Crest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationCrest of the V&W Destroyer AssociationHMS VERDUN




HMS Verdun
HMS Verdun escorting an East Coast Convoy in 1944
Photographed from HMS Viceroy by Lt Cdr John E. Manners RN DSC

HMS Verdun was launched on 21 August 1917 at the Hawthorn Leslie shipyard in Hebburn on the south bank of the Tyne down river from Newcastle and completed in November of the same year. When the German High Seas Fleet surrendered in the Firth of Forth on 20 November 1918 it was escorted by sixty allied battleships (Operation ZZ) and King George V, Queen Mary and the Prince of Wales embarked in HMS Oak and, preceded by the Verdun, steamed through the fleet.

Verdun was selected to carry the Unknown Warrior across the English Channel as a tribute to the French people and berthed at the Quai Carnot at Boulogne-sur-Mer
on 10 November 1920. Marshal Foch made a speech on the dockside before the White Ensign was lowered to half mast while the coffin was carried up the gangplank and piped aboard with an admiral's salute. An escort of six battleships accompanied Verdun through the mist to Dover where six high-ranking officers from the three Armed Services bore the coffin ashore. The Unknown Warrior was taken by train to London for burial the following day at Westminster Abbey.

HMS Verdun went into reserve at Rosyth as part of the 9th Destroyer Flotilla until September 1939, when she was converted into an anti-aircraft escort (WAIR) at Chatham Dockyard and operated as a member of the Rosyth Escort Force. On 1 November 1940 she was bombed with 11 dead including her captain, Lt.Cdr. Francis Jack Cartwright, RN. She was repaired at Harwich and spent the rest of the war escorting convoys along the east coast. In November 1941 an attack by German E-boats sunk three British merchant ships in her convoy.

She formed part of the escort screen for heavy units of the Home Fleet supporting the Arctic convoys from
February to April 1942.

Verdun
was adopted by the seaside town of Hoylake in Cheshire after a successful
"Warship Week" National Savings campaign in March 1942,

Battle Honours

Commanding Officers

Cdr Geoffrey Corlett, October, RN (1917 – 17 October, 1917)
Cdr Evelyn C. O. Thomson, RN (16 Oct. 1917 – 30 April 1919)
Lt Cdr James R. C. Cavendish, RN (26 July – September, 1918)
Lt Cdr Colin S. Thomson, RN (30 April, 1919 – 20 Nov. 1921)
Lt Cdr Valentine M. Wyndham-Quin, RN (20 Nov. 1921 – 22 Aug. 1922)
Lt Cdr Franklin Ratsey, RN (25 Aug. 1922 – 16 Jan. 1923)
Lt Cdr John M. Porter, RN (16 Jan. 1923 – 12 Dec. 1923)
Lt Cdr Hamilton E. Snepp, RN (12 Dec. 1923 – 2 Dec. 1924)
 Lt Cdr Herbert Owen, RN (3 Dec. 1924 – 23 Nov. 1925)
Lt.Cdr. Francis Jack Cartwright, RN (20 May - Nov 1940)
Cdr. Alfred Charles Behague, RN (Nov 1940 - 12 Jul 1941)
Lt.Cdr. William Spooner Donald, DSC, RN (12 Jul 1941 - 4 May 1943)
Lt.Cdr. Derry Parsons, RD, RNR (4 May 1943 - Mar 1945)
Lt. Ronald Cameron Henley, RN (Mar 1945 - mid 1945)

Officers

Temp Lt F J E I Allen RNVR (Apr 1941 - 1942)
Lt John W. Edwards DSC RN (3 May 1942 - 13 March 1943)

Sub Lt B C Hutchinson RN (2 Apr 41 -1943)



Former full members of the V & W Destroyer Association who served in HMS Verdun
J. Ainsworth (Birmingham), A. Beer (Maidenhead, Berks), Lt Cdr R. Bush (Chelmsford, Essex), R. Charles (Derby), Cdr William S. Donald RN (Keswick, Cumb). C. Gare (Norwich), D. Lynch (London),
S. Morley (Cuffley, Herts), D. Peddie (Woking, Surrey), L. Wadsworth (Menstrie, Clackmananshire, Scotland)

