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Two Commissions on Devonshire

Follow up to the Editors letter;

The article on the ship’s crest written under the pseudonym P.M.O. was by the Surgeon Commander at the time (Principal Medical Officer) a real character by any standards, and a popular figure onboard. Every cruise he gave his famous lecture on the perils of V.D. Principally aimed at the Cadets but attended by anyone (officers and men alike) who could cram into the lecture room on account of his humourous and witty presentation.

One of the highlights of the cruise His opening words went something along the lines of : Some of you will be going ashore at (next port of call) and putting your private parts where I wouldn’t put the tip of my walking stick, etc., etc. Probably much more effective than a formal, dry lecture.

I served on the Devonshire twice. Firstly, from 29th. May, 1939, (my 17th birthday) to 30.11.1940. 1 left her at Freetown after the abortive attempt to take Dakar, and took passage home on the old ‘carrier Furious. Secondly from 2nd. May, 1950 to 17th Aug., 1952.

The captain when I first joined her in 1939 was J. Mansfield. He left her late 1940 to take up the appointment of Chief of Staff to Admiral Sir Percy Noble, C in C Western Approaches. Mansfield finished up as a Vice Admiral but died at the early age of 54 from cancer. Have corresponded with his son, Vice Admiral (Rtd) G.Mansfield who gave me the above information This calls for an amendment to your list of Captains where you show him as Captain in 1941

The captain when I joined her in 1950 was G.H.Stokes. She was not a happy ship. Although a man with a distinguished war record he was an obnoxious humourless pig, equally disliked by the officers and the lower deck.

He was followed by the renowned Captain R.G. Onslow, D.S.O and three bars, arguably one of the most popular and revered officers of his generationp What a transformation Within 48 hours she was a different ship. He went on to become Captain of B.R.N.C. Dartmouth and retired as a full Admiral, but worn out by his war service died at the early age of 71. He had been offered the Governor Generalship of one of the Australian States but had to decline on account of his heaalth.

Onslow was suceeded by Capt. W.G. Crawford. He could well have
been her last commanding officer as the cadet training ship, but I cannot be sure of this.

An incident that is probably long forgotten happened when we were patrolling the Denmark Straits in late 1939 or early 1940. We normally patrolled alone, but on this occasion another county class cruiser was in company and stationed about 1 mile on our beam. The torpedomen saw this as an opportunity for a dummy run. Unfortunately, someone pressed the button and a torpedo was fired. Whether it was armed or not I cannot say, but it missed its target. There was a board of inquiry on our return to Greenock but what the outcome was I cannot say. Someone obviously caught it in the neck- probably the Chief  T.G.M or the Warrant Torpedo Gunner if we carried one.

I witnessed our Walrus aircraft being shot down at 0300 on the 18th May, 1940. At that latitude it was broad daylight. The ship was at anchor in Malangsfiord, near Tromso. I was the signalman in the ship’s motorboat patroling the fiord. We watched a large, 4 engined, Heinkel 111K levelling out for an attack on the ship. and clearly saw her release her full load of bombs They fell pretty close but there was no direct hit, but a couple of plates were sprung. The damaged was repaired by our tiffies.

At the time our Walrus was airborne and attacked the German but she was shot down after a 15 minute dog fight. The pilot. Lieut. Benson—Dare, was killed outright. The Observer, Midshipman Corkhill, though wounded himself managed somehow to get the more badly wounded T.A.G, Ldg. Airman Hill, ashore. Hill later died of his wounds. Corkhill was only 18 or 19 years old (certainly under 20) and was deservedly awarded the D.S.C. for his gallantry. Must have been one of the youngest ever recipients of this award. Lieut. Benson- Dare and Ldg. Airman Hill are buried in the British War Cemetery in Tromso.

According to Roskill’s official history of the war at sea we evacuated 435 personnel, including 26 women, for that last trip from Norway on 6th. June, 1940. The women, presumably, were part of the King’s entourage. The remainder were a mixture of British and Norwegain military personnel and members of the Norwegian Government. See this link for the Royal  families return

On arrival in Greenock, the working party charged with offloading the royal baggage were tipped a shilling eaëh by one of the equerries. Not a bad little tip at a time when an ordianary seamans pay was 14 shillings a week, and a shilling would buy two pints !! I’ve still got a wallet that I bought in the ship’s shop (as opposed to the NAFFI) while we were on Northern Patrol , late 39 or early 40’s. Never having carried a wallet it is still as new.

Well, that’s about all for now. If I’m still about this time next next year I would be interested in attending your get-together at Pompey, but at my age I cannot plan too far ahead.

Kind Regards

BY Nobby G, thanks for the person who donated this letter, sorry but I have no name

3 Responses to Two Commissions on Devonshire

  1. denzil onslow

    March 3, 2010 at 21:42

    Dicky onslow was never captain at BRNC nor was he offered a governership of an australian state.

  2. robbyg

    March 4, 2010 at 11:52

    Thanks for that. Having read through his service career, there is no mention of BRNC.
    I think the writer of the article may have confused him with Captain W Crawford DSC.
    who was Capt. Onslows successor.

  3. Mark Thundercliffe

    May 28, 2015 at 19:31

    Did the crew of the Walrus bale out or ditch the aircraft? Assume former if pilot killed outright

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