This postcard size photograph appears to be a copy of a much larger damaged print in a gilded frame
It was posted home by George Little and now belongs to Donna Lee
On the China Station
photograph was sent to me by Donna Lee who described herself as "a
family history fanatic" in her e-mail. Her Uncle George LIttle is "the
handsome guy playing the accordion in the front row". The cap badges
have the name of HMS Westcott
them which was not permitted in wartime so the photograph must date
from between the wars. I am hoping to find out more about George Little
and his service in the Royal Navy with the HMS Westcott
Jazz Band. If you can assist please do get in touch with me by e-mail
George Little, Torpedoman
downloaded George Little's service record from The National
Archives. These hand written records are difficult to interpret but it
is clear that George George Little was a “case maker’s labourer” from
Liverpool when he “signed on” fot 12 years service in the Navy on his
eighteenth birthday, the 16 August 1914. He had joined the Navy the
previous year as a “Boy Sailor” in HMS Impregnable
, the boys training ship at Devonport, Plymouth, before joining HMS Defiance
the Torpedo Training School at Devonport. By 1917 he was rated as a
Leading Torpedo Man (abbreviated as LTO) in the Torpedo Branch of the
Navy and worked as a practical electrician as well as a
gunner-torpedoman. To find out more about his specialism read David
Perkins description of “Rates” in the Navy and the Development of the Torpedo Branch.
The torpedo was a formidable new weapon which enabled small warships
originally known as Torpedo Boat Destroyers (TBD) to sink Battleships.
The popularity of Kiplings poem "The Destroyers"
led to the widespread adoption of the short form and may have
influenced George Little's decision to become a Topedoman. He joined
his first destroyer, HMS Valkyrie
, a V & W Class Leader, in June 1917 when she was completed. After commissioning Valkyrie
(F83) joined the 10th Destroyer Flotilla as Flotilla Leader with the
Harwich Force. On 22 December 1917 she struck a mine while escorting a
convoy to the Netherlands. Twelve men were killed, with seven more men
dying of wounds in the next few days. Three more destroyers of the 10th
Flotilla, Torrent, Surprise
, were sunk by mines on the next day. Valkyrie
was under repair at Chatham Dockyard until July 1918.
George Little left Valkyrie
and joined HMS Westcott
Cdr C R Peploe RN in command) with the substantive rate of Leading
Seaman on 11 April 1918 when she was first commissioned. Westcott
joined the 13th Destroyer Flotilla of the Grand Fleet, based at Rosyth
in support of the Battlecruiser Force, remaining there for the
remainder of the war. In 1919, the Grand Fleet was disbanded, and the
Atlantic Fleet took its place, supported by four destroyer flotillas. Westcott
joined the Second Destroyer Flotilla, based at Rosyth.
In August 1919, the Second Destroyer Flotilla, including Westcott
was deployed to the Baltic as part of the British intervention in the
Russian Civil War, relieving the First Destroyer Flotilla. The Second
Flotilla remained in the Baltic until December 1919. Sub Lt Stanley
Courcy-Ireland joined Westcott
at the same time as
George Little and described the scuttling of the German High Sea Fleet
at Scapa Flow in June 1919 and the war in the Baltic in his memoir A Naval Life.
In February 1920, Westcott
deployed to the Mediterranean, shelling Turkish forces during the
Greco-Turkish War, before returning to Britain in August. The sailors
in the Jazz Band were dressed in "whites" which suggests the photograph
was taken at this time but it is clearly marked as being taken at
Copenhagen. In 1921 the destroyers of the Atlantic Fleet were reduced
in size and organised into six flotillas, each comprising a Flotilla
leader and eight destroyers. Westcott
was assigned to the Sixth Flotilla. George Little appears to have served in
Westcott until 1923 by which time he was a Petty Officer.
George Little married Margaret in 1926 and they had two boys.
They lived in Malta where the Mediterranean Fleet was based but after
his wife's early death aged 26 in 1936 he retired from service to look
after their sons. In the photograph on the right taken
shortly before he left the Navy his uniform has on it the badges of a
PO Gunnery Instructor and ribbons for his wartime service. He died from
a heart attack a year later in 1937 when he was 40 and his sons were
6 and 4. They were brought up by George's parents in Liverpool.
