aiguillettes on their uniforms, a type of fancy braid work worn by an an equerry, ADC or Naval Attache. The youthful officer in the United States Navy (USN) has been identified as Lt Franklin Delano Roosevelt USN, the son of the American President. At the request of his father he and brother Elliott Roosevelt attended the summit at Argentia with Prime Minister Winston Churchill. He returned from Argentia with Churchill in HMS Prince of Wales and stood with him at parades in newly American-occupied Reykjavik, Iceland, to symbolize American solidarity with Britain. The senior RN Officer with the foreboding look is Cdr Charles Ralfe “Tommy” Thompson, military aide to the Prime Minister.

Churchill coming aboard MS Hecla at Havelfjord Churchill aboard HMS Hecla
 Capt C.G.B. Coltart RN and his officers salute Winston Churchill as he comes aboard HMS Hecla and prepares to leave
Courtesy of Julie Turner

Churchill August 1941 Iceland Lt F.D. Roosevelt USN and Capt in RN
Winston Churchill on the balcony of the Iceland Parliament in Reykjavik with Lt F.D. Roosevelt USN, the son of President Roosevelt, and a Captain in the Royal Navy looking on below
Courtesy of Julie Turner

USS Vulcan replaced Hecla as the depot ship for the convoy escorts and on 11 December 1941, four days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, America entered the war. In early 1942 Hecla returned to the Clyde for a short refit and with Capt E.F.B. Law RN in command, she left Greenock on the 15 April 1942 as part of Convoy WS.18 "outward bound" for South Africa to join the Far Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean, a welcome change from the tedium and cold of Havelfjord. 

Ted May with signal lamp, Hecla 1942Shipmates on Hecla, 1942
Left: Ted May Telegrapher with Signal Lamp
Right: Alfred M. Trethewey (MPK, when Hecla sank), Johnson and Edward John May in tropical 'Whites' on the journey south to round the Cape
Courtesy of Julie Turner

On the 15 May 1942  Hecla rounded the Cape and as she crossed the Aghulhas Bank just east of False Bay struck a mine at 15.59 hours killing 21 of the crew (with 3 missing and 116 injured). HMS Hecla spent six months under repair at Simon's Town. The offiicers and crew were welcomed into the homes (on"uphomers") of hospitable South Africans and formed friendships which in many cases lasted for decades - or were cut short by death when Hecla was torpedoed.

Ted May with Leni Bain 1942Ted May and the Baines family in South Africa 1942
Ted May with Leni Bain (left) and with Peter Bain and his son Colin on an "Uphomer" with two of his shipmates
Lenie and Pieter (Peter) Bain were the uncle and aunt of Louise Duncan whose Grandparents invited Brian Shaw and Kenneth Collings on an uphomer at their farm near Hermon
Courtesy of Julie Turner

Ted May and his two shipmates were welcomed into the home of Mr and Mrs Bain in Cape Town, a short train ride along the coast from Simon's Town where Hecla was under repair. Ted became a close friend of the family and stayed in touch after the war. The Bain family had  a small construction business and  they invited Ted, a plasterer by trade, to take it over when they retired in the 1950s but Ted was not happy about the political situation in South Africa and did not take up this generous offer. In 1970 Leni Bain was a guest at the wedding of Ted's daughter, Julie Turner, who told the story of her father's wartime service in HMS Hecla on this website.

In October HMS Hecla finally left Simon's Town for Gibraltar. After a short stop over at Freetown Hecla left with HMS Vndictive on 4 November. The two destroyer depot ships were joined by the destroyer escorts, HMS Venomous and HMS Marne, near the Canaries on the 8 November and detached for Gibraltar to support the ships taking the troops to the invasion beaches at Algiers as part of Operation Torch. Ted May left no account of how Hecla was sunk and he was rescued but his daughter, Julie Turner, describes what she remembers being told:

"Dad didn't speak much about the sinking of the Hecla.  He was on a "raft" and left it to make room for someone in a great deal of distress.  He was in the water for, I thought, 18 hours but it seems from the book that it was probably 15.  He was a really good swimmer (Bristol Champion at the age of 14) and had some help from a piece of wood. He mentioned the munitions going off and killing people in the sea. I wish I had known more about what he must have gone through whilst he was still alive.

He liked to talk about being on the American ship, he couldn't get over the fact that the Captain joined the ratings to watch a film and he was given soap, towel and clothes for free! The RN charged for everything."

Five out of the fifteen Telegraphers in HMS Hecla were reported as "Missing Presumed Killed" (MPK). Ted May would have been given two weeks "survivors' leave" on his return to Britain and would then have returned to HMS Drake, Devonport Barracks, Plymouth, to await a new posting. According to his Service Certificate he spent six months at HMS Skirmisher, a shore base in the small cathedral city of St Davids, in reality no more than a village in the south west tip of Pembrokeshire, which appears to have mainly functioned as a communications centre where bilingual WRNS "eavesdropped" on German naval communications.

In July 1943 he joined Naval Party 1071, a large draft of communication ratings which took passage on a troopship, possibly the former Union Castle liner, Llanstephan Castle,to Bombay, India, via South Africa. For administrative purposes he was based ashore at HMS Excellent II, HMS Excalibur and HMS Braganza until 19 August 1944 but nothing is known about his actual duties during the year he spent at Bombay.

Bombay Coffee Club Menu
A "Home from Home" for home-sick sailors
"Sons of the Seas. Kissed by the breeze, step in please.
We ask you to dine, not with women or wine but on things sublime to tickle the palatte, fresh food and mullet, to suit your wallet.
Give us a trial, we brook no denial, leave with a smile on your dial." Passkeema
Courtesy of Julie Turner

By August 1944 he was back in Britain on MTB based at HMS Hornet, the Light Coastal Forces base at Gosport. Undoubtedly, the most critical period in his wartime service was the voyage to disaster aboard HMS Hecla which might so easily have brought his story to a premature end on Armistice Day 1942 but in later life he looked back on his time in ML 116 in 1940 and with the MTB at Gosport, Portsmouth, between August and October 1944 as the most interesting period.

MTB returning to HMS Hornet, Gosport in June 1944
Motor Torpedo Boats and Motor Gun Boats of the Coastal Forces coming in off patrol.
They are heading up Haslar Creek, Gosport, past HMS Dolphin on their way to HMS Hornet.
Crown Copyright IWM A23968

His service certificate records him as being at Sirate (sic) from October 1944 to July 1945 and at Colombo for a month and then returning to HMS Drake at Plymouth but nothing is known about his duties during this time.  He was discharged from the Navy on 26 November 1945.

He married Dorothy Davey (nee Shepherd) in 1947. Dorothy's first husband also served in the Navy. AB Alfred Thomas Davey (Service No. D/J 99230) had joined the Navy when he was 18 in 1920 and was on the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious when she and her two destroyer escorts were sunk by the Scharnhorst on 8th June 1940. There were only 43 survivors and Davey was one of more than 1,200 men on the Glorious whose lives were lost. His widow was left with two children, Brian and Beryl (known as Kay). Ted acquired a family as well as a wife when he married Dorothy. They had a daughter, Julie Turner, and two grand children, Elizabeth and Sam.

Ted took up his prewar trade as a plasterer and taught at Bristol Polytechnic for a while but spent a good part of his working life with the Co-operative Building Company as a foreman on large projects in Bristol, including the Bank of England. He was General Secretary of the National Association of Operative Plasterers, later amalgamated with the TGWU. He had his own building firm for a short time and also worked with his brother at St. Anne’s Board Mills.

Ted loved rugby and was very involved with Barton Hill Rugby Club. He helped build their clubhouse in the 1950’s and was Chairman for a while.  He and his brothers, Sam and Harry, were life-long supporters of Bristol Rugby Club. Ted’s final job was with Burroughs Computers, taking customers’ calls and allocating engineers.  After retirement he kept very fit, and did plastering for family and friends. Ted died from a heart attack on the 29th September 1997.

