Royal Arthur. Was one of several assessment camps where new recruits
would be assessed, kited out and sent to there various depots there
were thousands that went through these camps.
Before the war HMS Royal Arthur had been a Butlins holiday camp and
after the war was reverted back to just that, I myself stayed there
in the early 60s.
The photo above was given to me by Able Seaman Bill Aldous
who served on the Firedrake from mid 1940 to late 1942.
In the photo their are five of the Firedrake’s crew:
Back Row Standing Extreme Right is: Ab Smn Bill Aldous.
Middle Row Standing Left to Right No.10 is: AB Smn Gooding.
First Row Standing Left to Right No.2 is: AB Smn Bert How.
Sitting-down Left to Right No.7 is: AB Smn Wiggy Bennett.
Sitting Cross-legged Left to Right No. 5 is: AB Smn Leonard
Smn Bill Aldous
Smn Bert How
Smn Wiggy Bennett
Smn Len Browne
one of these five was lost with the Firedrake Able Seaman Leonard
Browne who came from the Waterside in Londonderry Northern Ireland.
Was another recruitment assessment camp, that camp was in North
Wales at another Butlins holiday camp at Pwllheli, this is where Arthur
Snelling and Billy Kay were told to attend, the photo on the right
was taken at HMS Glendower by Arthur Selling so is not in the picture,
but standing on the extreme right is Billy Kay sadly both were lost
with the Firedrake when she was sunk in 1942,
James Conway ( Dick)
HMS Firedrake 1938-1941
|I joined the
R.N. for 12 years on 2.2.37. I had reached the age of 18 on 4.12.1936.
My home station was Chatham. On joining I was given the exalted rank
of 2nd class stoker with the pay of two shillings and sixpence (12˝
new pence) a day. In addition to this vast sum I was also given one
shilling and sixpence a week clothing allowance. After the first issue
of clothing you were expected to buy your own not only expected to
but were compelled to. Provided one was reasonably efficient one was
promoted after one years service to 1st class stoker and awarded an
extra one shilling a day (5p) thus jumping in one bound from 19 shillings
(95 new pence) a week to 26 shillings (Ł1.30).
I joined HMS Sussex, a county class cruiser on 29.6.1937, she was
part of the Mediterranean fleet, while serving aboard her I was awarded
the Palestine medal. I left the Sussex on 8.5.1938 and returned to
the UK. I was then posted to HMS Firedrake on 3.9.1938. She was affectionately
known as (The Old Fish-cake). I was at first employed in the boiler
room watch keeping. After promotion to the heady height’s of leading
stoker on 17.11.1940, I was then employed in the engine room at sea
and in harbour.
A-Gun with from left to right: O’Leary, Conway, Bruce, Cheney and
was declared on Sunday 3.9.1939, we were at anchor in Scapa Flow but
put to sea and were dropping depth charges the same afternoon. We
were also at anchor in Scapa Flow when the battle ship Royal Oak was
sunk at anchor with heavy loss of life, a U-boat was suspected and
blamed but I had always thought that sabotage was the more likely
course of her destruction.
I could see how a U-boat could get into the anchorage at Scapa Flow
but not how it could get out again, after alerting a large number
of destroyers with Asdic submarine detectors onboard who would have
been in close vicinity.
a U-boat captain named Preen did claim he had sunk the Royal Oak,
but he did not survive the war so his claim could not be further verified
or checked at first hand.
can distinctly remember the sinking of U-39 and the picking up of
survivors from her, these survivors were distributed among the other
two destroyers who had taken part in the action.
We had one of these survivors allocated to the stokers mess, after
sixty odd years my memory is not all that it should be but I think
his name was possibly Horst Zigfurt, he claimed to be a torpedoman
and was convinced that the U-39 had sunk the aircraft carrier Ark
Royal whose escort we were, we took him top side and showed him the
Ark Royal sailing along completely undamaged.
said that even if U-39 had not sunk the Ark Royal she had at least
sunk the destroyer with H79 painted on her side, any friendly feeling
I had for him completely evaporated at that moment H79 was the Firedrake’s
left to right: Eddie Smith , Fishy Place and Dick Conway, Smith
and Place were lost with the ship in 1942.
| During my service
on the Firedrake I can distinctly remember the following incident
I think it was 1940 when it happened we were at anchor in the Clyde
near Greenock when a torpedo was accidentally fired along the deck
and into the fo’c’sle of a French destroyer about ˝ a mile from us,
it destroyed the for part and upper-deck trapping everyone forward
between decks, they were unable to escape through the portholes because
they were too small. Those trapped all perished either by fire or
by drowning when she sank. I can faintly remember the name of that
French destroyer, I think it was the Maillé Brézé there was of course
quite a lot of French sailors who survived.
positive thing that came out of this horrible event was that on all
mess decks at least one port hole was enlarged to make escape possible.
The Firedrake was at Narvik in Norway during the Norwegian campaign,
the thing I mostly recall is that it stayed light 24 hours a day,
and that there was always or it seemed as if there was always German
bombers overhead, the main reason we escaped from Narvik relatively
unharmed was down to the skill of our captain Lt Commander Steven
Photo left the French destroyer Maillé Brézé.
| I left HMS
Firedrake on the 26.6.41, after serving over 2˝ years aboard her she
had during the last year or so of my time on her been in the Mediterranean
with force H under the command of Admiral Sir James Somerville.
