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If he were still alive, my Father would be celebrating his 90th birthday on Saturday 18th December 2010. Arthur was born in Hyde, Cheshire, in 1920, and died a few days after his 76th birthday, on 23rd December 1996. Above photo taken by my half sister Barbara.

He had what you might call a good war. In 1938, a year before war broke out, he joined the Royal Navy. He was actually planning on joining the RAF, but on passing the window of the Royal Navy recruitment office in Dover Street, Manchester, he preferred the uniform of a sailor so joined them instead. He served with the North Atlantic and Mediterranean Fleet.

Most of his war stories were humorous – a favourite being of how he and his “oppo” had got blind drunk in Freetown, Sierra Leone in West Africa, and were staggering back to the ship when they spotted a duck just sitting in the middle of a dried-up pond. 2 drunken sailors + duck = supper, so they stole it, but were chased all the way back to the ship by a very pissed off bloke wielding a machete.

Occasionally he spoke of the horror of war – on board HMS Fame, the ship rammed the conning tower of a U-Boat (U-353) with such force that the bow of the ship was split open and she had to return to Liverpool for repairs in reverse gear. Not that they were horrified at the time, the men on board were jubilant at sinking a U-Boat.

While on board this destroyer other U-boats were sunk including U-69 which had earlier torpedoed the ferry boat Caribou with the loss of 137 people including 49 civilians, off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. U-69 was caught and rammed by HMS Fame some months later with the loss of all 46 hands.

The most famous battle in which he was involved – he was then an anti-aircraft gunner on HMS Norfolk – was that of the Bismarck, the world’s biggest battleship, which set out on its first operational voyage in May 1941. HMS Norfolk and HMS Suffolk had located the Bismarck and the Prinz Eugen off the Icelandic coast, tailed them and were joined by battleship Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Hood, the pride of the British Fleet.

My Father had what he described as a ring side seat. He saw a couple of exchanges between the Hood and the Bismarck, before the Hood suddenly blew up! Within minutes the entire ship just disappeared from view. Of a crew of 1418, only 3 men survived. My Dad later gave evidence at the Inquiry.

Bismarck left the scene after damaging HMS Prince of Wales, and contact was lost. However a few days later she was re-sighted south of Ireland and heading for France. Swordfish torpedo bombers from Ark Royal damaged Bismarck’s rudder, and the ship was doomed as the British fleet moved in for the kill. The Norfolk had been involved from the start and was there at the end. My Dad said that the scariest part of the battle was when the battleship HMS Rodney and the Bismarck were firing 1 ton shells at each other from a distance, while the Norfolk sailed between them both and fired a port broadside of torpedoes at the Bismarck before turning around and firing the starboard ‘tin fish’ as he referred to them, while shells from the two battleships’ guns were tearing the sky apart above them.

In 1985, he was awarded a commemorative medal by the Soviet Union for escort duties with the Arctic Convoys to Arkhangelsk. That’s the medal below the others, it not being an official campaign medal. He also took part in D-Day, harrassing the defenders around Le Havre with shellfire, and was called up for Reserve duty during the Korean War.

Below; Arthur with his younger brother William, who died shortly after this photo was taken.

Old pics & sldes dvd 051

Below; HMS Zulu. A brand new Tribal Class Destroyer. In December 1938, just before his 18th birthday, HMS Zulu sailed out of Chatham Docks in Kent, and made for the Mediterranean.
It must have been quite an experience for him, turning 18 and going ashore while berthed at St Tropez – not bad going for a lad from the slums of east Manchester!


34 comments on “Dad
  1. Keartona says:

    Memories come flooding back when anniversaries are near. Your dad sounds like he had an interesting time and you must be very proud of him.
    My grandad was also in the Royal Navy during the war and spent time I think in West or South Africa. We don’t know much because he never told us anything about it. He always said there wasn’t much to tell but I do remember a similar story he told me about being chased by natives when they went ashore.

  2. CORDAN says:

    A true hero Ian. Thanks for sharing. It is so good to know more about these great men.

  3. SolarScot. says:

    your dad was a very brave man Ian and you must be so proud of him and also sad that he is not around,what would he make of the Ark Royal and the Harriers? sad days indeed

  4. Reflective Kiwi %-) says:

    What a GORGEOUS photo of your Dad Ian. He looks such a lovely kind man! Beautiful series of photos too especially the cute one of you and him! Lovely words too. It’s great that he shared some of his stories with you. I wish my Dad had too, but he found it very hard talking about the war! I’ll be thinking of you on the 18th and 23rd. They are never far from our hearts are they! %-)

  5. **Hazel** says:

    Thank you for sharing these memories of your Father, Ian. It is a lovely photo and he was very smart and a very brave man. I agree, you must be very proud of him. It is lovely to see your family photos too, including baby Ian!! You were lucky to know about these stories. I knew very little about what my father did in the Army. It is a sad day now the Harriers are no more!!!

  6. mick cooke says:

    brilliant story ian stories you never forget can be handed down over generations, and photos to go wuth the stoies

  7. Richard Tierney says:

    One of the many unsung heroes… he must have led a charmed life being involved in Artic Convoy duties and comign home safe and sound, unlike so many Merchant Seaman on those supply routes to Archangel..

