A quick update on what is happening onsite. Tim continues to work through outstanding defects and carry out maintenance. Below are a before and after shot of the waterbus gangway. I have never seen it looking so good. The walkway has been painted with a specialist non-slip paint and all the barriers and railings have been transformed with a coat of fresh black paint. Tim has also removed some of the signs from the jetty that were not accessible to visitors and we are going to relocate these to more appropriate positions around the site.
The painting of the missile stand is also now complete.
I had a site walk around with Stuart Stamp (Lead facilities Manager) yesterday. Stuart has only been in post for a few months so I wanted him to get to know the site and some of the works that are still outstanding. I also shared with him my plans to relocate the shop store and move the office into the old café space. This would then give us the meeting space back in the Fraser room. Fingers crossed that we will be able to make a start on this before we reopen.
I continue to hope for rain but the garden is surviving and even managing to flower I just hope we don’t have a hosepipe ban!
Still no date for reopening but lots of planning taking place for when we do.
The recent berthing of a model submarine alongside Submariners’ Walk Heritage Trail in Brisbane has generated a lot of interest not only for the surrounding community of Teneriffe, but submariners in general.
The Submariners Honour Roll Wall was dedicated 7 months ago and as the word spreads via the various forms of communication channels, interest is gaining momentum and more names are being added to the Honour Roll Wall. A number of applications are being followed up.
An American lady on a cruise late last year was seated at a table having dinner with complete strangers and the general chat came out that her late father married an Australian Her father was a US submariner who sailed from Teneriffe during WW2 operations. He sadly passed away 8 years ago and the extended family is now spread from Brisbane to Texas. The Australian couple she met knew about Submariners Walk Heritage Trail as they lived in Bulimba. The SAA QLD Inc followed up the request to see if we could help her in some small way. The rest is history and they now have a bronze plaque on the Wall in his honour, on Eternal Patrol with other qualified submariners.
As a subcommittee of SAA Qld Inc we find ourselves helping families dealing with mixed and raw emotions of the submariner who was left behind beit in recent or distant times. As a dedicated team we are becoming good listeners, we are re connecting to those who have not realised that there loved one names are still spoken about fondly today in conversation and the feedback is sobering knowing the submarine family has done something for their immediate family. To see a bronze plaque with a poppy on the Wall acknowledging the qualified submariner is indeed very satisfying for everyone.
Today the Honour Roll sees increasing numbers of qualified submariners already from SAA Western Australia, SAA South Australia, SAA Tasmania, SAA Victoria, SAA New South Wales, Queensland, SA United Kingdom and SUBVET United States of America. Soon the SAA Australian Capital Territory will be included. This Wall, in our opinion, is becoming an International place for submariners.
Should you want to learn more about the process please contact via an email to email@example.com as SAA Qld Inc subcommittee is happy to assist.
I had the dispiriting task this week of sorting and then disposing of the food and drink from the coffee shop at Explosion & the Galley at the Submarine Museum that will be going out of date shortly. Thankfully the team at Gosport Borough Football Club turned this into a positive. They have started distributing food to those in the local community that are in real difficulty at this time. They were extremely grateful for the crisps, drinks and sweet snacks that we donated and these will be included in the food packages going out to local families.
Five years ago the Friends relaunched this website. For the first 7 years of its life your website was a static front door to the Society of Friends but work started in 2014 to create a dynamic site for sharing and collecting submarine cultural history to complement the Museum’s more artefact based collection. We also took the, for us, momentous decision to shift our membership and payment system online. The new site was designed by Studio Mothership to specifications created by your Digital Lead, the Membership Secretary, John Clayden and Treasurer, Peter Jeanneret.
We have between 3000 and 4500 unique visits to the site each month. There are over 10GB of dits, books, photos, cartoons, magazines and reference documents with 332 Dits and Bits posts and over 800 comments. The most commented on post was the one regarding the new Submarine Flotilla tie!