I left the Royal Navy on the 13th April 1949, as a Petty Officer,
after 12 years, in my time from leaving the Firedrake and leaving
the Royal Navy I served on many other ships here are just a few of
Officer Robert Pickersgill
by Mike Pickersgill
knowledge of my father is limited to information passed on to me by
relatives who knew him. He was brought up in Jarrow, North East England,
which was at that time an area of considerable hardship and high levels
Apparently, he was a very bright lad at school and succeeded in passing
an examination which gained him entry to the local Grammar School
something which was not common amongst his particular peer group.
It was here that he came into contact with a Royal Navy Officer, who
had come to his school to give the boys a Careers Talk.
The combination of financial hardships at home and the attractive
picture painted of life in the Royal Navy persuaded my dad to join
up, something which necessitated telling white lies about both having
parental approval, and being old enough! He signed on for 12
years and then returned home, where he managed to persuade his parents
to accept this.
He then went all over the World, spending a considerable time on duty
in various parts of Far East, which he found to be a fascinating place,
often going also to Malta and Gibraltar, both places he liked very
much, and visiting the United States on several occasions.
this time, he served on a number of different ships, amongst which
were HMS Eagle and HMS Rowena. He had been told by a family friend
about an attractive young woman living in Leeds who was an excellent
pianist, and deciding he wanted to see this young woman, Hilda Howitt,
he accompanied this friend to Leeds.
It was quite literally love at first sight for both my mother and
father, and they were married on Christmas Day 1937. Following their
marriage, they went to live in married quarters in Chatham Barracks,
my mother moving back up to stay with her parents in Leeds in 1941
as my father felt she would be safer there.
I was born in May that year, and later my mother was expecting a second
baby due to be born towards the end of 1942. In October '42,
my mother received a telegram from dad in which he said he hoped to
be home soon.
She later received a second telegram from him dated 4 Dec. '42, in
which he stated that there was 'no leave yet', but that he was expecting
to be home for the birth of their second child, my sister Barbara.
was the last my mother heard from him, because the next telegram she
received, dated 23 Dec. '42, was from the Commodore of RN Barracks,
Chatham, telling her that my father was 'missing, presumed killed'.
My sister was born on 31 Dec. '42. Not surprisingly, Christmas time
was a very sad occasion for my mother for many years after the death
of my father, something she never got over, which is why she never
I hope these remarks are helpful, I'm attaching three photographs
of my father one taken when he was on leave in Leeds, one in front
of HMS Eagle and another one of him with his mates on the bow of a
destroyer when on the China Station Wei-Hai-Wei.
thanks to Mike Pickersgill for this article.
Officer Thomas George Noble.
Officer Thomas George Noble.
Tommy to his mates was lost with one hundred and sixty seven
of his mates when the Firedrake was sunk on 17th December 1942.
Tommy was born in Mile End in the east end of London on the 17th January
1917. His family moved to Dagenham in Essex when he was quite young.
Tommy joined the navy as a boy seaman at the age of 15 on the 6th
September 1932 and went to HMS Ganges the training Centre at shortley
to do his initial training.
He joined the cruiser HMS Suffolk on the 3rd August 1933 on which
he served until 30th August 1935, during which time he was promoted
from boy seaman to ordinary seaman. He was then drafted to Chatham
barracks for a short time then joined HMS Vanquished on the 12th October
1935 to 2nd June 1936.
to Able seaman saw him moving again to Chatham where he remained until
he joined the cruiser HMS Southampton on 11th March 1937, serving
in her until he was once again drafted to Chatham on 13th January
1939 for anther short spell. Tommy joined the Firedrake on the 28th
April 1939 gaining promotion to Leading seaman on 13th June 1940 and
then Petty Officer on 14th September 1941.
is thought that he served on 'A' Gun as the gun layer, on his last
leave he informed his wife and parents that he was leaving the Firedrake
but because of shortages he would have to remain aboard for one more
voyage and alas this was her last.
He left a father Thomas, who had also served in the navy, a mother
Hanna, a sister Constance a wife Emily and a son Anthony aged three,
nine days after his death his wife gave birth to a daughter Brenda.
Anthony followed in his fathers footsteps, joining the navy at the
age of 15 and serving as a regular from 1955 to 1966.
Tommy's wife Emily sadly passed away in August 2003 at the age of
Firedrake Battle Honours
Length - extreme
Beam - extreme
Draught - forward
Draught - aft
33 ft 3 ins
10 ft 10 ins
13 ft 11 ins
2 Shaft geared steam turbines
Anti submarine weapons
Anti submarine weapon
4 x 4.7 inch
1 x 3 in AA
2 x .5 in multiple machine guns
4 x 21 in
2 depth charge throwers
1 depth charge rail
38 depth charges
changed after refit in Boston USA 1941-2. The Aft
(Y) 4.7 inch Gun and the TSDS ( two speed destroyer sweep ) removed,
replaced by additional depth charge throwers and rails with stowage
for about 70 depth charges.