    Bet you miss him loads.. I knwo I miss mine terribly and he has been gone for 30 years now…

    Cracking photograph to have of him :-))) Shame his passing was so close to Christmas ( 23rd ) very sad time of year mixed one one of the happiest..

  8. andyholmfirth says:

    That’s a wonderful read Ian ! Is this where you get your historical interests from ?
    I nearly fell of my chair here when I read "one ton" shells !! It doesn’t bear thinking about.
    I’ve a Great Uncle who was in the Navy during WW11 and he recalls being based briefly on Loch Leven / Fort William.In a simillar incident he and a mate helped themselves to a goose which they ate for supper.He often tells the story but I always think he feels guilty about taking it even after all these years.

  9. Gary Shield says:

    A fantastic tribute, Ian, what a man he was.

  10. Hotpix [LRPS] Hanx for 1.5M Views says:

    Looks a proud man, great shot and tribute. I can see you are proud too mate.


    365-186 Lamington Village in the Snow

    Walk a year in my shoes, see a wider view, join me up my street or share my iPod.

  11. Altass says:

    Great photo of a proud man and a cracking read Ian.Well done.
    Mu uncle was on the arctic convoys and i know only too well what conditions were like.!

  12. Tony-H says:

    A stirring history Ian …. we all owe a lot to your dad and his like !

  13. Tech Owl says:

    He looks a proud and happy man – nice series of memories Ian

  14. Ian D B says:

    Many thanks everyone. Much appreciated. Yeah, I miss the old bugger. He was always up for a laugh.

    Yeah, he had a lot to do with it Andy!

  15. Mark McKie says:

    My mother in laws uncle went down with HSM Hood that day.

  16. pasujoba says:

    Terrific reportage Ian . What a life …..he saw some momentous events from history .

  17. pasujoba says:

    I have added this shot to my War Stories gallery , which contains more interesting shots with stories to match from across the flickr network.

  18. Ian D B says:

    Thanks Paul.

    Friend of mine at work, her uncle was on Hood too. Would’ve been quick for most of em.

  19. Kingsdude/Dave says:

    [] Excellent photos Ian and really liked the background on your dads military memories. My late father would have been 88 on December 20th this year – makes you realise hearing their stories what a debt of gratitude we owe each and every one of them – thanks for uploading

  20. C J Paul (chris) says:

    ian brilliant picture love all the info about the war boats and the story of your dad.
    it bring it all back to me the history and the storys my grandad would tell me(only if i nagged him) the men from years gone by to few are now left. thats why people like us will keep there storys going.
    well done my frend you have touched my heart again.
    thank you for your hard work.

  21. Pleasureprinciple2012 says:

    What can I say, if it wasn’t for the likes of your father then we would be leading a very different life. A debt of gratitude we can never repay, a father and war hero. At least you can keep his spirit and memory alive for future generations. You must be very proud. Lest we forget.

  22. Never Was An Arrow II says:

    GOOD TRIBUTE to your father, and some great war stories!

  23. jr55 (John Richardson) says:

    I agree, great tribute to a man who had a "interesting" war to say the least, the Artic and the North Atlantic convoys must have been a nightmare, but at least the Russian nation eventually recognised the contribution made by people like your father, they certainly didn’t at the time. That is a great shot of your Dad, he looked a good bloke to be around and I’m sure you treasure that image to say the least, thanks for sharing his picture and his war with us all.
    regards, John

  24. umbry101 says:

    a fine tribute to a fine man. thank you for sharing this with us all………

  25. Mustang Koji says:

    Wonderful, wonderful write-up, sir. While a bit tardy, my belated condolences.

    The story of the Bismarck is right on and is particularly more satisfying hearing it from your father’s "ringside seats". Amazingly, the Fairey Swordfish as you mention was outdated – down to its fabric covered metal frame – yet provided a critical punch to the sinking of the Bismarck. I cannot imagine the fright the young crews in their open air cockpits must have endured while on their attack course.

  26. PeaceLoveScoobie says:

    Well done and I raise my mug to your Father. Reading his description of the Bismark engagement is right out of the movie ‘Sink the Bismark’. I can visualize what he must have seen. Incredible spot to see the action from! And your Pop looks like a very proud man holding you as a baby. Thank you for sharing.

  27. Ian D B says:

    Thanks again everyone. He would’ve been very pleased at the response, pleased that people are interested. I think it is only recently that we have (culturally) started to appreciate the men and women of that generation, those who are now in the late 80s and in their 90s. We took them for granted for so long, often older people were the butt of jokes… Certainly in the UK, any old sailor or soldier was being boring when they were "going on about the war" all the time. Now their numbers are dwindling, we are starting to appreciate them more, and from the comfort of our Western middle class lives, we can only look in awe at the privation, hardship and heartache that entire generation endured.

  28. Mustang Koji says:

    Hear, hear.

  29. Reflective Kiwi %-) says:

    So lovely to see this again! I can see you are very proud of him…. and so you should be! %-)

  30. Kingsdude/Dave says:

    Excellent shots Ian and a fascinating story – a fine tribute to your father who like so many of his generation risked life and limb on a daily basis. I`ve no doubt he`s greatly missed – at least these photos and stories must bring back great memories.

  31. Ian D B says:

    Cheers Dave, thanks for taking a look!

  32. Ian_Boys says:

    good bit of history!

  33. Ian D B says:

    Thank you very much!

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