Thursday, April 10, 2008

HMS Dasher

On 27 March 1943 HMS Dasher exploded and sank with the loss of 379 lives.

Dasher was built in America but was commissioned into the Royal Navy the following year. Such ships were desperately needed to provide air cover for the Atlantic convoys. These were Britain’s lifeline and were being remorselessly attacked by German submarines. In 1943 the ship’s flight deck was extended by 42 feet and it began to carry Fairey Swordfish aircraft. It undertook one mission successfully but after its second mission it suffered a major internal explosion and sank into the Firth of Clyde.

Various possible causes have been suggested for the explosion but exactly what happened has to date not been officially recognised. Her death toll, 379 out of 528 crewmen despite rapid response and assistance from local ships and rescue craft was amongst the highest in British home waters. Immediately after the explosion there was an official cover-up aimed at concealing what was a significant loss both in Naval and human terms.

One theory for the explosion and sinking of HMS Dasher is that a Swordfish aircraft failed correctly to land on the Dasher’s flight deck but instead crashed into the ship itself. This view is strongly held by several who remember seeing this happen, including a young woman who was taking her infant son for a walk on the sea front.

Another witness was a young naval telegraphist on a tank landing craft nearby. His name was George Humphreys and he is my Father-in-Law. For years he has talked of the day he saw a Swordfish aircraft hit the Dasher, after which he saw the ship explode. He originally told the Husband of this in 1960 and his story of the actual incident has not changed over the years.

On 28th, 29th and 30th March 2008, 65 years after the explosion and sinking, there was a memorial weekend for HMS Dasher. My Husband and his father flew up to Glasgow to become part of the ceremony and to meet some of the others also acknowledging the incident with their hearts and minds. Ceremonies took place where wreaths were laid at the memorial gardens at Ardrossan. The ferry that usually runs between Ardrossan and the Isle of Arran took a small detour to the site of the wreck, a further ceremony took place and the Father-in-law laid a wreath in the sea on behalf of both those who lost their lives in the explosion and its aftermath and also his friends who died during the Second World War.

George still feels very strongly of the need to remember those who were lost during the War, his memories are still sharp of that time. Those he met at the memorial weekend feel the same. It is easy to belittle these thoughts and feelings as being those of the old, but important to remember the lives and times then. They are a part of our history and a sharp reminder of the cost of the freedom we are lucky enough to enjoy.

Above is a picture of George Humphreys as a young naval rating during the war. Below is one of him laying a wreath overboard at the site of the wreck.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Easter is finally over. It seemed to go on for an awfully long time.

Easter always starts in our family on Maundy Thursday, not surprising as the Husband and I are both former civil servants and Maundy Thursday is still a noticeable day for the British civil service. And so we started with a big family meal in the evening with lots to celebrate as this was the day that the Stepdaughter finished her current job. The next day (Good Friday) she was setting off for Australia for a 3 week holiday and when she returns she starts a new job that she really looking forward to and at a considerable rise in salary. So she brought two bottles of champagne which we drunk during the meal which, which added to the usual wine made the amount for us to drink more than enough for four people. A good time was had by all.

Good Friday the Stepdaughter set off to Australia (not from Terminal 5, thank goodness), the Stepson disappeared meeting old friends and the Husband and I recovered from the night before. Later in the weekend we drove to Whitstable and picked up the Father-in-law, so that he could spend some time with us. We are conscious that he finds being alone difficult, especially after the death of his wife last October. We came back here and the Stepson came over. We spent that day and the next eating and talking. The day after we took the Father-in-Law home the Husband and the Stepson went up to London to go around the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew and to see the Henry Moore sculptures on exhibition there. Too far for me to walk and anyway, all I wanted to do was to curl up in bed with the Cold From Hell which had appeared a few days earlier.

By this time Easter was officially over but it all still felt like part of the Bank Holiday, what with all the family things still going on. The Thursday after Easter became a special day for the Husband and his father as they set off for something special. I’ll describe this in much more detail, and the reason for the trip on another occasion but just to say now that they were away from home for four days. I spent most of the time in bed still with the Cold from Hell and was grateful for it.

The Husband returned home and things returned to normal on Monday. Easter is over at last. And I’m still croaking and coughing but at least the worse of it has gone.