PO Stoker Henry McAuley K7498

"My Great Uncle Harry (Henry McAuley) was a Stoker Petty Officer on HMS Hecla. Harry was probably one of the oldest men on the ship at 51 years. He was born on 27 June 1891 and had joined the Navy in 1910 and served through until 1930 and was then recalled 1939 to 1945. He died in 1973 at the age of 83. Sadly I was too young when he died to know any of his history although I do remember him.  It is only in the last couple of years while doing family research that I found his records and made the connection to HMS Hecla."

Henry McAulay 1910
Henry McAuley in 1910
wearing the ribbon of HMS Vivid,
the Navy barracks at Devonport

Henry McAulay 1919
Henry McAuley in 1919
Wearing his campaign medals and with crown, crossed anchors and two stripes on his sleeve
Heney McAulay 1920 (HMS Icewhale)
Henry McAuley in 1920
while serving in HMS Icewhale

Henry McAulay, late 1920s
Henry McAuley in 1930-2
Chief Petty Officer
with three" long service badges" and a ribbon on his sleeve

David McLaughlin has sent me the following outline of the life of his "Great Uncle Harry":

"Henry, known as 'Harry', McAuley signed on for 12 years service in 1910 as a stoker and after shore training served through most of 1911 on the Scout class cruiser HMS Sentinel  followed by the armoured cruiser HMS Argyll. From Aug 1912 to March 1914 he served on the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Cornwallis in the Mediterranean.  After a short service of 3 months on the survey ship HMS Hearty Harry was transferred to the battleship HMS Ajax in September 1914 and served through most of the war in this post, seeing action at Jutland. During his time on Ajax he rose from leading stoker to Stoker Petty Officer.

From late 1917 to early 1920 Harry appears to be mainly shore based before being posted to HMS Ice Whale in Gibraltar. He remained on this small whaler for 2 years. Harry continued his service in the navy until July 1932 doing 2 years with HMS Resolution and 3 years on HMS Capetown plus various shore postings.

Henry McAulay with wife in late 1920s On leaving the navy Harry returned to his pre-service trade of Sawyer in the same Paisley sawmill where his father had worked, but on the outbreak of war he returned to Navy service as Stoker Petty Officer and was posted to HMS Hecla in Dec 1940. In early 1941 he served a month on the Corvette HMS Picotee before returning to Hecla. Harry was one of the lucky ones to be rescued when Hecla was sunk.

He returned to the UK and continued to serve in the Navy until July 1945 although he never served at sea after the sinking.
After Hecla he had short spells at HMS Drake and HMS Rosneath (Helensburgh) followed by two years at HMS Hopetoun, a shore station on the Firth of Forth near the rail bridge, before his final post in 1945 was three months at HMS Drake (Devonport), the same place he started his service in 1910.

Harry married Maria (Molly) Docherty in 1923 and had one child, Daniel, born in 1924.  Unusually, Harry is related to me in two ways. His wife, Molly, was my Grandfather’s sister while my Grandmother, Margaret, was Harrys sister. I am one of the youngest of my generation in our extended family so these people were all quite old in my early memories.

It is only in recent years through discussions with older members of the family that I was able to make the connection that the small, well dressed man, wearing a trilby and driving a Triumph Herald was Harry. I am told he was always impeccably dressed with shirt and tie. Harry and Molly must have looked a slightly odd couple as he was only 5’ 4” while Molly was very tall at 6’ or more. I have attached the unedited photo of them together in the late 1920’s, and even sitting, Molly is at shoulder height on Harry. Looking at his navy record for the second war there is a small note “caught smuggling whiskey on board”.

David McLaughlin

Astonishingly, there were 190 stokers serving on HMS
Hecla when she was torpedoed but only two of them, Norman Johns and  Charles Brearley, have left accounts of the loss of the ship and how they were saved but we have brief accounts of the lives of Petty Officer Stoker Henry McAuley and Leading Stoker A.R. Cripwell. The names of all the stokers are recorded on the crew list compiled by TNT Data Services. Their rates range from Petty Officer Stoker, Chief Stoker, Leading Stoker and Stoker 1st Class to Stoker 2nd Class but there were also Acting and Temporary
Acting rates. The most common rate was Stoker 1st Class. There were only eleven Leading Stokers but if one includes the Acting and Temporary Acting Leading Stokers there were thirty-one.

AB Daniel McLoughlin

"My father Daniel McLoughlin was born at Liverpool on 15 January 1922. He was the youngest  of nine children and the family lived off the Scotland Road in a very deprived area of Liverpool, where, in order to survive, a man needed his wits and his fists, and only drink helped a person to forget their poor circumstances. When he was eight his mother went off with another man, leaving her kids behind.  Two years later his father, a stoker in merchant ships, died of a respiratory illness and Daniel was looked after by the wife of his older brother Edward.

AB Daniel McLoughlin Daniel McLoughlin
AB Daniel McLoughlin and future wife
Daniel McLoughlin aged 18 (left) with shipmate on HMS Hecla in the Southport Road, Liverpool (centre), and with his fututure wife in 1943 (right)
Courtesy of Jim McLoughlin

He was a lagger at the Tate and Lyle sugar refinery in Liverpool when he joined the Royal Navy in July 1940 and was an AB on the Hecla for the whole of her short service life. He was aboard Hecla the night she was sunk, and the story passed down through the family is that he was rescued only to find himself swimming for his life again when that ship was also torpedoed, so he may have been one of the few men who managed to swim to the Marne just prior to her being torpedoed, but I don't know that for certain. He got his head burnt at some stage in the proceedings, I don't think it could have been too serious a burn, although his hair never ever recovered properly.

My mother told me how upset Dad had been at losing a very close friend and shipmate the night Hecla was sunk, so much so that he took a train up to Scotland to offer condolences to the lad's parents.  Another story Dad told mum was of a man in the water who reckoned the Hecla wasn't going to sink any time soon and that he had plenty of time to get back on board to retrieve his gambling winnings from his locker.  Despite Dad advising him against it he went anyway and while he was down below the Hecla was hit by another torpedo and he lost his life.  Whether the two stories are about one and the same person I don't know.

The photograph top right taken in 1943 is of my father and his girlfriend Elizabeth Devitt, soon to be his wife and mother of their five children including me.  Five who would not have been born were it not for the crew of HMS Venomous plucking my father from the sea!

This amusing tale told by my mother illustrates the life he led at this time:

'Dad and a pal on Navy leave were queuing up at the Grosvenor Cinema on Stanley Road Liverpool. A Jeep pulls up, two MPs jump out and berate Dad and his pal for wearing their caps at a jaunty angle.  An argument ensues, culminating in one MP hitting Dad's pal with his night stick. Dad lays into the two MPs, knocking them to the ground and the two lads run off.

The hunt was on and they were soon captured and sent to the 'glass house' on Aigburth Road, Liverpool (it is now a cricket ground). They escaped over the wall but Dad's mate did not make it and was caught.  Dad made it over the wall and escaped, but not before a guard, thrusting at him with his rifle, split his pants and sliced his leg with the bayonet.  Dad hid out in a partly bombed out house a couple of streets away from where he lived in Lancaster Street as he suspected the authorities would be watching his home. Mum lived on the opposite side of Lancaster Street, further down from Dad's house.

A couple of days later a coal lorry stopped outside Mum's house making its regular coal delivery. Imagine her surprise when one of the filthy young men carrying sacks of coal into her house revealed himself to be her boyfriend - my Dad!  He whispered where he was living (her mother never, ever, approved of Dad) and asked if she would please come around with food, bandages for his leg, and a needle and cotton for his trousers. The two kept up their clandestine meetings at the bombed out house for some days before Dad eventually gave himself up. I firmly believe that it was during this period that Mum and Dad formed their life long bond.'