Donna Lee is hoping to find out more about the Uncle she never knew.
re-commissioned on 2 October 1936 for service as a tender to the
4th Submarine Flotilla, China (and the China Deep Diving Unit). Part of
the ship’s role was to act as a target for submarine attacks and before
leaving Devonport for Hong Kong in November 1936 her
aft (Y) gun and her torpedo tubes were removed to allow for fitting a
winch for recovering torpedoes fired by submarines during trials and
storage of the recovered torpedoes. Westcott
was one of the first ships to be fitted with ASDIC for
detecting submerged submarines. Westcott
was on the China Station from
January 1937 until her arrival at Malta in February 1940. Her
Captain was Cdr Edward Masterman Loly RN, born in 1896, the son of a
schoolmaster. He survived the sinking of submaring J6 on 15 October
1918 a month before the end of the Great War and commanded six
submarines between 1920 and his appointment as CO of HMS Westcott on 1 January 1937.
description of this period is by Tom Chapman (on right) in his book: Water, Water, Everywhere: the life story of HMS Westcott (Aedificamas
Press, 1996). Tom Chapman and his shipmates on the lower deck were
mainly interested in the lives they led in the "exotic east" on a
rating's pay but ever present in the background was the ongoing war
between the Japanese army, the Kuomintang Nationalists and the
competing Chinese Communist Party, the danger of being dragged into
this and its threat to British interests.
Tom Chapman joined HMS Westcott at Hong Kong in June 1939 but Westcott arrived at Hong Kong two years earlier on 6 January 1937 but Ship's Writer Joliffe describes the horrendous journey out and shipmates Alan Flisher
and Jim Mills contributest their memories of these earlier years. On their first
run ahore most men "made for the China Fleet Club for steak, egg and
chips or chicken chow-main, and after to the pictures ... and back to
the ship in the rickshaws waiting for them outside the cinema". The
'Sew-Sew Girl' was allowed on the mess-deck to mend clothes and the men
could borrow money from her until pay day. 'Jelly Belly', the tailor,
could make a suit in a few hours which would last for years. All the
washing was done by dhobi girls. In May 1937 the Westcott's crew took part in the military parade to mark the Coronation of King George V1. Afterwards, Westcott sailed north to Wei-Hai-Wei an island leased from China, where the crew could buy roast chickens, "Wei-Hai Wei" runners.
From Ching Wang Tao, the "Back Garden of Beijing and Tianjin", the crew
paid for tours by bus and train to the Great Wall of China, Tientsin
and Peking and slept between white sheets in a hotel and visited the "Forbidden City". Japanese troops nearby brought their tour to an early end and they left Ching Wang Tao with the British Ambassador, Sir Hugh Knatchbull,
who was seriously wounded when machine gunned by a Japanese fighter
pilot. Later they went to Vladivostock and were entertained by the
Russian Navy and Army, who thrashed them at football and toasted them
They returned to Hong Kong during a typhoon which sunk 28 ships and
destroyed countless buildings with the number killed estimated at
11,000. The ship was drydocked and the crew helped the Army remove the
dead and injured from the ruined buildings. After visiting Miri in
Sarawak and Bali they exercised with Australian ships in the Indian
Ocean before calling in at Malacca on the Malay peninsula, where a
sailor lost his footing, fell overboard and was drowned. This delayed
their arrival on a five day visit to the Dutch Naval Base of Surabaya in Easten Java with Orpheus and Proteus, two of the submarines in the 4th Submarine Sqadron, until late on 8 March 1938. The Dutch newspaper Die Indische Courant
published lengthy articles on the visit and its readers must have found
reassuring. A day trip to an open air zoo was organised for the crew
and Cdr Edward M. Lolly RN and his officers were entertained ashore by
the Dutch Submarine Service at Pasnan. Surabaya lives on in the memory of lovesick ladies who have heard Lotte Lenya singing "Surabaya Johnny" (1929) and all those sailors who have visited Surabaya.
The English officers of HMS Westcott and the submarines dine in the long dinning room of the submarine base at Pasiran te Soerabaja, Surabaya
On leaving Surabaya Westcott
went to Singapore via Malacca and before returning to Hong Kong where
some of the crew left to return to Britain on a troop carrer, the Dunera. In
April Cdr Edward M. Lolly left Westcott and may have returned to Britain on the Dunera and was relieved by Cdr Cyril
Joseph Firth. Submarine
exercises were held off Malaya and one of the six torpedoes went
missing and was found by an RAF plane being carried on their shoulders
through the jungle by a tribe of natives and it took a search team a
week to retrieve it!
In September, four months after joining HMS Westcott as their new CO, Cdr Firth took very ill and died at Wei-Hi-Wei:
"His funeral took place on the island and representatives from the whole of the Fleet attended together with most of Westcott's ship’s company. Unfortunately, his family were on their way out to join and had to be greeted with this awful news.”
Cdr Firth was succeeded on 1 September 1938 by Cdr James Alexander Corrie Hill, RN. He was CO on 21 October, Trafalgar Day,
when a great parade was held on the Happy Valley race course in Hong
Kong, possibly to impress the Japanese. Naval personnel from every
ship, from cruiser to MTB took part. Dress of the day was "Number Ones"
with belts, gaiters and fixed bayonets. The salute was taken by Sir
Percy Noble, C in C Far East.
