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Shadows of the Ensign

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Shortly before the battle in which Repulse was lost, you may recall that I was given an order to untangle our White Ensign from its 'jackstaff'. I drew your attention to this point, stating the incident was of great relevance to my story. Here's the reason why.

Being a member of my local RNA (Royal Naval Association) its customary to meet with other area branches and on the odd occasion we are invited to visit local sea-cadets. I must admit these are my favourite times of all, watching youngsters tackling routines I went though many years ago, often brings a tear to my eye.

One such time I happened to be with a party that visited Rotherham sea-cadets, whilst looking around the naval memorabilia adorning the building I noticed an old White Ensign draped on a wall. I took a closer look wondering, what, (if any) ship it had previously flown on. Whilst examining it, the instructor at the cadets Chief Gunners Mate 'Mullins' came over to join me. I commented on how tatty the old flag was; suddenly a big smile came over his face.

He asked did I know which ship it was off I replied 'no' his smile broadened on saying 'its off your old ship HMS Repulse'. I could have dropped in a ruck. After gathering myself I plucked up courage to touch it, in an instant the memories of that fateful day of over fifty years ago came flooding back. To think that the last time I had handled this flag, I'd been a young lad, soon to be part of a battle in which I was sure we'd be triumphant, was in many ways very upsetting. He went on to inform me how the flag had found its way to Rotherham, apparently it had been rescued during the action by a seaman named Bob Fraser, who'd subsequently passed it onto another sailor by the name of Joe Turton. He was the man responsible for donating the flag to the cadets; who by the way are known as T.S. (Training Ship) Repulse.

Since that day I've had many happy evenings at the cadets, having the pleasure on one occasion of meeting Admiral Leech; the son of the ex skipper of Prince of Wales (Captain Leech) who was sadly lost with his ship that terrible day. He was a marvellous man and spent a substantial amount of time discussing with me, the battle of December 10 1941. I was surprised to learn that he was actually in our vicinity at the time of the sinking; being a Midshipman onboard one of the other warships stationed in the Far East. 

However without doubt the most enjoyable time I have ever had whilst at the cadets was when I met up with the crew of the Nuclear Powered Submarine HM/SM Repulse, shortly before her decommissioning. Looking at these young men standing in front of my old flag brought back the strongest feelings I have ever had of the happy smiling faces I lived with onboard our wonderful warship all those years ago. These days on my visits to TS Repulse, our old flag draws me like a moth to a flame. We are like a couple of old friends, and as I sit in its shadow, the memories of my wartime years come rushing back. Let us hope that future generations will never forget the brave lads who paid the ultimate price for our freedom. 

l will always remember them, for their faces cast the proudest lines on the

'Shadows of the Ensign'


Here's to you lads; long may your memories shine brightly.

In memory of the Royal Navy's Warships of World War 2. 

 

 

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'Reflections from Guzz'.

Once I looked from the Tamar Bridge at the warships down below,
ships of the modern navy with names I did not know.
And, as I stood and gazed at them on the water far below
I saw a fleet of phantom ships and men of long ago.

The Rodney and the Nelson, the Valiant and Ramilies
Repulse, Renown and Malaya, coming home from foreign seas.
I saw Revenge and Warspite, ill-fated Royal Oak, 
so many ships, their names made faint by shell and fire and smoke.

And some I see to harbour come as thro glasses dark, 
the Barham and the Glorious, the Eagle and the Ark,
and then, there comes the greatest, the mighty warship Hood,
dark and grey and wraithlike, from the spot on which I stood.

From the cruel North Atlantic, from the Med and Java sea,
the big ships and the little ships returned for me to see.
There's the Dorsetshire, Edinburgh, Campbeltown and Kent,
the Cossack, and Courageous, the Charybdis and Ardent.

Now I can't see very clearly, must be smoke that's in my eyes,
but mercifully hidden are the men and stilled, their raucous cries.

You don't know Shorty Hasset, he won the D.S.M.
He still fought on when Exeter was burning stern to stem.

Where now...! Dodger Long and Lofty, where now the boys and men?
They are lost and gone forever-shall we see their likes again?
I thought I saw them mustering on deck for daily prayer,
and heard 'For those in Peril' rise on the evening air.

Then darker grew the picture as the lowering night came on,
I looked down from that lofty bridge, but all the ships were gone.
Those mighty ships had vanished; gone those simple men,
we'll surely never-ever, see the likes of them again.


(Acknowledgements to 'Rodney Buzz') 

 

 

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