Hartlepool’s Royal Navy service personnel who served during the Second World War, and some of the Royal Navy warships that visited the port.
Alan Butcher (Tom Butcher's brother), was born around 1926. He was conscripted into the Royal Navy during the Second World War and is believed to have served on escort duty on the Russian Convoys. He once brought home a folding umbrella, which caused quite a stir as they had not been seen before.More detail »
Royal Navy Stoker Thomas McCluskey on the quayside at New York, sometime in the early 1940s. It is possible the ship alongside is HMS Royal Sovereign, on which Thomas served in 1940/41, and which was engaged on Atlantic Convoy escort duty during this period.More detail »
The Royal Navy destroyer H.M.S. Express (H61), at Hartlepool, date unknown.
H.M.S. Express was built by Swan Hunter at Wallsend and was converted for Minelaying at the outbreak of WW2. In October, 1939, she was deployed laying mines for the East Coast Barrier.
On 22nd of March, 1940, she was damaged in a collision with a minesweeping trawler and was repaired in Hartlepool.
She was also called up for the Dunkirk evacuation, rescuing 3,491 troops in total. During her last trip she sustained serious damage and had to be repaired in dock. Later in 1941 she was sent to join Force Z in Singapore and rescued 1,000 men from the sinking of HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales by the Japanese.
She was eventually transferred to the Canadian Navy becoming H.M.C.S. Gatineau.
In 2005 Hartlepool's Museum and Library Services worked together on a project called 'Their Past, Your Future', which commemorated the part played by local people in the Second World War. As part of the project war veteran Don Colledge reminisced about his time serving in the both the Merchant and Royal Navy. This is his story, in his own words:
I was born in West Hartlepool in 1925. I started off as a Sea Cadet. I did most of my training down here and at HMS Paragon, which was at the bottom of Church Street. It is now the Royal Chambers. It’s a pub now. It used to be a pub before that and it was taken over by the Royal Navy and from there they moved to the Grand Hotel. I was what was called a Bounty boy. That’s the name of a training ship down in Worcester, and you used to go down there for a month to bring you up to speed before you went down and actually joined the Royal Navy down at HMS Collingwood in Fareham in Hampshire, near Portsmouth.
I was waiting to go in the Royal Navy through the Sea Cadets and in the meantime I joined the Merchant Navy. I joined the ship at Teesport near Middlesbrough, and we went to Dunston in the Tyne and loaded a cargo of coke to take to Huelva in Spain. On the sixth of June we were torpedoed at about five to twelve in the morning. I didn’t know anything about it. I was asleep just underneath where the torpedo struck. The carpenter came in and told me what had happened. He said “you better get yourself in the lifeboat”. I had my instructions. I had to go up to the store, near the bridge, and get some condensed milk to put in the lifeboat in case you were adrift for so long. When I got up there the steward was getting all the whisky and cigarettes and stuff. He would be on the fiddle, I suppose. Anyway, me and him were left on the boat until a sloop picked us up. We were on it for two days before we got to Gibraltar and I was on Gibraltar six weeks. They didn’t tell my mother where I was or what had happened or anything, just that the allotment (money) had stopped. I used to send her an allotment every week. But when the ship was sunk I was unemployed, so I lost my pay.
I was in the Sailors’ Home in Engineers Lane on Gibraltar, which we had quite a good time down there sunbathing and swimming in Catalan Bay. But my mother didn’t know where I was, and I got a chance to work me passage coming back. It was some menial job washing up or something like. We landed at the Clyde, and I was given half a crown expenses and a travel warrant for the train. I got to Newcastle on the Saturday night from Glasgow and I was asleep on the platform because I had missed the last train to Hartlepool. A policeman came up and he asked me what had happened? So I explained and told him I am just waiting for the first train in the morning. He took me around the corner and they used to sort the mail for Hartlepool at Newcastle, and he shouted “who’s going to Hartlepool?” and a bloke said “I am” and he said “Well, you’ve got a passenger here.” So he looked after me and got me there, and I walked in on Sunday morning and me mother said “where have you been?” I explained to her what had happened. She said “Oh I got the letter about your money, but I’ve been putting money away for you, so you’re all right.” And that was it. Plus I had just a pair of shorts on when I was picked up. That’s what we used to sleep in because it was dead warm on the ship. When I went ashore I got kitted out, and I had been home about a month when me mother got a bill for eight pound fifty for clothes, which she refused to pay. And she wrote to a magazine called the John Bull, she was a bit “bolshie” like that. Anyway it was all squashed. She said she would rather go to jail than pay.
