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 of their experiences and Norman
Johns, the Secretary of the Association, put me in touch with others
who recalled their memories of that long night. Chapter 13 in A Hard Fought Ship
weaves together their stories with the facts given in the reports of
proceedings by the commanding officers of HMS Hecla, HMS Vindictive, HMS Venomous, HMS Marne and U-505 with the memories of the
officers and men of HMS Venomous which rescued most of the survivors.
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 ofA Hard Fought Shipin 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
THESE MEN'S STORIES ARE TOLD ON THIS WEBSITE Most of those rescued have "crossed the bar"
the stories of those who died that night were told by their families
Arthur G.G. ALEXANDER, Stoker 1st Class (KX144032)
Lt Cdr Henry Cerda Ryrie ALEXANDER RN, Navigating Officer
OD Reginald H. BISHOP (JX351192)
Arthur W BLOOR, Engine Room Mechanic 5th Class (MX92835)
Charles BRIERLEY, Stoker 1st Class (KX144032)
Frederick A BROWN, Engine Room Mechanic 5th Class (G/MX96013)
CPO Norman Reeves BROWN Sick Berth Attendant (M36509)
Arthur BULLOCK, Temp Leading Sick Berth Attendant (DX7639)
PO Robert Reid "Bob" CAMPBELL, Ship's writer (C/MX 64730)
AB Alan C. CHERRY (NZD3400)
Signalman Albert M CHILDS (JX132179)
PO Fredrick A. CHING (J109869)
Sidney Gregory CLARK, "Schoolie"
William L. H. CLAYTON Shipwright 4th Class, (MX51881)
AB Harry CLIFFE (JX204268)
Petty Officer Kenneth Charles COLLINGS SBA 9 (MX90246)
AB Harry CORNISH (JX304862)
AB James COULTON (JX190277)
Leading Stoker Arthur Robert "Jonah" CRIPWELL, (KX 88496)
George Douglas DELLER (MX68964) Temp Leading Stores Assistant
Edward ("Eddy") J. DIGGINESLeading Cook (MX52889)
Sydney Welbourne DRAKE Stoker 1st Class (KX104505)
Cecil FOLKHARD, ERA Photograph only
George J. FORTEY, Stoker 1st Class (KX144057)
William Thomas FOX, Stoker 1st Class (KX109360)
Ernest V "Fingers"FROWDE, Steward (SR307)
Lt Guy Henry GARRETT-COX RNVR Kenneth H.P. HALL, Electrical Artificer 4th Class (MX66236)
Cyril HARGREAVES, ERA Photograph only
Lt Surg Stephen L. HETHERINGTON RNVR
Petty Officer James HINCHLIFFE, Steward(LX26669)
Petty Officer Henry Phuler HOLCOMBE (J108244)
NormanHOLMES, Electrical Mechanic 5th Class (C/MX 89523)
OD Arthur L HORN(JX324071)
Maurice HUDSON, Sick Berth Attendant (MX80425)
Henry Norman Ernest JOHNS, Stoker 1st Class (KX138426)
AB Stanley Gordon JUSON (JX321148)
AB Samuel John KINGSLAN (D/JX.304861)
Eric James KITE Ordnance Artificer 4th class (P/MX55281)
Robert Alan LANCASTER, Acting Engine Room Artificer 4th Class (MX75372)
AB Frederick J. LEMBERG (NZD3486)
George E. MALE, Leading Sick Berth Attendant (MX62761)
Edward "Ted" John MAY, Telegrapher (SR 8184) PO Stoker HenryMcAULEY(K7498) AB DanielMcLOUGHLIN (JX212871) Edgar SteeleMcMINN, Stoker 1st Class (KX105564) Lt Herbert HastingsMcWILLIAMSSANF AB Terence MAHONEY (JX237247)
GeorgeMORRELL, Sick Berth Attendant (MX 58991) OD Leslie MORTIMER (P/JX 323724)
LSA Donald (Don) Albert PREECE, Leading Stores Assistant (MX64705)
Leslie W PROCTOR Electrical Artificer 4th Class (MX79979)
Brian W.C. SHAW, Leading Sick Berth Attendant (D/KX.64151)
CPO Jabez SKELHORNE ERA (SMX62)
Warren ElmoreSMITH, Telegrapher (SA330406)
Lt John STEAVENSON RNVR, Gunnery Officer
AB Charley STOCKER (J17615) Leading Stoker
Albert J THICK Leading Stoker (K57784)
LeslieTHOMSONOrdnance Mechanic 5th Class (MX90541)
Alfred M.TRETHEWEY Telegrapher (SSX26622) Photograph only
Petty Officer William J TRIGGS (BEM) JX138571
Thomas David Arthur WALDOCK, Stoker 1st Class (KX97148)
AB Fred W.J. WARDLE (JX237211)
AB Robert J. WHITE (JX321149)
Dennis WILLIAMS, Electrical Artificer 4th Class (MX92409) Photograph only
Fred “Slinger” WOODS, Dental LSBA (Leading Sick Berth Attendant) MX80116
If a member of your family is on the crew listdo get in touch to tell his story.
Reginald H Bishop JX351192 The last man standing?
lives with his wife in their home near Norwich and tells his story below.
"My 98 year old father, Reg Bishop, was a member of the crew on board HMS Hecla when she was torpedoed and he was one of the lucky ones picked up by HMSVenomous after a considerable time in the water." Tim Bishop
Reginald Howard Bishop was
born on Saturday 14th December 1922 in Cley, a small rural village on the North
Norfolk coast. He was the third of five children. During World War II
his mother, Charlotte, worked on the land and his father, Walter, a
cowman, worked for the Ministry of Works, road-building. On leaving school Reg worked on a poultry farm, then went into the
He enlisted in the Royal Navy on 14 February 1942 and did his naval training at HMS Ganges, Shotley and then was at Chatham, waiting to be drafted to the Middle East. He traveled on the Queen Elizabeth
troop ship to Port Said, Egypt where troops were dropped off before
turning back to Simon's Town, the main shorebase in South Africa where
he joined HMS Hecla on on 5 August 1942.
After the loss of Hecla he served as an AB onHMS Bonaventure,
a midget submarine depot ship based at Loch Striven in Scotland. In
December 1944 she was nominated for deployment as Depot Ship for the
14th Submarine Flotilla in SW Pacific. She embarked six XE Craft in
January 1945 and on 21 February 1945 took passage for Australia via
Panama. Her midget submarines sunk the Japanese cruiser Miyako
at Singapapore and severed Japanese signals cables off Saigon and Hong
Kong. Reg Bishop was released from the Navy in July 1946 after Bonaventure returned to the UK.
Reg Bishop lives with his wife in his own home a few
miles from his son, Tim Bishop, and enjoys talking about his wartime
service in the Navy on HMS Hecla and HMSBonaventure.
He is photographed on the left at Toumoville, Australia, in June 1945
and on the right at his home near Norwich in September 2017. He will be 99 on 14 December 2021.