Alan Flisher has more to say about Westcotts activities in 1938-9
but fails to mention a visit to Tandjong Priok, the docks for Batavia,
the capital of the Dutch East Indies, in March 1939, a year after Westcott
visited the naval base of Surabaya. Batavia is today Jakarta, the
capital of Indonesia. The caption for the photograph from the report in
the Dutch newspaper De Locomotief reads:
"An informal cocktail party was held on Friday evening at the spacious house of the British Consul-General in Batavia, Mr. Henry Fitzmaurice (XX), for the visiting officers and guests from Batavia".
Cdr James A.C. Hill was entertained in the home of the Consul-General (left) and welcomed guests aboard HMS Westcott
This is the only photograph found of Cdr James Corrie Hill
The following day Cdr Hill entertained Henry Fitzmaurice and distinguished guests aboard his ship:
"The Westcott was a pretty sight, lit
with colored lights, the bright glare a sharp contrast with the
submarines moored alongside the British destroyer. A merry company
gathered on board, not large because the deck of a hunter like the Westcott
is not suitable for a large number of visitors. The British naval
officers were warm and jovial hosts, guided their guests around the
ships and answered all their questions. Many took a look inside the
mysterious twilight of a submarine, and found out about all the
handles, wheels and levers in the narrow space. It was well past the
appointed hour when the last visitors left the welcoming deck of the Westcott to return home."
Tom Chapman joined HMS Westcott on 1 April 1939 after a six week voyage to Hong Kong on the troop ship HMT Ettrick. The new boys boarded her wearing white pussser's shorts with solar topees on their heads and were gazed at in disbelief! He
was startled to find the torpedo tubes had been removed to make room
for strorage racks for 18 practice torpedoes without warheads. After
retrieval they were returned to HMS Medway,
the depot ship, for overhaul and then back to the submarines
which fired them. He was one of only four torpedo-men out of
total complement of 110. Each mess had a Chinese mess boy who bought
and prepared their food.
Among the hundreds of Chinese junks and sampans in the harbour were Royal Navy cruisers, destroyers, submarines and HMS Medway:
joined up with some shipmates to go ashore. The first stop was the
China Fleet Club, a four storey concrete building like the Navy
House in Chatham but with Chinese staff who could not do enough for
you. Girls were plentiful and available for about seven and half
pence a time and although the wages of sin were somewhat meagre thy
appeared to be pretty happy with their lot. Many lived in flats which
were rented or loaned from older women called Almas. The money they
earned was given to the Alma and in return they received food and
shelter plus a little pocket money to buy clothes."
During the day we spent our time exercising with the submarines which
fired the old Whitehead torpedooes which left a trail of bubbles. The
Japanese had the "Long Lance Torpedo", 30 foot long which had a range
of 20 miles and a one ton warhead which were powered by hydrogen -
another deep, dark secret. When our subs fired their torpedoes at Westcott
they were set to pass underneath the ship to prevent damage to us or
the torpedo as they cost about £3,000. After completing their run the
torpedo bobbed to the surface, a line was hooked to the ring in its
nose and the electric winch hoisted it aboard, the whole job took
5 - 10 minutes.
In July Westcott and the China
Fleet went to Wei-Hai-Wei and whalers from the different ships
competed with each other at rowing and sailing. After the regatta the
ships of the Fleet sailed past the flagship and the admiral took the
salute, a signal was hauled to the mast head "Splice the Main
Brace" and we all got an extra tot of rum. Our skipper, Cdr Corrie
Hall, was a physical fitness enthusiast and "decided we would all
compete in a run round the island and I had to join the happy throng".
Tom surprised himself by coming twentieth but the winners had to race
against other ships so "the British Fleet must have done a fair old bit
of running around We Hai Wei in those days."
Westcott went to Singapore and
Tom Chapman who had suffered badlly from ear ache spent seven weeks in
hospital having a mastoid operation:
6 pm on 3rd September Singapore time, while listening to the radio, we
heard the declaration of war against Germany announced. I remembered
what we were told during our training, we were paid to kill or be
killed and nothing could be done about it other than to obey orders
Tom Chapman left hospital and on returning to Westcott
found Y Gun and the torpdoe tubes had been replaced, two depth charge
throwers added either side of the cabin flat and two depth charge
release-racks at the stern. The whole ship's company, including
officers, had to munition the ship the day he returned. The next day 30 depth charges were loaded, nine into the release racks and two into the throwers.
took aboard six 21" torpedoes and fitted their war heads, they weighed
over a ton and the heads 500 lbs each. We torpedomen fitted the
pistols, the firing mechanism, into the depth charges and torpedoes.
