Please note: This is the Black Swan Class
Sloop, part of Walkers 2nd Support Group and NOT the destroyer of the same name
which was sunk earlier in the war
In memory Joe Smith Nov 2011 & PO Burt 4 Sep 2009 & In Memory of Tony Green 22 Oct 2004.
Walkers Own - HMS Wren
By Tony Green
Before Wren. The Beginning of My War
I joined the Merchant Navy as a Cadet early in 1941 and made a few trips around the coast of England. Then November 1941 I joined the TSS City of Pretoria. We loaded a full cargo of war supplies then sailed off into the Atlantic destined for Singapore. On December 7th the Americans came into the war while we were somewhere near the Azores. We carried on around Capetown but by the time we were approaching Singapore the Japanese were almost there so we were diverted to Batavia (now Jakarta). There, believe it or not we discharged everything onto the docks then headed off to Bombay (now Mumbai) (towing a disabled British submarine!). Of course, in a few days the Japanese were in Batavia and grabbed our whole shipload of military supplies! We then went up to the Eastern Mediterranean (Egypt – Alexandria) and started loading more military supplies to take to Malta. When the convoy was ready we headed for Malta - in conjunction with a similar convoy leaving Gibraltar. The battering both convoys received from aircraft and the Italian fleet made it impossible to continue so our convoy - what was left of it - staggered back to Alexandria. We then waited a few weeks and tried again with the same results. Then we tried a third time with similar results at which time we gave up. Off loaded everything and proceeded to New York - via Cape Town. In New York we loaded a full cargo of ammunition then braved the North Atlantic submarines and headed to Liverpool arriving there about 20th Oct 1942. (My eighteenth birthday).
I was scheduled to take my leave, then return to the ship but I opted to leave the Merchant Navy and joined the Royal Naval Reserve as a midshipman. I was fed up with trying to fight the German Air force and the Italian navy from my assigned battle station – a small Hotchkiss machine gun on our open bridge-wing! It was as well that I did because The “City of Pretoria” reloaded more military supplies, this time to join a Russian convoy headed for Murmansk. Neither the vessel nor any of the crew were seen nor heard of again!
After I left the “City of Pretoria” I then applied to join the Royal Naval Reserve as a midshipman. That was expected to take a couple of months to get approved, Things often happen for the best! Within a few days I received a phone call from the Admiralty saying I had been posted and was to report to the RTO (Rail Transport Officer) in Edinburgh in two days. He would provide further instructions. I caught the next train from King’s Cross, saw the RTO in Edinburgh and was instructed to get the evening train to Scapa Flow where I was to report to H.M.S. Howe – one of the latest King George V class of battleships. As the pinnace took me from the rail terminal to the ship I stood in awe at this massive ship and the challenges of a sudden change from a cadet on a merchant ship one day to a Midshipman on a full blown battleship the next. I reported aboard and was escorted to the Gun Room (The midshipmen’s mess) on May 21st 1943. The next day HMS Howe, HMS King George V and their escort of cruisers and destroyers left Scapa Flow and headed to the North Atlantic and thence on to Gibraltar to join Force H, the British and American forces in the Western Mediterranean.
After three days of endless ship tours the “Snotties Nurse” called me and
detailed my duties. Everything of course was brand new to me – full navy
discipline versus the casual merchant ship, so I had a lot to learn. After
two weeks God called - the Capt of the HOWE – Capt Woodhouse - sent for me
and along with the ‘Snotties Nurse’ questioned my lack of knowledge and
discipline on matters RN. When I told my story Capt Woodhouse said I
should have had my Greenwich Officers Course and instructed the ‘Snotties
Nurse’ to make the arrangements. Nine months later the HOWE returned to
England and I was sent to Greenwich for their “How to be a naval officer”
course. Needless to say, after nine months on HOWE, I knew more about the
navy B.S. than the instructors at Greenwich!
And so to HMS Wren
I completed my naval
officer courses at Greenwich Naval College and was then assigned on May
20th 1944 to join HMS WREN at Liverpool. WREN was a modified bird class
sloop – same size as a destroyer but slower – and was part of the famous
Second Escort Group (SEG) under the command of Capt “Johnnie” Walker.
Wren’s main armament was six 4 inch guns in three twin turrets and of
course the full complement of depth-charge launching equipment. The SEG
comprised from five to seven ships at various times, including Starling,
Wildgoose, Woodpecker, Magpie, Wren, Kite, Loch Killin, Lochy, Loch Fada,
Loch Ruthven, Dominica and others. The main purpose was to be a
self-contained group of anti-submarine vessels trained to a high level of
efficiency to seek out and kill the U-boats that were sinking so many
allied merchant ships. They were not involved in escort duties. The
escorts stayed with a convoy to provide close protection and were not
supposed to leave the convoy. The SEG freely ranged the North Atlantic to
go wherever U-boats were expected or located.