Please get in touch if you knew these men or had a family member who served in HMS Verdun


A tribute by an anonymous Telegraphist to
Lt.Cdr. William Spooner Donald, DSC, RN

This aricle from Hard Lying by an anonymous telegraphist is a fine tribute to the human qualities of their skipper, Lt.Cdr. William Spooner Donald, DSC, RN. Donald was born at Keswick in Cumberland in 1910 and spent his early years in the Navy in small warships mainly on the China Station. In 1939 he joined the sloop HMS Black Swan as First Lt under Captain A.L. Poland DSC as part of the Rosyth Escort Force protecting the east convoys between Methil and the Thames. Donald won his first DSC during the campaign in Norway when when Black Swan  provided anti-aircraft defence to the troops landed at Andalsnes, on Romdals fjord, which led to Trondheim. Black Swan returned to escorting East Coast convoys and Donald was promoted to Lt Cdr and given command of HMS Guillemomot, a Bird Class corvette, and was made CO of Verdun on 12 July 1941. He spent most of his war escorting convoys along the east coast, a dull repetitive task but one which required constant vigilance to guard against attacks by e-boats and Ju 87 bombers.

*********

My association with my first V&W commenced in January 1941 when I returned to Chatham Barracks soon after Christmas 1940 from a spell of survivors leave following the sinking in the North Atlantic of HMS Forfar, an armed merchant cruiser. The night before my leave ended, I had witnessed the awesome sight of one of the heaviest raids on the city of London from high ground near my parents’ home in Charlton SE7. I was somewhat relieved when told that my next draft was to a destroyer of the Rosyth Escort Force although some of the old 'barrack stanchions' did their best to cheer me up with pointed remarks about the perils of 'E-boat Alley', as part of the convoy route was known. At least a destroyer has speed and 'teeth'.

HMS Verdun was to be my home for almost the next three years. She had been named after the French town of that name, the scene of much desperate fighting in 1916. The ship's motto 'Ils ne Passeront Pas' which means 'They shall not pass' was the battle cry of the French defenders which they upheld until the bitter end. It was most appropriate therefore that she should be chosen to carry the body of 'The Unknown Soldier' across the channel on the afternoon of 10th November 1920. A brass plaque was fixed aft to commemorate the occasion. Thus begun one of the most momentous and best-remembered periods of my life. This comradeship was something the like of which I have not experienced before or since. My immediate boss was a regular Navy Petty Officer Telegraphist, an expert in all aspects of his job with a never failing sense of humour and the ability to get the best out of people by example and encouragement.  


Lt Cdr William Spooner RNThe Captain was a regular Navy Lieutenant Commander, slightly built and quietly spoken, he instinctively inspired confidence and loyalty and was greatly respected and admired by all of us, so much so that when he was ‘drafted’, the ships company presented his wife (gifts to officers were forbidden under KR's and AI's (Kings Regulations and Admiralty Instructions), with an inscribed silver salver, something which our hard bitten and long serving Coxswain had never known happen before. [Lt.Cdr. William Spooner Donald, DSC, RN  (on right) wrote a popular autobiography of his wartime service, Stand by for Action (1956), reissued by  Seaforth as a print and Kindle edition in 2009.]

Life on East Coast convoys was roughly 10 per cent action and 90 per cent suspense and boredom. The suspense came from the ever-present threat of mines (contact, magnetic and finally acoustic) which were liberally distributed by German aircraft and E-boats in the narrow shallow shipping lanes, especially from the Humber southwards. Despite all the efforts of our minesweeping colleagues, they still claimed their victims. Skirmishes with enemy aircraft and E-boats were infrequent but could be quite hair-raising while they lasted. In between, we passed the time in less dangerous stretches of water listening to record requests on the ships Tannoy (including, naturally, Vera Lynn and more surprisingly movements from Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto and Beethoven, 5th symphony), the occasional quiz programme and the Brains Trust. I can even recall organising a scrum practice on the quarter deck for the ship's rugby team - without a ball of course! A few of us endeavoured to keep fit by pacing up and down the length of the iron deck when the sea was not too rough.  