Back in harbour after sea trials twenty-four Hostilities Only (HO) crew
members joined us, including eight torpedomen. The ship now had a
complement of 134."
On 28 Janury 1940 HMS Westcott
left the China Station, escorting a large floating dock being towed
back to England by sea-going tugs at about three knots.
After a few days they left her on her own and headed for Colombo,
Ceylon, to refuel and provision before heading for Aden with the
cruiser, HMS Devonshire. Her
CO complained about their dirty hull and while speeding along at 15
knots two men, hanging on a staging over the side, cleaned the hull at
great risk to life. On leaving Aden and entering the Red Sea they met up with HMS Hood escorting six liners filled with Australian and New Zealand troops and increased speed to 28 knots. The mighty Hood sent a nasty signal complaining about the smoke Westcott made but was an old ship in need of a boiler clean and the convoy had to reduce speed to that of the slowest ship, HMS Westcott.
Westcott was left behind at Suez and:
headed for Malta, arriving on 14 February. Here Cdr Corrie Hill left
the ship and the new Captain, Lt Cdr Segrave took over. We were sorry
to see Cdr Corrie Hill go and piping the side, said goodbye to him and
welcomed our new Captain aboard.”
According to Admiralty records Cdr Corrie Hill left HMS Westcott in August when he was appointed CO of HMS Medway, the submarine depot ship, but Medway
was having a refit in the Naval Dockyard at Singapore from September to
February and it seems reasonable to assume that he did not take up this
appointment and remained aboard HMS Westcott as CO until her arrival at Malta.
HMS Westcott had three COs
during her time on the China Station. Cdr Loly fell ill in
February 1941, and was sent to the hospital at the South African naval
base of Simonstown, and found to have Tuberculosis in both lungs.
He was "placed on the Retired List (medically unfit) with the
rank of Captain on 22 November 1941 and died on 18 February 1942".
TB was far more more prevalent in the Navy than the other services and
could easily spread in the cramped quarters aboard a submarine and he
may have had it for some time. Indeed, if he served alongside Cdr
Firth, his successor as CO of HMS Westcott, he may have infected him. As we have seen Cdr Firth died in August 1938 four months after taking command of HMS Westcott and is buried on Wei-Hi-Wei island but the cause of death is not known.
Cdr James A. Corrie Hill RN joined the Admiralty's Planning Division at the shore base HMS President
and worked with Cdr Peter G. L. Cazalet RN drawing up plans for
destroying fuel reserves and harbour installations at ports in the
Netherlands and France should they be occupied by German forces as
proved to be the case. Cdr Czalet led a force which was sent in HMS Brilliant to Antwerp via Flushing on the Scheldt and retired as Vice Admiral Sir Peter Grenville Lyon Cazalet RN in 1953. Cdr Hill was sent to Hook of Holland in HMS Wild Swan
with a team of sappers from the Kent Fortress Royal Engineers (KFRE) to
destroy fuel reserves and refineries at Rotterdam, harbour
installations at the Hook and bring back Dutch gold reserves from the
Rotterdam branch of the national bank. He was killed on 11 May 1940
returning along the New Waterway from Rotterdam to the Hook when the
pilot steamer carrying the gold detonated a magnetic mine dropped by a
German aircraft the previous evening. You can read about this
operation, code named Operation XD - Party B, on the website of HMS Wild Swan.
If you wish to know more about the part played by the V & Ws in
protecting British interests on the China Station start by reading
about events at Wuhan on the Yangste during the Chinese Civil War which
led to China taking control of foreign trading concessions on China's
largest river. In the 1930s the threat was from Japan. On 8 December
1941, the day Japan launched its attack on Pearl Harbour, its troops
also attacked Hong Kong, landed on the Malay peninsula and marched
south to Singapore, all without any declaration of war. Hong Kong fell
on Christmas Day and Singapore was occupied on 15 February 1942.
The Dutch East Indies was invaded on New Year's Day 1942 and Batavia
surrendered in March.
Loet Velmans, a high school student who escaped with his family from Scheveningen, the port for The Hague, in the Dutch lifeboat, Zeemanshoop on 14 May 1940 and was picked up in mid channel by HMS Venomous,
went with his parents to the Dutch East Indies to resume his education.
In 1941 he was conscripted into the Dutch Army and within a week of the
Japanese invasion in March 1942 was
a POW of the Japanese. His family was Jewish and he escaped death in a
German concentration camp but spent two years as a POW working on the
Burma to Siam Railway which he described in Long Way back to the River Kwai (Arcade Publishing, 2003)
What did the future hold for Torpedoman Tom Chapman? He describes the part played by Westcott at Narvik in the Norwegian campaign and the loss of HMS Whirlwind in the Atlantic. He remained aboard HMS Westcott until 1942 when he joined HMS Lookout which claims to be the most heavily bombed destroyer to survive the war but he choose to write a book about Westcott. The V & Ws were always the favourite ship of the men who served in them.
