The story of HMS Venomous

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The men who lived and died when Hecla was torpedoed
75 years ago on the night of 11 - 12 November 1942

If you have a family member who was aboard HMS Hecla contact me now so that I can tell his story on this page

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.

All their names are on the crew list with links to their stories on this website. If a member of your family is on this list do get in touch to tell his story.

Bill Forster, Holywell House Publishing

Only four of the men aboard HMS Hecla on that night are known to be still alive today

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

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

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

Arthur W Bloor, Engine Room Mechanic 5th Class (MX92835) is 96 years of age and confined to hospital and not at all well but I am hoping to tell his story on this page.

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

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

Reginald Howard Bishop was born on 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 building trade before enlisting in the Royal Navy on 14 February 1942. He did his naval training at HMS Ganges, Shotley and then at Chatham, waiting to be drafted to the Middle East. He travelled 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 on HMS 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 Japanes cruiser Miyako at Singapapore and severed Japanes 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 is nearly 95 and lives with his wife in his own home a few miles from his son, Tim Bishop, and enjoys talking about his wartime sevice in the Navy on HMS Hecla and HMS Bonaventure. He is photographed on the left at Toumoville, Australia, in June 1945 and on the right at his home near Norwich in September 2017.


Reg Bishop, 1945Reg Bishop, 2017 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.

Reg remembers 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 aoard 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 panic 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 much 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 I possessed was a full uniform, a life belt and a pair of American jeans and a denim 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 more.

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, so that 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."

Reginald Bishop

After 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, Diane.

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 grandchildren.

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 further information about him?

Signalman Albert Mark Childs, HMS MalayaAlbert Mark ChildsSignalman 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.

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 himelf on a charge.
He wrote to his own family in Birmingham from Mess 44 HMS Hecla GPO London. Like 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.

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 Hospital.”
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 firsrt 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 Preeece, one of those who died, Deller's name is incorrectly given as Weller.

Supplies Assistants on HMS HECLA 1942

Edward ("Eddy") J. Diggines Leading Cook (MX52889)

My 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.

HMS Eagle
HMS Eagle 1935-6

My 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 at Havelfjord, Iceland
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 belive 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 in 1943.

Eddy Diggines in US uniform - after rescue from HMS HECLA?Telegram

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. 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.

Ashtray made from shell of HMS Pliloctetes
Ashtray from HMS Philoctetes
Ashtray from HMS Philoctetes
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 repair ship
HMS Alaunia, the former Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC) in which Eddy Diggines served sfter her conversion to a repair ship
Courtesy of his daughter, Ann Mundy

He remained in the Navy after the war ended serving in HMS Vangard, Cockade, Illustrious and Ark Royal, his last ship.  My 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.  Until 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.

Ann Mundy

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."

HMS King Arthur
Jim HinchliffeJames Hinchliffe at Capetown, June 1942My 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.
Stephen Hinchliffe

OD Arthur L Horn JX324071

OD Arthur Leslie Horn"My 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 of 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 Haslar 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.

Arthur Leaslie Horn 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 Train Robbery".

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 December 2007."
Alan Horn

Maurice Hudson, Sick Berth Attendant MX80425

I received this e-mail in April 2012 but have heard nothing since:

"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."

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 thim 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

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
with the three stripes of a Chief Petty Officer and a ribbon on his uniform 

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 whisky on board”.

They lived in the same house in Love Street in Paisley from 1923 to his death in 1973 aged 82. Sadly the family line died out. His son Daniel married but their only child died very young. Daniel himself died in 1978 at the age of 54, while his mother Molly died in 1983 aged 86.

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 JX212871

"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 learnt 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
Courtesty 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

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 travelled 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."

Leading Stoker William James Taylor (D/KX.108222)

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.

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

"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?"
Laura Tawn

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.

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

Return to the "Home Page" for HMS Hecla
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A Hard Fought Ship contains the most detailed account of the loss of HMS Hecla yet published
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