From the Chairman: Over the last five years our the Friend’s Website has developed enormously. Many members contribute interesting, informative or plainly scurrilous items and it has become an excellent vehicle for the exchange and sharing of current and historical data. This development is due almost entirely to the dedication and work of Tom Herman our digital lead and I am grateful for his enthusiastic contributions. Now, more than ever the Website is of great value in keeping members and the wider Submarine Community in touch. I trust you are all keeping safe and well and I wish you all the best in these times and encourage you to access and use the Website. Jon Westbrook
From Commodore Submarine Service : The Friends of the RN Submarine Museum website has grown over the last 5 years into a unique collection of our cultural history which helps foster the ethos traditions which are the bedrock of the RN Submarine Service. I know too that it has helped draw many of our veterans together and renew and strengthen bonds between shipmates of all ages. I would like to congratulate and thank the Friends for this work – a collaborative effort of over 600 submariners, young and old. Commodore Jim Perks OBE RN
A summary of his career: Gerald Lloyd Williams Joined HMS Raleigh in Autumn 1943, aged 18 Served in HMS Corinthian (Armed Boarding Vessel – Norhern Patrol) as Ord Seaman/CW Candidate (ie. potential officer) from approx. Christmas 1943 to Spring 1944. Joined HMS King Alfred (Stone Frigate – Hove – Officer Training) Passed out as Midshipman RNVR Autumn 1944.Joined HMS Dolphin Autumn 1944, proceeded to HMS Varbel (X Craft base at Port Bannatyne, Isle of Bute) Served (training) in X Craft until near the end of hostilities in Europe. Promoted Sub Lt RNVR. Having failed to secure a place in one of the six X Craft the Americans would grudgingly allow in ‘their’ Pacific War (we had trained up for 18 to go East)), transferred to Special Operations Executive (SOE) to give a little midget submarine experience to a unit playing with a cranky small ‘submersible’ cargo launch. This unit was also using Welman one-man subs for training. Joined HMS Plover, minelayer, on VE-Day; later taking over as her Navigating Officer. Left her (still as Sub/Lt RNVR) to be demobbed just before Christmas 1947.
His daughter Clarewrites:
1947 – 1950 University of Bristol Joint honours Philosophy and English, other interests included singing (this is where he met my Mother Judy, now 90 and wife of 67 years) and designing theatre sets (especially ingenious ones for travelling productions) [this maybe where the acting suggestion came from ?]
1951 – 1965 Mobil Oil in Nigeria, responsible for this major West African market
1965 – 1966 International Harvester/Savill Tractors in Stratford Upon Avon, heading up Marketing Division
1966 – 1972 Readers’ Digest set up and headed New Business Division
1972 – 1976 Pepsico Inc Regional Chief Executive for operations in NW Europe, New England and Canada
1978 onwards Clemdale Associates : he set up his own business advisory service with clients including BT, UK Government, Federation of Sussex Industries etc.
He lists his leisure interests as sailing, music, medieval studies and rural pursuits. Two children, Giles and Clare. Trying to sum up such a long life in a few words is very difficult. But plentiful toasts are entirely appropriate: he is greatly missed.
The Silver Swan – Gunfire!
Gerald wrote an account of part of his early days in the RN in 1942, courtesy of Rupert Best here it is.
My mind goes back to a small unsteady steel box crammed with half a hundred souls, the mess-deck of one of HM’s Armed Boarding Vessels. Hammocks, lumpish with exhausted men, rubbing together with every North Sea lurch, and looking like so many livid products of a demon charcutiere in the dim lights; while other figures, men just off watch and finding nowhere left to sling their ‘sea-wife’, lay in frowsty, Henry Mooresque shapes on deck or mess-table. We were so crowded below that I used to wonder whether the cubic space per man in that dank inferno was any more than one’s ultimate six-foot entitlement of coffin’s-room.
