Tag Archives: Navy

by Frances Casey, Project Manager

Yesterday, veterans of the Arctic Convoy were presented with the newly issued Arctic Star, awarded in recognition of their bravery during the campaign to carry military supplies to Russia during the Second World War. The presentation ceremony took place at the memorial at Loch Ewe in Wester Ross, Scotland, with over 30 of the surviving veterans in attendance. Loch Ewe was the place of departure for many of the ships that took part in what is recognised as one of the most arduous campaigns of the Second World War.

We have recorded 17 memorials which commemorate the Arctic Convoy. These include the ship’s bell from HMS Cassandra, which was presented to the D Day Museum in Portsmouth in 1999. The bell is mounted above a plaque which is inscribed with the names of the 62 crew who died when HMS Cassandra was torpedoed 11th December 1944, shortly after the ship left Murmansk on the return leg of her journey.

The Fleet Air Arm memorial, which is a sculpture of the figure of Daedalus, also commemorates the Arctic Convey and the role the Fleet Air Arm took in supporting Convoy ships, 1941-45. The Arctic Convoy is also commemorated in the Queen Elizabeth High School Book of Remembrance in Hexham, by the Ensign of HMS Bellona and by the Arctic Convoy Stone of Remembrance in Lyness, Orkney, another site of departure for the ships.

Arctic Convoy (44550, ©Russian Convoy Club, 2000)

Arctic Convoy Memorial, Loch Ewe (44550, ©Russian Convoy Club, 2000)

Memorials were erected to preserve the memory of those who had died for their country. They provide a place of remembrance for families who cannot easily get to their graves or else have no grave they can go to. As such they have huge emotional value but for some all they can see is the monetary value of the material that the memorial is made of.

The number of incidents of the theft of metal from memorials is rising and the Naval Memorial on Plymouth CWGC Naval Memorial to the Missing, Plymouth HoeHoe, Devon is the latest to be targeted as thieves stole 5 of the bronze name plaques on Sunday, 29 June. Luckily, the plaques have now been quickly recovered but unfortunately some have been badly damaged.

One wonders what can be done to stop this trade. How can we educate people to see that a memorial is not just a commodity but something that is part of the heart of both the community and the families and friends who have a loved one commemorated on it. It should be respected in the same way you would respect the actual grave.

Barbara McDermott, one of the two remaining survivors of the RMS Lusitania, died on 12 April.

A poster featuring Justice, personified by a full-length figure of a woman wearing robes and a cloak, holding a sword, in its scabbard, in her extended right hand. She stands above the sea in which drowning figures are visible. In the background right, the four funneled ocean liner, RMS Lusitania, sinks.The British ocean liner, Lusitania, was sailing to London from New York when she was torpedoed by a German submarine on 7 May 1915.  Over half of the nearly 2,000 passengers on board were killed.  The sinking was condemned in Britain and America and considered significant in the later decision of the US to declare war on Germany.

This poster, showing the figure of Justice offering a sword and the stricken Lusitania in the background, is one of many that used the outrage at the sinking to encourage people to join up and fight.

Barbara, who was nearly 3 years old, and her mother, were travelling to visit relatives in England.  Both survived the loss of the Lusitania and spent the rest of the war living in England, although Barbara’s mother sadly died in 1917.  Barbara eventually returned to her father in America after the war.

We’ve recorded a number of memorials commemorating the sinking of the Lusitania, mostly to individuals who lost their lives, such as Annie and Dorothy Lancaster (commemorated by a plaque in St Bartholomews Church, Keelby, Lincolnshire) and 22 year old Tertius Selwyn Warner, son of Thomas and Agnes, whose name was added to their gravestone in Whetstone, Leicestershire.

I was reading an interesting book on the bus on the way into work this morning – Tracing Your Family History: Merchant Navy’.  It’s one of a series of guides to tracing military ancestry (Army, Royal Navy and Royal Air Force being the others) published by the Imperial War Museum.  

The Merchant Navy played a crucial role in both world wars.  Not only did it transport vital supplies and personnel but many ships were converted for war work.  Some were armed, others carried out tasks such as minesweeping.

