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The Southern Daily Echo

 

Newspaper article about James (Bunny) Maclean Mackenzie (His memorial page)

Posted 5th February 2003

Ron Wain of the newspaper published a write up about Bunny in their newspaper. Click here to visit their website

We have reproduced it here with their kind permission.

 

WATERY GRAVE: HMS Repulse, which sank on December 10, 1941 and inset, James Maclean Mackenzie.

 

James Maclean Mackenzie died when Japanese warplanes torpedoed a British warship convoy in the Second World War. His Hampshire niece discovered the last letters sent by him to his mother. RON WAIN reports...

FEW could imagine her grief as she pored over his words.

It was the last letter from her sailor son, written while on a British battleship that was to be torn apart by torpedoes dropped by Japanese warplanes.

Of course, Morag Mackenzie had already feared the worst as she read what her beloved James, 22, had to say.

Mundane it may have been, but to a devoted mother every word tugged at the heart.

The Scottish crofter's wife had already been informed that James - nicknamed Bunny - was missing.

So when that conversational letter came, full of chatter about home affairs, she had hoped it was perhaps penned from a prisoner-of-war camp.

It was not to be.

Able Seaman James was one of 436 men who died when HMS Repulse sank following the intense air strikes by the Japanese on December 10, 1941, 50 miles off the coast of Kuantan, Malaya.

The poignant correspondence between a mother and son during wartime has been revealed for the first time by Southampton music teacher Joyce Ingledew.

James was her uncle and Morag her grandmother, whom she cared for until the mother-of-five died at the age of 95.

Joyce, 48, from Bursledon, said: "At the same time the old family home in the north of Scotland, which would have gone to Bunny as the eldest, has ended up in my hands, which is strange as my mother was the youngest of a large family who have all died.

"I love the place and felt I needed to find out more about the family.

"What I find so interesting is reading the letters in hindsight.

"My grandmother received the last letter after James was posted missing. The postman held it back until one of the family was there with my grandmother."

The 32,000-ton Repulse was joined at the bottom of the sea by fellow battleship HMS Prince of Wales, bringing the combined death toll to 840.

Captain Sonokawa, the Japanese commander in charge of the aerial attack, told Allied interrogators in Tokyo, in November 1945, that a submarine had pinpointed the positions of Repulse and Prince of Wales.

He told his questioners: "Repulse was hit by one or two bombs and about 12 torpedoes. Prince of Wales was hit by one bomb and ten torpedoes. I am not sure about the bomb hits."

Both warships were part of the heavyweight Force Z, but the British loss has been often overlooked because of the havoc wreaked on the American Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbour, on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, three days earlier.

That undeclared act of war by Japan brought the USA into the Second World War; an estimated 3,000 naval and military personnel had been killed or injured. It was the "September 11th" of its time.

Back in 1941, James would often write to his mother from Repulse - a Portsmouth-based ship which Lord Louis Mountbatten of Romsey served on in 1921.

One of James's earlier letters to his mum in 1940 echoed a moving Second World War song - We'll Meet Again - immortalised by Forces' sweetheart Vera Lynn.

He said: "Glad to hear John got a job at last, I may meet up with him some sunny day, who knows."

The Royal Navy man had every reason to be philosophical, for death shadowed millions of people like him.

That was why every letter sent to anxious mothers and fathers back home was proof that, thank God, their son or daughter was alive.

Morag had already gone through the agony of thinking James was dead because of Nazi propaganda that was aired nightly on British radio by hate figure Lord Haw-Haw.

Lord Haw-Haw - whose signature opening Germany calling, Germany calling - heralded each lie-packed broadcast - claimed in 1940 that HMS Repulse had already met a sticky end.

James later wrote to his mother: "Sorry to hear Haw-Haw's recounting of imaginary triumphs over Repulse, etc, troubled you, but you will be wiser next time.

"Please do not become anxious if you do not hear from me for two months as the letter may take all that time - depending on where it has been posted and when a convoy sails.

"It may never happen but I only want to warn you it is quite possible and thereby save you unnecessary worrying."

It would come as small relief to his family that Lord Haw-Haw - a British passport holder called William Joyce but given the derisory nickname by the Daily Express - was hanged in 1946 for treason.

In another letter to Morag, who lived on remote farmland near Ullapool in Scotland, James sought to give her reassurances as to his welfare, despite Lord Haw-Haw's attempts to unnerve the British public with a mixture of misleading but sometimes devastatingly accurate information.

He penned: "Well re myself, I can only give you the old formula - alive, afloat and well."

What came out of James's letters was his relish of family life, of his joy at receiving morale-boosting gift parcels, and his sensitivity to others. And so to this man's last letter home, dated December 1, 1941.

"Dear Mother, thanks very much for your letter and parcel, which I had yesterday. Life with me is much as usual and I was pleased to hear likewise of you.

"I expected you would have grim weather about this time of year.

"The parcel was very nice indeed, but sad to say, as in the case of the former parcel, the biscuits received a somewhat rough handling but were edible nevertheless."

James, who left university to enlist, went on: "Correspondence between us has been very irregular and unsatisfactory since I went back off leave, due, I suppose, to the disorganisation caused by air raids so do not be alarmed if you do not hear regularly from me. This letter is in reply to yours of the 20th Nov.

"I wrote Nan a few days ago, but have received no letters so far. In fact you are the only ones with whom I am in communication at present.

"I intend to send Christmas cards here and there but am doubtful if I can get any, or in time. Well, it looks as if this will be the first birthday spent away from home.

"However, I can't complain having had 21 at home. Closing now, hoping Dha, Rhoda, Heckie and all around are in their usual place."

James signed off simply: "Yours Bunny."

Nine days later he was dead. No doubt his mother would have cause to reread those heart-wrenching letters, and reflect on James's words to her about being alive, afloat and well.

If only, my darling son, if only.

 

REPRODUCED BY KIND PERMISSION OF THE SOUTHERN DAILY ECHO

Click here to visit their website