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Cyril Alderman Senior

Royal Marine



Royal Marine Cyril Alderman Senior (Click for a larger view in a new window) (40301 bytes)

is a simple portrait of Dad wearing his Royal Marine uniform. The photo is undated, I’m afraid, but I’ve always assumed it was taken when he completed his training, probably around July 1940.

My father was aboard HMS Repulse when she was sunk.
Dad was Cyril Alderman Senior, a Royal (he'd have insisted on that) Marine. He survived the sinking, being picked up by HMAS Vampire, and was subsequently captured at the fall of Singapore. He spent the rest of the war as a POW on the Burma Railway. Below is his biography:

Cyril Alderman Senior, my father, was born in 1922 in the town of Hemsworth in Yorkshire, on the 2nd of August.

The first school report we have of Dads is dated 29 July 1932, from Hemsworth West End School. He seems to have been a fairly able student, and his school reports from July 1932 up until August 1934 record steady progress. From Hemsworth West End, Dad won a scholarship to Hemsworth Grammar School, his first school report from here being dated 08 January 1935. Although his school reports remain fairly good, they do record comments from the school that Dad was often absent. His last report is dated 15 September 1938, by which time the number of pupils in his form had fallen from 34 to 18.

After leaving school, we have anecdotal evidence from Dad that he worked in a factory where glass was blown, and at a coalmine, where he worked with pit ponies.

He volunteered for service with the Royal Marines, and retained his Contract of Enlistment and Attestation, as well as his record of service. His attestation took place in the Admiralty Recruiting Office in Manchester on 02 January 1940. Dad's Certificate of Service records his 'trade' as Pit Boy. Dad also retained his travel pass, which shows that he left Manchester to travel to Deal on the same day. At Deal, Dad became Royal Marine PLY/X/3769. His training group was the 381 King's Squad.

Dad's signature on the back of the 381 Kings Squad photograph (click for a larger view in a new window) (4403 bytes)

381 Kings Squad (Click for a larger view in a new window) jpg (51229 bytes)

This is a close up of Dad in the squad photograph. It was taken when he completed his training, around June 1940.

Dad's signature on the back of the 381 Kings Squad photograph

This squad photograph is titled “381 Kings Squad”. It’s dated by one of the men on 26th June 1940, and records the squad just after completion of their training. The presentation includes a key giving the names of each of the squad.

Dad's service record shows that he was at Deal from January until 7th July 1940, and I think that it was here that he did most of his initial training. Dad kept his classroom notebook as well as duplicated copies of notes covering corps history and tradition. From Deal, he moved on to the Chatham Division on 8th July. It was while Dad was here that he met one Audrey Cook, who was to figure large in Dad's life. In October Dad was sent to the Plymouth Division, and he joined the crew of H.M.S. Repulse on 16th October 1940. 

Dad wrote a brief account of his time aboard HMS Repulse. It's not a detailed account, but rather a series of personal memories that he wanted to pass onto his sons. Life aboard was quite boring for Dad, for long periods of time. He knew every mussel in Scapa Flow by name, from long hours of spending shore leave walking the beaches and gathering shellfish. He has fonder memories of the patrols looking for the Bismarck, and of the welcome the ship and crew received when they arrived in Halifax, battered from heavy weather, and very low on fuel.

Dad's account inevitably concentrates on the sinking of HMS Repulse along with HMS Prince of Wales, on 10th December 1941. Co-incidentally, this was Audrey Cook's birthday. Dad's action station on board was 'starboard triple mounted low angled gun crew', and during the battle Dad was busy. The following is an extract from Dad's own account…..

"During the next lull, one of the gun's crew, Dave Lissaman, asked if he could give me a spell on the headphones. I handed them over to him, and he sat in the gunlayers seat where I had been sitting.
Within minutes of our changing places another plane, which had come in from a different angle, flew alongside machine gunning and Dave received a direct hit in the forehead from one of the bullets and became the first casualty on our gun crew"

Dad always made a point of seeking out Dave Lissaman's name when he went to the memorial on Plymouth Hoe.

The following is another extract, where Dad recalls the moment when he abandoned ship………………

"When the order to abandon ship had been given one of our gun crew by the name of Fred Strong, who came from Manchester, said to me "Stay with me when get in the water Yorky, will you? Because I can't swim a stroke". I replied that I would and immediately started to prepare for going over the side”.
Dad then describes how he shed his gear, preparing himself for leaving the ship. “I looked at Fred, he was still wearing all his gear plus boots and tin hat. I said to him "Look you can't swim, make it a bit easier by stripping off most of your gear" He commenced to do this by taking off his boiler suit and folding it neatly, in true Royal Marine fashion, placing it on top of his boots”.

