My Father’s War Record (Part Two)

Dad's medalsYesterday I posted my research and thoughts on Dad’s war years up to his leaving the HMS Howe on 11th November 1943. On 12th November 1943, Dad rejoined the Victory in Portsmouth until 14th December, when he joined the Sabre. At least I think it’s the Sabre. It’s quite poorly written, and is spelled “Saber” on the record. In fact at first I thought it was Baker, but there isn’t a Baker!

HMS Sabre According to, the Sabre was an Admiralty S-Class destroyer ordered in April 1917 from Alex Stephens at Govan, Glasgow and launched on 23rd September 1918 as the first RN ship to carry this name. After end of WW1 she was transferred after launch for completion by Fairfield shipyard in Govan. Build was completed on during 1919 and the ship commissioned for Fleet service. By 1938 she had been de-militarised for use as a target ship but brought forward for service in 1939 despite her age and unsuitability. Before Dad’s time on board, in 1940, the Sabre was one of the vessels at Dunkirk, evacuating 1500 men. For the two months Dad was with this ship (until 13th February 1944), she was part of 21st Escort Group based in Iceland, deployed for convoy defence in the central Atlantic for support of anti-submarine operations including RAF Coastal Command aircraft. Again, I think I did know that Dad was in Iceland at some point during the war. This must have been it.

From 14th February to 6th July 1944 he served on the Caroline. This seems quite an odd posting. The Caroline was launched in 1914 and survived the Battle of Jutland. From 1924 she was in Belfast as the headquarters and training ship for the Royal Naval Volunteers’ Reserve’s Ulster Division. But in the Second World War she became the Royal Navy’s Headquarters in Belfast Harbour which was used as a home base by many of the warships escorting Atlantic and Russian convoys including Captain-class frigates of the 3rd Escort Group. She served as the last afloat training establishment in the Royal Naval Reserve. Today she is listed as part of the National Historic Fleet, Core Collection, and although no longer capable of making way under her own steam, she remains afloat and in excellent condition. I wonder why he was transferred to the Caroline, and what he would have done there? It was during this time, on 10th May 1944, that he was awarded two War Service chevrons.

This is where Dad’s war history gets very fragmented. He seemed to spend very short times in all (bar one) of his remaining postings. I wonder why? There is no suggestion that he was in any way “difficult”! All through the war his character is marked as “VG”, and his Efficiency Rating is “Satisfactory” (on a scale of Superior – Satisfactory – Moderate – Inferior). From 7th July to 10th August it was back to the Victory, and then two months, (11th August to 16th October) to the Marlborough, which I think was another training establishment, this time in Eastbourne, specialising in Electrical instruction.

Then it was the Victory again (17th October to 3rd November) and then to the Pembroke. I think this was yet another shore barracks, at Chatham. This was just for a month until 2nd December, and then the Victory yet again until 28th December. Then it was the Flycatcher from 29th December to 31st January 1945. This, yet again was not actually at sea. This was the Royal Navy’s Headquarters for their Mobile Naval Air Bases which supported their Fleet Air Arm units. This was at RNAS Ludham in Norfolk.

HMS NabsfordAnd then, right at the end of the war, came his second longest ever posting, from 1st February 1945 to 23rd February 1946 to HMS Nabsford. In that February, the Royal Navy moved its Transportable Aircraft Maintenance Yard No.1, known as TAMY 1, to RAAF Station Archerfield in Brisbane, Australia, and Nabsford was the name given to the new Royal Navy base there. Dad in Australia Here (above left) is a photo of a plaque commemorating it and the British personnel who served in the Pacific theatre, which can be viewed in the old administration building along with plaques from the RAAF and the US 5th Air Force. I always knew Dad went to Australia! But I always thought it was Fremantle. Maybe they called at Fremantle on the way.Pacific Star I’m fairly sure this photo (above right) was taken in Australia, so this must have been during this time. He’s the one standing at the back. I think, from what I can remember, that Dad was pretty happy on this posting. I’m really glad for him! I’m guessing this was how he got the Pacific Star.

Dad at Nabsford This photo on the right looks very much like it was taken by an aircraft, so maybe this is also from his Nabsford days. On 9th February 1945 he was granted a Good Conduct Badge/Medal (1st class) and he also got his WSI (3) – that’s the War Service Increment, and on the same day in 1946, it was increased to WSI (4).

1939-45 Star 24th February 1946, the war now fully over, and Dad being a veteran at the age of 22, his next transfer was to the Golden Hind, just to 4th March. This sounds like this should have been some historical romance type of ship, but in fact it was based at what is now Warwick Farm racecourse in Sydney, and was a Royal Navy manning depot. I guess this may just have been a temporary relocation post before returning back to Britain, as the last posting on his record is once more to the Victory in Portsmouth from 5th March to 13th August 1946.

