Good morning! Today, it is my pleasure to kick off the blog tour for Doomed Destroyer by Ron Cope. This is a non-fiction book which shines a light on an important but previously little known event in British history and I have an extract to share with you all. My thanks to Rachel Gilbey at Authoright for the opportunity!
Author : Ron Cope
Title : Doomed Destroyer
Pages : 560
Publisher : Clink Street Publishing
Publication date : April 10, 2018
On March 1st 1940, Adolf Hitler ordered Operation Weserubung: the invasion of Norway. Having swept across Europe, the Nazi assault on Scandinavia was designed to secure the valuable iron ore being delivered by rail from Sweden to the Norwegian port of Narvik. To complete the task, Hitler sent ten large destroyers, with 220 Alpine Troops on each. Five smaller British H Class destroyers were sent up the fjord in retaliation, with little knowledge of what to expect. On April 10th , the first British battle of Narvik began in earnest. Royal Naval Captain Bernard Warburton-Lee led his flotilla at midnight into the fjord; undetected, under darkness and in driving snow storms. The harbour erupted into a torpedo attack; back into the fjord, the destroyers Hardy, Hunter, Hotspur, Havock and Hostilewere confronted by five German destroyers. A ferocious sea battle ensued and Hardy and Hunter were lost.
In his first account of The Battle of Narvick, Attack at Dawn, Ron Cope focussed on the experience and the survival of the crew of HMS Hardy. After nine long years of research, he now reveals for the first time the untold story of HMS Hunter and her crew. Just forty-eight of the 159 servicemen on board survived in the cold waters of the fjord; picked up by German destroyers, they were eventually forced to march in freezing conditions over the mountains into internment in Sweden. Before the handover to the Swedish authorities, a German Army officer made the British servicemen sign a form: “On my being sent into Sweden I will not take up arms against Germany… Should I do so, and in the event of again being taken prisoner I shall be subject to such conditions as are provided under the Death Penalty Act”.
Doomed Destroyer follows the astounding stories of the Hunter sailors, who would spend the next five years plotting and attempting to escape their captivity. Cope provides an extensive account of the viciously fought events at sea and in the fjords, examining the Norwegian price paid at Narvik and the early impact of war on the local community’s simple way of life. A remarkable account delivered with care and respect for those lost and left behind, Doomed Destroyer shines a light on this important but previously little known event in British history.
“Without dedicated men like Ron Cope, the testimony and the stories of the men who were there – whether they were lost, wounded, or survived – what became of them, their families, might otherwise be lost to future generations.” Percy C. Danby, Lieutenant (E), C.D. RCN Retired. Ottawa. March 2017, survivor on HMS Hotspur.
I was fortunate to have a manuscript in my father Cyril’s archives which after elimination I discovered it to be from Able Seaman Marshal Soult a crew member on HMS Hunter. After more research I found he came from Falmouth but had long since passed away. This did not deter me and I was eventually able to find a family friend Barbara Wakeham living in St Austell where I went to meet her. Once more there were a significant number of well kept archives, including a short narrative titled, “Another HMS Hunter’ story.” Here begins the first part of this extraordinary document.
Lucretia Kelly is a smartly dressed woman with brown eyes. She had sent a photograph of herself, taken more than a quarter of a century ago. I recognised her as soon as she had opened the door of her home twenty minutes ago. That photograph of Penryn Accordion Band and this stone shelter were two threads in a story which had roused my curiosity; and had brought me fifty miles to meet her.
Her story concerned Falmouth in 1940, a year of German conquests in Europe, of Dunkirk and threatened invasion. During the day, Lucretia Kelly [then she was Miss Johns] worked in the book binding department. In the evening, exchanging working clothes for a black and red uniform, black skirt, red blouse, black velvet bolero and red sash; she played the accordion in local dance halls. Those were nights when dancers were moving to music like ‘Roll Out the Barrel’, ‘Somewhere in France’ and ‘Boom’. There were seven in the band; four boys and three girls, five with accordions, one at the drums, another at the piano. It was a year in which Cornish cinema audiences saw Dorothy Lamour in Typhoon, Dickie Lupino in Just William[…] and Shirley Temple in The Little Princess.
One spring evening Lucretia Johns had met a special young sailor, Alan. [Lucretia explains] “It was in the dance hall, then named the Winter Gardens Ballroom, but it really was the Polytechnic Hall; when he came up stage to ask for a request tune. He was fair, rather nice looking; he came from up North, he told me, and he had a sister, a hairdresser. He was aboard HMS Hunter, then in Falmouth Docks, and after that we had several dates.