Dad and Fred slid down the side of the ship together, but after he surfaced, Dad could find no sign of Fred. Dad swam away from the ship, and estimates he was in the water for two hours and thirty-five minutes. He was eventually picked up by HMAS Vampire, and amazingly, it was none other than Fred Strong who helped him aboard once he'd scrambled up the netting! Sadly, Fred was later killed, during the fighting prior to the fall of Singapore.

The survivors were returned to Singapore, and the Royal Marines amongst them were joined with the surviving Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders to form the Plymouth Argyles. In this role, Dad fought in the retreat down the water pipeline. Dad was pretty much cut off from the rest of his unit, and was wandering around alone when he met up with a group of Australian soldiers, who told him that the surrender had been ordered. Learning that Dad was a Royal Marine, they decided that Dad was just what they needed to help them sail a yacht they had secured, back to Australia. Dad knew nothing of yachts, but was game anyway, and they set off. Fortunately, a British machine gun crew saw what was going on, and shot up the yacht, thinking Dad and the Aussies were deserting - word of the surrender hadn't reached them. Dad later recognised that the machine gunners had probably saved his life. Japanese naval forces would almost certainly have destroyed the yacht if it had tried to leave Singapore.

Eventually, Dad, nineteen years old, followed orders and marched himself to Changi barracks and surrendered. 

In the early years of my life, Dad seldom spoke of his time in the prisoner of war camps. Later in life, Dad opened up a bit, but the memories of these times were obviously painful for him, and the subject was never dwelt on. Most of 1941 was spent in Singapore I believe, where the prisoners were put to work clearing up bomb damage and so on; Dad witnessed a lot of atrocities against the Chinese civilian population during this time. By the end of the year, prisoners were being moved up through Malaya to work on the Burma railway, and Dad was amongst these. The conditions under which allied POWs were held and worked on the Burma Railway are well documented. Dad assured us that none of these accounts are exaggerated. 

I remember Dad telling us of his Dad 21st birthday. During July/August 1943, Dad was one of a party of twelve prisoners whose task was to prepare camping facilities for Japanese soldiers making their way to the front line. These troops were apparently making their way forward along the route of the railway, in small squads. Dad's group had been tasked with building a camp - simple roofed bamboo huts with raised, pallet type beds. The Japanese troops would use these huts for their overnight stop, before moving forward. They would be replaced next night by another squad.

Having built the camp, Dad and his fellow prisoners were required to clean up after one group had gone, and prepare firewood and water in readiness for the next squad. The work was less onerous than railway construction, and Dad remarked that the troops moving up to the front line were of a different calibre to the prison camp guards - more humane in their treatment of the prisoners. This remark was founded partly in the fact that whilst these troops pilfered the Red Cross parcels denied to the prisoners, and in particular took the cigarettes, they did in turn dump their own Japanese cigarette issue, which the prisoners were then allowed to use.

In late July, one of the prisoners in the work party was taken ill with symptoms of cholera. Dad, who spoke a little Japanese, was elected to report this to the Japanese guards who, understandably, reacted with horror. Dad's group were moved to a remote hut, and isolated.

Thus Dad spent his 21st birthday. He thought he was well off - plenty of cigarettes and no work. They were supplied with rations by the other prisoners, but kept in isolation. Later though, the cholera case was confirmed, and with no treatment, quickly spread. Dad spent his time nursing those who succumbed to the infection as it spread through the hut. Dad was one of only two men of the original twelve who survived the cholera attack.

Dad bought home some tokens with which the prisoners were paid - they earned five cents a day. The cost of an egg was one dollar! He also bought home a piece of quartz, cut from Hellfire Pass, as well the few letters sent from home that had reached him. The parts of the letters that weren’t written on, have been carefully cut away for use as cigarette papers.

Dad learned he was free on 16th August 1945, after spending just over three and a half years as a prisoner of war. He was in poor health, and in Mum’s words, ‘just skin and bone’. He left the POW camps and via Pratchai and Bangkok, was flown to Rangoon. There, he was hospitalised for about a week before boarding M.V. Worstershire for the trip home, via Columbo and Suez. His field medical card records 44 attacks of malaria, ! of amoebic dysentery, and 3 of bacillary dysentery, as well as dengue fever, cystitis and pyclitis.
He was finally repatriated to Plymouth on 16 October 1945, and spent a further period in hospital at Newton Abbot before returning to Hemsworth. Dad was the only survivor of the seven men from 381 Kings Squad who served on HMS Repulse.