His service records (besides showing he blotted his copybook by going 'on the run' a couple of times) indicate that he spent the rest of his time training in one 'Combined Operations establishment' or another until finally being transferred to the army in August 1944. Men transferred from the Navy had a 149 prefix to their Army Service Number. He found himself serving with the 2nd Battalion of the Black Watch (No 14995166) at Malir near Karachi in India where he got his 'Airborne' wings.
The Battalion was training as parachute unit for the planned invasion of Malaya, Operation Zipper. He landed badly during a parachute jump carrying full kit and his leg had to be heavily bandaged.  Earlier in the war the Army had learned to cease recruiting taller heavier men for parachute regiments because so many men back then had broken their legs on landing.  He was a keen boxer as a boy in Liverpool and won medals for boxing and rifle shooting in the Army.

Danirel McLoughlin in the Black Watch, India
Daniel McLoughlin is second from left in the white singlet while serving with the Black Watch at Malir, India
Courtesy of Jim McLoughlin

His brother Martin was a motorcycle dispatch rider attached to the Chindits brigade in Burma. He was captured by the Japanese and spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp. On one occasion, for a minor infringement, he spent days curled up in a bamboo cage in the blazing sunshine. He came home skeletal and never ever put on weight again.

My father was discharged from active wartime duties in July 1946, and relieved from reserve TA duties in June 1959. He died aged 49 in March 1971 after several years of ill health which started after cutting a toe in work which did not heal properly (poor circulation to his feet after years of smoking) and eventually turned gangrenous. This led to a series of operations involving several amputations of his lower limbs. His ill health was further complicated by inhalation of asbestos during his working life as a lagger, and not helped by the Malaria he picked up serving in the Army. His medals and Commando knife, prized possessions went missing soon after his death.

The McLoughlin's were originally from Ireland and when I retired from my job as a chemical plant operator (at ICI Runcorn) I moved to Ireland and began tracing my family history which revived interest in my father's story"
Jim McLoughlin

Edgar Steele McMinn,  Stoker 1st Class (KX105564)

On the 6 February 2021 Alexa Wignall, the grand daughter of Edgar McMinn, sent me this compelling account of the memories which traumatised her Grandfather:

Edgar Steele McMinn, Stoker in HMS Hecla"I would like to share what I was told by my grandfather Edgar Steele McMinn, a Stoker on the doomed ship. My grandfather died in 2000. He did not talk much about his time during the war, in fact he would actively change the subject when it was brought up. We knew that he was torpedoed twice, once on the Hecla and then again on the rescue ship. When the news of the sinking reached the UK my grandmother was obviously very fearful for his life, and waiting for news on survivors was a slow process. While waiting to hear her mother-in-law wrote to her from Scotland saying that she had every faith that he was alright, and that she did not need to worry because he had been born with a caul, which everyone knows is a sign of good luck and protection from drowning. Whether this calmed my grandmother I am not sure, because obviously a caul does not prevent you from being blown up, burnt alive or eaten by sharks. However, he returned home safely, so perhaps there is something in it after all.

A few years before his death my grandfather, in floods of tears, decided to tell me of his experience during the torpedoing, and it was so clearly distressing for him I really did not want him to continue, but somehow it had all come to the surface and he felt he had to tell someone. When the ship was hit he was below decks, presumably as a stoker in the boiler room. The explosion threw him and his best friend, another Scotsman who he did not name, across the room. Seeing his friend injured and out cold he proceeded to give him a fireman's lift and start climbing the ladders towards the upper decks. Now my grandfather was not a big man, but he was strong (he boxed at bantam weight before and during his time in the navy). He carried his friend up ladder after ladder until he got to an officer who demanded he put the man down. It was only at this point that he realised his friend was dead. He was then commanded to close the hatch as the ship was sinking; he knew there were dying men below and he felt that he was somehow responsible for dooming them. It was one of the most traumatic things he had ever done. After evacuating the ship he was in the water for a very long time waiting to be rescued. He said he saw many men drowning, the ability to swim not deemed to be something they looked for or enquired of enlisted men. My grandfather could swim very well, and having this caul thing pointed out to him his entire life might have crossed his mind..

That is really all I know as, like I said, my grandfather choose not to talk about it except on this one occasion, which was completely out of character. He felt so guilty at leaving his dead friend and wished he could have done more. I think the whole thing plagued him."

Edgar McMinn (1917-2000) lived another 58 years. He was probably rescued by HMS Marne which was torpedoed by the same u-boat which sank HMS Hecla. A child "born with the caul" has a portion of a birth membrane remaining on the head which is immediately removed upon delivery of the child. Bob Hargreaves was also born with a veil (or caul) over his face which the midwife removed and his Mother kept. Bob and his two brothers had fragments of the caul sewn into their clothing as a lucky charm to save them from being drowned, an old sailors' superstition. All three brothers returned safely from the war. Bob Hargreaves served in HMS Venomous which rescued most of the survivors from Hecla.

Charles Henry Mitchell, Able Seaman (J25918) MPK

"My grandad was on HMS Hecla, he hung on to the life raft as long as he could, his last words were 'goodbye my queens' as he let go, this was relayed to his sons as they waited on Plymouth Hoe for news, he was Able Seaman Charles Henry Mitchell," Polly Teresa Ford.

Charles Mitchell was born at Weston-super-Mare in Somerset on 9 February 1898 and was a school boy when joined the Navy as a 15 year old boy sailor on 4 July 1913. He would spend the rest of his life in the Navy and fight in two World Wars.

Reginald Alfred Mitchell, Painter  Class 2 (MX 51186)

"My grandfather’s name was Reginald Alfred Mitchell, MX 51186. He joined the RN in April 1932. He was onboard at the time of the sinking of the Hecla and his rating was Painter Class 2. I have a copy of his RN service record. My grandfather survived the war and was discharged from the RN in November 1945." Neil Mitchell, October 2022

Paymaster Captain Frank Leonard Monk RNR

Jonathan Monk sent this mail to me on 1 Aigust 2022:

"I am the grandson of Paymaster Captain Frank Leonard Monk who was on board the Hecla and was one of those killed. My father also joined the Navy and was training as an officer when my grandfather was lost and retired as Rear Admiral Anthony John Monk. The ships surgeon, Kitkat, ended up in the water with my grandfather  when Hecla was torpedoed. Kitkat saw a ship picking up survivors and  said,  'you go ahead Frank, you are a better swimmer than me'. That was the last time my Grandfather was seen",

"Kitkat" was the Principal Medical Officer (PMO), Surg. Lt Cdr Cecil de Winton Kitcat RNVR (1900-67), the head of the Sick Bay Team in HMS Hecla. There were twenty men in the sick Bay team when Hecla was torpedoed and four of them were killed. I was able to trace the names of all of them and told their stories on the linked page. The ship's writers and indeed all the supply staff, cooks, stewards, Stores Assistants reported through their chain of command to the Paymaster Captain, Paymaster Captain (S) Frank Leonard Monk RNR (1892-1942), who was killed when
Hecla was torpedoed.

Frank Leonard Monk as a young manJonathan Monk sent me these two fine portraits of his  Grandfather as a young man and I have extracted the following notes about his service in the Royal Navy Reserve from his hand wriiten Service Certificates which I downloaded from the National Archives.

Frank Leonard Monk was born at Coulsdon, Croydon, on 1 August 1892 and was a clerk at the Coulsdon branch of Lloyds Bank when he enlisted in the Royal Navy Reserve on 20 October 1913. He would not have been earning much and was now 21 years of age and able to take decisions for himself and might have wanted a bit of excitement in his life.

