This short summary of the story of HMS Witch is also a guide to the website The links in bold are to pages on this website and those in plain blue type are to information elsewhere on the web
HMS Witch, the first
Royal Navy ship of the name, was laid down on 13 June 1918 by John I.
Thornycroft & Company at Woolston, Hampshire. Her construction
slowed after the Armistice with Germany and she was not launched until
11 November 1919. She was towed to Devonport Dockyard at Devonport,
Devon, where her fitting-out took place slowly, and she was not
completed until March 1924.
Witch was commissioned in March 1924 and served with the 4th
Destroyer Flotillan in the Mediterranean until 1931 when she
recommissioned for service on the China Station with the 8th Destroyer
Flotilla. In December 1934 the V & W destroyers in the 8DF swopped ships with the 1st DF at Singapore and
took over their role in the Mediterranean. Arthur Horrocks joined HMS Witch as Chief Stoker at Singapore in December 1934. The outbreak of the
Spanish Civil War in 1936 persuaded the Foreign Office to repatriate
the remaining British citizens in Spain and on 22 July 1936 HMS Witch,
captained by Cdr B.A. Warburton-Lee, departed from Ferrol in
northwestern Spain for Britain. She was soon decommissioned and placed
in reserve at Rosyth, Scotland.
Witch was recommissioned for
the Royal Review of the Reserve Fleet by King George VI in 1939. After
a month at Rosyth escorting east coast convoys she was transferred to
Western Appproaches Command at Plymouth and then at LIverpool. On
9 April 1940 she took passage to Scapa Flow for service with the
Home Fleet escorting military convoys to Norway after the German
invasion (Operation RUPERT/R4). In June 1940 she returned to Rosyth
escorting east coast Convoys.
August 1942 HMS Witch was being converted into a short-range escort. In February 1943 Witch transfered to Freetown, Sierra Leone, for service with local escort forces there. In April 1943, Witch and Wolverine rescued 53 survivors of the British merchant ship Empire Whimbrel, sunk 420 nautical miles southwest of Freetown by U-181 on 11 April 1943 .
By May 1944 she returned to the UK and began operations in the North
Sea, which she continued until the surrender of Germany in early May
1945. She is thought to have been converted into an Air Target Ship for the pilots of Torpedo Bomber Reconnaisance (TBR) planes based at RNAS Crail near Rosyth, but the evidence for this is not conclusive.
Lt Cdr Charles R. Peploe, RN (4 Feb. 1924 – Aug. 1925)
Lt Cdr Ralph Kerr, RN (13 July 1925 – 22 April, 1926) Cdr Augustus "Gus" W.S. Agar RN (22 April 1926 - July 1927)
Cdr Eric P. Vivian, RN (10 Sept. 1927 – Sept. 1929)
Lt Cdr William G. Davis, RN (9 April 1928 – 16 May 1931)
Cdr Lawrence F. N. Ommanney, RN (14 Feb. 1932 – April 1933)
Cdr John M. Howson, RN (3 May, 1933 - Cdr Bernard A.W. Warburton-Lee RN(17 Dec 1934 - Feb 1936) Lt Cdr John Lee-Barber RN (1937-8)
Lt Cdr Henry T. Pawsey, RN (28 Sept. 1938 – 14 Oct. 1938)
Former Full Members of the V & W Destroyer Assoociation J.
Clarke (London), T. Davies (Prescot, Merseyside), Cdr Christopher H.
Fothergill RN (Woking, Surrey), Ray Hodgson (Kettering),
A. Miles (Ludlow, Shropshire), E. Restall (Bristol), J. Whistance (Darlaston, West Mid)
Please get in touch if you have a family member who served in HMS Witch
Between the Wars
Dressed up for a water polo match with a team from HMS Whitshed, 1928 From Hard Lying - Courtesy of Stormy Fairweather
Crossing the Line - on her way to the China Station? From Hard Lying - Courtesy of Stormy Fairweather
Arthur Horrocks, Chief Stoker
During the 1930s HMS Witch was on the China Station and
in the Fourth and First Destroyer Flotillas with the Mediteranean Fleet based at Valetta, Malta
Cdr Bernard A.W. Warburton-Lee RN and the Ship's Company of HMS Witch in the Grand Harbour at Valetta, Malta, between 1935-36 Courtesy of Elizabeth Moon, the Grand daughter of Arthur
Horrrocks, Chief Stoker, fourth from left in the second row from the
Three portraits of Arthur Horrocks, Stoker In 1920 (left) and older and more senior - centre & right
Arthur Horrock's story is based on the childhood memories of his grand daughter Elizabeth Moon, his service certificatesand the few photographs which survived when the family home in Devonport, Plymouth, was bombed.