Navigation Officer on Arctic Convoys
Lt. Stuart Murray William Farquharson-Roberts RN
year old Lt. Stuart Murray William Farquharson-Roberts was born at
Lower Bourne, Farnham, Surrey, on 3 June 1922 and in the late thirties was sent to Brighton
College, an independent boarding school established in 1845. He wanted
to become an officer in the Royal Navy and took the special
entry exam for Dartmouth in 1939. He was good at mathematics, passed
and did well at the interview and entered the Royal Navy College,
Dartmouth, aged eighteen in 1940.
On the 3 June 1940, his
second day at Dartmouth, he received a message that his father, Colonel
M.F. Farquharson-Roberts of the Royal Army Service Corp (RASC), had
escaped from Dunkirk aboard a destroyer. He never told his son the
name of the destroyer but it could have been HMS Venomous,
the destroyer my father served in much later in the war, which on that day brought back 1,400
troops including Generals Alexander and Percival.
The Battle of Dakar
the end of his first term at Dartmouth twenty of the cadets volunteered
to begin their service as midshipmen in allied warships. Stuart Farquharson-Roberts was one of three cadets who joined the Australian heavy cruiser, HMAS Australia (Captain R.R. Stewart R.N). HIs wartime service had a dramatic beginning when HMAS Australia was
sent to Dakar, the French naval base on the west coast of Africa, to
demand the surrender of the French Fleet after the fall of France, Operation Menace. It was mportant to prevent the French Fleet falling into German hands, and especially their new battleship Richelieu.
HMAS Australia was part of a powerful force which included an aircraft carrier, the Ark Royal, two battleships, HMS Barham and Resolution, five cruisers and eleven destroyer escorts. On
23 September they were ordered to steam offshore so that the French
warships could see how powerful they were and be persuaded to
surrender and join the Free French forces under General de Gaulle. Their orders from naval headquarters required them to determine whether the French were “Happy,
nasty”. Mid Stuart Farquharson-Roberts was on the Air Defence Position
above the bridge with a clear view of what happened as they
approached. The Walrus, their catatapult launched flying boat, took off
to observe the French fleet and was shot down killing all three of its
crew and when HMAS Australia came within range the French shore batteries opened fire. From
his position above the bridge Stuart thought the shells were
hurtling straight towards him. It was clear that the French were
"nasty" and had no intention of surrendering.
The powerful French destroyer L'Audacieux
left harbour and steamed towards HMAS Australia.
Captain R.R. Stewart R.N. decided to signal her in French to surrender
or she would be sunk but neither he or the Australians on the
bridge knew any French. His 18 year old Midshipman, until recently a
schoolboy at Brighton College, called out that he knew some French and
told by Captain Stewart to come on down. He had a problem with
word for sunk but a dictionary was brought to the bridge and Stuart's
translation was signalled to the French destroyer and received a
single word reply, "Jamais". Captain Stewart asked what it meant and
Stuart told him, "Never!" The Captain ordered Australia to open fire at 1624/23 and three minutes later the French
destroyer was on fire from stem to stern. According to one report a RN destroyer was
sent to pick up survivors but the French shore batteries opened fire on her and she
withdrew. The French ship burned for 36 hours and was eventually beached.
A landing was attempted by Free French troops from French
sloops but withering fire from a strong point overlooking the beach
thwarted this attack and it was called off. General
de Gaulle is supposed to have declared, "He did not want to shed the blood of Frenchmen for
Frenchmen" and Operation Menace was abandoned leaving Vichy Forces in control of Dakar. Midshipman Mackenzie J Gregory also serving in HMAS Australia gives a more detailed account of the Battle of Dakar on Ahoy, Mac's Web Log. In
November 1942, Vichy French forces in North Africa switched sides and
joined the Free French and after repair in New York the French Battleship Richelieu served with the Home Fleet at Scapa Flow and in the war against Japan in the Pacific.
Return to Britain on a banana boat
Midshipman Farquharson-Roberts left HMAS Australia near Sydney, Australia, on 24 June 1941 and his S264, the "flimsy" he received from Capt Stewart, noted that
he was “cool and collected in action”. He and the other two Midshipmen
from Dartmouth, Ian Campbell and Rober R. "Bob" Fernie (killed when the submarine, HMS Regent, was lost on 11 April 1943) returned to Britain in a "banana boat", MV Port Dunedin, a Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship (DEMS), with six DEMS Gunners, as described by Alick Sangster:
“On Port Dunedin
our quarters were aft, part of the after hold and next to the steering
flat. The accommodation was reasonable for the times with bunks for
eight in all, though there were only six of us. We also had 'heads' on
the port side, and a wash room and mess on the starboard side. We had
the same food as the rest of the crew, brought from the galley.