HMS Corinthian had been a Dutch merchantman in the East Indies trade. Faced with a need for many instant officers, the Navy had squadroned her with a couple of elderly but genuine light cruisers, Dauntless and Diomede, based on Rosyth for the dual purpose of forming part of the early warning system to the Northern Approaches and of providing evaluating sea-time for would-be commanders of seamen. To the natural rigours of the war at sea were added constant evolutions aimed at revealing what were derisively known as ‘officer-like qualities’ – OLQs.- amongst we hopefuls, who were designated ‘CW Candidates’.
We in the CW cadre were butts for both the officers who had us under constant survey; and for the normal lower-deck ship’s company. The former surveillance involved a sort of continuous, wryly humorous cat-and-mouse game – we trying to escape their ever vigilant eyes if all was not going well, while being seen to shine if it was; they reversing the process.
The most vigilant eyes were those of the First Lieutenant – the Jimmie – and those of the Chief Bo’sun’s Mate – the Buffer. Jimmie-the-One was a seven foot bean-pole, awesomely bloodshot of complexion, with big raw bones and a heavy dew-drop. He appeared out of nowhere like a demon king, especially at the scene of any balls-up. Between whiles he moved constantly about the ship in seven-league boots, blasting off in an aristocratic foghorn voice “What are you?” “Fore-topman, sir; holy-stoning party”. “Good. Carry on”. “Aye, aye, sir”
The Buffer was smaller, a long service ‘3-badger’, less conspicuous but, if that were possible, even more ubiquitous: and yes, even with the traditional heart of gold under the outward display of constant disbelief at the lubberliness of us all – by that stage of the war long-servicemen from the old Navy were a sparse thread of experience in the Navy’s weave; but, so long as you were trying he might suddenly say softly, “Here, son, let me show you” and you would learn some arcane wrinkle of old Navy sea-lore, like how to tie a bowline around one’s waist, with one hand, in the dark, under water..
The lower-deck’s mild scorn of the CWs was natural enough; some few of us were going to be lording it over them in due course; but it rarely took a more virulent form than a derisive leg-pulling: daily the Bo’sun’s Mates would walk, piping, through the ship (yes they still did it the old way, not relying on the Tannoy), the traditional midday pipe unofficially augmented: “Hands to dinner! CW Candidates toluncheon“.
The purpose of our arc of small and antique vessels – converted merchantmen, relegated warships – strung out roughly between Norway, Iceland and the Northern Isles was to watch for the constantly feared and anticipated breakout of one of the major German warships on an ocean-raid.
At the time of which I am speaking it was their battle-cruiser Scharnhorst we scanned the horizons for, a modern and magnificent fighting ship capable single-handedly of sinking whole huge convoys of food and material supplies butting its way slowly to Britain ‘through the mad March days’, escorts and all. (Actually it was I think November 1942, mad enough but not March).
Our orders were to make the splendid Nelsonian ‘Enemy in Sight’ signal; and then “sell yourselves dearly”. Some of us may have been makie-learn officers; but that did not prevent our sucking our teeth at this, in the best lower-deck tradition.
Not that we gave more than an occasional wry thought to our dodgy place in the strategic order of things; for, except when below in the messdeck fug, how to survive the cold was the ever-present, overwhelming consideration. To go on night-watch on those heaving waters one would put on all the clothes one possessed, doubling up on woolly underclothes and sweaters, surmounted by oilies and duffle-coat. Staggering out onto the upper deck like some over-inflated Michelin-man, scarcely able to bend knee or elbow, one faced the first black blast of the northern wind – and it cut through you as if you were naked to the bone.
It was notable that the two or three ex-public-schoolboys amidst those crammed together in such conditions coped better than the boys from the Gorbals or other hard-case, working class homes (they do well as prison convicts too, one hears).
We had the odd public-school trick for preserving sanity up our sleeves. As members of a working party I remember four or five of us ostensibly painting outboard of one of the ship’s boats, screened briefly from the roving all-seeing eyes of Jimmie and Buffer, singing madrigals into the teeth of the bitter weather. (Oh happy memories of the Dover College choir!) Or to be exact, one madrigal, Orlando Gibbons’s The Silver Swan – the only one of which we could all remember the parts.