Living conditions were cramped and uncomfortable but good humour somehow managed to prevail most of the time.   I handled hundreds of signals, including a number not addressed to the ship, such as news of the sinking of HMS Hood and the subsequent chase and sinking of the Bismark. But those I find easiest to recall are the humorous ones.  

Except in an emergency we were under strict orders not to break W/T silence, but we did have to make one signal on every trip towards the Northern end of the convoy run from Sheerness; this was our expected time of arrival (ETA) off Methill. To confuse the enemy code breakers we were instructed to vary the wording of our routine signals as much as possible. Ships vied with one another in the search for originality with quotations from the Bible, Shakespeare, etc. and as a result signals grew longer and longer. Eventually Captain 'D' of the Rosyth Escort Force felt compelled to intervene. A plain language signal was sent to all the ships in his force when they were next in harbour which went like this:

"Fun is fun and I don't mind a bit 
Your rhymes and ETA's to fit 
But don't o'er do the signal chit 
For brevity is the soul of wit."  

On another occasion our arrival back at Rosyth was delayed and since half the ship's company were due for an eagerly awaited four days boiler cleaning leave it was obvious that if we proceeded into the destroyer pens there was no chance of the liberty men catching the day train from Edinburgh to the South where most of us lived. So without as much as a by your leave the Captain hove to under the Forth Bridge and the lucky lads were landed at South Queens Ferry, using the ships motor-boat and whaler, in time to catch the train. This provoked the following from Captain 'D' -"Your manoeuvre under the Forth Bridge this morning very well executed. Do NOT repeat Not repeat". 

Finally as a variation from our normal convoy duty, we were detailed to act as part of the anti-submarine screen for a brand new battleship undergoing speed trials.   It was soon evident that we lacked the legs of the new ship and we began to fall behind which caused the battleship to tersely signal, "You are losing station" to which our Captain literally flashed back "I am 25 years old". Nevertheless there was life in the old ship yet as she proved right up to the end of the war.

********

On the 4th May 1943 Donald handed over command of HMS Verdun to Lt.Cdr. Derry Parsons, RD, RNR and was given command of a new destroyer, HMS Ulster, and earned a bar to his DSC in a fierce engagement with three German destroyers in the Western Channel. He served in the Mediterranean at the Anzio landings but was under great strain, suffered from battle fatigue and asked to be relieved of his command prior to the D-Day landings in Normandy. He was later appointed second in command of HMS Glengyle a fast passenger liner converted to an infantry assault vessel for landings on the coast of Japan. The dropping of the atomic bomds did away for the need for that and Glengyle repatriated internees from Hong Kong where he had served in the 1930s. He was invalided out of the Navy in 1948 as a result of deafness brought on by gunfire and retired to run an angling business in his native Cumbria.

Lt.Cdr. William Spooner Donald, DSC, RN  wrote a popular autobiography of his wartime service, Stand by for Action (1956), reissued by  Seaforth as a print and Kindle edition in 2009. The photograph of him fishing was taken when Verdun was having a refit at Grangemouth and is from the 1956 edition of his book. He died in 2002 aged 91 and and an obituary was published in the Daily Telegraph.


And from the Lower Deck
Our secret weapon was a radio receiver
and two German linguists

Deryk Waykam, the author of this article, may also be "anonymous Telegraphist" who wrote the tribute to Lt Cdr William S. Donald. Both were published by "Stormy" Fairweather, the Chairman of the Association, in the magazine Hard Lying and in an anthology with the same name which  is now out of print. The presence of fluent German speakers in the Wireless Room of V & Ws escorting East Coast convoys who could listen in on the "chatter" of their opposite numbers in the German Eboats attacking the convoys was confirmed to me by Mick Barron who served in HMS Westminster. To find out more about the use of telegraphy in V & W Class destroyers read "Sparkers" and "bunting tossers" - Wireless Telegraphy Operators and Visual Signalmen, in HMS Venomous.