Africa StarIn addition to his Pacific Star and Italy Star, he also has the 1939-45 Star, which was awarded after six months training and at least one voyage made through an operational area; the Africa Star, which would have been for his service on the Howe in 1942 and 1943; and the Atlantic Star, awarded for at least six months’ service afloat during the course of the war, and with a France and Germany emblem, which was awarded if you were otherwise entitled to a France and Germany Star – uniform regulations did not allow the awarding of both. Atlantic StarThe France and Germany Star was awarded for operational service in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and Germany from 6 June 1944 (D-Day) to 8 May 1945. The qualifying sea area is the North Sea south of a line from the Firth of Forth to Kristiansand (South), in the English Channel and in the Bay of Biscay east of longitude 6° west, provided such service was directly in support of land operations in France, Belgium, the Netherlands or Germany. And this is where it all gets very curious, because I can’t see from his war record, why he was entitled to this emblem. Maybe during his time on the Flycatcher he went out into the North Sea on some operation I don’t know about.

War Medal 1939-45As well as those stars, he also has the War Medal 1939-45 and the Defence Medal. Looking at the criteria for being awarded the Defence Medal I again can’t quite see how he was eligible, so maybe there was something additional I don’t know about. Just another secret about the war he took with him!

Defence MedalSuffice it to say I am enormously proud of him for what he experienced at such a young age and nothing will ever prise me apart from his medals, wartime photos and his war record! I really know very little about him after the war. I know he met my mother in the mid 1950s, they got married in 1958, had me in 1960 and we were a happy threesome until he unfortunately died of a brain tumour on January 1st 1972.

Please, if anyone has read my account of Dad’s war record – the ships he was on, his medals, the events he may have witnessed – and you have any further information about them, I would be very interested to hear – just leave a comment.

My Father’s War Record (Part One)

My father in the 1950sIt’s taken me ages to find Dad’s war record. I discovered it a few years ago for the first time when I was clearing out my Mum’s house, and I didn’t have the time or opportunity to look carefully at it at the time but I promised myself I would – in due course – take a long hard look at it and do some research as to what he did in the war. And then of course, I lost the record. However, a couple of days ago, I suddenly remembered that I had kept it with his war medals! So now I’ve found it again, and I’ve got the opportunity to give it the attention it deserves.

Leonard Poppe – my father – was born on 1st November 1923, which I knew, and it gives his trade as “Dairy Labourer”. Well I always thought he was brought up in the timber trade, so that’s very odd. It’s bizarre today to think there could be much work for a dairy labourer in East Ham. He volunteered to join the Royal Navy on 30th December 1941, so he would have been just 18 years and 2 months old. I remember being told that he deliberately volunteered for the Navy early, because he thought he would see less carnage than if he were called up for the Army.

Here are his “vital statistics”: Stature – 5 feet 10 inches. Chest – 34 ¼ inches. (That seems so slight in comparison to me! He endured a poor childhood – loving but no money – and that sounds a bit undernourished to me.) Hair – Brown; Eyes – Blue; Complexion – Fresh. For marks wounds and scars: “Scar forehead and left knee”. The period volunteered for is described as “Until the end of the period of the present emergency”. And his first engagement was on 9th February 1942 when he joined the “Duke”, Naval Training Establishment at Great Malvern. This went on to be the Royal Radar Establishment. He was given the rank of Stoker, 2nd Class. The training lasted till 16th March, so it was a five-week course.

HMS Howe He then went to the Victory, which was the main Royal Naval barracks in Portsmouth, from 17th March to 16th June 1942. I think this was probably for further training, in Radar work. Then it was on to HMS Howe, from 17th June 1942 to 11th November 1943, with a promotion to Stoker, 1st Class from 9th January 1943. I’m owing a lot of my information here to Mr Wikipedia, so I hope he’s right. Apparently the Howe was the last of five King George V-class battleships in the Royal Navy. I’m pleased to say the Howe apparently never saw any major ship-to-ship action, apart from one important event during his time, more of which later. She was launched on 9th April 1942, and commissioned into the Royal Navy on 29th August 1942.

More from Wikipedia: “She commenced sea trials in August 1942, but was made available for operations with the Home Fleet from November onwards. Her main duties were to provide cover for Arctic convoys and to intercept any major German warships attempting to enter the Atlantic. On 31 December, following the Battle of the Barents Sea, Howe was part of a multi-ship force that sailed to protect Convoy RA 51 and intercept, if possible, the German pocket battleship Lützow.

“In late February, Howe joined the escort screen of Convoy JW 53 to the Soviet Union, and the return Convoy RA 53. In May 1943, Howe was visited by Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Winston Churchill, then a few days later by King George VI.