The Navy had a need for men like him and he was appointed as an Acting Assistant Paymaster RNR and served for brief periods in the larger ships of the Navy which were self-accounting and required "Paymasters". In December 1917 he joined HMS Hardinge, the base of the Senior Naval Officer Ceylon (SNOC) at Colombo.

The personal reports from his commandng officers went far beyond what was normal and it is clear that he was highly regarded both as an efficient capable officer but also as a loyal shipmate, "a first class chap".

He was demobilised on 13 October 1919 as “Acting Paymaster Lt Cdr” and rejoined Lloyds Bank but remained in the RNR and throughout the 1920s and 30s served for short periods in HMS Warspite (Sept 1921), HMS Royal Oak (Sept 1924) and HMS Rodney (Sept 1930 and Sept 1933).

He married Barbara Ashby at Worthing 2 April 1921 and they had two sons,  Leonard Ashby Monk in 1922 who became a schoolmaster in South Croydon, and Anthony John Monk who was born at Coulsdon in 1923, joined the Navy and retired as a Rear Admiral (Engineer). Their father became Manager of the Ludgate Hill branch of Lloyds Bank in London.

As I write this in August 2022 Frank Monk's  oldest living relative is a nephew, Frank Eagle, the son of Frank Monk's sister, an accomplished opera singer, who married Harold Eagle, a pipeline engineer working for Shell in Sarawak, Borneo. Frank Eagle was born in 1930 and sent to a boarding school while his parents were in Sarawak and farmed out to relatives during the vacations. He often stayed with Frank Monk at his house at Kingsdown on the Kent coast near Deal where Frank kept a boat on the beach in which he took  his sons and his nephew out fishing and sailing. Frank Eagle was staying there in 1939 at the outbreak of war. His parents escaped to Britain from Singapore when Japan entered the war and his father worked on the PLUTO pipeline project which brought oil to the Normandy beaches in 1944.

Frank Eagle was, of course, very young when his Uncle rejoined the Navy and could add very little to this account of the life of  Paymaster Captain Frank Leonard Monk. Frank Monk's name is one of fifteen on the war memorial in St John the Evangelists church in Kingsdown, Kent, and one of hundreds on the memorial at Hecla's home port of Plymouth.

George Morrell, Sick Berth Attendant (MX 58991)

George Morrell's son, David Morrell, got in touch via the maritimequest.com forum on 27 June 2017: "I believe my father was a crew member on HMS Hecla. He died in 1975 but the family story is that he was torpedoed and rescued by an American ship (a common mistake as Venomous berthed alongside the USS Augusta on arrival at Casablanca). He was in the water with Edward (Eddie) Diggines who came from a village on Dartmoor and was a cook. He would later marry one of my fathers’ many sisters."

George Morrell SBA"George Morrell was born on 3rd July 1920 in Newton Abbot, Devon. He was one of eight children. On leaving school he began working for the railway in Newton Abbot and in February 1939 he joined the Royal Navy. He trained at Drake as a Sick Berth Assistant and joined the crew of HMS Hecla on 25th December 1940. The photograph is cropped from a group photograph of the members of the Sick Bay team while Hecla was the destroyer depot ship at Havelfjord, Iceland in 1941. He was promoted to Leading SBA in January 1942. 

I think the Hecla was his first and last ship. His future postings were all to Royal Navy hospitals. After surviving the sinking of the Hecla he was posted to the hospital of the Royal Marine Depot at Lympstone on the Exe estuary in south Devon. At some stage towards the end of the war he was posted to HMS Royal Arthur, near Skegness. It was around this time that he met my mother, Joan Baker, who was living in Bathford, a village near Bath. They married in 1947. Other postings then followed to Drake, Plymouth and Helston. They also traveled to Malta together and by the time they went to Sri Lanka (Ceylon) around 1955 I had been born and spent a couple of years with them while he was at the RN hospital at Diyatalawa in the central Highlands. Finally we moved to Stonehouse in Plymouth where my brother, Richard, was born. My father left the RN as a SBCPO in 1961."

My parents ran The Ham Tree in Holt, Wiltshire, until 1966 and then took over The Seven Stars in Winsley, Bradford on Avon, until his death in 1975. My mother continued to run the pub for a further ten years until she retired.

He was very fond of sport and played Rugby, Cricket and Hockey. I believe he managed Devonport Services RFC when they went on tour."

 Brian Carrick Moss,  Cook (MX70330) MPK

Les Rowles (Sick Berth Team) mentioned Brian Moss in a letter to Bob Moore on the 12 February 1988:

“We were picked up by Venomous about 1700 hours. I remember trying to climb aboard but slipping back; someone said grab him and I was hauled aboard where I just flaked out. When I came to our PO’s Officers’ Cook [Arthur H. Doggett] was standing over me looking after my belt. He was very upset, he told me his mate, a young lad named Moss [Brian C Moss, Cook(O), DM/X.70330] was gone.  Also around me were a couple of Venomous’ lads with a tot which was pushed down me, I had no choice; also a cigarette and not forgetting the corn beef straight out of the tin with fingers (not enough knives and forks to go round). It tasted good.”

I was contacted by his nephew, Andrew Clark,  via the Facebook page for HMS Hecla in December 2021 and he sent me these photographs of his uncle:

Brian C Moss with his sister Ruth
Andrew Clark's Mother
Brian Carrock Moss, Cook MPK HMS Hecla 1942
Brian C Clark as Cook aboard Hecla with shipmates
Brian C Moss "on duty"as cook aboard Hecla
Brian C Moss in hard hat dicvng suit
Brian C Moss "off duty"

Brian C Moss in unifom on leave
Brian C Moss, Cook, HMS Hecla, MPK

Brian Carrick Moss was born at Croydon in 1922, the second son of Frank Albert and Florence Amelia Moss (nee Carrick).

Brian Moss with parents and siblings
Brian Carrick Moss on rght standing next to his sister Ruth, the mother of  Andrew Clark
From left to right: his youngest sister Marion, older brother Bernard, mother Florence (nee Carrick) and father Frank Moss with Ruth Mary Moss and Brian
Courtesy of Andrew Clark

He was very close to his sister, Ruth Mary Moss born 1924, the Mother of Andrew Clark.

Brian Moss and his sister Ruth
Brian Moss wrote a last letter to his sister Ruth on 25 October 1942 but changed the date to 2 November and posted it at Freetown, Sierra Leone. To read the letter click on the link.

In 1999 Ruth Moss wrote a tribute to her brother - see  the extract on the right.
An extract from the tribute to her brother Brian written by Rurth Moss in 199
Ruth Moss ws 89 when she died in 2014 naarly 72 years after  the death of her brother in 1942

William John White Nairne, Acting Leading Seaman, D/SSX 18737 MPK

When I  began telling the stories of the men who served in HMS Hecla I either went to see them and or spoke to  them by phone but the opportunity for that is now long gone and it is usually their sons or daughters who stumble on this website by Googling the family name + HMS Hecla + 1942 and get in touch by e-mail to tell their stories. Disconcertingly, this year I am more likely to be contacted via social media by their grand chilren who are much younger than me! This can be confusing as they may contact me by one of my four Facebook pages or by Facebook Messenger and with dozens of notificationa they may go unoticed.

ADM letter announcing his death William John White Nairne, Studio portrait

Debbie Nairne Morse contacted my by one of these many avenues and sent me the splendid studio photograph of her grandfather and the confirmation of his death received by her Grandmother in Inverness on 16 July 1943. Debbie explained below how it was that she came to be born and live in Canada as a result of her Grandmother's remarriage:

"Good morning from Victoria, BC. My paternal Grandfather married Christina MacDonald in Inverness, November 27, 1939. My Dad was their only child born in 1940 and also named Bill. A few years after his death my grandma married a Canadian serviceman Bernard Dunnigan, who had been born in Glasgow. They came to Canada around 1946 to Merritt, BC, when my Dad was a young boy. He proudly served over 30 years in the Royal Canadian Navy. Sadly my Dad passed away in 1990."

