Former Full Members of the V & W Destroyer Assoociation who served in HMS Velox T. Wells (Salisbury, Wilts) Please get in touch if you knew him or have a family member who served in HMS Velox
"What did you do in the War, Daddy?" Lt Christopher R.V. Holt VRD RNVR (1915-97)
Christopher Holt was the eldest son of Vice Admiral Reginald Vesey Holt RN. He was a stockbroker before the war and a talented amateur artist. After officer training at King Alfred he served on three destroyers, HMS Ashanti, Malcolm and Hurricane, before joining HMS Velox in March 1942.
He kept a Journal for much of his time at sea but this description of his eighteen months in Velox from
March 1942 - October 1943 is mainly based on the letters he wrote home.His
letters appear to be full of trivia but has the merit of conveying the
real concerns of serving officers while not engaged in action.
Christopher enjoyed his time in this elderly V & W Class destroyer:
“Looking back at my war, although my letters moaned a lot, partly I expect from boredom, in fact my 18 months or so in Velox
gave me the most satisfaction. Being the navigator gave me a
considerable feeling of responsibility and having a new toy in the
shape of Type 271 Radar which could give accurate ranges and bearings
of objects some miles away helped and one had the feeling that we were
pioneering at the time. My relations with my captain were good and on
the whole we were a fairly happy team.”
Chapter Five of the memoir of his wartime
service published by his son Nick Holt in 2010 as "What did you do in
II, Daddy" is illustrated by his drawings and pastels as well as his photographs
and some of these are included on this web page about HMS Velox.
The next letter is dated March 20th 1942, and was sent from the Royal Naval Barracks, Chatham. I had been appointed to Velox,
another 1918 destroyer. She was refitting in Chatham dockyard. I was to
be No.2 Gunnery Officer and Navigator - this caused rather mixed
feelings as I knew very little about navigating when out of sight of
land and not much about gunnery. We were due to go back to the South
Atlantic which meant that I would have to learn astronomical navigation
somehow. The 1st Lieutenant was Ralph Rooper, about the same age as me
and George Barstow, who had been temporary captain of Malcolm
a week or so before, was to be Captain. As I knew him already, this was
good news. Chatham Barracks was a good place for collecting gossip and
I met a rating from Hurricane
who said that Howard-Johnston had replaced the Yeoman of Signals (as he
usually did) and also that the 1st Lieutenant was going shortly. I had
also been asked by the hall porter whether I was Admiral Holt’s son as
he had been in the Redoubt with him at the end of the First World War.
I expressed my intention of growing
a beard for which I duly got my Captain’s permission. While we were in
dock at Chatham the duty officer and a skeleton crew had to sleep on
board. The ship was in a pretty terrible state and the only place to
sleep was in a hammock in the wardroom which was the only time I slept
in a hammock in the Navy. While we were in dock, the ship was de-ratted by gas but we found no bodies.
We were still in Chatham on April
6th but by April 18th we were, I think, off Greenock - near enough to
Liverpool to get a night or so off and take my girlfriend out and we
were apparently in dock requiring more repairs. We had gone round the
north of Scotland in our relatively untried state and presumably found
some defects on the way. Anyhow, the Captain and No.1 must have been on
leave as I was temporarily in charge and trying to get the ship into a
reasonably clean condition.
The next letter is dated April 25th
and may have been from Milford Haven as I remember we stopped there to
fuel and get up to date. I had started growing my beard. I was
indicating we were going to Gibraltar.
By May 2nd we were at Gibraltar and I had
contacted George Symonds, formerly 1st Lieutenant of Malcolm, who was
now Staff Officer Operations at Gibraltar. He had seen Godfrey Style,
an old friend whose family I had seen when I was at Chatham. Godfrey
had lost a hand from a bomb whilst at Malta - I think he had come from
Malta by submarine. I said I hoped to go ashore but my ten-day-old beard made me unpresentable.
I wrote again on May 13th possibly
from Bathurst (now Banjul) in The Gambia - I said we were “nearly
there” and Bathurst is probably the only place we stopped at. I had my
hair cut at an odd place which I think was probably Punta Delgada at
the Azores where I know we went once. I wrote of a sentimental stroll
round Gib and had no difficulty in finding the houses where we had
lived in the early 1920s, the place where Henrietta, our dog, had been
run over but more difficulty in finding where I had lost a ball down a
drain in the Alemeda Gardens.