Our armaments were Hotchkiss machine guns on the bridge wings, and a
Marlin gun on the monkey island. We also had a 12 pounder AA gun. This
was mounted aft, just forward of the 4.7" anti sub gun, both located on
top of the accommodation of the bosun, chippy and donkeyman."
French Atlantic ports were occupied by Germany and their convoy headed
east across the Pacific and through the Panama Canal to the Atlantic.
They headed along the eastern seabord of the United States to
Halifax in Nova Scotia where the convoys assembled for the Atlantic
crossing to Liverpool, staying well clear of the French coast. The Port Dunedin joined Convoy HX143, a large convoy of 73 ships, which left Halifax on 5 August 1941. Stuart remembered
passing HMS Prince of Wales and
seeing Winston Churchill smoking a cigar on the quarter deck. The three
Midshipman stood on the port side of their banana boat and saluted him
as they passed and he waved back. Churchill was returning to Britain
after signing the Atlantic Charter on 13 August with Rosevelt aboard
the USS Augusta in Placenta Bay, Newfoundland. This brief encounter made a deep impression on all the ships in the convoy - and on Churchill:
- At about 1500 hours in approximate position 60N, 34W the PRINCE OF
WALES closed convoy HX 143 (Ex Halifax 5/8/41, 73 mercantiles escorted
by the AMC WOLFE, destroyer BURNHAM and corvettes AGASSIZ, GALT, LEVIS
and MAYFLOWER). Churchill had the battleship steam through the middle
of the convoy flying the signal 'Bon voyage, Churchill', Churchill
stood at the rail waving and the ships of the convoy hooting in return.
Churchill enjoyed the experience so much he had Captain Leach reverse
course and repeat the manoeuvre."
He can no
longer remember the sequence of the ships in which he served
and exact dates but after returning to Britain he served in the heavy cruiser HMS Cumberland, the old R-Class destroyer HMS Skate and spent a few weeks on the V & W Class destroyer, HMS Vanity escorting East Coast Convoys and on the battleship HMS Renown before taking his Seamanship Exam and joining HMS Archer,
a "Woolworth's Carrier", an escort carrier built quickly on the
cheap from the hull of a merchant ship. The British built Woolworth's
Carriers and the American Attacker Class escort carriers swung the balance in favour of the escorts for Arctic Convoys. He joined HMS Westcott as Navigation Officer in 1943.
Christmas Day 1943
This brief description of Christmas Day 1943 when HMS Westcott was escorting return convoy RS.55A was first published in Hard Lying, the magazine of the V & W Destroyer Association, and republished along with many other articles from Hard Lying in Stormy Fairweather's book of the same name.
"On that day I was a 21 year old Lieutenant, one of three bridge watch
keepers in HMS Westcott, a WWI destroyer, escorting the homeward bound
convoy RA.55A, roughly south of Bear Island. I had the middle watch, so
Christmas started for me at 0001 on the bridge. Course west, wind south
west rising to gale force, plenty of icy spray. We spent much of the
time finding four fleet destroyers, lent for protection, but to pass
them the message that they were now required to join the eastbound
convoy JW55B which had recently passed us.
My next watch was the afternoon, so Christmas lunch had to be taken
alone in the wardroom at around 1130. Our course was now northwest
towards the pack ice, presumably to distance us from trouble -
intelligence reporting that the mighty battlecruiser SCHARNHORST was
stirring and might be sailing north. The wind was now gale force and on
our port beam, strong enough to roll us 45 to 50 degrees to starboard.
To stop everything flying about, the wardroom staff secured the settee
and the two arm chairs hard up against the starboard wall settee, thus
making a comfortable channel in which to sit with lunch on one's lap,
without fear of the meal taking flight. Despite the turmoil the steward
produced delightful roast beef and a wonderful roast potato - why
"wonderful"? Because we only had upper deck stowage for vegetables, so
after three days out from our Russian port anything not eaten would be
frost bitten and ditched. The wardroom cook [bless him!] kept enough
spuds below to give us all one for Christmas. Otherwise it would have
been rice balls - edible but not quite the same. Next came the usual
figgy duff, nice enough!