Horrocks came from
Bolton and after working in the mills joined the navy in 1917; his
service records state his height and weight which showed he was very
underweight and short for his age but both showed rapid improvement on
the navy diet. He met my grandmother in Plymouth in 1920, captivated by
her beautiful red hair and decided in short order that she was the girl
for him"; Elizabeth Moon.
He was born at Bolton, Lancashire, on 14 November 1899 and was a
"spinner's assistant" in a cotton mill when he enlisted in the Navy on
his eighteenth birthday for 5 + 7 years. He joined as a "Boy Sailor" but was rated as an Able Seaman when he joined HMS New Zealand, one of three Indefatigable-class battlecruisers, in February 1919, but was "recategorised" as as a Stoker in April. HMS New Zealand made
a world tour with Admiral John Jellicoe onboard on his ‘Review of
Dominion Defences’ visiting India, Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and
other Pacific Islands including Hawaii. He was only 19 and was tempted to jump ship in
Australia (girl friend) but thought better of it and and returned to Devonport in HMS New Zealand where she ‘Paid Off’ on 15th March 1920. He had "seen the world" and had a lot of fun and may have been surprised to
receive a "war gratuity" for three years service in HMS New Zealand on
14 November 1920. On returning to Plymouth he met and married Eliza Ann
Eales, the girl with "beautiful red hair", who came from an old
Devon family whiich sealed his links with that county.
Arthur Horrocks was photographed in a Plymouth studio before leaving home to join Admiral Jellicoe on a world tour aboard HMS New Zealand The commemorative tin plaque
measuring 5” by 3.5” on a little wire stand records the three battles in which she fought with portraits of Capt John F.E. Green RN, her CO at the Battle of Jutland, and his wife
His next ship was HMS Douglas, a V & W Class Leader which was put in Reserve in June 1921 and he then joined HMS Warspite
a Queen Elizabeth Class Battleship completed in 1915. She was the first
large capital ship to heat her boilers with diesel oil instead of coal,
an innovation which impacted on the role of stokers who were by now stoker mechanics.
In September 1925 Arthur volunteered for the Submarine Course at HMS Dolphin at Gosport and for the next five years served in submarines. There had been no steam
engines in submarines since
the K Class (the "Kalamity Class") and
Arthur would now be working on Internal Combustion Engines (ICE). Submarines
were powered by
diesel engines when surfaced and electric motors when submerged. After
Submarine training he was drafted to the Submarine Depot Ship HMS Maidstone (1912) ‘for Submarine H52’ (sse photograph by Abrahams, Devonport) on 10th February 1926. He was advanced to Acting Leading Stoker in Augut 1926 and in January 1927 was drafted to the Submarine Depot Ship, HMS Cyclops, at Malta and served in Submarine L23. He returned to Britain and was drafted to submarine depot ship HMS Lucia
and from 6 May 1929 until May 1931 served in L71, an L Class submarine built in 1919. The photographs below are from the family album.
The diesel engines
in submarines charged the batteries which powered the electric motors used when submerged. The L
Class submarines had two diesel engines for use on the surface and two
electric motors for use submerged.
They could cruise at 17 knots (20 mph) while surfaced and had a top speed of 10.5 knots
(12.1 mph) while
submerged. The L71, a Type-III boat, had a range of 4,500
nautical miles (5,200 miles) at 8 knots ( 9.2 mph).
Elizabeth Moon recalls a story from this period:
served in early submarines and had a near fatal accident when there was
a blowback in the heads. He was only wearing overall and boots as it
was so hot and his clothes were blown off him so he emerged naked apart
from the boots. Someone laughed and in shock he took a swing at him,
possibly with a spanner, but was let off due to the circs."
