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 Heclacontact 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
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
Only three 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."
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.
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 HMSVenomous 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 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 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 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.
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 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
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.
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
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 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 himelf 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. 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
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 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
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.
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 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
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.
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.
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 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
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.
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
Supplies Assistants on HMS Hecla at Iceland, dated 2 November 1941 "Perkins, Weller (astride Lavender), Wood, Plummer, Russ and Don Preece below" Leading Supply Assistant George Plummer (D/X.126(U) died when Hecla sank Courtesy of Christine Denovan-Smith, daughter of Don Preece
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.
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 McAuley in 1910 wearing the ribbon of HMS Vivid,
the Navy barracks at Devonport
Henry McAuley in 1919
Wearing his campaign medals and with crown, crossed anchors and two stripes on his sleeve
Henry McAuley in 1920 while serving in HMS Icewhale
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.
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
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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:
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.
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
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."
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."
William James Taylor (D/KX.108222) "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."
AB Fred W.J. Wardle (JX237211) and AB Terence Mahoney(JX237247)
"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
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.