Monday, December 10, 2012

In Memoriam December 10th 1941

The crew of the sinking HMS Prince of Wales abandoning ship to the destroyer Express

Seventy one years ago today Japanese aircraft torpedoed and sank the British battlecruiser HMS Prince Of Wales off the East coast of Malaysia with the loss of 327 men.

My Dad, an Ordinary Seaman of just 18 at the time, was a gunner on the ship, and survived. Had he not I would, of course, not be writing this now.

At around this time of year throughout the 80s and 90s Mum and Dad would attend Prince Of Wales crew reunions, although as the years went by the number of people there who'd actually survived the action steadily dwindled. My parents themselves stopped going a few years back, as they got older and less mobile and the long train journeys north to Liverpool or Newcastle became more and more difficult for them. Dad of course is still a 'survivor', but I don't suppose that as he sits in his chair in the hospital today he will remember the day.

The sinking of HMS Prince Of Wales and her sister ship HMS Repulse (with the loss of 508 men) was a significant moment in the history of warfare: these were the first ships to be sunk on the open sea by air power alone. But a self-deluding British Government believed them to be invincible - great symbols of Imperial Power.

My Dad used to tell me how the crew were told of the unlikelihood of any attack as the ships, intended to intimidate by their very presence, sailed towards Singapore.

'What about aeroplanes Sir?' he remembered asking, a little nervously.

'Aeroplanes?' scoffed an officer, 'You don't want to worry about aeroplanes son'.


The ships still lie 223 feet deep in the water off Kuantan in the South China Sea.

To this day it is traditional for any Royal Navy ship that passes nearby to hold a service in remembrance.

This is my small commemoration on behalf of my Dad: remembering for him, if you like.


  1. It is important that these things are remembered not in a jingoistic way but just the sheer waste of life and potential. I'm going to sound like an old git now but I'm not sure that the generation younger than ourselves grasps the sheer enormity of what that people went through during the two world wars whether in conflict or at home.

    What always amazes me is the way they just came home and got on with things, like my grandfather who survived the trenches from the winter of 1914 'til 1918 and just came home and picked up life where he had left off. Well that's always the impression that he conveyed. But he must have been damaged in someway with the horror he would have to have seen.

  2. A salutory and vivid tale; lest we forget. (And the most incredible photograph you've found there davy).
    You are a fine fellow for tipping your hat to your dad with such a heartfelt touching memory. Thank you.

    I've had many a beer discussion with Navy and Army guys re the importance of air power. Course it's a 'no-brainer' now, but we should remember that back in the late 30s/early 40s, military leaders did not altogether subscribe to non-traditional / revolutionary notions such as the dominance of long-range and strategic bombing from the skies.
    This bloke wrote a powerful book at that time ..
    - with a forward-thinking Walt Disney subsequently funding and producing a film to support it. Given your dad's observation, it's perhaps worth reading more on it all.

    And drew is so right with his point about the post-war veterans 'just getting on with it'. Clearly far from a new phenomenon, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and associated Syndromes had yet to be named. As a word, 'Shell-shock' hardly did it justice. The wives and kids should never be forgotten either as a war raged and they 'kept calm and carried on'. Unlike today, perhaps it was a good thing that information was in short supply? Perhaps schools should have less on Tudor kings and more regular reminders covering anniversaries of the pain and sacrifice of our more recent forefathers?

  3. We do Dickie, we do.

    Great post Mr H.

  4. Thanks SA - am really glad to hear it.

  5. Eldest daughter is off to Ypres on Friday, on that note...

    When I was a kid of ten or eleven one of the co-authors of this book about the sinking of the Prince Of Wales and Repulse came to our house to interview Dad for it. Father didn't warm to him, especially when he told us that he'd 'missed out on the war' (like that was a bad thing) because he'd been too young.

    I told him that well, I'd missed out on The Beatles, which I remember made Dad laugh a great deal

  6. Simply wonderful post, Dear Boy.

    Love to your Aged Ps.


  7. Great post, and more love to your Ps.

  8. gulp... thanks for this dear. and i can only echo the words above really.

  9. Incredible - you really can't help but marvel at what that generation went through - my mum's tales of London during the blitz, doodlebugs and evacuation were eye-widening.

    Here's to your dad, the survivors and the lost

  10. Great post. We do have a cushy life...

  11. My grandad served on a submarine in WWII, something he never talked about (I never asked either to be honest) but at his funeral some old members of his crew turned up and stood in the aisles to attention throughout, medals on their chests, in salute to him. I was very touched.

  12. Submariners - altogether a breed apart

  13. The only trouble with this item is the Prince of Wales was a sister ship to the King George the 5th and the Repulse was the sister ship to the Renown . Otherwise family history very well told


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