Bill Nairne was born at Inverness, Scotland,  the son of Thomas Nairne, a carpenter, and his wife Kate (nee Macrae) and had two sisters, Mary and Elizabeth. It is unlikely that any first hand account of her grandfather's  wartime service will exist but she has contacted the daughter of one of his two sisters in Australia and hopes to find out more.

Brian William Coulson Shaw, Leading Sick Berth Attendant (D/KX.64151)

Their story, much expanded and revised, has moved to a new page about the experience of crew members who spent time as guests of South African families on "uphomers".

Lt John Steavenson RNVR

Lt John Steavenson RNVR, Survivor from HMS Hecla 1942The Steavensons "are an old Berwick family and a previous John was Mayor several times and I am a Freeman of the town by descent as a result" (Hugh Steavenson) but Hugh's father, John Steavenson, was born on 7 July 1918 at Darlington in County Durham. He was the third child and second son of Dr Charles Stanley Steavenson and Edith Lucy Pease Steavenson (nee Robinson). His father was the local doctor at the nearby village of Middleton St George and also had a TB sanatorium while his Mother was a talented writer and artist. He and his brother were keen dinghy sailors before the war and the brothers also built and raced cars. He was educated at Giggleswick School, an independent boarding school near Settle in North Yorkshire which was founded more than five hundred years ago. 

Both parents were magistrates and his father considered the only acceptable profession for his son was medecine or the law and John was articled to the Town Clerk of Darlington. He joined HMS Calliope at Gateshead on 19 January 1938 as a Probationery Midshipman. She had been built in 1887 as a sailing corvette but given a powerful screw engine and was now the base for the Tyne Division of the RNVR. On 23 June he joined the out of date Revenge Class Battleship HMS Royal Oak at Portsmouth but left her on 5 June 1939 three months before she was sunk in Scapa Flow, Orkney, by U-47 wth 835 men, two thirds of the ship's company, killed. He joined the mine-laying destroyer HMS Express (H61) on 5 June 1939 and was promoted to Sub Lt on 21 August but left a week later to join the Town Class Light Cruiser HMS Southampton (83).

On 5 September 1939 Southampton intercepted the German merchant Johannes Molkenbuhr off Stadtlandet, Norway, but her crew scuttled the ship before she could be captured. On 16 October 1939 she was struck by a 500 kg bomb released from 490 ft by a Ju 88 of I/KG.30 which passed through three decks at an angle and exited the hull, detonating in the water. She was repaired and took part in the hunt for the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau after the sinking of the armed merchant cruiser Rawalpindi. Southampton joined the
18th Cruiser squadron at Scapa Flow in February 1940 and on 9 April 1940 while  operating off the Norwegian coast was damaged in a German air attack. It was probably not a coincidence that he was promoted to Acting Lieutenant that same day. After repairs Southampton was on anti-invasion duties on the south-coast until she returned to Scapa Flow in October.

He received good reports from Captain Drew (HMS Royal Oak) and Cdr Oliver (HMS Express) but, how can one put it, rather "mixed reports" from HMS Southampton despite being promoted to full Lieutenant.
Captain Jeans: "This officer has deteriorated in recent months, In spite of having every facility for learning he does not seem to be able to absorb knowledge. No energy or zeal, untidy and does not appear to be blessed with any brains". Captain Brooke: "An officer who is a good mixer and very popular. He is, however, an unreliable watchkeeper and an ineffective executive officer for, though he is keen to do his best, he uses no forethought and little common sense; he is in fact a pleasent feckless individual."

In November and December Lt John Steavenson was at shore bases, HMS Victory at Portsmouth, and HMS Spartiate, at Glasgow, before being posted to HMS Hecla on 23 December 1940 before she was commissioned on 6 January 1941. He would remain aboard HMS Hecla until she was lost off the coast of Morocco on the night of 11 - 12 November 1942 and received a favourable report from Captain Coltart who had a reputation for strictness with the crew but was known as "Uncle Cyril" by his officers and was in command of Hecla when she was the destroyer depot ship at Havelfjord in Iceland.  He received favourable reports from Captain Law who took over command during for the voyage south to join the Eastern Fleet
when Hecla detonated  a mine on 15 May 1942 after rounding the Cape and from Cdr D'Oyley who was CO while Hecla was under repair at Simonstown in South Africa.

Capt Cyril G.B. Coltart ("Uncle Cyril") returning to HMS Hecla after a day's shhoting ast Havelfjord
"Uncle Cyril", Capt C.G.B. Coltart RN, being piped aboard HMS Hecla by his fellow officers dressed as ratings a
fter a day's shootin' at Havelfjord in 1941
Lt Surgeon Stephen L Hetherington RNVR is facing centre
and next in line on the right is Lt John Steavenson RNVR, the son of a doctor
Courtesy of Dr Peter Hetherington

Reports on Lt John Steavenson's service in HMS Hecla
Reports by the Commanding officers of HMS Hecla on Lt John Steavenson RNVR
Capt Cyril G.B. Coltart, Capt E.F.B. Law and Cdr John R. D'Oyley
Capt G.V.B. Faulkner, CO of HMS Hecla when she was torpedoed, wrote the Report of Proceedings (ADM 199/869)

John Steavenson owed his life
when HMS Hecla was torpedoed on Armistice Day 1942 to Lt Cdr H.C.R. Alexander, the Navigation Officer, who vividly described events in an unofficial report on the disaster and its cause written much later which was sent to me by his son in Canada and can be read in full on this website. He attributed the loss of HMS Hecla to the decisions made by Captain H.G.D. Ackland RN, CO of HMS Vindictive, the senior Officer in the Convoy.

This is the part describing how Alexander saved his own life and that of "
a young Lieutenant called Steavenson":

"I then heard a young Lieutenant called Steavenson, asking for help from the water so I threw down a ropes end from the seaboats falls and hauled him up to where I was standing on the ship's side, just above the rolling keel.  He was very exhausted and I offered to share my mattress when the moment came.  The ship was soon almost exactly 180 degrees over but very deep in the water, but much rumbling going on inside as enormous weights shifted and took charge. Then suddenly a wave appeared to come up from the stern, we put my mattress on the crest and were wafted as if by a magic carpet towards the bows.  I realised afterwards that the wave of course was not an ordinary wave but the result of the ship sliding down by the stern with the upending.  And so we found ourselves swimming with this monstrous fore-end of the ship towering above us.  We could never have swum clear if the forepeak had broken off in our direction, but no, John Brown had built as good a ship as ever, and even the immense repairs carried out in Simonstown remained faithful to the original.  Almost immediately the mattress became water logged and we abandoned it to search for something better.

The moon which had betrayed us in the first instance had set by now but the sky was clear and one could see quite a distance and hear the vain despairing cries of various sailors calling for their mates. The first useful object we found was a launch's towing bollard, not ideal being too thick to hold but still better than nothing. Then I noted a curious dome-like dark object some fifty yards away and suggested we might go over to look at it, but Steavenson said he was too exhausted. So I went alone and to my bitter disappointment found it was an awning with an air bubble holding it up. Anywhere I put some weight simply went down and let more air out on the far side. So I went slowly back to Steavenson, rather crestfallen, conserving my strength knowing we were more than a hundred miles from the west coast of Africa.