This picture (left) of the open bridge was taken on Wren about May ’44. Lt (N) Hunt RNR was the OOW. It shows the twin 4-inch guns of “B” turret – which was always on full alert. Just ahead of Lt Hunt was the entrance to the small ASDIC shack compartment which was the main A/S detection equipment. The ‘pings’ from the underwater transponders were broadcast through speakers on the bridge so the OOW could maintain a constant check in case of an echo. The ASDIC operator of course was always on duty and crouched in the small compartment as he constantly adjusted his instruments to meet the changing sea environment. On the bottom left of the picture was a small curtained chart table to hold the current charts – well curtained with dimmed red lights for use at night. Cruising for six weeks at a time around the North Atlantic can become pretty boring except for the occasional excitement of action stations.
This was the “A” gun crew on WREN taken in 1944 with S/Lt Green (far left) as OIC. I don’t have a record of the names.
The full sized image is reproduced below
Splicing The Mainbrace!
“Up Spirits”, the 11:00am ritual in those days – or as permitted on special occasions after a particularly gruelling encounter with the enemy.
Photo (left) taken of depth
charges being dropped over the stern during an actual attack by WREN. In
this case the charges were set to ‘deep’ so the only evidence of the
exploding charge is the water stirred up near the top right of the
picture. The second photo shows the depth charge being “fired” outboard on
the port side. The third photo shows the results from shallow/medium depth
charges dropped over the stern.
Picture of a bridge game in the wardroom. This picture of a bridge game going on in the wardroom to pass the time was fairly typical. S/Lt Green (With the cigarette holder for ‘luck’) was partnered with S/Lt “Guns” Brown. On Green’s right is Lt “Junior” Taylor with, I believe his partner Lt Roberts the ASDIC officer. On the bulkhead behind Green’s head there was a small shelf that contained a simple ladies handbag."
On the bulkhead behind Green’s head there was a small shelf that contained a simple ladies handbag. Thereby hung an interesting tale of valour and courage in the line of duty! The sign over the handbag read “Ladies Survival Kit”. Inside the bag was a pair of panties and a bra – all a WREN would require in the event of a rescue at sea! Both articles were of course won in combat so were considered the spoils of battle. The handbag came from a different source. When the Wren was in dry-dock all ‘heads’ were locked to prevent their use so we had to use the shore facilities. On one occasion during a party on board one ‘head’ was unlocked to allow use by the ladies with strict instructions – “pee only please” One lady got her knickers in a twist in the confined space and her handbag dropped into the bowl. This bag was then recovered, cleaned and fumigated but she refused to take it back. Thus we ended up with the unique survivors kit - the story that became public after we had visits from the “Press”.
HMS Wren was first commissioned in 1943 and all WREN’S in the service ‘volunteered’ a days pay towards the cost of the vessel. So she became known as the WREN’S own ship and as a courtesy, every time we went into port – Liverpool, Falmouth, Milford Haven for example where there was a WREN base we would send them a signal saying: “Your ship is in port, come and visit!” One day in Liverpool we had a surprise visit from the “Hen” WREN – Dame Laughton Mathews who was the sister of Charles Laughton and – I’m not sure of her WREN rank except that she ran the WREN’S – but she had come to visit “their” ship. She toured the ship and was then invited to the wardroom for the inevitable cup-of-tea. After some general chatter about the ship and the 2EG, to our surprise she asked where the Ladies Survival kit was? Somewhat surprised and embarrassed, we retrieved the ‘kit’ from the locker where it had been stowed for her visit. She took the whole thing in good spirits – I think more amused by our embarrassment than anything else.
The story of the ”Loch Killin”, supported by “Wren”, describing how a U-boat she was attacking surfaced directly under her stern is now legendary. Most of the German crew jumped from the conning tower directly on to her quarterdeck without getting their feet wet. On that patrol several U-boats were sunk with no survivors – but four others were sunk and many of the crews were rescued and had to be distributed amongst the ships because of space limitations. Remember that officers had to be separated from their crew and each ship’s crew separated from the others. Each of these small parties also had to be guarded. This led to some very innovative sleeping and living conditions with bodies strewn in any small compartment that could be closed off. On one occasion some U-boat crewmembers had somehow struggled to leave their sinking ship with several bottles of champagne in their life rafts (they had left Brest and were returning home). These were of course confiscated and were locked up with strict instructions they were not to be opened until VE day.
Eventually the Allied armies reached the French coast cutting off all access to the Bay of Biscay ports and thus the mission of the 2EG came to a close and the Group was reassigned. Wren went to Leith in Scotland where she was to have a complete refit for service as an independent command in the Persian Gulf and Barbary Coast – with main emphasis on slave traffic control. After leaving Wren I was assigned to HMS Kingfisher for the sole purpose of decommissioning her and then running her skeletal remains onto the beach at Harwich to rot in her own good time.
I was subsequently released from Naval Service in September 1946. I received a government grant to study for my Second Mate’s certificate then joined Shell Tankers (Anglo Saxon Petroleum Co) and remained with Shell until 1956 as Master of a tanker. By that time I was married and had no desire to share the rest of my days between Shell and my wife so I quit, emigrated to Canada and from then have had the very best years of my life.