Anyway I finally got into the Royal Navy and the pay was six shillings a fortnight. So then I couldn’t afford to send me mother an allotment. In the Merchant Navy I was getting more pay than that. Why I went into the Royal Navy I don’t know. I think it was 1942 when I joined my ship, and I had me eighteenth birthday on it up in Tobermory at the Isle of Mull. We used to do trips to St Johns, Newfoundland. That was Atlantic convoy. And we used to alternate with Gibraltar and Iceland. We were an escort on convoys. A fast convoy was seven days, a slow convoy was eleven days. Then we used to have a week in harbour after that, to get ready for sea again. The Atlantic convoy was the worst, especially the weather in winter in the mid-Atlantic. I was more bothered about bad weather than being sunk. I was a radio operator. Telegraphist they used to call us, and I’d passed all the exams to be a Warrant Tel., which is an officer.
I went to D-Day. We were right next to the Yanks, patrolling off the beaches. We used to do anti-submarine patrol round all the merchant ships that were coming in to Mulberry Harbour. But I can’t remember a thing about it. Maybes I didn’t want to remember. I blocked it out of me memory.
I was based in Iceland for nine month. We used to go up to the Arctic Circle and pick the convoys up coming from Murmansk. We were the guard ship, and there was an incident on VE night. There was nine of us escorts looking after one empty tanker which had unloaded his cargo in Reykjavik and it got sunk. I think it was one of the last ships sunk like that. We never got the submarine that sunk it. But we heard about VE-Day by a broadcast message. We went and got drunk.More detail »
In 2005 Hartlepool's Museum and Library Services worked together on a project called 'Their Past, Your Future', which commemorated the part played by local people in the Second World War. During the project the story of the Atherton crew’s heroic efforts at life-saving was narrated by to Bob Smith by Charlie Humphrey from Hartlepool, who, as an eighteen-year-old Ordinary Seaman, witnessed the sinking of HMS Aldenham.
Early in the morning of 14 December 1944, we left a little island called Veli Rat that had a lovely natural harbour entrance, which we more or less used as a base. We had been operating from this little place for several bombardments during that period, and usually accompanied by a couple of MTBs or MLs which used to carry the Royal Artillery FOO parties, and land them ashore for spotting purposes.
In those regions there were fairly high cliffs, and the bombarding ships used to close right in, their firing being radio-controlled by the shore parties. We arrived off the island of Pag early in the forenoon watch, and as I was not requires in the TS, I went out on the port oerlikon gun deck, as usual with a pair of binoculars. Aldenham was anchored off our port side preparing to fire, and our medical officer, who was standing near the entrance to the wheelhouse, was busy doing a sketch of her as she made a lovely sight close up against the cliffs.
By the way, both ships had anchored, and as I looked through my binoculars, I saw an old lady all dressed in black – typical peasant woman – walking along the cliff top leading a cow on a halter. As the first salvos were fired, she calmly stopped, tied up the cow and just wandered quietly away on her own, leaving the animal tethered!
With the bombardment over, both ships weighed anchor and moved out, Aldenham leading the way as she was senior, and once well clear of the area increased speed out into the open sea, the pipe went out, “Hands to defence stations.” My defence station was port oerlikon gunner for one hour and bridge lookout for the next, alternatively for four hours of the watch.
Round the time of the sinking I was standing on the oerlikon gun deck talking to my “opposite number”, a young lad the same age as myself called Geoff Grimersil, who came from Wakefield, and as it was coming in cold and started blowing up a bit, we moved over to the flag deck for more shelter.
At that moment we heard a bang, which sounded just like someone kicking a big oil drum, and Geoff said to me “What’s that, Charlie?” I said, “I don’t know but it sounded as if Aldenham had a round left in one of the guns and she was clearing it.”