Reg Bishop was drafted to HMS Heda
as an Ordinary Seaman but was made an Able Seaman on his next ship. He was a member of
the Crew for A Gun. He helped clean the gun and took care of the
ammunition and in action loaded the shells into the breach. One
of his pals was Able Seaman Jim Bell from Lincolnshire and another Able
Seaman Whitlock who was in the same mess. Reg also remembers fellow
Norfolk-man, Albert Barker, from Bacton in North Norfolk.
the night of 11th November 1942 very well. This is his story:
"I was asleep in my hammock before the torpedo hit Hecla.
I remember the ship shuddering and coming to a halt. This was because
the first torpedo hit in the boiler room and we lost all steam. I
immediately got dressed in overalls, a coat and life belt and action
stations sounded. I went up to A Gun in the pitch dark. Another torpedo
hit and we were listing but didn't sink. Then a third torpedo hit and
we got the order to abandon ship. We all went to the Abandon Ship
Stations first, on the upper deck. My pal, Albert Barker, had been
sleeping on the upper deck when we got hit. He was wearing just his
underwear and the water had come over the side and soaked him. I
remember taking my coat off and giving it to him. I never saw him again.
I remember everything was calm, no panic, and I slid down into the
water from the starboard side on a length of rope. I was alongside the ship and remember
swimming to get away from it. I had my inflated life belt on and those
without them perished. We were then hit by two more torpedoes which hit
the opposite (port) side of Hecla. I just wanted to get away from the ship before she went down. It was pitch black and difficult to see anything. While we were in the water HMS Venomous and HMS Marne were dropping depth chargers. When they went off, it felt like being kicked in the stomach. The Marne
stopped to pick up survivors and was hit in the stern by a torpedo but
she didn't sink. We heard a voice through a loudhailer from HMS Venomous telling us they would pick us up in daylight. Some in the water tried to get aboard HMS Marne but I didn't attempt it in case she went down. I was desperate to get away from both ships and managed to do so.
Although I couldn't see much in the darkness, I was in the water
surrounded by other sailors. Within a short while of getting clear of Hecla and Marne,
I managed to grab hold of a Carley Float. It was so full of men that it
was beneath the surface with only their heads above the water. I had to
sit straddling the edge. Another Carley Float appeared which was
less full, lots of men moved onto it from the one I was on. I remained
where I was. One of my vivid memories was hearing a single voice loudly sing out
of the darkness 'There'll always be an England ......'; others
joined in with the singing and I joined in too. I don't recall any
or fear that night, just waiting to be picked up and dozing every now
and then. The water was warmer than the air and since most of us were
fairly well submersed, we weren't, as you might think, suffering too
from the cold. We had no food, but I do remember
there were water containers in the bottom of the Float. When daylight
came we could see the bodies of those who
hadn't survived floating in the water.
Aircraft were sent from Gibraltar to spot the Carley Floats and
survivors and direct the destroyers to pick us up. I seem to
recall being picked up by HMS Venomous
at around 4pm the next afternoon, having been in the water for around
16 hours. They lowered a scrambling net and we climbed up onto the ship. We were all given a tot of rum and a cup
of tea, and asked for our name and service number. Venomous
hadn't enough oil to get to Gibraltar so we went into Casablanca alongside
an American cruiser for fuel. We were taken on board the cruiser, took off our wet clothes, had a shower and the American
servicemen gave us all a pair of jeans and a denim shirt - this was
their working uniform. That was the first time I had seen a pair
of jeans and the first pair I ever owned!
We transferred back to HMS Venomous and went into Gibraltar where an empty troop ship, Reno del Pacifico,
brought us back to the UK to Scotland. I learned some years after the
war that this troop ship had caught fire and sunk in the Mediterranean!
Once in Scotland we returned to barracks where we were given a uniform
and sent on 14 days' home leave at home, known as Survivor's leave. All
was a full uniform, a life belt and a pair of American jeans and a
shirt. Everything else I had went down with Hecla.
When I got home my parents told me that they had received a telegram the day after HMS Hecla
went down, telling them I had survived. They also said they received a
letter from the parents of my pal, Albert Barker from
Norfolk, who I had given my coat to when we got torpedoed. They had
been told that their son was missing and wanted to know if I could tell
them what had
happened to him. All I could do was tell my story of him getting
soaking wet and giving my coat to him. I wished I could have told them
After the two weeks' Survivor's Leave I went down to Chatham to be drafted to HMS Bonaventure.
It was here that I met up again with my pal, Able Seaman Whitlock. Up
until that point I had no idea whether he had survived the sinking of Hecla or not. We were both drafted to Bonaventure and I worked in the gunners bay.
The Bonaventure was a midget submarine depot ship based at Loch Striven in Scotland. We damaged a German battleship, Tirpitz,
she couldn't get her guns to bear on target, but she didn't sink. The X
Craft were towed by large submarines to Kåfjord in Norway, where they
could slip under anti-torpedo nets to each drop two powerful 2 tonne
mines on the sea bed under the target. Operation Source took place on the 20–25 September 1943. Tirpitz was out of action for six months. In December 1944 she was
nominated for deployment as Depot Ship for the 14th Submarine Flotilla
in the SW Pacific. She embarked six XE Craft in January 1945 and on
21st February 1945 took passage for Australia via the West Indies and
the Panama Canal. I can't remember if we disembarked at Australia but do remember that we went from Sydney
to an island just off Borneo. The midget subs were used to locate
communication cables on the seabed off Saigon and Hong Kong and cut
them to destroy Japanese communications. Bonaventure also sent subs to Singapore shortly before the war ended and damaged a Japanese cruiser, Miyako. We learned later that she sunk.
We went to Pearl Harbour to refuel at the naval base and I remember seeing
the superstructures of ships sticking out of the water. (I was lucky enough to re-visit Pearl
Harbour with my wife, Diane, about seven years ago and that brought
back some memories of the war).
I was de-mobbed in July 1946 after Bonaventure returned to the UK. We returned to the UK on an aircraft carrier, HMS Reaper,
stopping at Singapore, Ceylon and Aden, up the Red Sea and via the Suez
Canal to Malta and back to Britain where we disembarked in Scotland."
the war, Reg took a factory course at Letchworth in Hertfordshire to
learn the painting and decorating trade, and it was here that he met
his first wife, Peggy, who also came from Norfolk - she was working in
the canteen. They fell in love and married within a year, initially
living in Blakeney in North Norfolk before moving inland to Cawston
near Norwich. They had two daughters, Anita and Maureen (now deceased),
and a son Tim. Peggy died in 1976 at the age of 46 and Reg remarried in
1982 and still lives in his own home at Cawston with his second wife,
Reg worked as a painter and
decorator until retirement when he worked for his son in the family
garage business until the age of 85. He remains in reasonably good
health at the age of 94, and has a very active mind, still doing
crosswords and puzzles, and going out socially three times a week. He
has 3 children, 8 grandchildren, 14 great grandchildren, 2 great-great
grandchildren, 2 step-daughters, 5 step-grandchildren and 4 step-great
Les Mortimer was
born in Birmingham but lives in Melbourne, Australia, and and his
grand daughter mailed me some time ago that: "Pa is in a nursing home
now. He had a rough year and was very ill. He has recovered and is now
cheeky as ever. Pa is not remembering people and events as much now." I
have not heard from his family for some time but am hoping Les is till
alive. Two years ago I was contacted by
a great nephew of Charley Stocker, the elderly AB who who helped save
the life of Les Mortimer only to loose his own when he became trapped
in the scrambling net as Venomous accelerated away to follow an Asdic contact for the U-Boat which sank Hecla.
by publishing these stories I hope to keep alive the memory of
The men who died on Armistice Day in 1942when HMS Hecla sunk
Arthur W Bloor, Engine Room Mechanic 5th Class (MX92835)
Arthur Bloor was 96 years of age when
I was contacted by his grandson and it was very disappointing that he
died in October 2018 before he
could tell his own story but I am hoping that his family will help me
tell it for him on this web page.