Anthony H. Green
2009: I have been unable to contact Tony for quite some time and, consequently, fear the worst. mk
The following from Jacqui Williams, her father in law, Frederick, served aboard Wren.
PO Burt; Leading Seaman Knight; A/B Druce; A/B Berry; A/B Beech.
(Just to let you know that my father who served in HMS Wren and who is pictured on your web site (above), passed away peacefully in St Lukes Hospice Plymouth on 4th September 2009 with his family at his bedside. He was a marvellous man, very proud, smart and independent and a good shipmate who touched the lives of all he met. He will be sadly missed by us all. Regards, Michael Burt.)
Euan Duncan sent me an email on 16th January 2008 telling me that his father, ex Chief Engineer HMS Wren, had passed away on 4th March 2004. He would be very grateful if anybody has any information about his Dad's life on board HMS Wren. You can contact him direct on the following email address: euan.donegan - at - sky.com. Replace the -at- with an @.
Tommy Ivison served happily aboard HMS Wren, his nephew, Stephen Horner, (Aug 09) sent me this:
I can remember he used to tell me when he and his mate went over the side when the Eagle was hit, his mate must have been hurt in some way as he died in my uncles arms he said the lads hair turned white when he was dying, and said it was something he would never forget. He was picked up by the rescue tug Jaunty but the crew member pulled him onboard by his thick dark hair ( which he was very proud of as the Girls used to love his hair). After he was given a drink to pull him together he looked up and saw HMS Malcolm bearing down at speed and he vowed that if he came through the war alive and ever had a son ( which he did) he would name him Thomas "MALCOLM" after the ship coming to his aid ( Lucky for my cousin that it was not the queen Mary), After a spell of leave he was sent to the 2nd escort group under Captain Walker, he was assigned to the Wren in which he served until the end of the war. He always got on about his 21st birthday which he had in Murmansk he said it was the worst place to ever have a birthday. He was very proud to be one of Captain Walkers old boys, By the way he lied about his age when he enlisted at the start of the war .....
HMS Wren Association (Wound up - June 2009)
Members who have Crossed the Bar. (Sent in by Alf Steadman)
Peter Vanneck (1st Lt 42-43) Ended career as Air Commodore Sir Peter B.R. Vanneck GBE:CB:AFC:AE:MA:DSC:JP:DL.
Bill Moore (CPO Buffer) 1942-1947
Members with whom contact has been lost
Footnote: November 17th 2009: For some time now I have been unable to communicate with Tony Green as his email address is rejecting my emails as "quota full" I fear the worst but hope sincerely I am wrong.
June 6th 2008: An Email from Aaron Clark in New Zealand. His late grandfather served on HMS Wren at this time. His details were: Arthur Bass, born 8 May 1926, London. Royal Navy 1939-1945, PJX628080. I hope to have some more information on his shortly. Images above.
June 12th 2008: I am Arthur's daughter (Aaron Clark is my son) & I was thrilled to read of the Wren & see the photos. Dad made a trip to London in 1988 & was happy to find information on the Wren when he visited HMS Belfast on the Thames. He had searched for information previously but hadn't been able to learn anything of her. If anyone would like to contact me for "after war" info about my father I would be happy to correspond with them at naireen -at -xtra.co.nz. He also served on HMS Andelle, HM LST 3510 & HM LST 3516. Delete -at- and insert @ for the ladies email address. It was very emotional for me to read your web story on the Wren & to have Dads photos pop up added to it all! Well done you.
June 30th 2008: John Richardson emailed me to tell me that Walter Albert Richardson was Coxswain on the "Wren" and it is the abiding memory I have of him. He loved the ship. We saw him on a BBC film about 5 years ago on the Wren taking onboard German POW's.
Alf Steadman emailed me today (June 24th 2009) with the following information: HMS Wren is still being thought of because we do have an HMS Wren Association reunion every year although sadly April 2010 we are laying up our Standard in St. Johns Church in Knutsford, Cheshire, as membership is getting less and less as the years roll by. As the Association Membership Secretary I do have a list of a lot of the ship's company who served on Wren from 1942 to 1954 and if anybody wants to get in touch someone and they are on my list I would be pleased to help. I was Navigator's Yeoman from 1943 to September1945. (Lt John Robson followed by Lt Hunt). You can email Alf directly at: alfsteadman - at - yahoo .co.uk - replace the -at- with @ for his correct email address.
April 2013: From Tess: I was with my Dad today and he was telling me about 'splice the mainbrace' and we looked it up on the Wikipedia page. When we did this we found your photo of HMS Wren, which shows my grandfather in it. My grandfather was Chief Petty Officer on HMS Wren and we're always interested in seeing/learning more about his days on board. Many thanks in advance Tess.
June 2015: From Michael Burt: Just an update on my late father Doug who served in Wren. I was successful in obtaining his Arctic Star medal which was presented to me on his behalf by the Commodore of Devonport Naval Base in a moving ceremony. Dad was always proud of his service in Wren and through my volunteering at our Naval Heritage Centre, I will ensure a permanent record of this will be displayed in our WW2 gallery. Best wishes, Michael.