- Yeomans, Jim
- Biographies and personal histories, History - WW2
- RAN Ships
- HMAS Shropshire
- March 1991 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
He must have been a lot like me; same age, similar family conditions, same era and enjoying his life.
My introduction to him quite recently was via his younger sister Esther, an indirect relation of sorts to my family. Esther and her daughter had formed part of the crew on the boat we’d hired for our holiday. After a week on the water, Esther’s daughter had driven us to their comfortable home for a short stay. The two-storey house had long ago been a restaurant. My room was in the attic; ‘Don’t bump your head going up the stairs!’
I slept in the room which had been that of Esther’s favourite brother. I already knew something of him and the fact that he had been in the Navy. The single bed was made from heavy timber and was fixed to the wall. The house was set in semi-rural surroundings and the view from the window was pleasant, encompassing a spacious backyard with interesting trees and shrubs and a clothes-line at the far end. Nearby was a practice course for Olympic style horse jumping.
Knowing that I was well aware of her brother’s naval background Esther proudly produced his Number 1 uniform which she cherished. After almost 50 years it still looked as spic and span as the first day he proudly wore it. As we settled in she hesitantly brought forth souvenirs and some photographs and finally her brother’s photo album. Looking at them in the room in which he had once lived, I discovered how alike we had been. I had never met him but I felt I knew him so well and felt ‘tuned in’ to him. We would have got along so well!
The photographs started in the training depot – some with the recruits marching (‘square bashing’), rifle drill with steel helmet, some with his mates off-duty. Then, just as with myself, he had been so proud to be drafted to an impressive fighting ship. Pictures of ‘his ship’ – gleaming paintwork, his captain and exec. officer striding along the spotless deck, deep in conversation, with assorted officers and ratings in the background. Pictures of momentous visits by a dignitary and various admirals (just as I had treasured photos of King George VI and Admiral Ramsay at Scapa Flow onboard my ship Shropshire). Then the War had become serious and there were big seas breaking over the bow, gun muzzles shooting flame and smoke, just as I have in my album.
Strangely, the code-name for the biggest operation in which he took part was ‘Cerberus’! No need to further spell out that name for most RAN sailors. After ‘Operation Cerberus’ his beloved ship was inactive for a considerable time and at that stage, I’m not sure whether he volunteered or was drafted, he went to a more active small ‘boat’. There were a few more happy pictures with this small craft, some pictures of the ‘boat’ itself and then … no more. ‘Missing presumed dead’ was the communication to his grieving sister; he was just 23 years old.
As with my favourite ship, the first initial of his first love was ‘S’ – in fact, Scharnhorst – what we called a battlecruiser and my friend Siegfried called ‘Schlachtschiff’, – a mighty 26,000 tons, 741 feet long, with nine 11″ guns, twelve 5.9’s, 14 – 4″. ‘Operation Cerberus’ was the code-name for the break-out from Brest by Scharnhorst, sister ship Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. His photographs had included Adolph Hitler, Gros Admiral Raeder and where mine had shown Shropshire in steaming equatorial conditions, his showed Scharnhorst with icicles dripping from the mighty triple turrets and the ship forcing its way through ice! The last photographs showed his last small ‘boat’ – the U.155.
I’m sure we could have had a great ‘natter’ – we had so much in common … but, if we had inadvertently met some 48 years ago – we would have tried to kill each other! What madness!