On 13 May 1931 Arthur Horrocks joined HMS Walker,
his second V & W Class Destroyer (Lt Cdr G B O’B Harding, 5th
Destroyer Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet). He returned to the Royal
Navy Barracks at Devonport, HMS Vivid, in September and on 23 October 1931 joined HMS Whitehall (Lt
Cdr F R G Maunsell) on recommissioning ‘for service
with the 8th Destroyer Flotilla, China Station’. China had been in a
state of political turmoil since the death of Sun Yat Sen and the start
of the Civil War in 1926 between Chiang Kai Shek's Nationalist Party,
the Kuominstang, and the Chinese Communist Party and the instability
threatened British interests at Shanghai and British and foreign
concessions and trading posts on China's biggest river, the Yangste.
To find out more about the part played by the Royal Navy in the "Alice in Wonderland" world of the China Station visit this page about Wuhan. The 3rd Destroyer Flotilla had been sent to the China Station from the
Mediterranean in 1926 but the following year a new Flotilla, the 8th
DF, provided a permanent presence to protect British interests.
In 1932 the eight S Class destroyers in the 8th Destroyer Flotilla on
the China Station were replaced by V & Ws: Verity, Veteran, Whitehall, Whitshed, Wild Swan, Wishart, Witch and Wren.
The China Station made a big impression on men who served there.
It was so completely different from service with the Atlantic and
Mediterranean Fleets. Even a rating found he was wealthy and could have
his laundry done by
lady Amahs and spend time off ashore drinking with
younger ladies in bars. As a married man Arthur may have had his service on the China Station cut short. He was advanced to Stoker Petty Officer on 12 March 1932 and returned home on 1 April 1933. He brought with him many souvenirs of his time on the China Station which his
grand daughter has now including shoes for bound feet, a skull cap
with pigtail attached, a beautiful working model of a rickshaw carved out of ivory which has been lost, a tortoise shell vanity set in a case and a big
wooden chest carved with Chinese scenes lined
with camphor wood in which he brought these souvenirs home.
British sailors knew very little about the Chinese apart from the
stereotypes that girls had to wear small shoes to impede growth, men
grew pigtails and pulled rickshaws and the story of the three
monkeys who ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ - but that fable
is from Japan.
The cap with the pigtail of
real hair and the five inch long shoes with paper soles are lying with
the ivory carving on an embroidered silk bedspread These beautiful objects would be popular souvenirs for British sailors to bring home from the exotic East
On 1st July 1933 Arthur Horrocks was drafted to HMS Defiance, the Torpedo School Ship at Devonport, until December 1933 when he joined the 31,100-ton Battleship HMS Malaya (Captain G W Hallifax), the Flag Ship of the 2nd Battle Squadron, Home Fleet.
HMS Malaya - photographed from the "liberty boat" while returning from a trip ashore HMS Malaya was a Queen Elizabeth Class Battleship, a sister ship of HMS Warspite
In October he was drafted to HMS Decoy,
one of the D Class destroyers sent to Singapore to swop ships with the
elderly V & W Class destroyers on the China Station. The 8th DF swopped their V &
Ws for modern D Class destroyers at Singapore in December 1934 and
their crews returned in their new ships to the China Station while HMS Witch and her sister V & Ws took on the role of the First Destroyer Flotilla (1DF) in
the Mediterranean. The card on the right list their names and is
signed by their Commanding Officers. The return voyage to the Med
and the Mediterranean years are described by Lord Louis Mountbatten, the CO of HMS Daring on the outward voyage and of HMS Wishart on the return voyage.
Arthur Horrocks and his shipmates left HMS Decoy at Singapore and joined HMS Witch(Cdr B A Warburton-Lee) on
17 December 1934 and served in her as part of the 1DF in the
Mediterranean until she returned to Britain on 30 August 1936. Hitler
and his Nationalist Socialist Party had been elected to power in 1933
and Germany was rearming, Mussolini invaded Abyssinia in October 1935
which appealed to the League of Nationals for help. Britain and France
were members and this was a potentias threat to theii interests but the
Leagues response was ineffective.