Frederick A Brown G/MX96013, Engine Room Mechanic 5th Class
"My grandparents, who we bought the book for, are thoroughly enjoying reading this edition. My Nan had an Uncle on HMS Hecla
in 1942, he was an Engine Room Artificer - Mr Frederick Alexander
Brown, D.O.B. 18/03/1912, born in Tidal Basin, London. Would you happen
to have any more information regarding him?" Jacob Pollard
His name appears on the list of those who died but can anybody provide a photograph or further information about his life?
PO Robert Reid "Bob" Campbell, Ship's writer (C/MX 64730)
The capital ships of the Royal Navy, the cruisers and battleships, and other large ships including HMS Hecla,
a 12,000 ton Destroyer Depot Ship with a crew of 850, were
self-accounting. The ship's Writers were responsible for keeping the
Pay and Victualing Ledgers for the ship and the Service Certificates
for the men. Officers' Records were kept by the Admiralty - not on board. To reduce the possibility of fraud in the
victualing account John C.H.Harber, Master at Arms (responsible for
discipline), reported the numbers on board on victualing and check
sheets. These recorded the names of men joining and leaving the ship,
going on leave, returning from leave, changing messes, becoming
entitled to a tot and anything that could effect the numbers being fed
on a particular day. They were enclosures to the Pay Ledger and the
victualing account. The writers and indeed all the supply staff,
cooks, stewards, Stores Assistants would have 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.In
smaller ships up to and including destroyers the master copy of
ledgers and service certificates were held by the "depot" at the naval
These ledgers and service
certificates are the key to telling the story of men
who served in the Royal Navy but when a self-accounting ship like HMS Hecla
was sunk they were usually lost. The accounting period for the ledgers
were 120 days, three ledgers per year, and the preceding ledger could
be used to to produce a replacement ledger and lost service
certificates could be reconstructed by reference to ledgers for ships
in which a man had served previously. All the surviving Pay and
Victualing Ledgers and the Service Certificates for men born less than
a hundred years ago are held by the Navy Records Office
of Restore Records Management at Swadlincote, South Derbyshire. They
have a contract from the Ministry of Defence to supply copies of
service certificates to the next of kin of officers and men.
When the original no longer exists they can be reconstructed from the
ledgers for the ships in which the man served. It will readily be
appreciated that these may contain errors or gaps but, strangely, the
ledgers may also contain details of ships not listed on the original
service certificate, especially when a man is only briefly aboard while
"taking passage" to join a new ship. Bob
Campbell's reconstructed Service Certificate is a case study in the kind of
errors which can arise and how the ledgers can provide an explanation.
Robert Reid Campbell, known as Bob, was born in the Station House,
Upper Port Glasgow, on the the Greenock and Ayrshire Railway line, 15
miles west of Glasgow on the 5 November, Guy Fawkes Night,
1919. His father, the station master, was presented with an inscribed gold Omega watch by
the British Rail Scottish Region on retirement after 45 years service
which his son inherited.
After enlisting in the Navy in March 1940 he was sent to HMS Royal Arthur,
the former Butlins holiday camp at Skegness requisitioned by the
Admiralty for training Hotilities Only (HO) ratings. Unusually, he was already listed on his Service Certificate as a Writer which suggested that he had a good basic education. After the five week training course he was sent to HMS Pembroke,
the shore base at Chatham on the Medway, to await a draft to his first
ship. At a quick glance
it would appear that Bob Campbell joined the Revenge Class Battleship, HMS Royal Sovereign,
in the Mediterranean on 19 April 1940 but if one takes a closer look
one can see beneath the name of Royal Sovereign the name of HMS Royal Arthur.
I am grateful to Sue Pass, Head of the Navy Records Office of Records
Records Management, for spotting this and checking the Ledgers for HMS Royal Sovereign and HMS Royal Arthur. There is no mention of Robert R Campbell in the Ledgers for Royal Sovereign but he appears in successive ledgers for HMS Royal Arthur between April 1940 and March 1942.
It seems quite strange that somebody could confuse a shore base for a
Battleship despite both ships names beginning with Royal. I was at
first reluctant to accept that this was an error until Neil Campbell,
the son of Robert Campbell sent me the photograph of the
football team with Writer Bob Campbell in the middle row. The name of the team was not given but most
unusually the names of all the players along with their nicknames and
ranks were given on the reverse. They were all writers and two of them,
Paymaster Lt O'Leary and Warrant Writer Miles were officers. It
was easy to look them up in the Naval List for the fourth quarter of
December 1940 where they were listed as being at HMS Royal Arthur.
Paymaster Lieutenant John Francis O'Leary (seniority 20/07/39) joined
Royal Arthur 18/01/40 and Warrant Writer J E Miles joined Royal Arthur
I was puzzled that there were so many writers at HMS Royal Arthur but Colin Hughes, the President of the Royal Naval Writers Association
(founded in 1887 and the oldest military association in the world) pointed
out that each week a new group of HO ratings were sent to Royal Arthur
for basic training and a large "team" of Writers would be needed to
create their Service Certificates and enter them on the ledgers for pay
purposes. On this page alone there are photographs of the men attending
Class 205 and Class 230 at Royal Arthur in
1940. The senior officer in the photograph, Paymaster
Lieutenant John Francis O'Leary, was far from being the most senior
Paymaster at HMS Royal Arthur:
Paymaster Captain Rainer
Paymaster Commander Miller
Paymaster Lieutenants O'Leary and Stephenson
Colin Hughes commented: "Can't tell you what they all did but the navy was always top heavy".
All the members of the football team and the men in uniform in this photographs were Writers at HMS Royal Arthur Click the image to view full size and get in touch if you recognise any of the men in this photograph Courtesy of Niel Campbell
By the 7th May 1941 Bob Campbell was a Leading Writer and was promoted to Petty Officer on 1 January 1942. He left Royal Arthur on 25 March 1942 and returned to HMS Pembroke at Chatham on the River Medway and on the 9th April was drafted to HMS Hecla on the Clyde shortly before she left to join the Far Eastern Fleet at Mombassa via South Africa. Hecla detonated a mineafter rounding the Cape while
crossing the Agulhas Bank with the death of 21 men including Joseph Williams, Writer (D/MX 71097), a friend of Fred "Slinger" Woods, and Leading
Writer Cyril R Barker (P/MX 81462) whose body was not recovered. Hecla was able to make
her own way to Simon's Town, the South African naval base in False Bay
on the eastern side of the Cape of Good Hope, where she spent six
months under repair. The only photograph we have of Hecla in the Selborne Graving Dock at Simon's Town (below left) was taken by Bob Campbell.