Soon it was time for my duffel coat, oilskin and neck towel - at all
costs keep the icy spray off your chest! - and now the very careful
opening of the starboard watertight door to the upper deck. This has
five steel clips, one above and below, three down the side, the middle
where a handle would normally be. This one you leave to last, and seize
the moment when returning from the big starboard roll to get out. You
now have a few seconds in which to close all five clips, get round
forward of your superstructure where you reach a long, high, taut
jackstay reaching to the break of the forecastle. From it hang strips
of rope called lizards, with hard eyes so they can travel along the
jackstay. You grab one and start walking along the iron deck - V&W
destroyers have no passage below. Once or twice progress will be
interrupted when the big roll lets seawater foam across the deck -
"shipping it green", as they say. This can dislodge your seaboots'
slippery grip, but as long as you keep hugging that lizard you will
soon get going again. At least you can see things; midday in midwinter
at those latitudes gives you a dim dawn slowly turning into a similar
dusk, with about 21 hours of darkness ahead. Arriving at the forecastle
you change grip with care to a metal rung ladder - gloves essential,
the icy rungs would take strips off your bare hands - and after three
such ladders you are back on your open bridge.
Christmas afternoon brought the news that the Scharnhorst and escorting
destroyers were at sea, probably after the laden outward convoy JW.55B,
that three of our cruisers were joining its defence. One was Belfast,
still alongside at London. The Home Fleet was steaming east at top
speed to join the fray. In RA.55A
we were fast leaving the scene but could follow the Boxing Day ensuing
battle by radio, since Admiral Frazer in the battleship Duke of York decided to use plain language for signals for greater speed of action.
As the gallant Scharnhorst finally went down fighting there was
rejoicing, but 70 years on one remembers that only 36 survivors were
picked up from 1,767 men. Men probably very similar to us, and often
with a common enemy, the sea."
Arctic Convoys 1944
This description of a typical Arctic Convoy based on notes written during the convoy was written by Stuart Farquharson-Roberts for Tom Chapman's book Water, Water, Everywhere. It
describes northbound convoy JW56B which left Loch Ewe on 22 January
1944 and return Convoy RA56 which left Murmansk on 3 February 1994 and
arrived on 11 February.
After a very tiring night spent at action stations, dragging the
anchor, we proceeded across Loch Ewe to find a more sheltered billet.
The wind moderated slightly, and one began to wonder whether conditions
were fair enough to put to sea. The disadvantage of doing so was a
debatable matter. We would have greatly liked a good night in before
leaving harbour (the previous night being less of a night in than one
would ever get at sea) but on the other hand the convoy had already
been delayed several days on account of the weather and prevailing
opinion was “lets get the evil business over and done with”.
thinking was brought to an end however when the Commodore hoisted his
‘Weigh and Proceed’ signal. Since we were the Senior Officer for the
opening stages we had to be out with the leading hip, which was rather
annoying as it always means hanging around for hours outside until the
convoy forms up.
were encountered as soon as we left Loch Ewe. Not a propitious start.
Coming up suddenly the weather caused nearly half the ship’s company to
succumb to sea sickness. Thanks to the doctors pills I was among the
usual stooging around while the convoy joined up, we took up station
ahead and proceeded to Iceland. For some days past, grim signals had
been coming in, an extremely severe gale had broken up the convoy ahead
of us and we soon passed one or two ships which had to leave and
subsequently turn back, JA56A (Roskill).
seldom happens however and we struck nothing worse than a heavy swell
and a force 6 wind from the SW, quite normal for these waters.
days passed in the convoy and we picked up land echoes by radar at long
range on the morning of the 25th. As we had to refuel at Suddisfjord we
left. Convoy behind at 1000 hrs and carried on t 18 knots.
afternoon a local offshore wind picked up, quickly becoming a force 8
gale and lashing the sea up until we had to reduce speed on account of
the heavy bumping. One of the advantages of being in these old
destroyers is that one has to take care of them more than the fleet
destroyers in heavy seas, since their old plates cannot stand up to
much without the rivets beginning to loosen. Consequently, it never
becomes too uncomfortable. During the afternoon a fleet of destroyers
which has unsuccessfully tried to meet us eight hours earlier went past
at 20 knots and at times gave a very realistic imitation of a submarine.
bitterly cold, and the spray froze almost before it hit the bridge, so
we were soon iced up on the standing rigging and fo’castle guard rails.
We entered Suddisfjord about 1630 and wen straight alongside the oiler. After a while the Whitehall came alongside, and we were able to take a few drinks together and wish each other luck before the long trip started.
We slipped at
2200 and proceeded to re-join the convoy, first securing the ship in
anticipation of heavy weather. Once again, we met the unexpected, the
wind dropped, and a brilliant aurora was playing over a clear blue sky.
We picked up the convoy without difficulty, taking up station well
ahead until daylight afforded us better chance of sorting things out.