While I have never actually investigated their educational antecedents, believing happily in prejudice, I have often been half-irritated, half-amused by a swathe of post-war writers – some of them otherwise admirable and some well-known who apparently could adjust no better to service conditions than could our poor slum-kid shipmates from the Gorbals or East End.
I suppose as future writers – even if still at the chrysalis stage – they took themselves too seriously to see the surreal humour informing every facet of the Fighting Services’ daily routines. One instance alone will illustrate what I mean. In every ship and shore establishment every Sunday, unless guns were actually firing, ships’ companies went to Divisions. This parade and inspection was the most formal of the week; and, with every man and woman in the land notionally under arms, Sunday Divisions at one of the big ‘stone frigates’ – a shore training base or depot barracks – could mean several thousand men all drawn up together in their best rig. It culminated with the ship’s padre, surplice flying in the wind, saying prayers appropriate for those “who have their business upon great waters”.
The signal that switched matters from the corporeal to the spiritual in this weekly ritual was the barked order “Ship’s Company – Off caps”. With a great swing of every right arm the assembly swept off their headgear; and bent their heads down in attitude of reverence. This further signalled the Gunner’s Mates to scurry along the rear of every rank, scrutinising every nape thus so advantageously displayed and whispering reverently under their breath ” ‘air-Cut”. ” ‘air-Cut”. ” ‘air-Cut, you”. ” ‘air-Cut”.
Anyone unable to relish any one of a hundred such daily juxtapositions of Dali-esque delights should not in conscience ever take up the writer’s pen. To bring the thought full circle, I have much the same feeling about those other writers – some probably the same writers – who found their schooldays so insufferable; and insist upon boring the world about them and the injustices they felt themselves to have suffered.
I like to look back at a particular piece of hilarity aboard HM’s Good Ship Corinthian. In order to give the might of Hitler’s battle-fleet pause for thought, My Lords of the Admiralty provided us with one six-inch gun. By some obscure convention of war which I once knew and understood but which – astonishingly for such a gem of maritime military logic – I have now forgotten, this piece of elderly artillery was mounted on the stern.
The exact protocol for this arrangement as I say escapes me; but the general implication was that this was a merchant ship which had been armed defensively in time of war – a stern-chaser for use when fleeing a privateer perhaps – whereas to mount guns forward (where they might be of some use except if the enemy conveniently popped up astern) would designate her as an aggressive ship-of-war to be treated with the maximum severity of shot and shell.
The RN’s six-inch breech-loader was as classic a piece of gun armament in our naval history as the carronade, and only slightly more up-to-date. It had been the basic armament of light cruisers, when one counted the RN’s light cruisers by the dozen, since well before the first world war; and wrought mightily in that earlier dust up.
There it was, our 6-inch BL, pointing aft over the counter, and looking quite charming. I suppose our belligerent posture must have been augmented by Oerlikons on the bridge wings – or am I confusing a later ship in which I served (HMS Plover?)
One day a new gunnery officer was appointed to the ship. Soon after joining us he announced he had the captain’s permission to have ‘a shoot’, an unprecedented departure from our routine wallowing amongst the ice-flows (the latter to be honest are bits of background colour not based in fact but artistically true. Never spoil a good story with too much pettifogging accuracy!).
Many happy matelot days were spent in chipping layer after layer of smartening-up paint off our antique piece of ordinance – in the course of which its proving date of 1903 was revealed.
As many noisy days passed in training up gun-crews from we would-be officers for the betterment of our souls. Being pushy in my desire for HM’s Commission, I managed to get myself into the first crew to ‘close up’.
Here I must digress: firstly on the matter of 6-inch BL Gun-drill; and secondly on the sort of people who normally tangled with such things.