In July 1936 the Spanish Civil War started when General Franco revolted
against the left wing government of the Republican Party which was
supported by the USSR. The Italians attacked merchant ships carrying
arms to the Republican Government and the Royal Navy became involved in
the evacuation of British nationals, tourists (it was the height of the
holiday season), residents and volunteers fighting for the Republican
government. It was a confusing and chaotic situation and Commanding
Officers occasionally took decisions guided more by personal bias than
British interests. Questions were asked in Parliament about steps taken
to protect British citizens and by August 1936 some 59 ships of the
Royal Navy were taking part, including nine V & W Class destroyers:
HMS Keppel, Veteran, Vanoc, Vanity, Verity, Wishart, Wren, Witch and Whitshead. British
citizens were transported to the safety of Gibraltar and Republican
refugees to the safety of the loyalist ports of Malaga, Valencia and
HMS Witch, commanded by Lt Cdr Bernard Armitage Warburton-Lee (1895-1940), was sent from Gibraltar to Ferrol, Galicia, in North West Spain, and on the 22 July 1936evacuated British citizens employed by the part British owned Sociedad Española de Construcción Naval building
warships for the Spanish Navy and brought them home to Britain. On 3
August 1936 Arthur Horrocks was advanced to Chief Stroker and left HMS Witch at the end of the month when she was decomissioned and placed in Reserve at Rosyth. He returned to HMS Drake, the naval barracks at Devonport, Plymouth, formerly known as HMS Vivid, and on the 17 October was drafted to HMS Foresight (Lt Cdr J H Huntley), 6th Destroyer Flotilla, Home Fleet.
Service certificates are often semi-legible and always difficult to
interpret but family stories even when censored can add a bit of
"colour" as demonstrated by Elizabeth Moon's childhood memories:
heavily edited for young ears, and I’m not sure are fit for
publication! But nearly getting Shanghai’d in a rickshaw and being
rescued by a Sikh policeman, a couple of crew members getting rolled
over in a bar and the ships company descending on it the next night and
taking it apart, where I don’t know! Near mutiny possibly fleet wide
where the order to change from blue serge to whites hadn’t been given
and it was obviously somewhere hot. My mum and dad knew these less
salubrious tales and told us much later. A story he did like to tell us
as kids was trying octopus for the first time and chewing and chewing
and not getting anywhere."
A trip ashore to a port in North Africa - probably the Spanish enclave of Ceuta - for a sporting event Written on the back: "team and selection committee with a few locals on arrival" Stamped in Spanish: "TAJETA POSTAL union universal de correos"
Arthur Horrocks returned to HMS Witch as Chief Stoker when she came out of Reserve on 10 July 1939 and with
Lt.Cdr. John Richard Barnes, RN
in command attended the Royal Review of the Reserve Fleet by King
George VI in August. Arthur had been in the Royal Navy for twenty years
but had never been in action but that was now about to change but his
Grand daughter had no stories to tell of his wartime service in the
Navy and it is not possible to carry out further research apart from
Googling the web to extract a few sparse details from standard souurces
such as Wikipedia and navalhistory-net due to the Corona pandemic.
The entries in his service record are very few from this point onwards. He appears to have remained aboard HMS Witch until 6 May 1941 and left during a six week refit at the Vickers Yard at Barrow in Furness and was then drafted to HMS Orlando,
a Shore Establishment and Gunnery School at Navy House, Greenock,
Scotland. No further drafting information is available before he
was ‘Invalided’ out on 9th October 1945 due to loss of heaering. It is
hoped that a search by the Navy Records Office, Restore Records Management, of the Pay and Victualing records will fill in the gaps.
- to be continued -
Lt. Cdr. Cecil Hamilton Holmes CO of HMS Witch from May 1941 - June 1942 Escorting Atlantic Convoys
Lt.Cdr. Cecil Hamilton Holmes, RN was CO of HMS Witch from 4 May
1941 to July 1942. He is the only wartime CO of HMS Witch
to have left a first hand account of his time as CO. It is brief and
informal but gives a real insight into what it was like to be CO of a V
& W destroyer escorting Atlantic Convoys from Liverpool to North
Cecil Holmes was born in Seoul, Korea, where his father worked for the
British Legation, on 18 March 1906. Cecil was one of four children, two
born in Japan where his father retired as His Majesty's Consul-General
at Yokohama and was awarded the Companion of the Order of St Michael
and St George (CMG) by King George V in his 1928 birthday honours. This
seems very remote from Northwich but his father's family came from
Ireland and he was born near Liverpool, not that far from Northwich.
