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Private David Jones, the 15th (1st London Welsh) Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers

THIS WRITING IS FOR MY FRIENDS IN MIND OF ALL COMMON AND HIDDEN MEN … AND TO THE ENEMY FRONT-FIGHTERS WHO SHARED OUR PAINS AGAINST...

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Lieutenant Commander Roger Percival Hill, DSO, DSC – 22 June 1910 – 5 May 2001


I could simply suggest that in order to find out about Roger Hill you go away and read Destroyer Captain: memoirs of the war at sea 1942-45. This covers his time in command of the destroyers Ledbury, Greville and Jervis and he says in the introduction

As far as I know, and memory can play tricks, everything in this book is true… I have tried to tell the story as it happened and as I saw and felt it at the time and without hindsight.”

Roger Hill had a tough war.  Having taken command of H.M.S.Ledbury in January 1942 the first operation was taking part in the Russian convoy PQ17. I’m not going to dwell on that particular convoy but it is evident from his book and the interviews he gave about the subsequent convoy that

“I can never forget how they [the merchant ships] cheered us as we moved out at full speed to the attack and it has haunted me ever since that we left them to be destroyed.” p58

In August 1942 the Ledbury was one of the vital ships, which took part in Operation Pedestal to relieve Malta. I use Roger Hill as the narrator for the Operation Pedestal poem in Convoy as he covers the operation in depth in Destroyer Captain. He is charmingly self deprecating “If only I were a writer instead of a naval officer writing up a journal twenty years later for his family, how I would like to be able to describe the scene [arrival of the Ohio in Grand Harbour] and my feelings.” He goes on to describe Malta as

“a wonderful place to be. The bomb damage was severe, particularly in Valletta. But it was a front-line town and morale was high. Everywhere I was saluted -  one man almost knocking himself backward he did it so hard. p`103” 

After a few days respite the Ledbury, together with the Penn and Bramham – all three ships having brought the Ohio to Malta - sailed for Gibraltar on Tuesday 18th August. The following day there is an incident which made me sad to read and which clearly distressed Roger Hill. The three ships are sailing in V-formation against air attack and there is the inevitable Italian shadowing plane. When it comes within range the Ledbury opens fire with Squeak and Wilfred, the twin guns mounted at the stern of the ship and the plane makes off over the horizon. Then Hill is told there has been an accident (p105).

“Let me know what has happened when it’s cleared up.” I said  - thinking perhaps one of the guns had jammed or a man had been hit by an ejecting cartridge case.

It was much worse: when the four guns had fired pointing almost exactly aft, the shock of the shell leaving Wilfred – the lower mounting – had caused a shell which had just come out of the muzzle of the right gun of Squeak to explode. The fuse must have been faulty. The shell had burst above Wilfred’s gun shield, and the deck and depth-charges were full of splinters.

Read, the officer candidate who had swum out to me with the rope [an earlier incident in the Arctic], was dead, killed instantly – and eight of Wilfred’s crew  were wounded – none seriously. It was a most bitter blow, after getting through everything that had been thrown at us, to lose a man this way.

I felt inexpressibly sad; I stood behind Squeak’s gun shield with my arm around the shoulders of the captain of the gun and the tears ran down the grooves in his sunburned face. We just stood there in misery together.

In the evening I put on my best uniform and read the burial service on the clanking vibrating quarter-deck and the crew and survivors stood around me as we slipped the body sewn in a hammock and weighted with shot, over the side.”


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