Saturday, 27 August 2011

Article on a mystery of a memorial

IT was a war in which a combination of fast-changing events and censorship combined to endow a strange kind of time-lag on the observer.

It was the end of January 1942 and South Shields seaman Thomas Umpleby, of Palmerston Street in the town, is pictured receiving the Lloyds War Medal for an earlier act of bravery at sea.

Yet even as the paper went to press, as the adjacent headline shows, events were building in the Far East that, unbeknown for some time to readers, were already calling for local seafarers to show similar courage.

Among them were the crew of the Empire Star. She had come out of the yard of Harland and Wolff at Belfast half a dozen or so years earlier; at more than 11,000-tons gross, she was a smart, modern addition to the Blue Star fleet.

By the end of the year, she would be gone, sunk by a German U-boat north of the Azores, while in passage from the UK to South Africa.

Among those who went down with her was her first electrician, 29-year-old South Shields man Ernest Dudgeon.

But it was her exploits inbetween that concern us today for, a few months earlier, the Empire Star and her people had played a distinguished role in one of the most nail-biting episodes of the Second World War – the evacuation of Singapore.

In all, she would help more than 2,000 people to safety as the Japanese advanced on Britain’s major military base in south-east Asia.

The story of the ship’s part in the famous evacuation is told in a booklet which has been compiled by Hartlepool writer June Markwell, with Arthur Glendenning, in the hope that it will bring to the fore someone – anyone – who knows why there is a memorial to the Empire Star’s part in this wartime episode in a church, Holy Trinity, in Seaton Carew.

“No trace can be found of the person or persons who gave it,” they say.

Might the family of Sidney Milne know, for instance? He was from Jarrow and was the Empire Star’s carpenter. Aged 40 at the time, he’s unlikely to still be alive.

But, says June: “Hopefully he may have survived the war and his family may have some information.”

The ship’s part in the evacuation is certainly a thrilling one.

Her orders, for instance, had been to take off women and children, together with designated air force personnel and military nursing staff.

As well, though, she found herself invaded by army deserters, many of them Australian.

Also, her crew was added-to by several men classed as DBS (Distressed British Seamen) who had survived the sinking, five days after the headlines here, of the Canadian Pacific passenger liner, Empress of Asia, which had been bombed while carrying more than 2,000 troops from Bombay.

* If anyone has any information relating to the Empire Star memorial at Seaton Carew, get in touch and I’ll pass on contact details.

* S.S. Empire Star: The Mystery of a Church War Memorial, is available, price £2.95 plus p&p, from Hartlepool Maritime Experience (tel 01429 860077), or Atkinson Print, Hartlepool (tel 01429 267849

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Battle for Singapore Service Medals

I recently obtained these original service medals that were awarded to Aircraftsman Herbert Lawrence Yardley 243 SQN RAFVR (Royal Air force volunteer Reserve) service number 1180663 after his death related to the fall of Singapore. Records record his date of death as the 15th of February 1942 which was the day that Singapore formally surrendered. However, as was often the case with these records often the date of death was recorded as the last known day of a confirmed sighting of the person. The four medals include the 1939/45 Service Star, Pacific Star, Defense Medal and War Medal. His name is recorded at the Kranji War Memorial in Singapore. If anyone can add any further information about this serviceman regarding his history or background that would be appreciated. I will add more detail to this site as information comes to hand.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Information on the Aquarius?

Lynne April Bott of Willenhall UK left this message in my problematic online guestbook sometime back:-
I am trying to source information on the Aquarius, there is a possibility that my Great Uncle may have been on her when she was sunk.He was reported missing on 15th Feb1942 and reported killed in action 26th Feb1942 in Malaya.We know he got onto the wrong ship and it was sunk. My Gt. Grandmother always said it was one of churchill's mistakes. please help

Royal Navy Floating dock Singapore

Alan Peddell born in Singapore writes:-
Together with my parents and one younger brother aged 2 ( I was nearly 4), we managed to leave Spore on a small ship which took us to Djakarta and then we boarded the ss Plancius which took us to Colombo, where we stayed until the war ended. My father was an electrical engineer working on the Royal Naval Floating Dock. As both my parents are dead now, I would like to have any information regarding the ship that might have taken us to join up with the Plancius. I understand we were delayed from leaving because my father had to assist the demolition of the floating dock, and all other large ships had left Keppel because of the heavy bombing.

HMS Grasshopper

Thank you to Andrew Miller from Northern Island who wrote in the guest book recently:-
Hi David, this is fascinating. My grandfather was on board HMS Grasshopper when it came down from Shanghai to Singapore in '39; he then left Singapore on the 13th Feb '42 with some 150 nurses, royal marines, women & children (in that order of priority, apparently) swelling their complement of 55 to some 200 on board. Let's just say it didn't end well, in fact he was sunk TWICE, the second time while being transferred back to Singapore from Indonesia in 1944. After 4 weeks in the River Valley Camp the 200 survivors were returned to Sumatra to work on the Pekan Baru railway and remained there until liberated by Lady Mountbatten.

I'd like to recommend the book "The Judy Story" by Edwin Varley, 1973, to add a little colour to the life of a matelot on the gunboats at the China & Singapore Stations, life for Europeans at the brink of war in the Far East, the subsequent evacuation up to the 14th Feb, and the imprisonment of military and civilian personnel after the fall of Singapore. As is often the case with FEPOWs, it is where our family had to go to get the detail of what happened to our grandfather as he and the dog were POW's together! It's an incredibly personal story interlaced with 'the bigger picture' at the time and our family hold it in very high regard for obvious reasons.

Many copies come up on eBay and for bargain prices as people clear their parents' houses out.

I work offshore and I am hoping to get detailed onto a project my firm is carrying out in Australia soon. If successful I would very much like to visit Singapore and Indonesia and see the locations that had such a great effect on my grandfather.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

World War II hero Tay Ah Soey dies at age 97

He was amongst a group of 5 who pulled survivors from the water after their ships were bombed escaping Singapore on Friday the 13th "Black Friday" 1942. Rest in peace