I settled down to estimate the time by watching the slow, oh so slow, movement of Sirius. After some three hours, possibly at 4 am, a most extraordinary splash and crash coming from about a hundred yards away worried me for a moment, thinking it might be the submarine surfacing to collect evidence of its successful exploit. My next thought was could it possibly be a whale? If so would we finish up like Jonah? But when the object did not move I suggested we should swim over and investigate. Stevaenson again said he was too tired. When I reached the object I found it was one of Hecla's 25 ft motorboats - badly mangled but still floating awash to the gunwhales - but non the less extremely attractive. So I again swam back to young Steavenson and brought him to the boat and had no difficulty in getting both of us sitting on the gunnels. After a short breather I decided we might improve our chances if we bailed out the water, so carried out an underwater search for a bailer. This was made easier as I had discarded my short gumboots at some time during my various explorations. It also proved unfortunate, however, because the bottom of the boat was littered with broken glass from the cabin windows and my socks as well as my feet were cut before, at last, I found a paint pot and started bailing.

This did not last long because I quickly tired, finding the pot incredibly heavy and only removing about a cupful of water.  During the short rest my hand holding the precious pot happened to go into the pot revealing the reason for its inefficiencies, namely that it was still three quarters full of paint! I was tired and that is my only excuse for doing a really stupid thing, namely flinging most of the paint over the side. It was only after I had cleaned out the pot that I realised my folly, thinking of the necessity of blocking anymore water coming into the boat I had noted that the engine exhaust pipe was broken and letting water flow into the boat. I had decided to block its passage by stuffing it with my pyjamas which I had hurriedly put into my raincoat pocket when I collected my mattress.

The moment I emptied the paint pot I realised my folly, the paint smeared on my pyjamas would have made the obstruction infinitely more watertight! By this time, only one survivor had floated past in the remains of the ships launch, up-ended, the stern being deep in the water and the bows well out of the water acting as a sail so that it quickly drifted past and went out of sight. The northerly breeze was light and there were no waves at all thanks to the oil on the surface - this made me quite sick even though I had only swallowed a few drops, but it did act as protection against the cold. Then two young motor mechanics swam to us and were hauled onboard. I kept a sharp look out as all three of my companions were very exhausted and sure enough was rewarded by the sight of a destroyer passing miraculously close at very slow speed. My shout of "Ship Ahoy!" was quickly joined by my three companions and HMS Venomous, beautifully handled, picked us up in masterly fashion. I noted here the difference between a survivor and a rescuer handling a heaving line, at my end I took a turn on a bow cleat at the other end the seaman was forced to let go. In spite of this we were all able to step on board to safety."

The entries in his service certificate after Hecla was sunk are difficult to read and interpret but he may have returned to Britain from Gibraltar on HMS Duke of York before going on two weeks survivor's leave and being posted to the Gunnery Schools at HMS Usk and HMS Beaver, shore bases in Glasgow. In February 1943 he was posted to HMS James Cooke, a Combined Operations training base occupying the remote Glen Caladh Castle on the shore of the Kyles of Bute which  became the Beach Pilotage School for landing craft flotillas for the landings in Normandy. This appears to have been a mistake but he remained there until April 1943 when he was sent on the eight months "long gunnery course" at HMS Excellent, the Gunnery School at Portsmouth. His eldest son, Hugh Steavenson, recalls he was then posted to the Admiralty at HMS President in Bath "as an Assistant to the Director of Naval Ordnance" where:

"He met my mother, Daphne Pratt, whose family owned a boot and shoe factory in Kingswood, Bristol, called Holdfast Boots, and they married on 19 April 1947. He told me that he was made an offer which he could not refuse to join the Pratt family firm. He worked for C and J Clark in Street to learn the shoe trade before joining Holdfast. It certainly helped that he was related to the Clark family through his mother, one of a long line of Peases, one of many great Quaker families. Holdfast was sold to another firm of Bristol shoe manufacturers where he stayed on for a few years until that firm went bankrupt under questionable circumstances. Further jobs at other shoe factories continued until the early 1970’s

He had three children, Hugh Pratt Steavenson, Angela Bridget Steavenson and Charles Martin Pratt Steavenson. His younger brother Charles joined the Navy and served in submarines; "a keen Ocean racer, he was one of the unlucky 13 to perish at sea in the 1979 Fastnet race". Hugh is the only one alive today.

"My parents were very sociable and had many naval friends who were based in Bath. By the time my brother joined up in the mid seventies he complained that the only naval people they still knew were all Admirals! I think they knew at least three or four of those of their generation who had also served in the war. Always very practical he decided to try his hand at antique furniture restoration and was accepted on an antique furniture restoration course at West Dean College in Chichester in September 1973. Sadly he was unable to complete the course as he died on 23 January 1974 aged just 55."

John Steavenson has seven grand children but his early death meant they never got to know him.

This is not the end of the story as John Steavenson's widow "married another former RNVR officer, Adrian Butler" who served in two V & W Class destroyers, sister ships of HMS Venomous which rescued John Steavenson when HMS Hecla was torpedoed in 1942. "Adrian was also a Bristol businessman who made the boxes into which the shoes made by my father’s firm were packed. Coincidentally, he raced cars pre war and also sailed!" (Hugh Steavenson). Daphne Steavenson's second husband,  Lt Adrian H.G. Butler RNVR, served in HMS Westminster and HMS Woolston, and tells an amusing story about the eccentric 1st Lt of Westmister, Lt John A.H. Hamer, and "monkey business in the Wardroom". Strangely, Hugh Steavenson shared a flat with John Hamer's son for two or three years and met his father shortly before his death.

For further details of the life and wartime service of Lt John Steavenson RNVR see his entry on the unithistories.com site.

Leading Stoker William James Taylor

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."

His sister, Jean Bell, attended 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.

Albert J Thick Leading Stoker (K57784)

Albert Thick - Press Cutting

Leslie Thomson Ordnance Mechanic 5th Class (MX90541)

I was contacted in January 2019 by Leah Berry in Australia about her father's Uncle, Leslie Thomson, who was "Missing Presumed Killed" (MPK) when Hecla sank:

"Hello Bill, I am writing this on the spur of the moment, after reading some of the moving stories of those who were crew members of the HMS Hecla when she was torpedoed in 1942.

My father George Thomson is nearly 84 and currently having respite in a nursing home. We were talking before about his Uncle Leslie Thomson, who was aboard the Hecla when she was torpedoed. Leslie Thomson was born 21st September 1907 in Liverpool UK, his parents were George James Thomson and Emma Smith.  Leslie was apparently a fellow who liked to keep to himself and when company came calling would 'hide' in his bedroom. My dad remembers him being quite a surly fellow and not very patient, that could be as my dad was only a young boy and Leslie a man in his early thirties.

I don't know anything much about how he came to be in the Navy but obviously it was during the war that he joined up, and apparently, according to my dad, it was the making of him......he loved the life and the sea. Leslie's own father was a Bosun on the sailing ships at one time, then a foreman at Cammel Lairds in Birkenhead. When the Hecla was torpedoed my great grandma received a telegram saying Leslie was lost at sea......I will include a clipping from the Liverpool Echo showing how she was still clinging to the hope that he was alive. I'm sorry there isn't a lot to tell but Leslie hadn't married and had no children....that we know of......

My dad came to Aus as a 17 year old with a friend of his....off on an adventure. His mother and father followed in 1954 as he wasn't one for writing home much. They all ended up in Victoria. My Gran, Mabel always wanted to go home to the UK but never made it....

My dad is still mentally fit and can remember the most minute details of the war years, even though he was a boy (b. 1935 Birkenhead UK).  He remembers my great gran Emma having a little 'shrine' on the sideboard devoted to Leslie, with his framed picture and his navy bits and pieces surrounding it, and woe-betide anyone who touched it! Leslie's death affected her greatly and she never really recovered from her youngest son's death."


George Thomson's  daughter Leah Berry sent me this charming wedding photograph of her father's Uncle Leslie as a surly looking 12 year old (seated cross legged on the the right of the front row) at the marriage of his sister May Winwick Thomson (1894-1963) to William Allen Edge in 1919.