It would appear we arrived at
Freetown (Sierra Leone) on May 14th. My first impressions were not good
but I had taken and worked out sights of several sorts; presumably sun
sights and evening and morning star sights.
On May 17th I wrote again about lots
of watch-keeping. Ralph Rooper and I were the only two who could keep a
watch at night so at sea I got very little sleep. One advantage of
being navigator was that I had a small cabin under the bridge which was
more airy than those down aft.
On June 3rd we were apparently
having a boiler clean and I think we had crossed the equator as we had
the “crossing the line” ceremony and I was duly initiated. I was
bathing a bit - there was quite a nice beach out by the golf course a
mile or two out of Freetown; a bus took us out.
By June 22nd I reported that I had
received a letter dated May 31st four or five days earlier. My sister
Jane had apparently arrived in Bucharest and sister Rowena was at
Greenwich to train as a Wren officer. I had sent one or two things home
- a lipstick and a leather belt - presumably bought at Freetown or
Bathurst in Gambia. My beard wasn’t very long but quite comfortable, though I can remember chewing the hairs of my moustache.
We had taken a Canadian R.A.M.C.
doctor out on a convalescence trip. I think he had caught some tropical
disease but he made someone new to talk to.
The next letter I have is dated July
24th. We must have been to Takoradi in the Gold Coast as I think that
is where the midshipman (Dines R.N.R) caught malaria. I can’t remember
going ashore there but we had also been to Lagos where I had bought
some souvenirs, including carved heads of the natives in ebony,
slippers, a canoe paddle and a tom-tom. I drew a number of sketches of
the local ladies who came out in canoes to sell us things - these are
dated 13/7/42 and 14/7/42. One of these I turned into an oil painting
for which I won a prize at the local arts and crafts exhibition.
I had also acquired a lovely
umbrella, pale green, mauve, lemon and maroon stripes - we were allowed
to carry them and even, if I remember rightly, put them up on ship when
It must have been also about then
that, at Takoradi, we embarked the Gold Coast’s gold production which
arrived on a tender in wooden boxes which were stowed in one of the
magazines - I suppose we transferred them elsewhere at Freetown.
I think it was soon after that that we escorted both the Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth
which were carrying troop reinforcements for the 8th Army round the
Cape. I drew pictures and took some photographs, though we weren’t very
much use as the Queens could go just as fast as us and had great
acceleration. I can remember being frightened of being run down as we
left the swept channel outside Freetown and eventually we were passed
by the big ships and dismissed.
About that time too we picked up
some survivors from a crashed Sunderland flying boat somewhere off The
Gambia. I took some photos which record that there were originally
eleven of them but one had died just before we picked them up; they
only had one raft and had been nibbled by fishes. Luckily they had been
sighted by a Hudson aircraft the day before we were sent to pick them
up and more rafts had been dropped. They had been in the water for four
days but were all fairly well.
In my next letter dated 7/8/42 I say
that the Captain’s temper had improved since his wife had had their
first baby (a boy) and that he was putting up my name for ‘Qualified
Officer’ which meant, I think, that I could be considered as good as a
regular R.N. officer. My navigation was going well. I remember meeting
some large ships escorted by a cruiser somewhere south of Nigeria and
we asked for their reference position, which I think was some miles out
- I having taken some sights that morning. Anyhow it wasn’t easy just
there as there are two currents which run in opposite directions.
Soon after that we had some
excitement; my letter is dated August 24th. On the night of 21st as far
as I remember we were sent to escort a small convoy and one of the
ships was torpedoed. We sighted the U-boat on the surface and according
to my sketch opened fire. We had some sort of Asdic contact and dropped
a pattern of depth charges near where the ship had sunk. The ship’s
cargo consisted in part of cotton bales and I can remember an
unfortunate Lascar seaman on top of one of the bales of cotton who must
have been killed by the depth charges when we attacked. I can’t
remember whether there were other survivors but there may have been as
I drew a picture of a ship sinking with boats and survivors not far
away. I think we were not far from Freetown at the time.
My next letter is dated September 21st and
we had been away from Freetown. In fact we had been down to the Congo
where we stopped for about a day at Banana at the mouth of the river
and I did some sketches, and then we got a message asking us if we
wanted fuel - which we didn’t particularly, but as we had some time to
spare the Captain thought we might as well. This meant going 80 miles
up the river to Ango Ango near Matadi. We duly collected a river pilot
and made our way up river.
On the way we passed Borria where two large liners were apparently embarking Belgian Congolese troops - one was S.S. Staffordshire (from my photographs). We established when they would be ready to sail.