Bob Campbell also got to know "Just Nuisance" and took the photograph of him on HMS Hecla with some of his shipmates (right) and wrote in pencil on the reverse:
the deck in dry dock at Simonstown Able Seaman Nuisance, the only
canine AB in the Navy. This bull mastiff [wrong, he was, of course, a Great Dane] was going to be destroyed
because it was creating a nuisance in the trains between Simons Town
and Cape Town. He had been a great friend of the sailors, very often he
would lead drunken matelots back to their ships and he would do anything
a matelot told him. Strictly a lower deck dog he only on very rare
occasions condescended to associate with officers. When the Navy heard
he was going to be done away with they raised such a howl."
This was a happy time for the ship's Complement of HMS Hecla. They were welcomed into the homes of hospitable South African families and those who survived the sinking of Hecla
in November kept in touch with their hosts for years to come while
those who died enjoyed these last few months of peace and sunshine in South
Africa and their hosts exchanged letters with their parents and wives back home.
During these six months while HMS Hecla was under repair at Simon's Town fifty communications staff left the ship and took passage to HMS Tana, the shore base at Mombassa for the Eastern Fleet, where they were urgently needed by Admiral Somerville. When Hecla was torpedoed off the coast of North Africa on 11 November their families received telegrams reporting them all missing.
According to his Service Certificate Bob Campbell left Hecla at Simon's Town on 10 June and transferred to HMS Tana the following day but the name of HMS Hecla was later inserted above that of Tana with the date of her loss on 11 November and "Op Torch" added in brackets. Was he aboard Hecla when she was torpedoed off the coast of North Africa or at HMS Tana in Mombassa where he remained until 16 November 1944?
The evidence for him being aboard Hecla
when she was torpedoed is compelling. His parents received a telegraph
on 4 December reporting him missing and the following day this
letter from RN Barracks Chatham. This must have come as a terrible shock.
In latter life he described vivid
memories of events of that night to his son Neil Campbell who was born
after the war including this touching story about a shipmate:
"He was swimming with a friend, who
went overboard with a prized possession, a fiddle/violin. Because he
refused to let go of it could not hold on to the Venomous 's scrambling net hung over the side so he was lost."
Why should there be any doubt that he was aboard HMS Hecla?
I was puzzled that her loss was inserted on his replacement service
certificate at a later date. I also knew that the names of the men
rescued by Venomous were recorded by Hecla's
Master of Arms, Johnny Harber, M39787, within hours of their rescue and
this list of survivors was transmitted to the Admiralty so that their
families would not be notified that they were missing.
HMS Venomous entered the
harbour at Casablanca in the early hours of 13 November. The survivors
crowding her decks were taken aboard the heavy Cruiser, USS Augusta, given a shower, USN uniform and a late breakfast. They slept aboard an American carrier, the USS Chenango, and left for Gibraltar on Venomous early on Saturday 14 November. Most of the survivors returned to Britain on the Reina del Pacifico,
an elderly passenger liner requisitioned as a troop carrier which had
landed the troops on the beaches at Algiers during Operation Torch. On
arrival back in Britain the survivors returned to their home port and
were then sent home for two weeks survivors leave. All the survivors
would have been home with their families before the end of November.
It would seem unlikely that the families of any of the survivors would
have been sent telegrams reporting them missing but they might well
have been sent to the families of men aboard Hecla
on the voyage south who left during the six months she was under repair
at Simon's Town as in the case of the fifty communications staff
Bob Campbell's name was not on the list of the ship's complement of HMS Hecla
on the day of her loss which I obtained from the Naval Records Office
in March 2014 and I asked Sue Pass to check if this was a mistake. She
confirmed that he was not recorded as being aboard Hecla but was mentioned as taking passage from Simon's Town to HMS Tana in the destroyer HMS Mauritius. He also spent time in HMS Adamant, a Submarine Depot Ship. If this is indeed the case then the vivid stories told by Bob Campbell to his young son were
likely to have been second hand stories told to Bob by his former shipmates.
These are the names of the seven writers extracted from the ledgers by the Naval Records Office who were aboard HMS Hecla on the 12 November 1942:
Warrant Writer Robert Hutchison MPK Chief Petty Officer Writer Reginald A. Dent ( MX48824) MPK Temporary Petty Officer Writer Frank K. Cowley ( MX63531) Temporary Petty Officer Writer Granville A. G. Storey (DX84) MPK
Temporary Petty Officer Writer Colin D. Symes (MX56428) MPK
Writer George H. Read (MX86627)
Writer Cecil E. Ryder, Cecil E (SA330441)
Four of the seven including the
Warrant Officer and the CPO were killed. Writer Cecil Ryder was
one of twelve members of the South African Naval Force (SANF) who
joined Hecla at Simon's Town in October. Petty Officer Campbell was fortunate to have left his first ship at Simon's Town and to be at HMS Tana in Mombassa when HMS Hecla was sunk and 273 men lost their lives.
A final comment from Sue Pass, Head of the Naval Record Office "As we often say in the department Navy is not navy it’s often grey due to the complicated way it is record wise".
Signalman Albert M Childs JX132179
Albert Mark Childs was born at West Bromwich on 19 May 1912 and
was a 16 year old errand boy when he joined the Navy as a Boy Sailor on
23rd August 1928. After Ganges he joined HMS Malaya as a Boy Signalman (on left) and served on HMS Vivid, Carlisle, Cardiff, Leander, Eagle and Adventure during the 1930s. He was only 5ft 3 inches
in height but was a champion boxer, Middle Weight Champion of the Mediterranean Fleet.He married Ellen Saunders in 1939 and the photograph on the right was probably taken about then.
At the outbreak of war in September 1939 he was a Signalman on HMS Bramble, a newly commissioned Halcyon Class minesweeper, and joined HMS Hecla on the 15 December 1940 before she was commissioned. By the time Hecla
left the Clyde for Havelfjord, Iceland, as destroyer dept ship for the
Atlantic escorts he was a Leading Signalman.
In September 1941 USS Vulcan joined Hecla at Havelfjord as depot ship and in early 1942 Hecla
returned to the Clyde for a refit before proceeding to Mombassa via the
Cape as depot ship for the Far Eastern Fleet in the Indian Ocean. His
wife Ellen was living with her parents in Birmingham and in February she took their
daughter Jean, born on the 1st August 1941, to see her father for the
first time. She stayed at digs in Glasgow and Albert swopped
watches with another Signalman to spend the night ashore with her.