Names of wedding party 1919The wedding of May Thomson, the sister of 12 year old Leslie Thomson
The wedding of Leslie's 25 year old sister to William Allen Edge in 1919
Leslie's parents, George James Thomson and Emma Thomson (nee Smith), are either side of the bride in the row behind
Leslie's father was a bosun on sailing ships including the Lord Downshire and then a foreman at Camel Laird's shipyard
Seventeen year old Ernest Thomson (third from left rear row) was Leslie's elder brother and Leah Berry's Grandfather
Courtesy of Leah Berry

Leslie Thomson. press cuttingLeslie Thomson 1919Leslie Thomson had two brothers and three sisters and was the youngest of the six. The family moved from Liverpool to Saughall Massie on the Wirral and Leslie was working on a nearby farm when he was conscripted into the Navy "for the period of the Hostilities" in 1939. He was 32 and unmarried but Leah is hoping that distant relatives in England can provide a photograph and further details of his life.

At the time of his death he was a Petty Officer Air Fitter in HMS
Hecla with service number D/MX.90541 (Plymouth Naval Memorial). He may have joined Hecla when she was first commissioned in January 1940 and spent a year in Havelfjord, Iceland, while she was the Destroyer Depot Ship for Atlantic Convoys. HMS Venomous often berthed alongside Hecla during this period. After returning to the Clyde for a refit Hecla headed south to round the Cape and join the Eastern Fleet at Mombassa but after detonating a mine spent six months under repair at Simon's Town in South Africa before meeting her end off the coast of North Africa on Armistice Day 1942.

Thomas David Arthur Waldock (KX97148), Stoker 1st Class MPK

"Tommy" Waldock was born at Plumstead in London SE18 in 1920 and was 22 when Hecla sunk. He was a keen boxer. He was the eldest of four children, the others being Harold, who also served in the Royal Navy, Iris, and James. The brief details of his life given here were supplied by his youngest brother, Jim Waldock, born twenty one years later at Greenwich, London SE10, in 1941. The body of Thomas Waldock was not recovered and he is marked as Missing Presumed Killed (MPK) on the crew list and his name is also on the official casualty list issued by the Admiralty. Jim Waldock was one year old when his brother died and does not even have a photograph of him and has lost contact with his siblings. If a member of his family or the family of Tommy Waldock's shipmates in Hecla have photographs of stokers on HMS Hecla do please get in touch via the e-mail address of the publisher at the foot of this page.

 Fred WardleAB Fred W.J. Wardle (JX237211) and AB Terence Mahoney

Laura Tawn e-mailed me as follows:

"I am the grand-daughter of Able Seaman Fred WARDLE who was aboard HMS Hecla in November 1942. His best friend was Able Seaman Terence Mahoney who sadly did not survive. Granddad named his son, my Dad, after Terence & I wondered if there were any family members of Terence I could contact?"

Terry Mahoney's sister, Mrs V.J. Jeatt and her son Matthew, travelled from Windsor to attend the reunion at the Falcon Hotel in Stratford on the 11th November 1991. Terry Wardle and his daughter Laura Tawn would very much like to hear from them.

Chief Petty Officer William J Triggs (BEM) JX138571 MPK

William Joseph Triggs was born at Bootle, Liverpool, the son of Reginald R.A. Triggs, a merchant seaman and his wife Harriet in December 1916 and was two years old when his father died at sea a month after the war ended leaving his Mother a widow with no income and a two year old child and his baby brother George to support. The two children were placed in the Liverpool  Seamen's Orphan Institute.

He was a 16 year old hairdresser from Bootle, Liverpool, when he joined the Navy as a boy sailor at HMS Ganges in 1933, the year his widowed Mother remarried, but by December 1934 he was an Ordinary Seaman on the Battleship HMS Rodney and by July 1936 an Able Seaman on HMS Defiance. His advance was rapid and on 28 March 1940 he was rated Leading Seaman at HMS Badger, the HQ of the Flag Officer in charge at Harwich. HMS Badger was based at Parkstone Quay and by the end of 1940 when LS Triggs left to join
Hecla it serviced a destroyer flotilla, a submarine squadron and a Coastal Forces Motor Torpedo Boat base, and became the largest base for small craft in the United Kingdom.

He joined HMS Hecla on 28 December 1940 at John Brown's shipyard on the Clyde shortly before she was commissioned on the 6 January 1941 and took up her post as the destroyer depot ship for the convoy escort ships at Havelfjord in Iceland, in March. Hecla remained at Havefjord until March 1942 when the USS Vulcan replaced her as the depot ship for the Atlantic escorts and Hecla returned to the Clyde for a short refit before leaving to become the depot ship for the Far Eastern Fleet a
t Mombassa on the east coast of Africa. Hecla was rounding the Cape of Good Hope and crossing the Agulhas Banks when she detonated a mine and was severely damaged with 21 men killed and many more wounded. LS Triggs was the most senior of the six Petty Officers and ratings awarded the BEM for their bravery in rescuing the survivors and helping save their ship. Hecla limped  back to the South African naval port of Simons Town where she spent five months under repair. This was a good time for the men in Hecla who enjoyed the sunshine, fresh food  and hospitality of South Africans who welcomed them into their homes as guests on "uphomers".

David Triggs, the grandson of William Triggs younger brother, George Alexander Triggs, told me about William Triggs two years ago and got back in touch on 21 October 2021, on the eve of this year's 79th anniversary of the sinking of HMS Hecla  to send me his Great Uncle's service certificate and tell me all he knew about the life - and death - of William Joseph Triggs. The photograph below is the only one he has of his Great Uncle William and he would be delighted to hear from the families of men who served with Chief Petty Officer Triggs.  David has written his own personal account of his Great Uncle's service aboard HMS Hecla.

From Orphan Boy to Chief Petty Officer

 Liverpool Seaman's Orphanage
The Liverpool Seamen's Orphan Institute overlooks an angling lake in Newsham Park

"Chief Petty Officer William Joseph Triggs, D/JX138571, was awarded the British Empire Medal (Military Division) for ‘outstanding bravery’ on HMS Hecla – but, tragically, his young life was cut short before he could collect the honour in person. 

Liverpool-born William was among the 273 men ‘missing or presumed killed’ when the Hecla was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Morocco in the early hours of November 11, 1942. He was just a few weeks away from his 26th birthday and was approaching a decade’s service in the Royal Navy.

Just six months earlier, on May 15, 1942, William and five other ‘ratings’ had distinguished themselves when the Hecla suffered extensive damage after striking a mine, off the coast of South Africa. Twenty-one men were killed, but many more were saved, and numerous cases of individual heroism were observed as the crew worked through the night to rescue survivors in difficult and dangerous conditions (the ailing depot ship was loaded with torpedoes, depth charges and other ammunition).

William and five others were praised by Captain Law in Appendix 1 of his Report of Proceedings (ADM 199/802) for ‘outstanding bravery, complete disregard of their own safety, untiring energy with repair and rescue work and first aid throughout the night’. The badly damaged Hecla was able to limp into the naval port of Simonstown, where she spent several months under repair. 

The award of the British Empire Medal to William was announced in the London Gazette on January 12, 1943 – exactly two months after Hecla’s sinking. Of the six awarded the BEM for their bravery in May 1942, only three survived the torpedo attack of November 1942.

William was born on December 18, 1916, and his hometown was Bootle, a stone’s throw away from Liverpool’s bustling docks and the River Mersey. His father, Reginald Triggs was a merchant seaman who died at sea in 1918, when William was just two years old and his younger brother, George, a couple of months old. The two boys were placed into the Liverpool Seamen’s Orphan Institute in Newsham Park, an imposing Grade II listed building which still stands to this day, and would have shared a close bond throughout their childhoods. 

