|3 Nov 2023|
|Memories at Hymers|
John Kenneth Dixon, known as Jack, started at Hymers College in the Senior School in 1934 at the age of eleven years old. A year earlier, nine-year-old Edward Robert Adderley had joined the Junior School before moving up to the Senior School. When they both joined the Senior School, they were placed in the same form and were at the school for 5 years together, with Jack leaving the school shortly before the start of World War II.
In 2011, Jack at the time aged 88 years old, created a website about his memories of World War II. He served in the Royal Navy from 7 March 1942, aged 18 years old, until 15 May 1946.
In 1939, I joined the sea cadets in the city of Kingston upon Hull and remained with them until I volunteered for the Royal Navy on the 5 March 1942 and was released to unpaid reserve the same day. On the 7 March 1942 I received my calling up papers with a railway warrant to report to H.M.S. GANGES, situated near Shotley in Suffolk. In peacetime, Ganges was a training school for boys wishing to serve in the Royal Navy.
Originally drafted to his first ship, H.M.S. Leamington on 15 July 1942, Jack moved to his second draft, H.M.S. Sunflower on 3 November 1942, now aged 19 years old. It was while on HMS Sunflower that Jack would become reacquainted with Edward, but sadly under tragic circumstances.
I was drafted to a Flower Class Corvette named the SUNFLOWER Pennant 41. I served aboard her from the 2 November 1942 until the 27 February 1943. She had been built and launched in 1940 and was based in Londonderry, before being scrapped in August 1947.
On arrival, I was billeted with a very nice family, their house was just outside one of the Gates of Londonderry. While I waited for the return of the Sunflower from convoy duty in the North Atlantic, I was kept busy doing fire watching duties at night and brushing up on the Morse code and signal flags during the day. I joined her on 2 November 1942. The ship's company was made up of British, Newfoundland and Canadian ratings, we were all volunteers.
The Flower class Corvettes were designed to escort and defend merchant shipping from U-boat attacks. They were definitely not designed for comfort. It was said of these Corvettes that they could stay at sea in all weathers.
While I had been awaiting the return of the SUNFLOWER, I had the great pleasure of meeting a school friend by the name of Ted Adderley. We had been in the same form at Hymers College, Kingston upon Hull. He had been drafted to join the Destroyer FIREDRAKE (Pennant H79.) She was leader of the flotilla of escort ships of which the SUNFLOWER was one. I applied for a transfer to be with Ted but was told that it would not be possible at this late stage.
We departed Londonderry to join the westbound convoy of 43 merchant ships (code name ON153) to be part of the escort, which consisted of four Corvettes, the LOOSESTRIFE, the ALISMA, the PINK and the SUNFLOWER and two Destroyers, the FIREDRAKE and the RIPLEY. The Wolfpack, RAUFBOLD sighted our convoy on the 15th December 1942 and consisted of 13 U-boats. This Wolfpack, in their short life times, were responsible for the sinking of 70 Merchant Ships. As soon as darkness fell, the U-boats began their attack. The U365 sinks a tanker, then the U610 sinks another tanker, a freighter falls victim to the U621.
It was on the 16 December 1942, late in the evening, that the U211 attacked the convoy. One report said that the U211 fired a spread of four torpedoes into the convoy hoping to have a kill and in doing so sunk the FIREDRAKE. Action stations had been sounded late in the evening, my station was cordite supply to the 4 inch gun. I was standing on the gun platform with the cordite container on my left shoulder, ready to supply a reduced charge of cordite to the breach loader. The mountainous waves were coming over the bows and drenching the guns' crew. It was freezing cold, a gale force wind was blowing and the only clothing I had on, was a pair of socks, sandshoes, underwear and a pair of overalls with my lifebelt strapped around my chest.
The order was given to load star shell with reduced charge and when ready, shoot. After two star shells had been fired and burst high in the sky, the stern section of the FIREDRAKE was sighted on the 17 December 1942. Stand down from action stations was sounded. The captain of the gun told me to go and get some warm clothing on, then with other ratings, go down into the starboard well deck to put the scrambling net over the ship's side. This net was there for the very reason it was being used this very night. There was another net situated on the port side. I could just make out that some of the survivors were on the stern section of the FIREDRAKE, other survivors were hanging on to a floating corked net about 30yards off our starboard beam.
The corvette was going up and down like a yo-yo. It was then, one of our party, a Newfoundland rating by the name of Fury, with a heaving line tied round his chest, lowered himself down the scrambling net into the freezing cold sea. He set off to swim towards the floating cork net, when he finally arrived he entwined his arms in the netting and so became a human link in the towing line. We then pulled the corked net alongside the Sunflower. Able seaman Fury remained in the sea to assist the men up and on to the deck. He was never to receive a Medal for his bravery for his action.
As this very brave action was taking place, the starboard bridge communication signal lamp was being used intermittedly to spot other survivors. It was being used in this manner in fear of becoming a second target for a U-boat. In the beam of the light, a rubber dinghy was momentary illuminated, with two men inboard. One of them was stretched out, in the bottom not moving, the other man had a small paddle which he was using, in an attempt to make his way towards our ships side. The moment the light had flashed on him, I heard him call out to us to help the men in the water first, before rescuing them both. They were probably stokers from the Firedrake's boiler room, as they only had vests and trouser overalls on. The hands of the man, who was paddling were blackened and appeared to be badly burnt, but he seemed to be void of pain. An able seaman W. Kay was rescued unconscious and covered in black fuel oil. He was carried down aft and put in the Petty Officers' tiled wash room where I assisted the Sickbay Rating to remove all his clothing. We then poured warm water over him in an attempt to raise his body temperature and at the same time clean off the stinking black oil. Sadly our efforts were in vain. He died a short time later.
After we had all the survivors safely on board, the Sunflower moved off to continue her escort duties. Sadly, my friend Ted Adderley was not among the 26 survivors, he was such a gentle young man. According to the German Naval records of the U211, The corvette SUNFLOWER scuttled the stern section of the FIREDRAKE with gunfire, but I must say, that I cannot recall that action taking place. The escort group was now reduced to four Corvettes and the Destroyer RIPLEY.
Edward Robert Adderley was just 18 years old when he died.
During a recent visit to the school, Jack took time to remember Ted at the school's memorial,
The above extracts are from Jack's website. To read more, please visit My Life in the Royal Navy.
Edward Robert Adderley (OH 1933-1941), R.N., killed in action at sea, 17th December, 1942.
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