One major memorial to the Merchant Navy is the Commonwealth War Graves Commission memorial at Tower Hill, London.  It is inscribed with the names of 36,000 members of the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets who died during the First and Second World Wars and ‘have no grave but the sea’.

Another memorial is the site of the Church of Holy Rood, in Southampton.  Erected in 1320, it was known for centuries as the church of the sailors.  When it was damaged by enemy action on 30 November 1940, the ruins were preserved as a war memorial dedicated to those who served in the Merchant Navy and lost their lives at sea. 

Where you find the names of members of the Merchant Navy on memorials, you may also find their wonderfully evocative ranks: Donkeyman; Greaser; Fireman; Trimmer; Boy.

The MELBOURNE STAR enters Grand Harbour, Valletta.

This photo shows troops cheering the arrival of the merchant ship Melbourne Star into the Grand Harbour, Valletta, Malta.

The Melbourne Star arrived on 13 August 1942, after an epic voyage across the Mediterranean (only 5 of the original 14 merchant vessels made it) as part of convoy WS21S (Operation Pedestal) to deliver fuel and other vital supplies to the besieged island.

A memorial service has been held in the English Channel to mark the anniversary of the ‘Channel Dash’Watch a report about the service from BBC News.

The Channel Dash is the name given to an action that took place during the Second World War.  For several months, from early 1941, three German ships (the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen) had been trapped in the French port of Brest, where they were subjected to heavy bombing by the RAF. 

On 12 February 1942, RAF Spitfires reported that the German ships were making a break for the safety of a North German port.  The British hastily assembled a force of six Swordfish biplane torpedo bombers.  These were slow and vulnerable aircraft.  To have any success reaching and attacking the German ships they would need a large escort of fighter planes.  Unfortunately the Spitfire squadrons were too far away and speed in launching the attack was critial.  Lieutenant Commander Eugene Esmonde – who was in command of the Swordfish bombers – made the decision to go after the German ships with a small escort of just ten Spitfires.

The RAF Station Commander at Manston said of Esmonde:

“He knew what he was going into. But it was his duty. His face was tense and white. It was the face of a man already dead. It shocked me as nothing has ever done since.”

 German Messerschmitts engaged the Spitfires soon after they had set out and the Swordfish were left on their own.  They approached the German ships, under heavy attack from the fighter planes escorting them.  Some were able to drop their torpedoes, although none made contact with the ships.  All six Swordfish were shot down with the loss of 13 of the 18 crew.  Those 18 crew were decorated for their part in the action, with Esmonde receiving a posthumous Victoria Cross.

Further attacks were launched by Royal Navy ships and RAF fighters and bombers but the German ships were able to reach safety.  It did however mean that the German navy was never again able to launch attacks on Atlantic convoys from Western French ports.

The German battlecruisers SCHARNHORST and GNEISENAU travel in a line with their guns firing, allegedly taken during their escape from Brest, known as the 'Channel Dash' on 12 February 1942

This photo shows the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau travelling in a line with their guns firing.  It is believed to have been taken during the Channel Dash on 12 February 1942.

Read a detailed report on the action from the Ministry of Defence

There are a few memorials commemorating this action.  These include a wooden memorial board in Manston, Kent. It reads:


HMS Belfast, now a floating museum and a branch of the Imperial War Museum, was later involved with the sinking of the Scharnhorst, on Boxing Day 1943.

Richard, one of our volunteers, writes the following…

The American Major Olmsted’s contemplation of his own death on active service sent me searching for an example from an earlier conflict.

When a young naval lieutenant, David Tinker, was sent to the Falklands he requested that if he were to be buried in earth the following be inscribed on his grave: 

“He wears
The ungathered blossom of quiet; stiller he
Than a deep well at noon, or lovers met,
Than sleep, or the heart after wrath. He is
The silence following great words of peace.”

Although Lt Tinker was familiar with the work of Wilfred Owen (whose unsentimental war poetry has been more in favour in modern times), it is interesting to note that the quotation is from the work of a poet often regarded as more idealistic and patriotic, Rupert Brooke’s ‘Fragments written during the voyage to Gallipoli April 1915’. (see A Message from the Falklands: The Life and Gallant Death of David Tinker, Lieut. R.N., compiled in 1982 by his father, Professor Hugh Tinker).