He was 13 when he joined the Royal Navy in 1919 and by 1929 was a Lieutenant. At his own request he was sent to Japan to study the language from 1933-6. His family tree
has been traced by Nina Challenor and can be seen on Ancestry. By 1937
he was a Lt Cdr and on 20 January 1940 was appointed CO of HMS Scout, an S Class Destroyer based at Hong Kong, his first command. He was 33 and travelled to Hong Kong on the liner Aeneas with his 21 year old Danish wife, Lisbet Kampmann. He returned a year later to take command of HMS Witch
while it was having a six week refit at the Vickers Yard at Barrow in
Furness. His wife, now pregnant, stayed with his sister in large
house near Windermere. He joined HMS Witch
on the 4 May 1941 and in July they moved to the Gladstone Dock at
Liverpool, the base for the Atlantic escorts of Western Approaches
His son Jasper "was born in Northwich as it was seen as good luck for the ship" on 14 November 1941 (Kate Holmes, his daughter in law) which led to the adoption of HMS Witch by Northwich in March 1942 after a successful Warships Week National Savings programme.
Undated but thought to be the the names of the 47 ratings who joined HMS Witch at the start of her new Commission after her refit But could be the names of veterans who joined Witch when she was commissioned at the start of the war
Some of them are in the photograph of ther elderly reservists in the photograph below Found in the papers of Lt Cdr Cecil H Holmes and reproduced courtesy of Jasper and Kate Holmes
"The ship's company of about 200
consisted half of 'pensioners' older men called up from the
reserve at the beginning of the war, postman, caretakers, farmers and
Jacks of all trades. One of the best sailors in the ship had driven a
funeral hearse in a top hat and frock coat for years before the war.
The other half were young 'hostilities only' men who were kindly and
firmly pummeled into shape by the old hands. As a combination they were
grand. The young ones seemed to supply the youth and enthusiasm and the
old ones to supply the steadying influence and experience." Lt.Cdr.
Cecil Hamilton Holmes.
TheManchester Evening Newsreported on Tuesday 19 October 1943 that:
"More veterans than any other ship of her size in the RN is the boast of HMS Witch
an 18-year old destroyer adopted by Northwich. Among her ratings are 19
men who are more than 40 years of age. Oldest of the veterans is
Leading Stoker L. Anderson (50) of Tavistock, Devon."
"HMS Witch has more veterans than any other ship of her size in the Royal Navy" A group of veterans on the Witch
including Petty Officer G L Dean of Gloucester, aged 30, A/B W Prior,
of Teddington, aged 41, A/B H Dalby, of Wimbledon, aged 47, A/B M Tripp
of Newport, aged 46, A/B J Rammsay of Kirkcadly, Fife, aged 43, Petty
Officer W W Drummond of Newcastle, 48, A/B M Sexton of Middleton,
Co Cork, 47, Petty Officer H Bannister, of Woking, 36, A/B T Long of
Harrow, 46, Stoker L Anderson of Tavistock, Devon, 50 A/B E Stone of
Gillingham, Dorset, 38, A/B H H Walker of Swindon, 49. Photographed at London Docks on 13 October 1943 (Imperial War Museum A 19677)
HMS Witch (I89) after refit in 1941 From the collection of Lt Cdr Cecil H Holmes , reproduced courtesy of Jasper and Kate Holmes
HMS Witch as an Air Target Ship in May 1945 The superstructure of Air Target Ships was painted white to make them more conspicuous to the pilots of the Barricuda TBR planes IWM A29277
Towards the end of the war some of
the V & Ws and the "four piper" Town Class destroyers transferred
from the USA to Britain under Lend Lease in 1940 were no longer
suitable for front line use and were converted into Air Target Ships.
They were mainly stationed at Rosyth on the Firth of Forth and
used by Barracuda Torpedo Bomber Reconaisance planes (TBR) based at
RNAS Crail to practice dropping air launched torpedos slung beneath
their fuselage. They
began with dummy concrete torpedoes before moving on to "runners"
without warheads which had to be retrieved for reuse. The live torpedo
was 20 ft long, weighed just over a ton with 500 lbs of warhead. The
Barracuda had a crew of three: pilot, observer and air gunner who also
served as wireless operator.
Barracuda was the RNAS first monoplane and it took some time for pilots
used to flying"stringbags", Swordfish or Albacore biplanes, to become
accustomed to them. They descended from 12,000 feet at an angle of at
least 70 degrees and used their large Yeomans Flaps, known as barn
doors, to level out before releasing their torpedoes on the target
ship. Far too many trainee pilots failed to reduce speed and trim back soon enough and flew into the sea.
Is this the original ship's bell of HMS Witch? The date is correct, the lettering looks right but "the top bracket looks wrong"
One needs to take expert advice and I am no expert!