Tag Archives: HMS Royal Oak

Portsmouth Second World War Dead – An appeal!

British battleship HMS BARHAM explodes as her ...

HMS Barham exploding in 1941 (Image via Wikipedia)

I’m currently working on a book about people from Portsmouth who were killed during the Second World War.

I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has any information at all about any relatives from Portsmouth who were killed during the Second World War, seving with the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, British Army, Royal Air Force, Merchant Navy, ATS, NAAFI, British Red Cross and the Home Guard.

Any stories, documents, photographs, memories etc would be extremely useful, and I would be very grateful to hear from anyone who may be able to help.

In particular, I am looking for information and photographs about the following:

  • Chief Petty Officer Reg Ellingworth GC, a mine disposal rating from HMS Vernon
  • Seamen who were killed serving on the Portsmouth based battleships HMS Royal Oak, HMS Hood and HMS Barham. In particular Frederick Bealing (Royal Oak),
  • Portsmouth Submariners, particularly HMS Triumph (disappeared in the Med in 1942), and especially Electrical Artificer Arthur Biggleston DSM and Bar and Petty Officer Frank Collison DSM and Bar
  • Any Boy Seamen from Portsmouth who were killed (aged 18 or under)
  • Lieutenant Commander William Hussey DSO DSC, the Commander of HMS Lively when she was sunk off Tobruk in 1942
  • Royal Marines from Portsmouth, in particular Colour Sergeant Frederick Bird, a 62 year old WW1 veteran who died in 1943
  • Major Robert Easton DSO MBE, of the Royal Armoured Corps who was killed in Italy in 1944
  • Portsmouth men who died as Prisoners of War, particularly Private William Starling who died after VE Day in Czechoslovakia, and Sapper Ernest Bailey who was murdered by the Gestapo in Norway in 1942
  • Portsmouth men who were killed fighting with the Hampshire Regiment, particularly Lance Corporal Leslie Webb MM (D-Day) and Corporal Mark Pook MM (Italy)
  • Men killed on D-Day and in Normandy, especially Sergeant Sidney Cornell DCM and Private Bobby Johns (aged 16) 
  • Portsmouth men killed fighting in the Far East – including in Singapore, Burma, and as Prisoners of the Japanese building the Burma Railway
  • Bomber aircrew from Portsmouth, especially Flight Sergeant Patrick McCarthy DFC and Sergeant Francis Compton DFM
  • Flight Lieutenant John Coghlan DFC, a Battle of Britain and Special Operations pilot
  • Wing Commander John Buchanan DSO DFC, a Bomber Squadron commander who fought in the Mediterranean and North Africa
  • Flight Lieutenants Arthur and Ernest Venables, brothers killed when their Dakota crashed in Southern France after VE Day
  • The Merchant Navy – particularly the SS Portsdown, an Isle of Wight Ferry mined in 1941
  • The NAAFI
  • Women at War – the Wrens, ATS, WAAFS, British Red Cross

Or indeed any other stories that I may have missed.

I have a database of 2,549 Portsmouth servicemen and women killed between September 1939 and December 1947; sadly it is impossible to write about all of them, but hopefully I can pay tribute to them all by telling some of their stories.

Any stories at all will be of interest, its these kind of personal stories that really bring home the impact of war on families and communities.

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Filed under Army, d-day, far east, merchant navy, Navy, portsmouth heroes, Royal Air Force, Royal Marines, Uncategorized, World War Two

Last Dawn: The Royal Oak Tragedy at Scapa Flow by David Turner

For the Royal Navy – and, indeed, Britain – one of the saddest episodes of the war was the sinking of HMS Royal Oak, in the supposedly safe anchorage of Scapa Flow in 1939. In this book David Turner tells the story of the ships sinking, spurred on by finding out what happened to his uncle, who was killed in the disaster. The Royal Oak is often overshadowed by the Hood, so this is a welcome addition to the naval historians bookshelf.

As the Royal Oak was not at sea and was thought to be safe, she was not in the high state of readiness that a ship expecting imminent attack would have been. No doubt this added to the loss of life onboard. But this is not to detract from the incredible skill of Gunther Prien in slipping into Scapa Flow and then escaping unmolested. So unlikely was the sinking considered, that the Admiralty could scarcely believe the first reports that the Royal Oak had gone down.

As she was an obsolete ship and not in an active deployment at sea, and anchored up, she had a large number of Boy Seamen onboard. For many years boys could join the Royal Navy underage as Boy Seamen. There is something particularly tragic about so many young boys being killed without being being able to fight back, so early in the war. Four Boy Seamen killed in the Royal Oak were from Portsmouth – three were 17, and one was 16 – Boy 1st Class Gordon Ogden.

