A Survivor's Tale

(Page 1 of 5... A story by Trevor Reeve, HMS Jervis Bay Association.)

Published 1958This is a story that I had been trying to write since 2003, but it was not until some seven years later that I had my first opportunity to finally put pen to paper, for a number of different reasons, which will become clear. I have always been intrigued by a paragraph in George Pollock's 1958 book 'The Jervis Bay' which states the following on page 188 (hardback edition):-

"So of the ship's company of two hundred and fifty-four who sailed with Captain Fogarty Fegen, only sixty-five survived. One of these, a middle-aged engineer, collapsed and died as a result of the delayed effects of the action, the day he arrived back in Liverpool some weeks later."

This has always fascinated me. To start with of course, there were actually two hundred and fifty-five men on board HMS Jervis Bay during her epic battle with the 'Admiral Scheer', though Pollock is right in that there were just sixty five survivors picked up by the 'Stureholm'. And of course the most important item in this paragraph is of these sixty-five men, who died the day that he landed in Liverpool on his return to England?

We have to look at what Pollock states. The man was middle-aged and a member of the engineering staff. Just what does one class as being middle-aged? Forty years of age... forty-five... fifty ? And an engineer ?

Of those listed as engineering staff on the officers photograph on the 'HMSJervisBay.com' website, there were the officers Guy Byam-Corstiaens (referred to as just Guy Byam), John Hewitt Currie, Harold Gordon Moss and Arthur John Robertson. Byam, Currie & Robertson were young men and so not middle-aged.

Byam-Corstiaens, Currie, Moss, Robertson

So was the deceased man, Moss ? Apparently not, as he lived a great many years after the 1940 tragedy. In fact on the photograph, only Moss is pictured. Byam, Currie and Urquhart are either not pictured (Byam) or indeed not listed (Currie & Urquhart.)

So, we can then turn to the ship's ratings. The fourteen Canadian survivors would not be returning to England, so the two engine room articifers (Dalton Greene and Ken Marginson) along with the five stokers (if you can class them as part of the engineering staff), would all have to be discounted from the equation.

Of the forty-four British ratings, stokers George Crowson, Shedrack Ellmes and John McConnell are not listed on the Commonwealth Grave Commission (CWGC) website as dying during WW2 and I know that stoker/greaser Dennis Drury attended the crew re-unions at the Marylebone Station Restaurant, London from 1946 onwards, so neither can he be our man.

And so, the trail of the mystery man goes cold. Even a word with my good friend Harold E.Wright (HMS Jervis Bay historian in Canada) fails to deliver an answer. We both agree that George Pollock had to be wrong in his book statement. The CWGC listed the only two crew survivors to die during WW2 are engineering officer Guy Byam (killed when his plane got shot down over Berlin, working for the BBC as a news reporter for radio on 3rd February, 1945), and Randolph William Urquhart (listed as 2nd Radio Officer) on 13th August, 1942 (cause of death unknown). All sixty-three of the other crew survivors got through WW2 more or less intact, (I.E. James 'Slinger' Wood lost a hand in a later conflict for example.)

Even another website (www.unithistories.com - which lists what happened to officers in WW2) failed to give any further information regarding our nine surviving officers, but more importantly those from the engineering staff of the ship. In fact, it appeared to use the same photographic evidence and information (Tribune photograph) that the 'Jervis Bay' website does to identify its officers and their relevant ranks etc. So, this website had no photographs of officers (survivors Robertson & Urquhart along with deceased officers such as Newton & Leddra along with others too), as well as information that was not updated, or possibly even incorrect.

And even in 2007, no further gain could be achieved in trying to find out what on earth Pollock had meant by his page 188 statement. It surely did just have to be an error on his part, didn't it ?

Continue reading Page 2 (of 5) "A Survivor's Tale"...

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