With that I took a couple of steps and peered around the edge of the bridge and got the shock of my life! The Aldenham was completely blown in half, and both parts were sinking very rapidly – the fore part had turned over and was going straight down, while the after part was rising well out of the water – the screws still turning, and it looked as if the depth-charges had rolled back in their racks and broken loose.
While we were watching – completely stunned into silence, the quartermaster came out of the wheelhouse piping “Away seaboats crew, man the port seaboat”, and with us being nearest we were the first to hear the pipe. The two of us dashed down the steps to the side abreast seaboat, commenced slipping the gripes and getting ready to turn the davits out; with that the crew were scrambling into the boat. The gunner’s mate, Chief Petty Officer Wallbridge, had arrived, taken charge and suddenly found there were two crew short, so Geoff and I volunteered but were told to stand fast and assist with the lowering, and in seconds two more men jumped in, making a full crew.
The cox’n of the seaboat was a young action PO whose name I have forgotten, and with the boat lowered and slipped, it quickly pulled away searching for Aldenham survivors. There were a lot of men looking over the port side and not much that could be done there, so I made my way over to the starboard side where men were launching carley floats, tossing scrambling nets over, and even lifebelts attached to heaving lines in an effort to get some of the bobbing swimmers to the side of the ship.
As I got down near the starboard waist, I noticed a big net had been thrown over the side, and swimming towards it was a young sailor, still with a duffel coat on and an oilskin on top of it. How he swam to the Atherstone, I’ll never know, but as I assisted him inboard he asked, “Am I the only one?” I replied, “Not the only one, but I don’t think there are many.”
Seeing that he was all right, I went further aft, and right down on the scrambling net was one of our senior crew members, Bill Briden by name – a three badge AB, hanging on to a fellow, dressed in a kind of green combat jacket, who seemed absolutely all in. Looking up he called out, “Give me a hand down here, Charlie.” I climbed down, but even with our combined efforts we could not pull him up, so Bill said, “Hang on to him while I get a rope and some more assistance.”
I thought the best way to hold this man was to get close to him, slip my left arm through the holes in the net between it and the ship’s side, and hang on to his collar as hard as I could with my right hand. Anyway, while I was holding on to him, waiting for more help, the whaler came back on the starboard side which was the lee side, loaded with survivors just for’ard of where we were.
As it got alongside, the young PO cox’n put his hand on the gun’le of the boat, and with the heavy swell, I watched in horror as a the whaler took his hand right up the side of the ship and back down again. When he got his hand free, the flesh on the back of his hand was rolled back like a big flap, and all his fingers and hand bones were visible. He went off the ship to hospital with all the Aldenham wounded, but later returned as a crewmember apparently none the worse for his accident.
By then, after what seemed like ages but probably only a few minutes, Bill Briden returned with a couple of men and a rope, and as soon as the man was secured he was yanked over the guardrails to safety. It was then I noticed his legs were badly buckled, and probably broken, so it was now quite clear why he had not been able to make any effort while clinging to the safety net.
By the way he was dressed we got the impression he was one of the Aldenham’s officers, and not being able to find a stretcher for him, I dashed off for’ard in the direction of the sickbay to see what I could locate, and on returning found he had been taken down below. I never saw him again! Later on, after things had quietened down a bit, I got talking to our young Sick Berth Attendant. I asked him about the officer with the broken leg and he said, “Oh yes – he’s going to be OK.” Later it was confirmed that he was the Aldenham’s CO – Commander Farrant. The other man in the duffel coat was Able Seaman Bert West. At the time I thought it was possible we could have overlooked somebody, but for miles around the sea seemed completely empty, and it was not until dark that we proceeded to Zara to go alongside the cruiser Colombo and discharge the survivors and wounded.
Thinking back on it, I often wondered if we would have had more success in picking up survivors if we had lowered the motor boat instead of the whaler, but some months previous we had a lot of trouble in starting the engine, and if it had failed again, the boat would have been more of a hindrance than an asset.
Later on, sometime after Christmas and visiting Malta, some of the Aldenham survivors came aboard and down our messes to thank us for our efforts in saving them, and by coincidence, the chap who swam to the ship’s side in his duffel coat and oilskin was one of them. We recognised each other and to me it was rather gratifying to think I had played a small part in rescuing him.More detail »