The loss of the Royal Oak was keenly felt in Portsmouth – she was a Portsmouth-manned ship, and 66 of the men and boys who went down hailed from the City. In the D-Day Museum’s section that tells the story of Portsmouth at war, there is an oral history recording of Doris Bealing telling the story of how her family heard of the sinking, and waited anxiously for news of whether her father had been killed: ‘touch wood my Daddy isnt dead’. But sadly, Petty Officer Frederick Bealing was killed. Multiply that for every family affected, and you have a whole community hit incredibly hard on the same day. Similar to how the wiping out of the Pals Battalions on the Western Front was a hammer blow to communities.

The loss of the Royal Oak was a serious blow to British morale. In material terms, it was not such a massive loss -the R Class Battleships were obsolescent and unlikely to be of much use during the war – but it was a serious dent in the Navy’s hard-won prestige. And particularly in a period of the war where not much else was happening – it was, very much, first blood to the Kriegsmarine. And Scapa Flow had to undergo massive changes to prevent any more attacks, including some pretty substantial causeways blocking the route that Prien had taken into the anchorage.

I found this a very useful source for finding out about the Portsmouth men who went down on the Royal Oak. As with all of my research, the key to understanding the impact of a sinking ship is not just the gap it leaves in the order of battle, but the even bigger gaps that the human costs leaves among families and communities.

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Filed under Book of the Week, Navy, portsmouth heroes, Uncategorized, World War Two

Portsmouth Heroes – Boy 1st Class Gordon Ogden

HMS Royal Oak

HMS Royal Oak

So far, the youngest person I have found who came from Portsmouth and died in the Second World War was Boy 1st Class Gordon Ogden, from Milton. He was aged 16 when the battleship HMS Royal Oak was torpedoed in Scapa Flow on 14 October 1939. The Royal Oak was a Revenge Class battleship, sunk at anchor by U-47, captained by Gunther Prien, who had avoided extensive anti-submarine defences in the area. 833 men died, out of a crew of 1,244. Many of these men came from Portsmouth, as the Royal Oak was manned from Portsmouth. Over 100 of the crew who died were Boy Seamen under the age of 18, the most ever killed in one incident.

The recruiting of Boys into the Royal Navy was nothing new – we have all heard of the Powder Monkeys. But up until the Second World War, when the Navy required a huge pool of manpower to crew the ships required to police the Empire, Boys were recruited to fill various tasks onboard ship. This also provided valuable training for young men who wanted to progress on to be Seamen.

Gordon Ogden would have enlisted with the rank of Boy 2nd Class, suggesting that he had served for some time before being promoted. As Naval service records are only available to next of kin at the time of writing, so we can only guess at how young Ogden would have been when he joined up – but it will almost certainly have been younger than 16. By the second world war the minimum age for joining the Royal Navy as a Boy rating was 15, and had to be approved for a Boys parents. The minimum terms of engagement for a Boy entering the Navy was at least 12 years. A boy had to have served at least 9 months as Boy 2nd Class, show proficiency in seamanship and gain at least one good conduct badge for promotion.

Once a Boy reached 18 he was automatically rated as an Ordinary Seaman and became subject to the Naval Discipline Act.

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70th Anniversary of Royal Oak sinking remembered

HMS Royal Oak

HMS Royal Oak

The 70th anniversary of one of the Royal Navy’s blackest days, which saw the loss of 833 lives, was marked at a ceremony on HMS Penzance this week by The Princess Royal.

Shortly after 0100hrs on 14 October 1939, HMS Royal Oak, in the Home Fleet’s wartime anchorage of Scapa Flow, in the Orkney Islands, suffered four torpedo hits, one at the bow and three amidships, from German submarine U-47. Captained by Gunther Prien, the submarine had infiltrated the natural harbour that was thought to be impregnable.

Of the ship’s complement of 1,234 men and boys, 833 were killed that night or died later of their wounds. Over a hundred were Boy seamen, under the age of 18. The loss of the Royal Oak had little effect on the war at sea, given the Royal Navy’s overwhelming superiority over the German fleet, but had a considerable effect on morale.

The Royal Oak, a designated war grave, now lies in 30 metres of water at the bottom of Scapa Flow where, from HMS Penzance on Wednesday 14 October 2009, The Princess Royal laid a wreath to remember those lost.

HMS Royal Oak was a Revenge class battleship launched in 1914 and commissioned in 1916. She fought at the Battle of Jutland soon after joining the fleet, and between the wars saw service in the Home, Atlantic and Mediterannean fleets. By the time she was sunk she was largely obsolete. She was one of four Royal Navy Battleships sunk in the Second World War, along with Barham, Repulse and Prince of Wales.

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Filed under Navy, News, Remembrance, World War Two