Hecla left Greenock on the 15 April 1942 but never reached
Mombassa. After detonating a mine crossing the Aghulas Bank on the 15
May she limped into the South African naval base at Simon's Town
where she was under repair until late October. For Albert Childs and
many of his shipmates this was a happy time. On one occasion after a
night on the town Albert needed to be helped back to his ship by some
new friends. They put him aboard the wrong ship and on sleeping if off
he found himself on a charge. He wrote to his own family in Birmingham from Mess 44 HMS Hecla GPO
many of his shipmates he was welcomed into their homes by hospitable
South Africans. Albert was a guest of the Baines family in Cape Town.
His daughter, Jean Beech, does not know exactly how her father met his death when Hecla was torpedoed but she met one of his fellow signalman, Tom Colclough from Wirral on Merseyside, at a reunion of the Hecla, Marne and Venomous
Association in Solihull. He saw Jean's father on the bridge and was
told he got away from the ship but was wearing a heavy watch coat that
may have made it difficult to swim. He never saw him again.
The Baines family in Cape Town kept in touch with Jean's Mother after
Albert's death and sent her food parcels and a stuffed Koala bear for
Jean. She married and had five children and had her father been
alive today he would have had seventeen great grand children. Joseph Corcoran KX130246, Stoker 1st Class
Joseph Corcoran's lungs were damaged by the blast of the mine exploding as Hecla crossed the Aghulhas Bank on 15 May 1942 but he rejoined his ship once he recovered from his injury in Simons Town Hospital and survived when Hecla
was torpedoed on the night of 11 - 12 November. I am hoping that Alan
Foy, his Grandson, will share his memories of his grandfather with the
famiies of his shipmates by publishing them on this website. Get in
touch if you read this, Alan, by the e-mail address at the foot of this page. AB James Coulton JX190277
Jim Coulton joined Hecla
when she was first commissioned and was aboard at Havelfjord when
Churchill came aboard and a captured German U-Boat berthed alongside Hecla and Jim Coulton went aboard.He was a Communications rating on the bridge of Hecla when the frst torpedo struck. "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." Many years later Jim Coulton revisited Gibraltar
where he convalesced in hospital and was interviewed by the Gibraltar Chronicle:
“Jim Coulton remembers being in the water, covered in oil fuel as several of Marne’s
pre-fused depth charges exploded around him as they tumbled off the
stricken ship. In all, he spent nearly twelve hours clinging to other
men who were themselves hanging on to a life-raft. When daylight came,
the Hecla had sunk; the Marne was badly damaged but she was still afloat. In all 279 of Hecla’s crew went down with the ship and 568 men were rescued.
‘I’d just about had it when I was dragged on to HMS Venomous,’
says Jim who has no memory of being brought into Gibraltar and admitted
into a hospital, probably the newly-opened Monkey’s Cave Convalescent
As reported in the Gibraltar Chronicle
George Douglas Deller (MX68964) Temporary Leading Stores Assistant
I was contacted by Alec Edward Deller, the son of Edward Norman
Deller, the youngest brother of George Douglas Deller. George Deller
was born at Hounslow, north London, in 1916. He had three brothers and
a sister and was unmarried when he joined HMS Hecla as a Leading Supplies Assistant. He was one of four members of the team who died when Hecla sank on Armistice Day 1942.His nephew told me that George had just changed watch when the first torpedo struck. One of his shipmates on Hecla
visited his Mother but Alec did not know his name or any details of how
he lost his life. Perhaps the family of other survivors can help? In
this photograph from the album of Don Preece, one of those who died,
Deller's name is incorrectly given as Weller.
Edward ("Eddy") J. Diggines Leading Cook (MX52889)
father, Edward John Diggines, was born on 14 March 1918 in Christow, a
little village on the edge of Dartmoor not far from Exeter and Newton Abbot. He left school at 14
and worked for his father who was the village baker.
He enlisted in the
Royal Navy for 12 years on 15 June 1936. He wanted to join as a stoker but had to be
a cook instead. He had the good fortune to be posted to HMS Eagle
commanded by Capt Clement Moody RN when she was part of the Far Eastern
Fleet and these splendid photographs are from the family album. The
aircraft is a Fairey Swordfish Torpedo Bomber. Eddy Diggines left the Eagle at Hong Kong in August 1939 when her crew changed and she went to Singapore for a short refit. HMS Eagle was torpedoed and sank during Operation Pedestal to relieve Malta in 1942 and her CO and crew were transferred to HMS Venomous after rescue and taken to Gibraltar.
father joined HMS Hecla as a Leading Cook on 20
December 1940 before she was commissioned. I think he was in the sick bay when the ship was
torpedoed and that's how he met the Sick Berth Attendant, George Morrell. They were in the water together and while on survivors' leave George took my father
to his family home in Newton Abbot where he met George's
sister Tilly, his future wife, my Mother.
HMS Hecla on the Clyde after commissioning in March 1941
Courtesy of Ann Mundy, daughter of Eddy Diggines
Eddy Diggines appears to be wearing a US Army uniform in the photograph
below and the family believe it was taken after his rescue when Hecla
sank. The telegram must have been sent after he met George Morrell's
sister while on survivor's leave but before they married as her name is
given as Morrell
and it is addressed to her parents house in Newton Abbott. They married
From July 1943 to April 1945 he was a PO Cook on the destroyer depot ship, HMS Philoctetes,
based at Freetown on the west coast of Africa. Rather surprisingly
Philoctetes was named after a hero of Greek mythology the subject of a
play by Sophocles. His next ship was HMS Alaunia,
a Cunard Liner requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted into an
Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC) which had been converted to a repair ship by the time Eddy Diggines joined her in September 1945 (see photograph below). This was the third destroyer depot / repair ship in which he served.
Brass ashtray made from a shell case, marked on base as Lot No 214 1943 Photographed by Lucy Mundy, grand daughter of Eddie Diggines, PO Cook on the destroyer depot ship, HMS Philoctetes
HMS Alaunia, the former Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC) in which Eddy Diggines served after her conversion to a repair ship Courtesy of his daughter, Ann Mundy
He remained in the Navy after the war ended serving in HMS
Vanguard, Cockade, Illustrious and Ark Royal, his last
father left the Navy in 1958 after 22 years service, and became a
publican, first at The Phipps Arms, Westbury, in Wiltshire and then in 1964
he moved to The George Inn at Shrewton on Salisbury Plain. Together with
my mother they ran The George until they retired in December 1984.
his death he was in contact with Harry Cliffe who invited him to Hecla
reunions. He never went, but usually sent Harry a donation.
Bored with retirement in 1988 he went to work part time at a local
private school for dyslexic children, again in the kitchens! My
mother died in 1993 but Dad continued to work until January 2001 and he
passed away in March that year aged 82.
Sydney Welbourn Drake, Stoker 1st Class (KX104505) I was contacted in May 2020 by Martyn Brown whose 97 year old Mother had been a penfriend of Sydney Welbourn Drake when he was a 22 year old stoker in HMS Hecla and she was a teenager. Their long distant friendship ended when he was killed when Hecla
sank off the coast of North Africa on Remembrance Day 1942. She was a
school girl when they began writing to each other and they never met
but she never forgot him despite having married and raised a family.
All she had
to remember him by was his photograph (below left) and a small print of the photograph of Winston Churchill being saluted as he came aboard Hecla at Havelfjord in 1941.