Damage to the port side and helicopter hangar HMS GLAMORGAN caused by an Argentine Exocet missile on 12 June 1982.In the event, David Tinker was killed by the Exocet attack on HMS GLAMORGAN on 12 June 1982, and buried at sea with twelve of his comrades the same day. 


Consequently, it is only with the recent unveiling of the Armed Forces Memorial that he is officially commemorated, although he appears on local memorials at Great Hampden (Buckinghamshire) and Clungunford (Shropshire).  The losses on HMS GLAMORGAN are commemorated by a window in Portsmouth Cathedral and on the Falklands Naval memorial on Plymouth Hoe.



The photograph above shows the damage to the port side and helicopter hangar of the destroyer HMS GLAMORGAN caused by an Argentine Exocet missile on 12 June 1982.  The missile was launched from a land-based mobile launcher near Port Stanley, some 18 miles away. Radar systems failed to detect the missile but in the few seconds available after making visual contact, GLAMORGAN was able to turn rapidly and the missile struck the hangar instead of the ship’s side. Thirteen lives were lost but the damage failed to put GLAMORGAN out of action, making her the first British warship to survive an Exocet missile strike.

The Duke of Edinburgh has unveiled a new memorial at the Historic Dockyard Chatham to the 11,000 men who died while serving on Royal Navy destroyers in the Second World War.

Read more from BBC NEWS

Among those who died was Captain Bernard Warbuton-Lee VC.  On 10 April 1940, Warburton-Lee led a flotilla of 5 destroyers into a fjord in a heavy snowstorm.  His mission was to carry out a surprise attack on a larger force of German ships, stationed near the strategically important Norwegian city of Narvik.  

Warburton-Lee was fatally wounded by a shell during the battle and was later awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions that day.

Read UKNIWM memorial record

Richard, one of our volunteers, has been looking into war memorials to cats.


Animals such as horses and elephants have been pressed into military service since classical times, and also used have been dogs, camels, oxen, mules, donkeys, pigeons and various other ‘humble beasts ‘.

Of the animal memorials on the UKNIWM database, those to horses, as might have been expected, lead by a short head over all other species put together. Cats by comparison do not feature large in military history, although there is a relief of one on the Animals in War memorial in London. One reason is that the territorial nature of these enigmatic creatures does not lend itself to life with an army on the move: the English nurse Elsie Knocker had a cat in the front line in Belgium in the First World War, but they stayed in the same place, while the tabby Crimean Tom, rescued from the ruins of Sevastapol and brought to England does not seem to have joined the military. Attempts by the American military in Vietnam to use the ability of cats to see in the dark were a predictable failure owing to their inclination to follow their own concerns rather than anyone else’s.

Diesel and Garfield, ship's cats, HMS BelfastAlthough cats generally are not keen on water, they have made ships their territory for centuries, and in times of conflict their service with the Royal Navy was especially valuable both for their ancient role of rodent control and as a contributor to the morale of the crews. However in 1975 because of fears about rabies the Admiralty banned cats on RN vessels, although some were allowed to continue their service ashore.

The most notable naval cat was Simon, wounded several times during the Yangtse Incident in 1949, while serving on HMS Amethyst. He became the only feline recipient of the Dickin Medal (the animals’ VC), but died before it could be bestowed, weakened by his injuries, while in quarantine at Hackbridge later in the year. In April the following year Lieutenant Geoffrey Weston, RN, unveiled a tablet  at the PDSA Veterinary Centre, Plymouth, with a relief of a cat’s head and the following inscription.


Lt Weston had himself been wounded in the Incident and had commanded the vessel following the death of its Captain until the arrival of Commander Kerans, who effected its escape to freedom. Simon was buried at the PDSA Animal Cemetery at Ilford (recently awarded a National  Lottery grant of £49000 for refurbishment) and his headstone has a similar inscription. 

Recently it has been found that there is another memorial to Simon at the China Fleet Country Club at Saltash in Cornwall.