***********************

In 1943 I joined HMS
Verdun, a member of the Rosyth Escort Force, engaged upon escorting East Coast convoys from Methil in the Firth of Forth down to Sheerness and the Thames Estuary.

Amongst the mass of warlike equipment carried on board, from four, four inch guns, sundry Oerlikon 20mm guns, almost a hundred depth charges and two radar sets, we carried a sophisticated radio receiver. This was dedicated to picking up intercom communications between E-boats. These German torpedo boats were much larger than our MTB's, almost a hundred feet long. Their main aim was to sink merchant ships in the convoy. They operated from a base in Holland at Ijmuiden. Twelve or fifteen E-boats made up each attacking force. We had two destroyers as escorts and a trawler to pick up survivors from torpedoed merchant ships.

From the spring onwards the attacking E-boats would set out from Holland in daylight. The RAF therefore could often relay the information to us. We could then know that we would be attacked around midnight. E-boat Alley being the channel around the 'Bulge' of East Anglia. This was swept free from mines at frequent intervals because both E-boats and German aircraft were known to sow new mines in the channels. The sweepers came out both the Humber Estuary and Harwich.

One 'secret weapon' that we possessed was a radio receiver that was dedicated to picking up the E-boat fleet's intercom conversations. For several years the E-boats were evidently unaware that their transmissions were being picked up - and acted upon.   We carried two ratings on board who were German Linguists. One was a 'real' German. Aged about twenty three, he was an Aryan and a former Berliner. His 'oppo' was a small, rotund, pear shaped Polish Jew aged in his late thirties. He looked exactly like Doberman used to look in the Sgt, Bilko programmes in later years.

At 'Stand to' at dawn and dusk and at 'action stations it was their job to don the headphones and listen in. When they received German transmissions they noted them down, translated them and passed the information to the bridge. To help them they had a very useful booklet in which all the German intercom codes were printed. There was also an accompanying book with the names and ranks of all the E-boat commanders, and their call sign code names. The code was very simple, akin to our RAF intercom talk. 'Roger', 'Wilco' etc. The great usefulness of knowing what the opposition was saying lay in the fact that, with twelve or fifteen E-boats dashing around in the dark at close on fifty miles an hour. It was possible momentarily to lose a group, say, of three. These would then creep round to the other side of the column of merchant ships and then be among them with torpedoes.  

Our two linguists had interesting histories, as previously mentioned the young, blond, 'real' German had been a member of the Hitler Youth. "Just like boy scouts" he told me. How he had arrived in the U.K. And convinced the navy that he was 'safe' I never liked to ask him. His 'Oppo', the Polish Jew, of course had found it easier to establish his bona fides. Both had naval pay books made out in their new names. Their service documents and records, likewise told the same story. They had 'families' ashore who wrote to them and they wrote back. The idea being that, if captured they would hopefully avoid serious interrogation by the Germans and no reprisals would be taken against them. At that time, of course, we were still unaware of the likely end of a captured Polish Jew.

They were both afforded Petty Officer status which gave them extra pay amongst other comforts. The navy rule stated that no rating could be promoted while suffering from venereal disease. The Pole, despite his uncharming exterior, was always either visiting a hospital when we were at home in Rosyth, undergoing a course of injections for V.D. Or else he had just been discharged and was about to travel over to Edinburgh, presumably to see the same girl, and be reinfected yet again. For the nine months we were together he seemed to spend most of the time being injected.