The 3rd destroyer flotilla joined the convoy as expected next forenoon
and we took up position on the port quarter of the convoy. The convoy
now had a formidable escort of six fleet destroyers, twelve V & W
destroyers, several fleet sweepers and some corvettes, far more than
would be found on any Atlantic convoy. This is probably due to the
possibility of interference by the Tirpitz in Kola fjord or a flotilla of German destroyers.
During the day a sea swell subsided, the wind dropped and for once it
was quite pleasant to be on the job. Calm weather means increased enemy
activity, however, so we were not surprised to see an unidentified
aircraft during the afternoon at extreme range – probably a JU88 making
preliminary reports of the convoy movements. It soon disappeared and we
rightly surmised that that we had been spotted and reported to the
Germans. This meant a probable return of the aircraft the next day to
check up on our speed and possibly start homing the U-boats and other
aircraft homing in on us.
Sure enough, at 1300 the next day he was back again, a bit bolder this
time. Coming within range of one or two of the heavier armed ships. He
would have to be close indeed to come within effective range of our two
four-inch guns. However, hope springs eternal and we closed up at air
station action stations on the off chance. By now it was quite clear
the enemy knew all about us and from other information received we knew
that several U-boats were converging on us. Reports from the convoy
ahead indicated that they had been through a heavy attack, three
merchant ships had been sunk and one escort damaged. This afforded us
one consolation in that at least six U-boats had had their stings drawn
and would be going home for new ones.
The convoy ahead had reached their destination the next day and we were
very pleased to hear that the 26th destroyer flotilla was doing a quick
turn around and coming back to help us. The U-boats would now have a
very tough nut to crack, with such a strong support group patrolling
around the convoy, leaving a strong screen intact.
Meanwhile, the general situation pointed to an attack by U-boats not
before the 29th for they do not attack as they arrive but wait and form
up into a pack some way off first. On the other hand, a large-scale air
attack with glider bombers and other horrors was quite on the cards for
But the air attack never came, possibly they are running out of
aircraft in other outposts of their ill-gotten Empire. Instead, the
normal shadow turned up punctually at 1300, a BV 138 this time. He
stayed about an hour.
Now for it? RT silence had been broken all ships were on top line, at
1100 on the 29th we saw and heard heavy gun fire on the horizon by the
starboard quarter of the convoy. The report soon came over the air Whitehall and Mahratta were engaging two surface U-boats. Whitehall
again! She always seems to have the fun. No jealousies are as strong as
family ones, as in the case here where her Skipper, Lt Cdr Cowell is my
second cousin-in-law. A few minutes later both U-boats had dived, no
hits had been observed and the two destroyers proceeded to sit on ‘em
gradually dropping astern. Soon the distant rumble of depth charges
which were to be heard almost incessantly for the next three days
announcing headaches, at least, for the two U-boat crews. Even if the
depth charges do not prove fatal, they achieve the chief aim of
preventing the submarines concerned from taking any further part in the
operation. For although the hulls take a lot of cracking electric light
bulbs and already frayed nerves don’t.
On the strength of this excitement we had gone to action stations,
which was just as well as a couple of shadowing BV138’s decided to have
a really close look at us. This gave us a long-awaited chance to open
fire, but it was an abortive shoot. The rounds falling into the water
at short range. Still, it achieved the purpose of masking the planes
keep their distance. We switched to defence watches (one in two instead
of one in three) so as to have both guns manned, but apart from Whitehall and Mahrattas’
continued attacks, nothing further happened during the afternoon and
the convoy arrived safely in Kola on 2.2.44. Returning with 37 ships on
the 3 February, arriving at Loch Ewe on the 11 February 1944.
On the 27 March 1944 Westcott escorted JW.58 from Loch Ewe and arrived at Kola on 5 April with no losses and returned with RA.58 from Kola on 7 April arriving back at Loch Ewe on the 14 April 1944.
Lt. Stuart Murray William Farquharson-Roberts RN
On leaving HMS Westcott he joined HMS Conn, a turbo-diesel ("Buckley") Captain Class frigate named after Captain John Conn of HMS Dreadnought at the Battle of Trafalgar. Her CO was Lt Cdr Raymond Hart who had commanded the V & W HMS Vidette,
a member of the B7 Escort Group during the defence of Convoy ONS.5 in
April 1943. Hart was the Senior Officer of the 21st Escort Group
(1944-45) in Conn and led them in sinking three U-boats in March 1945, two in one day. Stuart
Farquharson-Roberts remained in the Royal Navy after the war and retired
as Capt Stuart M.W. Farquharson-Roberts RN in 1977. He lives in Steep,
Hampshire, has internet access and e-mail (via his carer) and still occasionaly drives a car.