I used in those days of dutiful learning to be able to recite the full 39 Articles of RN 6-in BL Gun-drill: “No 1 at the gun shall…..etc. etc.” These were the responsibilities in sequence of the members of the crew serving the gun. Briefly what had to be done was that a shell weighing the better part of a ton, so it felt, had to be man-handled chest high into the breech and rammed home by another ‘number’ in the gun-crew with a pole with a tompon on the end – barely destinguishable from articles used for similar purpose on the gundecks of the sailing navy, before other ‘numbers’ fed silken sacks of cordite in behind it. The door (sorry breech) was then slammed shut on it all.
There was thenabouts my favourite Article in the ritual “No X (can’t remember – No 3 was it?) at the gun will rime the vent with the vent-rimer provided”. This meant scraping out the hole in the breech into which finally a cartridge was inserted, with a lanyard hanging out from it.
Meanwhile the gunlayer and his mate, deity and prophet of this religion, twiddled their wheels. Then – hallowed moment – when they were “On”, the order “Shoot”, the lanyard – a piece of string, dear – was pulled and the gun went off with a jolly noise.
All of this was accompanied by ferocious and continuous bellowings from gunnery types who were always and exclusively chosen for lung-power.
To complete my memory of these near-forgotten rituals, then, the breech being flung open, yet another ‘number’ swabbed out any residual burning cordite with a wet mop. Astonishingly a good gun-crew could keep up a very high rate of fire by this rigmarole. It was a large shell and as shall be shown it delivered no butterfly kiss. So it must not be inferred that these arcane rites aroused any sense of derision in me – far from it. I wanted that Commission, desperately.
However – and here is my second digression – for about a hundred years the navy was cleft by a social divide. There were the smart people, the gunnery specialists whose Valhalla was the Gunnery School at Whale Island; and then there was the rest of the hierarchy, all smaller groups – the Navigators who were thought reasonably OK; the Torpedomen, the gunners’ great rivals, and near the bottom of the pile, the signals specialists (almost made respectable by Lord Louis Mountbatten) – followed by Engineers, Quacks, etc. with at the unmentionable nadir, the Pussers.
Gunnery people were as noisy as their toys and liable to be ostentatious about drills, evolutions and stamping their feet. The rest, from below the salt, tried to keep out of earshot if possible.
The gunners’ antitheses were the torpedomen, quiet people who, over the years, had also had put under their wings other pieces of silent technology such as mines and these new-fangled ‘electrics’ – although with the precursors of electronics, a whole new Branch (officers uniforms had green between their stripes) took this over while I was still serving.
Torpedoes are beautiful, intricate, contrary and not entirely reliable weapons (they have been known to take off in a parabola of their own divising, to boomerang back and hit their own ship……). Mines are ugly and primitive.
Both are silent, deadly and, in the views of right-thinking Victorian-nurtured naval officers, devious and thoroughly un-English (not as bad as submarines of course – they were positively un-gentlemanly and quite beyond the pale; while the combination of submarine and torpedo or mine was unspeakable. Which is why the Submarine Service still always refers to itself as ‘the Trade’). After all, and the final cry of ‘foul!’, a single well-placed ‘tin-fish’ or discreetly laid mine could do more damage than whole long loud bombardments by beautiful turrets-full of lovely noisy guns. (Did I say my war had been as a submarine officer; and that later, HMS Plover was a minelayer?)
To return to the Great Gunnery Day aboard Corinthian, quite a draughty bright day it was, somewhere in the direction of the Faroes. A barrel as target had been put over the side and was now a bobbing dot on the horizon. I had done my bit as ‘Number Something at the gun’, struggling the projectile into the maw. Terrifying volumes of vocal power had been exerted. The lanyard was pulled.
The blistering tongue of Mars scorched across my face, trimming eye-lashes and brows on its way, cauterising hearing; and bowling me off my feet in the process. I pulled myself up just in time to see the projectile totter languidly out of the spout and hit the water rather close to the ship.
The second hot baptism and general uproar as the shell exploded was much like the first – although attended by different destructive noises – and put me down for a second count.
The first thing I saw on again looking up from an involuntary prone position on the gun-platform was the stem and stern-posts of our whaler hanging in the davits – with nothing between.