He married Audrey Cook in June 1946, having met her just four times between his Chatham posting and joining H.M.S. Repulse, and once after he got home! He moved from his beloved Yorkshire to Kent, and set up home near West Malling. The family later moved a short distance to Ditton, where Mum and Dad bought up their three sons. His health obviously improved considerably after he got home. Dad was a keen athlete during the fifties and early sixties, and was a member of Aylesford Paper Mills Tug-o-war team. The team had considerable success and Dad won at least five Kent County Championship medals during this time, as well as a runners-up prize at the AAA National Championships (White City 1952). Dad worked at Aylesford Paper Mills, in a number of different capacities over the years, until 1970.

In 1971 he joined Alcoa Foils in Barking, and after leaving them, he worked more locally to his home until his retirement. He was always proud of having been a Royal Marine, and kept in contact with at least one survivor from the Prince of Wales. He regularly attended the Cenotaph Remembrance Service. He did return to Thailand, when he and Mum went on a tour of the railway and the camps, and the cemeteries of those who didn’t return home. It was a profoundly moving experience for them both.

In 1991 a tour of Singapore and Malaya was arranged to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the sinking. Mum and Dad went along, and the tour party was taken aboard H.M.S. Sheffield at Kuantan, and sailed to the site of the two wrecks, where short services were held, exactly fifty years after the sinkings. During this tour, Dad struck up a conversation with some Australians sitting at an adjacent table in the hotel. It transpired that these Australians were on a similar tour, and were in fact some of the surviving crew from HMAS Vampire! Dad and these Australians become close friends, visiting each other at home, with Dad attending an HMAS Vampire reunion in 1995. I was fortunate enough to meet two of the lads when they visited the U.K. – Jack “Tiny” Mooney, and Clyde Layton. Sadly, both have since died.

Cyril sitting between Clyde Layton and John “Jack” or “Tiny” Mooney (Click for a larger view in a new window)  (43184 bytes)

This picture was taken at Dad’s home in Ditton, by a photographer from the Kent Messenger newspaper. It accompanied a short article explaining the circumstances of the picture.
Dad is in the centre. The other two lads are Clyde Layton and John “Jack” or “Tiny” Mooney. Tiny and Clyde were part of the crew of HMAS Vampire when she rescued Dad from the sea after the sinking, and both survived the later sinking of the Vampire. They met for the first time, in a hotel in Malaya, in 1991 when a British tour and an Australian tour, both commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of the battle, were co-incidentally in the same hotel. 
Dad maintained contact with Tiny and Clyde, and they visited Dad in July 1994. The picture shows Clyde presenting Dad with a framed photograph of HMAS Vampire, which they re-christened “Cyril’s Water Taxi”. Tiny is holding a commemorative medal, struck for the members of the 1991 tour. Dad was later able to claim a tot of rum from the Aussies – something he felt he was entitled to, since Australian naval vessels didn’t have a rum ration that could be offered to shipwrecked sailors in 1941! 

Dad died on 4th April 2002, comfortably, in his own bed, and surrounded by his family. At the funeral, and at his own request, his coffin was draped with a Royal Marine colour. The body was cremated, and Dads ashes now lay in the graveyard of St. Peter’s church in Ditton, where he had been an active member of the congregation for many years. He's very much missed by Mum, by his sons and grandchildren, and by a wide circle of friends.

Below this biography is a copy of an advertisement, copied from eBay, which offers what seems to be Dad’s certificate of Crossing the Line. Dad underwent the ceremony as HMS Repulse crossed the equator off the West African coast, escorting a convoy to South Africa. Since the ship was sunk, and Dad imprisoned, before Dad ever got home again, then we always assumed that the certificate was lost. Perhaps Dad posted it home? Unfortunately, we only became aware of the advert after it was too late, and we have no idea who was selling, or who bought, the certificate. If anyone has any knowledge at all regarding this, please get in touch – the family would love to know it’s history, and would meet any reasonable price to purchase it.

Taken from information found at an online auction website:

This is a framed and glazed Certificate presented to one CA Senior of His Majesty's Royal Navy having crossed The Equator for the first time.
This is a tradition accorded to all sailors, merchant and military, handed down over countless generations of seafarers; as such, this certificate is not particularly rare, but what makes this special is that it is a wartime certificate, dated September 21st 1941 aboard the battle cruiser HMS Repulse. What makes this more poignant is that, I am told, HMS Repulse was sunk later that year.
The decoration on this certificate is quite crudely coloured in, however one must remember that this was a serving warship and luxuries such as colouring pencils were few and far between. This is memorabilia of the most interesting sort; it deserves a good home. Thanks for looking, good luck if you choose to bid.


Please contact Andy (webmaster) with any information.

Andy Wade (Webmaster)

Information provided by
Andy Senior (son)