In pencil written on the reverse it mentions his age, 22, and that he
was from Newark. He is recorded on the CWG Commission site as being the
son of Grace Gertrude Drake of Newark. his name is on the war memorial in Newark cemetery, Perhaps a member of his family
will see this brief
entry and can add a few more details about his short life?
Click on the photographs to view full size in a separate window
Multiple copies of the small photograph, shown here actual size in the centre column,
were printed on the reverse of post
cards and then cut in two for crew members to post home from Iceland to
loved ones - and pen friends. Sydney probably joined Hecla
when she was first commissioned and sent to Havelfjord as the destroyer
depot ship for Atlantic escorts but I would like to know more about him. William Thomas Fox, Stoker 1st Class (KX109360) There were 190 stokers aboard HMS Hecla when she was torpedoed.
William T Fox, Stoker 1st Class, was one of those who died but
his body was not recovered and he was listed as MPK (Missing Preumed
Killed) on the offiicial casualty list issued by the Admiralty.
Ernest V "Fingers" Frowde SR307, Steward
The Navy did not have a rig to fit "Fingers" Frowde when he was sent to HMS Royal Arthur
for basic training in February 1940 and he was photographed, second
from right in the back row, in “dog-robbers” - the Senior Service's
derisive name for "civvies" PO James Hinchcliffe attended Training Course 205 at HMS Prince Arthur a few months earlier and they served together as Stewards in HMS Hecla PO Ernest V Frowde (left) in the 1950s and Sub Lt E.V. Frowde on the right
"Fingers" Frowde joined HMS Hecla
soon after her launch on the Clyde and remained with her until she was
sunk. His only daughter, Pam Macgill, a tour guide in Plymouth, told his story
in a letter to me some years ago:
"My father Ernest
Vincent Frowde was
born 9 November 1918 in Plymouth, the eldest son of Sgt Benjamin Frowde
who was serving with the Metropolitan Police Force and based at Royal
William Victualing Yard, Stonehouse. He learned to play the piano as a
young boy and then progressed to the organ. He wanted to join the Royal
Marines’ Band but his father did not give him permission to do so.
On 26 Feb 1940 my father volunteered for the Royal Naval Special
Reserve and was given SR307 as his service number.
My father served in HMS Hecla
as a steward from 23 Dec 1940 until the day she was sunk on 12 Nov 1942. He was a
very tall man, over 6’ 2” and his musical ability came is useful playing the piano during runs ashore and he was
given the nickname “Fingers” Frowde. He played the “organ portable
small” at church services on board including a special service attended
by Winston Churchill when the latter visited Hecla while she was the destroyer depot ship st Havelfjord in Iceland.
My father was on board Hecla when,
after service off Iceland, the ship was ordered to proceed to Mombassa
on the east Coast of Africa, the new base for the Eastern Fleet. Hecla was mined on 15 May 1942 while crossing the Agulhas Bank after
rounding the Cape of Good Hope and was under repair at the South
African naval base of Simon's Town until October 1942.
"Fingers" Frowde survived the mining and during the six months Hecla
was under repair at the South African naval base of Simon's Town
enjoyed the hospitality shown to the officers and crew by South African
In each of the three photographs "Fingers" Frowde is easily identified by his height Courtesy of his daughter, Pat Magill
"She was on
passage to Gibraltar and the the invasion beaches at Algiers when she
was torpedoed on 11 Nov 1942. My father never spoke to me about this
but my mother told me he was thrown into the sea and had to hold on to
any piece of wood that he could find. He was in the water for 9 hours
and could hear the sailors around him calling for help, but there was
nothing that he could do. The sea was full of oil. Most of the
survivors were rescued by HMS Venomous but were issued with US Navy
uniform at Casablanca in Morooco. My father lost his spectacles when Hecla sank."
Back aboard HMS Hecla (left) and HMS Philoctetes,
the destroyer depot ship he joined at Freetown on the west coast of
Africa in July 1943; he was promoted to Leading Steward in September Hecla and her sister ship HMS Tyne were purpose built destroyer depot ships but Philoctetes was a former passenger liner built in 1922 and requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1940 for conversion into a depot ship Leading Cook, Eddy Diggines had also served on HMS Hecla and there may have been other former shipmates from Hecla on Philoctetes when it was the depot ship for the Freetown Escort Force
"My father was a survivor on two separate occasions during the war, so
he had a lot to reflect on."
After the war, there was a great deal of
unemployment and my father, who had married in 1945, was forced to join
the navy again. He enrolled at HMS Drake
2 June 1947 as an Acting Stores Assistant but rose to the rank of
Lieutenant, Royal Navy. He ended his career as a Supply Officer in 1966
and died later that year aged 47 at RNAS Yeovilton. The Admiralty
determined that his early death was the result of his experience during
the war and my mother was awarded a Naval War Widow’s Pension.
Strangely enough, my husband served in the most recent HMS Hecla
which was decommissioned in 2001. That ship was an Ocean-going
Survey Ship under the command of the Navy Hydrographer whose
headquarters are in Taunton."
Pamela E. Magill (née Frowde)
After survivor's leave he was drafted to HMS Dartmouth,
the Britannia Royal Navy College, which had moved from Dartmouth in
Devon to Bristol to escape the bombing and subsequently to Eaton Hall,
the country seat of the Duke of Westminster across the River Dee from
Chester. This pleasant interlude came to an end when he was sent to HMS Philoctetes, the depot ship for the Freetown Escort Force on the west coast of Africa. He left HMS Philoctetes in February 1945 after twenty months at Freetown and returned to HMS Drake in Plymouth before joining HMS Sansovino for three weeks in June. His last seagoing appointment was four months in HMS Silvio,
from July to August 1945. He was discharged on the 14 January
1946 but had recently married and with work hard to get he re-enlisted with a new service number (MX802614) on 2 June
Ernest Vincent "Fingers" Frowde (also known as "Lofty) remained in
the Royal Navy until his premature death from a heart attack in 1966 when he was still only
47. He was a Steward in Hecla but by the time of his death had been commissioned and was Lt Ernest V. Frowde, the Supply Officer, Victualing, at HMS Heron in Yeolviton.
The photograph was taken at HMS Heron
(RNAS Yeovilton) where Ernest (far right) is helping prepare the dough
for the Christmas pudding. His daughter Pam recalls how incensed he was
when nobody found the silver sixpence which in accordance with
tradition had been baked in the mix. Ernest was livid and put it down
to the chefs “stealing” the sixpences from the mix before it was cooked
– a typical “Jack jape”.
Pam Macgill (née Frowde) and her husband Bill, who served in a later HMS Hecla, a survey ship, helped me tell the story of her father
They married after his death and Bill never met his father in law
Kenneth Herbert Hall MX66236, Electrical Artificer 4th Class
Kenneth Hall was born a hundred years ago on 23 December 1919. He survived the sinking of HMS Hecla
and died aged 82 in 2001. He married and had a son, Adrian Reginald
Hall, who lives in New Zealand and a daughter Lorna Hall, and has
five Great Grandchildren. I am hoping his Grandson, Darren Timothy
O'Reilly, will tell me more about
his wartime service in HMS Hecla, his rescue and subsequent life. Petty Officer James Hinchliffe LX26669, Steward
"I have read the book which I found fascinating, particularly Chapter Thirteen which relates to HMS Hecla,
which my Father (James Hinchliffe, Petty Officer) served on at the time
of the incident and survived. A number of names stood out, H.N.A.