Every evening, at duck and then again at dawn, we all 'stood to' at our appointed action stations. The two linguists donned their headphones and move around the dial. I and another P.O. plotted the information on a large scale chart. I also made a written record of everything that was said over the ship's intercom. This information was used later to compile a written account of the action. The linguist began to pick up the gossip amongst the boats. The long range radar then began to pick up echo's. Finally the Gunnery Radar would receive accurate ranges of individual craft. Ultimately with the aid of star shells and illuminating rockets, we could get sixteen parachute flares in the air at once. Whole sea areas were brighter than day. The E-boats with their light coloured camouflage stood out clear in detail. Anyone on their decks also stood out as black figures as contrast. Like on the boat discovered moored to a navigation buoy having a pee over the side.

Action would then ensue with the E-boats travelling in groups of three at some forty knots at times. They manoeuvred into a position where they could launch their torpedoes at the two lines of merchant ships. By now action had been joined by two Hunt Class destroyer escorts, not forgetting the tug at the rear, waiting to pick up survivors. The moment the torpedoes were launched the Linguists would pick up the triumphant German report. This would soon be confirmed by the Asdic operator who could hear torpedoes clearly through his hydroplane beneath our hull. Sadistically he would amplify the sound over the ship's intercom so that we could all enjoy the eldritch noise of an approaching missile. In the main however, torpedoes were set to run deeper than our shallow draft. The heavily laden merchant ship's and tankers were the prime targets.

In the spring of 1944 two things happened. The Germans after five years, started to maintain radio silence throughout their journey over from Holland. No talk was allowed until it was obvious that we had spotted them. Then the noise over the air was chaotic. The second thing that happened was that both 'Headache Operator's' were drafted away to serve in larger, fleet destroyers in the Channel for the 'D' day landings. We never saw them again. Their radio set they left behind and, as it was beside me when in action. I used to switch it on and wait for the E-boat traffic once they were detected.

So it was that one night we saw and heard a huge explosion as several hundred gallons of aircraft quality petrol exploded and blew an E-boat into small, blackened shards of timber. The agonising call signs to the disappeared boat gave the game away as to which craft we had destroyed. Who scored the vital hit was never known, however at least three destroyers were firing at it.   I saw one Hunt Class destroyer with a bow mounted Bofors gun firing downwards at a boat close under its bow. We however were still firing 2" illuminating rockets and star shell to light the scene.

The next morning we steamed slowly over the area but there was little evidence. One of the Hunt Class was reputed to have managed to salvage a Nazi naval ensign, a very prestigious souvenir if true. We saw nothing of value, or even recognisable.   E-boats, mines, glider bombs and German midget submarines were still sinking East Coast escorts right up until the last months of the war in Europe.  
Deryk Wakem 


The Pyjama Game
Cdr W. S. Donald DSC

One evening in March 1943 I berthed Verdun alongside Wolsey at Rosyth. We had spent the previous night anchored at Molhill on A/A duty. As usual I had slept in my sea cabin below the bridge in pyjama comfort, with full sea rig at hand in case of emergencies. After a 'Red Alert' I pulled this over my pyjamas and remained thus clad all day.

On reaching Wolsey my croney, Tim Taylor called me over from his bridge to join him for a drink in his cabin. We had conversed for some time when his First Lieutenant knocked on the door. 

"We have some guest in the wardroom sir, will you two join us?" I said to Tim "You carry on, I can't go down in this sea rig".  

Tim said "Nobody will mind, I will explain that you have just come in from sea. Come on".  

In a wardroom full of wives and Wrens I kept as still as I could, but a bit of pyjama trouser slipped into view on one leg. This was seen by one of the   girls who squealed. "Look everyone Bill's got his pyjama's on!!  

I never lived this down, at all subsequent parties I was always asked.  

"Got you pyjama's on again, Bill?" 



If you want to find out more about the wartime service of a member of your family who served on HMS Verdun you should first obtain a copy of their service record
To find out how follow this link: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/servicerecords.html


If you have stories or photographs of HMS Verdun you would like to contribute to the web site please contact Bill Forster



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