Next I saw the matchwood remains of all the Carley life-rafts about the upper-deck, the gashes of shell-splinters through the chimney, and as one looked around in increasing wonder, carnage everywhere.
We trained the gun back to its old fore-and-aft position and the Buffer went off to his paint-locker in search of a decent veiling of pusser’s grey in which again to enshroud it. When finally, having cleared up as much of the devastation of war as could be manhandled, we slid down the ladder-rails into the fug below, the ultimate horror was revealed.
As an ex-merchantman, HMS Corinthian carried many civilian facilities off to war, the military veneers – like our gun – being in many places superficial. Notable were ‘the heads’ where porcelain ruled instead of war-like naval metal-ware. The shell-blast had shattered every lavatory bowl and urinal in the ship.
As we limped home to Rosyth, faced with the bleak prospects of arctic exposure at improvised over-the-side facilities on the rising-falling upper-deck, constipation reigned. Nelson’s sailors would have felt at home. As did we ex-public schoolboys.
POSTSCRIPT. Our self-inflicted wounds took a substantial refit at Rosyth to put right; and the ship’s company thereby won some unscheduled leave. The new Gunnery Officer did not return to the ship after leave; but from the unexpected bosoms of our families we did not begrudge him the occasional favourable quip.
Towards the end of 2019 the discovery of the wreck of HMS Urge received global press attention when it was announced in Malta. There is now a community of people connected to HMS Urge, whether as relations of crew members, friends, supporters or simply those interested in the life and times of a British submarine which achieved a lot in a short but intense Second World War career. The end of April will be a poignant time for the HMS Urge group, which was to have met in Malta to commemorate the submarine and crew on the anniversary of their loss on 27 April, 1942. Sadly, the events involved have needed to be postponed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, but there is every hope of rescheduling them in the future. Everyone in the group is aware that so many plans and indeed lives have been interrupted and altered forever at this current time.
HMS Urge was one of the small U class of Royal Navy submarines which were intended for short range patrols and anti-submarine training purposes. She was built at Barrow by Vickers Armstrong and handed over to Lieutenant EP Tomkinson RN as commanding officer on 12 December, 1940. HMS Urge’s first two patrols were in the North Sea searching for German capital ships, before being ordered to the Mediterranean to form part of what became the 10th Submarine Flotilla at Malta. En route in the Bay of Biscay Urge sank the Axis 10,000 ton tanker Franco Martelli. The first lieutenant at this time was Lieutenant Peter Marriott, who left shortly afterwards to assume his own commands including the former German U boat HMS Graph; also on board taking passage was Lieutenant Ian McGeoch, a future Vice Admiral and Flag Officer Submarines whose book An Affair of Chances makes fascinating reading.
After arriving in Malta in May, 1941 Urge joined in the attack on enemy convoys from Italy to reinforce Axis forces in North Africa. The experience of being depth charged by strong escorts in the shallow waters of the Mediterranean in the first patrol led Tomkinson to offer up a prayer of thanks for the first of many lucky escapes, in this case Urge diving beyond the design limit to 278 feet to evade enemy forces. “The depth charges were raining around us…some of my crew were pretty shaken up and I’ve sent them for a rest.” he wrote to his wife. One crew member was flung across a whole compartment by the force of the underwater explosions, which they would experience many times over the coming months. Almost all of the crew coped well with this extraordinary pressure.
The intensity kept up over the next few months of 1941. As well as attacks on enemy convoys HMS Urge was one of the submarines from which some of the first special forces raids on enemy coasts were carried out by what was then known as the Special Boat Squadron. Commandos operating from Urge blew up enemy trains on two occasions, disrupting communications. Captain “Tug” Wilson was probably the most famous of the commandos operating from Malta submarines, working brilliantly with HMS Urge and many other U class submarines. Urge also undertook missions to land and recover special agents on enemy coasts. Tragically, on one occasion an agent became compromised and Sub-Lieutenant Brian Lloyd, a naval officer operating a Folbot (a folding canoe) from Urge, was killed in a firefight close to the shore. Tomkinson and his crew had to take action to evade enemy anti-submarine traps on that and several other occasions when undertaking special missions.