William was a hairdresser by trade before joining the Navy as a boy sailor in February 1933 aged 16, when he was sent to HMS Ganges for training. He served on board HMS Hecla from December 1940, throughout 1941 when she was based in Iceland and operated as mother ship for the destroyers escorting the Atlantic convoys which brought vital supplies into Britain.

William’s death meant it was left to his mother, Harriet Jones, who had remarried in 1933, to collect his BEM at Buckingham Palace on October 26, 1943. Meanwhile, William’s younger brother George was serving with the Royal Army Ordnance Corps and REME through the war, seeing action in Persia, North Africa and Italy. Following the war, George married and settled in Chester. His family still live locally. 

William’s BEM and other medals were effectively lost for many years, having never been in the possession of the Triggs family. In recent years, after some ‘detective work’ online, it emerged that they had been donated to the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth.

The name of ‘Triggs WJ, BEM’ is one of the many thousand listed on the Plymouth Naval Memorial in Devon."

David Joseph Triggs Press Cutting from Liverpool Ech0
From the Liverpool Echo
Click image to enlarge
Ornamental display of the portrait of William Joseph Triggs
This is the only photograph David Triggs and his sister have of their Great Uncle William Joseph Triggs

In the circumstances it was perhaps inevitable that the families drifted apart when William and George's Mother remarried and started a new family. David Triggs has never seen his Great Uncle's medal set but has established that it was donated to the National Museum of the Royal Navy at Portsmouth and I am hoping they will supply a photograph of his BEM for this website where it can be seen by the families of the shipmates he rescued when Hecla was torpedoed as well as his brother's family. William never married and left no children.

London Gazette, award of BEM to ix PO and ratings after Hecla detonated a mine

British Empire Medal (Military)
As the most senior man CPO William Joseph Trigg appears at the top of the list of men awarded the British Empire Medal (BEM) in The London Gazette

I hope to create entries for all these men on this website and link to  them from their names below.
Do get in touch if a member of your family is
on this list.

Acting Petty Officer Henry Phuler Holcombe D/J.18244 MPK

Chief Stoker Rex Webber, D/K.57075 MPK

Engine Room Artificer 1st Class Edwin Charles Hingston, D/M.18951

Leading Steward John Cook, D/LX.21781

Able Seaman Ronald Josiah Harris, D/JX.188003

AB James Coulton: "My best friend aboard Hecla was Ron Harris (JX188003) who got the BEM, lived in Neath, South Wales. Great character, good at sport, all sports."

Stoker 1st Class Leslie William Turner KX97149 MPK

Lesley Smith in Brentford mailed her only photograph of:

"Leslie William Turner,  Stoker 1st Class  age 23. The uncle I never knew, a much loved son and brother who lost his life on HMS Hecla".

Leslie was the oldest son of a large family of five brothers and two sisters, the children of George Ernest Turner and his wife Daisy from Essex. Lesley Smith was given his name and is his closest living relative apart from his sister, her "Aunty Peggy", who was a young girl when her brother joined the Navy.  Leslie Turner bore a striking resemblance to his father, who was badly injured while serving in the Essex Regiment in the Middle East during the Great War. Lesley Smith's father, Dale (known as "Jasper") Ivor Turner, the second son born in 1926, failed his entrance  exam for the Navy and went into the army.

Leslie Turner was one of 190 stokers aboard HMS Hecla.
He survived the mining of Hecla while rounding the Cape of Good Hope in May 1942 but died when she was torpedoed off the coast of North Africa on Armistice Day 1942.

Portrait of Stoker 1st Class Leslie W Turner

Leslie William Turner

Letter home from South Africa
Leslie Turner's last letter home to his Mother on 21 October 1942
Sent from south Africa three weeks before his  death

George Ernest Turner (1888-1939) in Army uniform
Sidney Ernest Turner in the uniform of the Essex Regiment
He was 57 years old when he died on Christmas Eve 1939

Leslie William Turner's Service Certificate is not on the website of the National Archives and, puzzlingly, he appears not to have an entry  on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site. I have been sent copies of two poignant last letters from South Africa before Hecla left on her fatal voyage which ended with his death off the coast of North Africa on 12 November 1942 and three formal letters to his Mother after he was reported missing. Leslie Turner's father, Sidney Ernest Turner had died aged 57 on Christmas Eve 1939 leavng his Mother a widow; she had now lost one of her five sons and the next two in age were serving in  the Army and the Navy. Roy Turner, a stepson, George's son by his first marriage, served in the RAF.

The bureaucracy of death
click on the images to view full size
in separate windows

Letter from  Commodore, RN Chrtham, conforning death of Leslie William Turner, Stoker
"Missing on War Service"
The first news on 5 December 1942 from Commodore RN Barracks Chatham

Admiralty Letter
"it has become necessary to presume the death of your son"
Confirmed by the Commodore on 15 July 1943
Admiraty letterr on loss of Leslie Wm Turner, Stoker
Letter from Inspector of Seamen's Wills
From the Admiralty, Bath, on 27 July 1943

Chief Stoker Rex Webber BEM, D/K.57075 MPK

Rex Webber, Chief Stoker,  HMS Hecla, 11942Rex Webber was born at Plymouth on 24 November 1901, the son of Francis Henry and Annie Webber. His occupation was given as "Farm Labourer" on his Service Certificate when he "signed on" for 12 years on 24 November 1919. By March 1929 he was an Acting Stoker Petty Officer (SPO) in the Cruiser HMS Emerald on the East Indies Station.

Rex Webber was nearing the end of his second long service engagement and approaching pensionable age when he joined HMS Hecla on the Clyde in August 1940 as Chief Stoker before she was commissioned. He was one of three Chief Stokers in charge of the 190 stokers on HMS Hecla when she was torpedoed. The names of all the stokers are recorded on the crew list. Their rates range from Chief Stoker to Petty Officer Stoker, Leading Stoker and Stoker 1st Class to Stoker 2nd Class but there were also Acting and Temporary Acting rates. The most common rate was Stoker 1st Class. There were only eleven Leading Stokers but if one includes to the Acting and Temporary Acting Leading Stokers there were thirty-one. He would have  felt a personal  responsibiliity for his men and those injured and trapped below decks when Hecla detonted the mine rounding the Cape in May 1942 and many of them were stokers. Only two of the stokers, Norman Johns and  Charles Brearley, have left personal accounts of the loss of the ship and how they were saved but we have brief accounts of the lives of Petty Officer Stoker Henry McAulay and Leading Stoker A.R. Cripwell

The family believe that "when the ship was hit he had managed to escape but then on hearing the captain was still onboard went back and tragically went down with the ship". The photograph was provided by his great niece, Angela Watson. Rex Webber was forty years old at the time of his death and married to Dorothy Laura Webber, of Plympton, Devon, who with his sister Gladys Allred (nee Webber) collected his BEM from Buckingham Palace on October 26, 1943.

Seven men were awarded the British Empire Medal for their bravery when HMS Hecla detonated a mine and nearly sunk six months before her loss but Rex Webber was the only stoker.

His name is recorded on the Plymouth Naval Memorial.

Go to Part One (A - L) to continue browsing the life stories of the men in Hecla on 11 - 12 November 1942
Or return to the index of names at the top of Part 1

Remembering HMS Hecla
on the 50th and 75th anniversaries of her loss

Return to the "Home Page" for HMS Hecla
to find out more about its history and the stories of other survivors
Return to the Crew List for HMS Hecla

Back cover of A HARD FOUGHT SHIP (2017)

A Hard Fought Ship contains the most detailed account of the loss of HMS Hecla yet published
  Buy the new hardback edition online for 35 post free in the UK
Take a look at the Contents Page and List of Illustrations

Contribute your family's anecdotes or photographs about HMS Hecla by contacting the publisher - see below - or posting on

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