Richardson, who if my memory serves me correctly, became my Godfather
and Stephen. L. Hetherington whom I am named after. I was also
interested in the article written by Norman Johns, who together
with my Mother and Brother we met on a number of the anniversaries
which where held in Solihull. It was nice to meet many of Dad's
shipmates on these occasions, including Harry Cliffe and George Male. I
was sorry to hear of Norman's passing away, but pleased to hear of the
good work being done by his Nephew. We must visit them at some point to
reminisce as Dad also served with Norman on HMS Duff. Thank you once again for producing such a lovely book."
My father James (Jim) Hinchliffe was 24 when he joined the Royal Navy in January 1940 and was sent for training to HMS Royal Arthur, a former Butlins holiday camp near Skegness. He joined HMS Hecla as Steward and saw service in Iceland where Sir Winston Churchill went aboard the Hecla in 1941. When Hecla was torpedoed off North Africa he spent 12 hours in the water covered in oil before he was picked up by HMS Venomous.
After the loss of the Hecla my
father my father went on survivors leave at Uppermill near Oldham where
his wife was living with her parents and surprised them by turning up
wearing a beard grown since Hecla went down. He went to the USA on the Queen Mary (a troop ship at the time). Based in Boston, he was drafted onto HMS Duff
(K 352) a Captain Class Frigate (Buckley Class) built at Bethleham
Steel, Hingham MA and served as personal steward to the Captain. He had
a cocktail shaker as a momento of the Duff.
HMS Duff was mined off Holland in November 1944 and my father then served on the “O” Class Destroyer, HMS Onslaught, in Norway, Arctic, Atlantic and Normandy. At the end of the war HMS Onslaught took a number of captured “U” boats from Scotland to off the coast of Northern Ireland and sank them.
My father’s final rank was Petty Officer and he sadly died in 1982 as a result of a car accident.
Petty Officer Henry "Harry" Phuler Holcombe D/J 108244
Henry Phuler Holcombe was born at Richmond, Yorkshire, on 19 May
1908, the son of James and Ellen Holcombe (nee Todd). He was a
draughtsman by trade and joined the Navy as a "boy sailor" in September 1923 and was
sent to HMS Ganges before joining his first ship the Revenge Class Battleship HMS Royal Oak in
June 1924. Three years later on his eighteenth birthday he signed on
for 12 years and in less than a year was rated as an Able Seaman (AB)
and joined the County Class heavy Cruiser HMS Berwick on 13 July 1927 at the start of her first Commission.
In August 1928 he joined HMS Sterling, one of 67 "S Class" destroyers built at the end of the Great War. The Commanding Officer was Lt Cdr Stephen S.T. Arliss.
He would have had little or no contact with the CO but their paths
would cross again in 1942 when Arliss had the misfortune to be taking
passage in HMS Hecla when she was torpedoed. Arliss survived and retired as a Vice Admiral in 1950.
The crest of HMS Sterling was the £ symbol for "Stirling" which was intended to be her name but she was allowed to retain the spelling of HMS Sterling until she was scrapped in August 1932. On 9 June 1932 Henry Holcombe "bought himself out" of the Navy on payment of £24 rather
than complete his 12 years service. The usual reason for a man buying himself out of the Navy was marriage but one automatically became a member of
the Royal Fleet Reserve (RFR) liable to be called up in a national
In Harry's case it may have been his success as a boxer which tempted
him to leave the Navy and seek fame and fortune in the boxing ring. He won several trophies, including the boys heavyweight championship in November 1924 while serving in HMS Royal Oak.
In March 1925 he was Middleweight Champion of the Atlantic Fleet and in
1929 while serving in HMS Sterling on the China Station he was
Middleweight Champion of the China Fleet and in 1931 "runner up".These trophies are proudly displayed in the family home of his son and daughter in law, James and Maureen Holcombe.
He was recalled on 26 September 1938 and demobilised a week later on 4
October after the signing of the Munch Agreement between Chamberlain
and Hitler but was back in the Navy on 15 June 1939 less than three
months before the start of the war. He joined the Halcyon Class
minesweeper HMS Hussar (N82)
clearing mines in Nore Command and on the East
He married Maude Wall on 10 January
1940 at St Peters Church, Bloxwich, Walsall and they had a son James
born on eighth of February 1942. On 2 July 1940 he was posted to HMS
Drake at Devonport prior to joining HMS Hecla being fitted out on the Clyde on 26 December.
From there on his experience was much the same as his shipmates on HMS Hecla and can be read by clicking on the links. Hecla spent the year from March 1941 to March 1942 as the destroyer depot ship for Atlantic escorts at Havelfjord in Iceland. He was promoted to Leading Seaman on 16 August 1941 and to Petty Officer on 19 December. HMS Hecla was relieved by USS Vulcan as Destroyer Depot Ship and returned to the Clyde for a refit before leaving on 15 April 1942 to join the Far Eastern Fleet at Mombassa via the Cape of Good Hope.
After rounding the Cape on 15 May she crossed the Aghulhas Bank just
east of False Bay and struck a mine at 15.59 hours killing 21 of the
crew (with 3 missing and 116 injured).
"A large number of men who could not get through the hatches were
rescued through the ship's side scuttles with ropes and hauled on deck.
About 150 men were rescued in this manner from both sides of the ship.
The absence of primary lighting, the thick smoke, fumes and fuel oil on
the mess decks made rescue work very difficult and numerous cases of
individual heroism were observed." Capt E.F.B. Law RN
PO Holcombe 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 award of the British Empire Medal (BME) to PO Holcombe and five other ratings was announced in the London Gazette
on 12 January 1943, exactly two months after his death. Three of the
six awarded the BEM died on the night of 11 - 12 November 1942. There
are many first hand accounts of what happened on that night but non of
them mention Petty Officer Henry Phuler Holcombe.
OD Arthur L Horn JX324071
father, Ordinary Seaman (OD) Arthur Leslie Horn, was born at Tring in Hertfordshire on 2
September 1921 but never knew his father. When he was little he would continually annoy one of
his aunts, who on one occasion was so annoyed that she pegged
him up on the washing line, calling him a young
whipper-snapper. The name stuck and he was known as Whipper or
Whip for the rest of his life. I have been called Young Whip by
his friends on many occasions. He left school at fourteen, and
worked at Durrants furniture manufacturers in Berkhamsted where he
lived with his mother who had remarried. He was called up to join the army, but failed the medical because
flat feet and worked as a milkman until he volunteered for the Navy. To
avoid being asked why he wasn't already serving he gave his date of
birth as 2 September 1923, making him 18 when he was actually already
20. He joined the Navy on 6 January 1942 and his first postings were to the training establishments at Fareham and Portsmouth, HMS Collingwood and Victory.