HMS Urge’s most significant achievement was arguably the torpedoing of the 45,000 ton Italian battleship Vittorio Veneto near the Straits of Messina on 14 December, 1941. This was the largest enemy capital ship torpedoed at sea by a Royal Navy submarine in World War Two, and the need to repair the damage deprived the enemy of a modern battleship comparable to the Bismarck for a critical 6 months during which Malta was under threat of invasion. Among the crew at this time was Lieutenant Godfrey Place who would go on to win fame for the X craft attack on the German battleship Tirpitz later in the war. After evading the enemy counter attack, Urge returned to Malta to find she had to remain dived off the island due to several waves of air raids which were in progress – Admiral Miers was later to say that Urge, Upholder and their comrades “operated under conditions of danger and difficulty the like of which I doubt will ever be paralelled.”. It was several months before the results of the Vittorio Veneto attack were fully confirmed, by which time Urge’s own loss was to overshadow it.
During the winter of 1941-2 the Malta submarines faced challenges with equipment such as torpedoes that were liable to malfunction, and the effects of storms which often caused damage to friend and foe alike. With a surface displacement of a little under 650 tons the U class boats were thrown around when on the surface at night during heavy weather which was essential to recharge batteries or intercept enemy convoys.
On 1 April, 1942 HMS Urge torpedoed and sank the Italian 6 inch gun cruiser Giovanni Delle Bande Nere. The wreck of the Bande Nere was itself discovered by the Italian Navy earlier in 2019. This was a major success, but took place against the backdrop of intensified enemy air raids on the base of the 10th Submarine Flotilla at Malta, an island which at this time became the most bombed place in history. Eventually the submarine base became unviable and the remaining 5 submarines were evacuated to Alexandria. After surviving 20 intensive war patrols, HMS Urge was not heard of again after leaving Malta on 27 April, 1942. She was lost along with her crew of 32, and 12 passengers (11 naval personnel and the journalist Bernard Gray).
In his report on Urge’s loss, Captain Simpson of the 10th Flotilla considered that Urge had struck one of a large number of mines laid by enemy E boats in the approaches to Malta at that time. British minesweeping capabilities had been crushed by enemy air attacks leaving submarines vulnerable during this intense phase of the Mediterranean war. The Royal Navy’s Commander in Chief, Mediterranean signalled the Admiralty that “The loss of this outstanding submarine and commanding officer is much to be regretted.”
In a letter now copied to the archives of the Submarine Museum, Admiral Sir Max Horton as Flag Officer Submarines wrote to Tomkinson’s widow “It is true to say that your husband’s courage, leadership and great skill were second to none in the Submarine Service either in this war or the last.” Every member of the crew had become invaluable – Captain Simpson wrote: “In Urge’s fine ship’s company one rating stands out with a record that must be for all time exceptional. Chief Petty Officer C.J.Jackman…had been in action during this war well over 40 times against all types of enemy ships.”.
Like many, Leading Signalman Eric Law was another who had seen action before joining Urge, at 22 years old he was a veteran of the Norwegian campaign as well as that in the Mediterranean. Each crew member who was lost had played a critical role in the achievements of the submarine, and their families are now gaining a sense of their contribution – as well as those already mentioned Telegraphist Henry Twist, ERA Eric Varley, PO Telegraphist Peter Wiseman, Lieutenant David Allen, Leading Seaman Jesse Norris, Able Seaman Leslie Baxter, PO Henry Watts, Leading Stoker James Lamb and Stoker Albert Bryant are among those with family members actively researching their roles. The same is true of those lost on passage such as Leading Stoker Samuel Wilkes and Bernard Gray. The journalist Bernard Gray’s presence on Urge had been established by George Malcolmson of the NMRN, having not previously been officially confirmed.