The south bank of the Congo was then
Portuguese territory almost as far as Ango Ango - although some of the
country was fairly jungly, most of it was rather bare like Scotland. We
hoped to see exotic animals, but there were none. We escorted the troopship to, I think, Lagos but where the Belgian Congolese troops served, I don’t know. At Ango Ango there was a pontoon jetty and
on arrival we were collected by the British Consul who asked the
Captain and some officers to dine with him at Matadi. Somehow I managed
to wangle myself into the party, it was either Ralph Rooper or myself
who had to stay on board I think. We had an excellent dinner.
The next day we re-embarked a pilot and turned the ship in the Devil’s
Cauldron about a mile further upstream where the river flows at 8 knots.
My letter also indicated that I knew that brother John, by now the 1st
Lieutenant of Decoy, a relatively new but rather broken down destroyer,
was on his way from the Far East and we might meet.
In my letter of October 3rd, John and I had
met and had sent our parents a cable. John, as usual was full of
stories and I think brought some thunderflashes to liven up the
proceedings. Then there is a gap in
the letters but my sketches and photographs indicate a visit, possibly
for refueling, to St. Vincent in the Cape Verde Islands. I think I
remember a Portuguese port official coming off and buying a bottle of
Eno’s fruit salts from our canteen and possibly a bottle of whisky.
The next letter is dated November
23rd and is obviously from Gibraltar as we had been hauled up there to
take part in ‘Operation Torch’, the invasion of North Africa which
started on November 6th 1942. In fact we were very much a reserve ship,
first wicket down, and spent some time escorting the U.S. troopship Thomas Stone which had been torpedoed at 06.50 on November 7th. She was taken in tow by HMS Wishart, a sister ship, and a tug, the St. Day. The troops from the Thomas Stone
got into their landing craft and apparently made it to Algeria, though
I don’t quite know where (see S.W. Roskill’s ‘War at Sea’ Pt. II
p.320). I took some photographs of these events and when we got to
Algiers drew a panorama of the harbour. The liners carrying the troops
included the Monarch of Bermuda and the Reina del Pacifico. My sketch is dated November 11th. I suspect we convoyed some of the ships back when they had landed the troops. It is interesting to see that my old ship Malcolm was used to lead the attack on Algiers harbour and was seriously damaged. The story of the Thomas Stone was written up by the captain of Wishart and appeared in Blackwoods Magazine, but I have lost my copy. (It was the March 1943 number in an article called ‘Part of the Job’)
From that time onwards Velox
was based on Gibraltar and we escorted convoys either down to
Casablanca or to Algiers. Gibraltar had its compensations compared with
Freetown - a number of ships passed through so I was often meeting old
shipmates or finding ships like Malcolm and Hurricane.
Gibraltar too had a certain amount of social life; there were Wrens to
talk to or take bathing, and restaurants, and if I remember rightly,
the yacht club where one could have a ‘run ashore’. It was nice to see
other faces and to be able to talk about different things. We got used
to drinking sherry and with luck one could get prawns or egg and chips.
I still remember the very little Spanish I learnt at that time. The way
to the bathing beach which was on the eastern side of the Rock was
through a tunnel which started in the dockyard I think and had one or
two turnings off it which led either to the operations rooms or
To revert to my letters, on December
20th we were in Gibraltar and we had our much delayed mail, but it was
taking a long time and I was short of reading matter, reduced to
August’s or September’s newspapers although the Captain and I were
getting some novels; my then girl was very good at sending them.
Christmas 1942 was spent at sea and
it would appear that we had been to Algiers as I had been talking
French and had helped the doctor buy some brassieres for his wife. We
had also I suspect been to the Aletti Hotel which was the haunt of a
lot of the local female talent, both amateur and professional - I said
that, “...the bold to conquer the fair are said to go ashore with a bar
of chocolate and a bar of soap.”
We had also been at sea on New Year’s Eve
and I had been on watch. “We were actually just outside somewhere
(probably Bone, Algeria I suspect) and the New Year was greeted by all
the ships in the harbour making V’s on their sirens which was very
impressive and OK until someone started firing tracer bullets into the
sky - then the whole party took to firing things and produced a very
fine display, except we were just about where it all came down and had
hurriedly to put on our tin helmets.”
I had no further news in my next
letter on January 21st except for mentioning drinking and poker. But I
wrote again on February 10th and I think this was after we had a rather
unexpected trip to the UK and I spent some time in Devonport dockyard
repairing a fault which couldn’t be dealt with at Gibraltar, probably
in the engine room. Anyhow this meant that we managed to get a little
leave and I suspect that I managed to see my girlfriend in London where
by now my mother had a flat.