He was posted to HMS Nile, the shore base at Alexandria, from 16 June to 31 July 1942, and on the 1 August to HMS Afrikander, the shore base at Simon's Town in South Africa. On 4 August he joined HMS Hecla while she was under repair after detonating a mine near the Cape on the 15th May 1942.
He didn't talk much about his time on the Hecla,
and the little that I know came from my mother. She told me that when
my father was in the water he and an Irishman kept themselves afloat by
holding onto something like a door, and they had to get out of their
clothes as they were weighing them down. During the long period that
they were in the water some of the men decided that they had had enough
and they swam away from the area where they all were so as to be on
their own. My father relived the treading of water in his sleep many
nights throughout the rest of his life. He had very little seatime and was still an Ordinary Seaman (OD) when Hecla sank.
When he returned to Britain he was in the Royal Naval Hospital
where they put a tube down his throat to try and in order to remove
what they could of the oil he had swallowed during the ten or so hours
that he'd spent in the water. My mother remembers my father
saying that he had real problems in accepting the tubes down his throat
and that the doctor told him that he was "going to get these tubes down
your throat even if I have to stay here all bloody night to do it". For
many years he kept getting oily
blackheads mostly over his back.
He was back to Victory 4 March 1943 and was posted to HMS Daedalus from 8 July 1943 to 26 March 1944. Daedalus was the Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Lee-on-Solent, the principal base of the Fleet Air Arm. I don't know what my father did during this period. He returned to HMS Victory on 27 March 1944.
He joined HMS Howe
as an AB on 15 April 1944 during her refit at Devonport to increase her
anti-aircraft armament, Radar equipment, improve her water-tight
efficiency, and make her more habitable in hot climates. At the
beginning of May 1944 the Howe
went to Scapa Flow for six weeks intensive working-up. Then
immediately sailed to join the Eastern Fleet. He was on a Bofers
Gun and also served as an MP. He had good memories of this time, probably because they saw less
action and made a number of goodwill visits. HMS Howe
joined the Eastern Fleet based at Trincomalee, Ceylon, described by
Capt H.W.U. McCall RN as "the Scapa Flow of the Indian Ocean" in
a letter to HRH Princess Alice, in response to her good wishes.
The Howe took part in raids
on Sumatra with the Eastern Fleet, before being ordered to Sydney in
early 1945 where she became the vanguard of the British Pacific Fleet.
There is a Pathe newsreel of the Howe arriving in Sydney, "HMS Howe. Mighty warship comes to the Pacific". I think he enjoyed his time on
the Howe in Sydney and visiting Auckland before they saw some action.
HMS Howe was the first British battleship to shoot down an enemy aircraft in the Pacific campaign. The Howe
took part in operations to put out of action enemy airfields on islands
to the south of Okinawa, to protect the US troops taking part in
the Battle of Okinawa. They had to fight off the suicide bombers,
and on the evening of VE day they got the most savage air attack of the
operation though the Howe was able to protect itself and sustained no damage at all. His service in the Royal Navy ended 3 May 1946.
After the war my father worked at Heathrow for a while, well before the
development of the airport. I do not know what he did but he was able
to stay with an aunt at Hayes End. By the time I was old enough to take
an interest in his work he was back in Berkhamsted making bricks by hand in a brickyard,
very hard work. He worked as a Postman for
several years and on the 8th August 1963 he went to the station to
collect the mail but the Mail Train never came and the whole country
followed the news of "The Great
He returned to Durrants furniture manufacturers where he worked as a
wood machinist for several years. His final job before he retired
in 1985 was caretaker at Westfield Primary School. He died on the 28th
Maurice Hudson, Sick Berth Attendant MX80425
I received this e-mail in April 2012:
"I am Maurice Hudson and I served with George Male on the Hecla.
My stepson presented me with your book on my birthday. I could not have
been better pleased. George's account of that night is so like
mine that we must have been about twenty yards apart all night. The Venomous was among the ships that took my brother of the beach at Dunkirk, and another brother was on the Vindictive
in Freetown but was drafted home just a week before she sailed to join
us. Flanders of the Flanders and Swan Duo was on the Marne
when she was hit. His story was shown on TV 'This is Your Life' in
1972. I am just new to computers and it does keep the brain
working. I think I am rambling on a bit. Yours
Maurice B Hudson."
His stepson told me that Maurice Hudson joined Hecla
on the Clyde during the refit before going to South Africa - but I have
heard nothing further from Maurice Hudson - or his stepson. I would
like to have told his story on this website where it could be read by
the families of his former shipmates but now, eight years later, that
seems most unlikely as Maurice Hudson is almost certainly dead. I know
of only one survivor from the Hecla in Britain who is still alive in 2020. You can read about the members of the Sick Bay Team on HMS Hecla here.
James L. Keenan, Stoker 1st Class KX78513
I was sent this photograph of James Keenan by his Grandson Mark King
and hope to receive further details of his life for adding to this
page. Mark told me that:
"I was lucky to have known him until I was 16, but he suffered terribly
from dermatitis which he put down to being in the sea after being
torpedoed and swallowing oil and being covered in it.
Eric James Kite, Ordnance Artificer 4th classP/MX55281
I was contacted by Ray Bessant, Jimmy Kite's nephew, in March 2020,
when he was tracing his family tree, Googled his Uncle's name and
found this website telling the story of the men in HMS Hecla.
Ray knew his Uncle was born in Gosport on 21 June 1921 and had a
younger brother Robert born in 1930 but could tell me almost nothing
about his Uncle's time in Hecla.
He knew she was his second ship but did not know if he had been aboard
her when she was the Destroyer Depot Ship in Iceland and was uncertain
whether he had been rescued by HMS Venomous or by HMS Marne.
Ray memembered being told by Jimmy that when he was in the water he
watched a friend jump from the ship's rail and hit his head on the
sloping hull and fall unconscious into the sea.
Ray told me that "On his return from the sinking, Jimmy turned up on
his brother Robert’s doorstep in Gosport wearing borrowed clothes. He
was drafted to Whale Island where he trained as a diver. He was then
sent to work on Operation Pluto. He dived on the pipeline a number of
times, sometimes within mine fields, and was mentioned in dispatches."
Jimmy's two sons sent Ray the photographs below, taken while he working as a a diver on the laying of the PLUTO
pipeline beneath the sea delivering oil to the Nornandy beachhead.
HMRT Bustler, the 3,200 HP Admiralty Rescue Tug, towing the conundrum (or conum) round which the HAMEL steel pipe line was wound
Jimmy Kite is front left with his elbow next to the helmet on top of the pump which supplied the air
He is surrounded by his diving support team
The wedding of Eric James Kite to Adeline Joan Bessant in September 1944
Jimmie Kite and Adeline, known as Joan or "Girlie" lived in Netherton
Road, Gosport, and had two children, Bernard in 1946 and Patricia Anne
in 1952. He stayed on in the Navy until 1962 but continued to
work at HMS Daedalus as a technical author until his retirement. Jim died in a Gosport care home in 2013.
Go to Part Two (L - Z) 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 this page