On March 7th the ship’s company held a ‘farewell dance’ at the Princess Pavilion, and being a naval dance, everybody went to it, so that the other dances were empty. Anyhow, our band had to play in the Winter Gardens and Mr Conyngham, who ran the dances, made us play to an empty hall. But around nine o’clock he had a change of heart, and closed down …. you can guess where I made for!
“The next night – Hunter’s last, Alan and I went for a walk and ended up here in this shelter. At one point in our conversation I turned to him to say something, and had all I could do to stop myself from screaming, because Alan had turned into a skeleton. I turned away, and then forced myself to look and speak to him, and when I looked he was quite normal once again. I didn’t tell him of my vision, as I didn’t want to scare him; but I must have looked queer, because he asked me if I was all right, although I’d done my best to hide it. Alan was just the same after the vision. It seemed to have no effect on him.”
At the end of my book I returned to Marshal’s story about Lucretia Johns meeting the young sailor on board HMS Hunter. Probably her first loving relationship.
I now return to Marshal Soult’s meeting with Lucretia Kelly in 1968 [previously Miss Johns]. Lucretia was probably then about fifty years of age. It appears she had a premonition about ‘Alan’, the man she had met for a short while, before the Hunter left to go to Narvik.
Marshal begins, “There were 159 men on board and forty-eight were picked up, three being killed in action, the rest drowned. I felt sure the vision was a presentiment of Alan’s death, and that our goodbye was really and truly forever […]
Now, twenty-eight years later, Lucretia Kelly was sitting on the same seat in the same shelter on Falmouth seafront. Lucretia, “It’s the first time I’ve been back here. I’ve sat in other shelters but never this one. All because of what happened that night, I suppose. In a way, it’s a strange sensation sitting here again after all those years.
In less than half an hour Lucretia Kelly was experiencing even a stranger sensation.
“Alan Clayton was his name, wasn’t it?” Marshal Soult the manager of Brigg’s shoe shop, in Church Street, who had served on HMS Hunter, looked thoughtful. I’ve got a suspicion he survived. I didn’t know him all that well, mark you, but I’ve got an idea I saw him alive after Hunter’s sinking.” Lucretia Kelly sank into the nearest chair. Bewilderment creased her face. “Don’t tell me he’s alive after all these years.”
Marshal Soult carefully studied a photograph, a snapshot of a group of survivors. “No, he’s not among them.” Lucretia Kelly studied the faces too.
“Your mother showed me this soon after it had happened …” Marshall Soult interrupted her. “But these aren’t all the survivors. There must have been another twenty who weren’t in this. Alan Clayton might be one of them …”
Later, Lucretia Kelly and I continued our conversation over a cup of tea at her home, Grove Cottage, in Swanpool Street, where she lives with her husband, twenty-six-year-old daughter, Marlene, and her Siamese cat, Pasha.
“I still think he’s dead”, was Lucretia opinion. “Just a feeling you know …”
“There’s only one way to find out,” said Soult. “I’ll write to Naval Records.”
Marshal Soult continues, “Back in Tintagel, I wrote to the offices of the Commodore, HMS Drake, at Devonport. A Naval man had advised this as the best avenue of information. Four days later, I had a letter telling me my request for information regarding Able Seaman Alan Clayton had been forwarded to the Principle Director of Accounts (Naval), Branch 3D Enquiries, Warminster Road, Bath.
“The following week I was out of Cornwall. A brown ‘On Her Majesty’s Service’ envelope was among the hillock of mail awaiting my return.
“’I have examined the ship’s ledger of HMS Hunter,’, the letter read, ‘which was sunk during 1940, but an Able Seaman Alan Clayton does not appear as a member of the crew.’ “My line of enquiry now switched back to the starting point of Falmouth. Lucretia Kelly, for her part, stuck to her story; moreover, she insisted she had written to Alan Clayton during Hunter’s time in Plymouth, and received replies.
Not wanting to spoil the story for readers as to whether Alan Clayton was on board HMS Hunter or not and if so did he survive, what I can say is with more research I discovered the end of the love story.
Ron Cope: Author of “Attack at Dawn” and “Doomed Destroyer”.
Doomed Destroyer will be published on April 10th.
Born in Salford, Ron Cope followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Royal Navy in 1964, working in electronics. After leaving the forces in 1986, he spent over twenty years working in the probation service, specifically with young offenders. Now a proud father and grandfather, Cope is retired and living with his wife Alison in Telford, Shropshire. His first naval history book Attack at Dawn: Reliving the First Battle of Narvik in World War Two was published to acclaim back in 2015.