From the date of the next letter
which is March 10th, it would appear that our stay in the UK was about
a week as I said that we had been at sea for the last three weeks with
no night in harbour; but I had recently managed a game of hockey and
squash - but had met a ship which my father had met recently (he had
been in the U.S.A.). I think it must have been the Penelope, a rather
famous cruiser which did a refit over there.
The next letter dated March 23rd
says we had seen one or two different places; one was certainly
Casablanca as I had been riding. We had hired three or four horses and
rode along the beach - going out my horse went very slowly, but at some
stage as soon as he saw the others turning round to go back he started
galloping. As far as I can remember this is the last time I rode a
The other place I suspect I was
referring to was Mers el Kebir where I had walked up a local hill and
picked some flowers. I also did three sketches of the harbour. It may
also have been the occasion that we patrolled outside the harbour at
night and a German torpedo-carrying aircraft flew past us and torpedoed
a ship in the harbour. I had also heard that one of my partners (in James Capel) who was in the Army had been wounded in Tunisia.
On April 4th there was nothing much
to say but we had had a party to celebrate the ship’s 25th birthday and
I had been to see ‘Gone with the Wind’ at the local cinema.
On April 24th my father had come back from
the U.S and I wrote to him about the possible change of ship - I was
ambitious of becoming 1st Lieutenant of a small ship, but was happy
being navigator and said that I didn’t want to let the Captain down as
there didn’t seem to be another officer who could navigate. I said that
I would very much like to go to the U.S.A. to bring back something that
was building over there (which is exactly what happened in the end).
I also referred I think to another incident when we were escorting a
ship or small convoy back towards Gib and I think picked up a surfaced
U-boat on our radar and depth-charged it without result.
Another incident which I cannot
place chronologically was the mining of one of our sister ships off
Tangier. She was just astern of us, the explosion wasn’t fatal and she
got back to Gib. I think one of the officers had a broken ankle. I
think it was Wivern as one of her officers Sub-Lieutenant Reynolds joined us in May 1943 and I think she was being repaired at Gib at the time.
The next letter dated May 13th 1943
was as usual I think from Gibraltar as we had apparently been having a
boiler clean and there had been a ship’s company dance which, “.. had
left us all with very thick heads - especially Ralph Rooper, the
retiring No.1, who was given a terrific farewell party by the troops.”
Ralph Rooper had I think volunteered for M.T.Bs and returned to the UK.
He was killed later in the Channel and awarded the D.S.C. He was a very
pleasant chap and he and I got on quite well. His successor was one
King who was a rather different type - obviously able, having
originally joined the Navy as a boy seaman in about 1934 and having
served in HMS Shropshire when my father commanded her. I can’t remember that dance at all and wonder where we managed to find enough females to dance with. I also commented, “Not much news of getting back lately and it looks as though we will stay until there’s nothing left of us.”
Then came one of the highlights of my stay in Velox.
We escorted the first convoy to go through the Mediterranean on its way
to the Indian Ocean. We got as far as Tripoli in Libya and I kept a
diary of the trip and took a lot of photographs - so that will be a
separate effort. This was from May 17th to 25th when we got back to
Algiers (see separate diary section p. 48).
On May 29th I wrote home again
indicating that we had done something special, “but rather sleepless.”
I was trying to organise some drink and olive oil home via one of my
old shipmates in Ashanti (I can’t remember who). The bathing was
getting good and I had been to an E.N.S.A. show with Leslie Henson, Bea
Little and Vivien Leigh in it.
We were getting rather depressed about
staying in Gib, “ ...as short of our bottom falling out there doesn’t
seem to be any reason why we should ever go until we are towed.” Which
is roughly what did happen I believe. After I left towards the end of
the year, I think that while on patrol in the Straits of Gibraltar we
tried to attack a U-boat on the surface. The Captain ordered full ahead
and one of the boilers gave up.
However we continued our escorting
and on June 7th having had a letter from home dated May 8th at the
beginning of the month I had been ashore in Algiers and met some Irish
Guards officers and asked about Dennis Madden whom I had known quite
well when I was working at Holts Bank in 1935. He had been training as
a Manager. Dennis had been killed in North Africa not long before.
And about the ship, “... it looks as
though we will have to start punching holes in the bottom - big ones,
as they fill in the little ones out here.”