In 1942 Mrs.Tomkinson wrote to all the bereaved families, and people whose lives were changed forever through their loss were able at least to share their experience in letters. Today many of those same families are coming together and exchanging letters from that time, still remembering the relations whose qualities as people are being remembered alongside their military successes.
An accommodation block at HMS Dolphin was named after HMS Urge in 1947, with a further building named after Lieutenant-Commander Tomkinson in 1975. The town of Bridgend adopted HMS Urge in 1941 and still has the submarine’s crest in its Council chamber, along with artwork honouring the crew. There is a memorial window for the crew of HMS Urge in the chapel at Fort Blockhouse.
In 2019 staff and students from the department of Classics and Archeology of the University of Malta, working in conjunction with the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, discovered the wreck of HMS Urge lying a short distance from Malta. The discovery was verified through images and analysis, and the wreck was recognised as the last resting place of HMS Urge and her crew by the MOD prior to the announcement. The work of Professor Timmy Gambin of the University of Malta and Platon Alexiades, a naval researcher from Canada, was critical to the search project.
The full story of HMS Urge’s career, loss and discovery is still being compiled and will be completed when the Malta Commemoration has taken place in due course. It is also hoped that events to remember the submarine will be possible at the Submarine Museum. Pending such events, on 27th April the HMS Urge group will be remembering all those lost.
Claire, the RNSM General Manager, reports that all is well on the RNSM site. She has been covering the weekends and bank holidays, ensuring that the site is checked daily. She further reports that this task has provided a joyous opportunity to get out of the house … the rest of the staff being on Covid-19 furlough! The Memorial Garden (funded by Friends donations) is looking good, although the GM is somewhat concerned that we may need to look at improving the water retention in the planters as she has been spending much of her time on site watering. When this Covid-19 situation is over, this requirement will be further explored with the recently employed Memorial Area gardeners (funded by Friends donations) to see if they have any ideas to resolve this problem.
Claire also reports that the Facilities Team have been hard at work getting the site ready for reopening. The recently detected cracks in Holland gallery have all been filled and are awaiting paint. Also, the wooden seating plinth by the water’s edge is having rotten timbers replaced and the waterbus jetty railings have been rubbed down ready for painting.
The photos of the Memorial Garden and VC Exhibit, forwarded by Claire, are displayed. These show that the plants in the Garden are thriving and that the newly cleaned flagstones give the whole area a greatly improved ambience. Those of the VC Exhibition space show that the walls are now a shade of purple representative of the VC medal ribbon, and that the area has been tidied up by relocating a small number of less relevant artefacts. This is intended to improve the visibility of this, one of the most important displays on the site, and to catch the eye of visitors and draw them in. With the already added interactive display (funded by our donations), the Friends suggest that the area now stands out far better and is more fitted to a 21st Century museum display.
Members may be wondering how the Museum is coping under the pressure of the Government restrictions in place to slow the spread of Covid-19. The Royal Navy Submarine Museum, as part of the National Museum of the Royal Navy, has placed all non-essential personnel on furlough and its doors have closed temporarily. Our understanding is that all front of house staff are being sent home but will receive support in accordance with Government policy.
For the Submarine Museum, this means that the Facilities Team will be checking the site daily during the week and will continue with maintenance. We understand that the General Manager will be responsible for weekend checks.
The Friends Committee believes that NMRN policy is to minimise costs during the shutdown period whilst keeping its sites and collections safe. This policy is expected to cover a means of regenerating the business once restrictions are eased.
As is the case for the museum sector nationally, these are tough times. The committee will keep you informed as the crisis develops and more information becomes available.
As part of the 75th anniversary of VE Day, The Royal Navy Submarine Museum will be hosting a special street party. Revellers will be able to join in with traditional songs and dances from the era and meet World War Two re-enactors. To help recreate the VE Day celebrations why not come along in wartime dress and bring along your own picnic. Traditional family entertainment with games and storytelling will also be on offer. So join us for what we expect to be the greatest social event of the year!