It was the longest battle of WW2, and publisher BILL FORSTER, who’s father fought in it, says there are lots of local connections he’d like to find out more about . . .
From late 1940 to early 1942 HMS Venomous was part of the First Escort Group in the port of Derry. Along with the ships of the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), it escorted the convoys across the Atlantic during the Battle of the Atlantic, the longest battle of World War Two.
And among those who manned HMS Venomous were several who had strong links with Derry, Strabane and the North-West, either on their own account or through the women they met during their time in the port. It would be interesting to know a bit more about those connections.
The men who served on HMS Venomous told their stories to the authors of ‘A Hard Fought Ship’ and 170 of their photographs illustrate the book. And Captain John Rodgaard US Navy (Retired), who co-authored the book, is in the city for the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the turning of the tide in the Battle of the Atlantic today, 10th May.
I had the privilege of publishing this book, written by Captain Rodgaard and Bob Moore, the former CO of the Sea Cadet unit, TS Venomous, through my imprint Holywell House Publishing in St Alban’s. I have a personal interest - my father served on HMS Venomous. Also my mother was born in Northern Ireland. Now I’m interested in tracing the families of Derrymen who also served on Venomous or those who married local girls.
Some members of the crew came from Northern Ireland and others met their future wives there. And some, like Jack Bolton, did both. Jack did not fancy being a foot-slogging soldier so he travelled from his home at Strabane to Belfast for a medical and joined the Royal Navy. After basic training at HMS Arthur in Skegness and training as a torpedo man at Devonport, he was drafted to HMS Venomous at Derry in June 1942. The girl he was courting and later married was working in a shirt factory across the road from the naval base. Jack is 90 and lives in Telford, Shropshire, but still has family in Northern Ireland.
Petty Officer James Andrew Tonner, a wireless telegrapher on Venomous, met his future wife in Derry. His widow and their children still live in the city today. Sydney Pountney was serving in NI with the Royal Corps of Signals and also married a local girl, Eileen. His younger brother, Eric Pountney, also a wireless telegrapher on Venomous, took some wonderful photographs.
Dolly (William J.) Gray was described by a shipmate as a “likeable Irishman with strong political opinions”. He came from Belfast and was killed when HMS Albatross was torpedoed on 11 August 1944. He was photographed on Venomous with Cyril Hely, who is playing a ukulele. Does anybody remember Dolly Gray or know his family? I’d love to be able to tell his story.
The ‘No 1’ on HMS Venomous in 1941 was Lt Cdr Angus Mackenzie RNR, a strong-willed decisive character known affectionately as ‘Bloodie Mackenzie’. Thirty years later he visited his daughter Sheena in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and looking down on Bedford Basin where the convoys assembled for the Atlantic crossing, he described how it used to be so packed with ships that he could get ashore by walking from ship to ship. After his death Sheena Mackenzie arranged for her father’s ashes to be scattered in Bedford Basin.
Lt Homer McPhee RN, a popular Canadian officer on HMS Venomous in 1941, worked his passage across the Atlantic to join the Royal Navy as a boy sailor in 1936. He retired from the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) in 1979 as its longest-serving officer.
So it’s something special for veterans of the RCN this week when the Sailors’ Monument is unveiled at Ebrington on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic. Some of those veterans will have made the journey back to Derry for the occasion. The bonds between these countries which fought together in the Battle of the Atlantic are still strong today.
If this article has whetted your interest, you can “follow in the wake” of HMS Venomous on my website at: http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/A_Hard_Fought_Ship.html
And if you have any information in connection with this fascinating story, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
In the meantime, here’s wishing everyone there a great weekend to mark the city’s role in the longest continuous military campaign in World War Two, lasting from 1939 to the defeat of Germany in 1945.