“At the start of May, Howe was marked for deployment to the Mediterranean to support Allied landings. After taking on several 20 mm Oerlikon cannons, she departed from Rosyth for Gibraltar on 21 May, and arrived five days later. Howe was assigned to Force H, and operated in support of the landings at Sicily (Operation Husky) and Italy (Operation Slapstick) . After Force H was transferred to Algiers in early June, Howe was again visited by King George.

“During the landings on Sicily in July, Howe was positioned between Sicily and Sardinia to guard against any interference by the Italian fleet, and on 12 July joined HMS King George V to take part in diversionary bombardments of Trapani and the nearby islands of Favignana and Levanzo. After Husky, Howe returned to Algiers for maintenance. Whilst there, on 4 August an ammunition ship, SS Fort Le Montee caught fire and exploded, seriously damaging a nearby destroyer, HMS Arrow, and causing a substantial number of casualties. A party from Howe was sent to help in the dreadful task of gathering bodies and body parts.

“On 8 September, after the Italian surrender, Howe and King George V escorted a naval force to land the British 1st Airborne Division at the important port of Taranto on 9 September and, while en route, an Italian squadron was encountered sailing to Malta to surrender. On 14 September, Howe and King George V escorted surrendered Italian warships to Alexandria from Malta. On 1 October, Howe arrived at Algiers, and departed for Scapa Flow to resume duties with the Home Fleet. She was refitted for service in the Far East at Plymouth Dockyard between October 1943 and June 1944.”

Gosh, there’s a lot to take in here. I have a vague recollection of either Dad or Mum quoting Dad saying that he had been in the Arctic during the war, but I had no idea of what he might have been doing. To be honest, he never spoke about his war experience. I think, as a very young man, he saw an awful lot of horror and it scarred him, and he tried to spend the rest of his life blocking it out. Unlike my mother, whose ATS war was very deskbound and she loved it – it sounded rather like being in some Enid Blyton’s Girls’ Dormitory with midnight feasts and late night talks about handsome fellow officers. Mum at warThe photo on the left here shows Mum “at war”, she is the person furthest left in the picture, and this is dated 29th June 1945, so to be fair, the worst was over by now. Her worst war memories were the misery of spending Christmas sending out death notifications to families.

Italy StarAnyway, the activities of the Howe explain why Dad has the Italy Star. I never put two and two together to work out that he would have been involved with the Sicily and Italy landings.

I wonder if he was involved with the party who was sent to clear the HMS Arrow of body parts. I think he must have been, as I do know he did have at least one experience during the war where he came into contact with a lot of death and destruction and it affected him deeply. So this must have been the occasion. It’s very lame of me to comment “how awful for him” – but I can’t really think of any other way of putting it. Awful of course for the dead and bereaved too. I’m going back to Mr Wikipedia for some more information about what happened to the Arrow and the Fort Le Montee.

“Fort La Montee was in harbour at Algiers, preparing to sail for the invasion beaches on 4 August 1943. Before she could depart, a fire broke out aboard ship. Attempts were made to fight the blaze, whilst the harbour authorities, fearful of the risk of an explosion and damage to the other ships anchored there, ordered her to be towed out into deeper waters. Tugs were able to attach lines and bring her out into the bay. The British A-class destroyer HMS Arrow had been in the harbour at the time and came alongside to help with the firefighting. Efforts to control the fire were eventually unsuccessful, and it spread to the forward compartments and into the holds where the ammunition was stored. The entire forepart of the burning freighter then blew up, sending flaming debris raining down over a large distance. The Arrow was caught in the blast and she too caught fire, sustaining heavy damage and considerable casualties. She was subsequently declared a constructive total loss and never returned to service. The devastated Fort La Montee continued to burn. The aft section had to be sunk by gunfire from a Royal Navy submarine to prevent it blowing up. The remains of the forward section remained ablaze and burned for several days.”

I am absolutely sure that Dad witnessed this. I do remember descriptions from my childhood of a ship that had one half sunk whilst the other half was ablaze. I think this was the moment that scarred him. On reflection, looking back over his subsequent life, I’m sure this was his most significant life-changing experience. He would still have been only 19 years old and this was why he could never talk freely about his war.

On a lighter note, I don’t suppose a Stoker, even one promoted to 1st Class, would have met the King or Churchill, but it’s an amusing thought! I think if he had, he would have told me, as that would have been one of the brighter memories of the war.

Anyway we leave the story of the Howe here, and tomorrow I’ll post the second half of my research on Dad’s war record. If you have any other information about the ships he was posted on, or the events he may have seen, please let me know by leaving a comment, I’d be really interested to hear from you.