On June 16th I refuted any suggestion that we weren’t busy, “... we
have been as hard worked as we have ever been which is saying quite a
lot. Any destroyer at home would have fourteen fits at being chased
around so much...” I also noted that
my parents had met Arthur Pomeroy, my future (much later)
brother-in-law and I reported that a lot of the WRNS knew sister Rowena
- and a new one had just arrived who was Bobbin Evans whom we still
On June 26th I had heard that sister
Jane and her husband Robert Luc were on their way out of occupied
Europe. I had also heard that Arthur Pomeroy had been seen locally
according to the local WRNS. We had been quite gay and I had had quite
a lot of swimming and I was trying to get sun burnt all over (I don’t
think I did though).
There is then an undated letter
which said that I had learned from the assistant Staff Officer
Intelligence that Jane and Robert had passed through Gibraltar a day or
two before and had gone on to the UK, having seen Admiral A.B.
Cunningham in Algiers.
Another letter dated July 19th said
that the Captain had again recommended me for Qualified Officer status
and for a 1st Lieutenant’s job and had added, “as captain of a corvette
after further training”, but perhaps the war didn’t go on quite long
On August 5th we were in quarantine
as one of the sailors had managed to to develop some highly infectious
and undesirable disease, ‘bubonic plague’ or something. I’m not sure he
hadn’t been drafted to us from Algiers - anyhow we weren’t allowed
ashore or even in the harbour and spent our time when not at sea at
anchor outside the harbour. On August 14th I wrote again and reported
no new cases of sickness but a big sports programme of darts, dominoes,
cribbage, ludo, whist etc., as well as some swimming. I think I
remember a relatively high dive from the quarter deck.
The only excitement had been a
merchant ship which had dragged its anchor and bumped us and we had had
to raise steam and slip our cable. I had hopes of spending my birthday (17th October) in more congenial company.
On August 21st we were out of
quarantine and had been ashore and the 1st Lieutenant and I had been
beaten in the semi-finals of the ludo competition which had been played
on the quarter deck with six inch dice shaken in a bucket and, “...
it’s easier for a destroyer which has any pretensions of running to fly
than to get C.I.C’s permission to .... (leave station).”
On September 6th I wrote, “....no
sign of relief yet....”, but I knew that Valerie (Jane Luc’s daughter)
was either imminent or had arrived. There had been no excitement and I
was getting plenty of swimming.
However on September 19th, “... I had definite news that my relief was
on his way.” I was all packed up and somehow I had had a large black
wooden box constructed and a kit bag (both of which we still have) and
two or three suitcases. I was going to bring sherry and some olives -
and I hoped I would not be coming home in a liner....
In point of fact rather miraculously John turned up in his nice big
destroyer Mahratta and I came back in her - with some bananas. My ‘slop
chit’ from Velox is dated October 4th 1943 so I was presumably home for
The bananas had a rather odd sequel
as I think it was Mahratta’s doctor who asked me to call up his
girlfriend, Miranda Domville. So I gave her lunch at a restaurant not
far from the Connaught Rooms in London. I took with me two bananas,
which were pretty rare in the UK in those days and we ate them - when
we came out sitting in the window on a plate was a banana skin - folded
carefully to look like the real thing!
Miranda Domville’s father was
Admiral Tyrwhitt’s Flag Captain in the First World War and being based
on Harwich was well known to my parents. I didn’t see Miranda again;
she was named after her father’s first destroyer command.
Looking back at my war, although my
letters moaned a lot, partly I expect from boredom, in fact my 18
months or so in Velox gave me the most satisfaction. Being the
navigator gave me a considerable feeling of responsibility and having a
new toy in the shape of Type 271 Radar which could give accurate ranges
and bearings of objects some miles away helped and one had the feeling
that we were pioneering at the time. My relations with my captain were
good and on the whole we were a fairly happy team. When we were at sea
I think I was keeping one or two night watches a night and obviously
felt the strain. In fact I wonder if this affected my sleeping pattern
as for years I never I never seemed to be able to sleep more than 4
hours at a time."
In October 1943 Lt Christopher R.V. Holt VRD RNVR was posted to HMS Spragge,
a frigate. He returned to stockbroking after the war and became senior
partner and later Chairman of James Capel & Co. He retired from the
RNVR as Lt Cdr in 1957. His family published a memoir of his wartime
service in the Navy which can be viewed and downloaded as a PDF by
clicking on the link. For further details of his naval career see his
entry on unithistories.com