Brave souls who per­ished at sea dur­ing WWII’s ear­li­est skir­mishes

Ormskirk Advertiser - - Nostalgia -

TWO LO­CAL men were lost at sea dur­ing the early stages of WWII from HMS Nep­tune – a Le­an­der–class cruiser, built be­tween 1931 and 1933 at Her Majesty’s Naval Boat­yard, Portsmouth.

Launched in Jan­uary 1933, it was the ninth Royal Navy ves­sel of that name.

Al­most 170 me­tres in length with a beam of 17 me­tres, the ship was con­sid­ered heavy duty.

By De­cem­ber 1939 the Nep­tune was part of a group of RN ves­sels pa­trolling the South At­lantic on the look­out for the Graf Spee.

Af­ter the sink­ing of the Graf Spee, the Nep­tune was de­ployed to the Mediter­ranean to lead Force K, a raid­ing squadron of cruis­ers with the mis­sion to stop Ger­man and Ital­ian con­voys car­ry­ing sup­plies to Rom­mel’s Africa Corps via Libya.

On De­cem­ber 18, Nep­tune led Force K from Malta in a sin­gle line to in­ter­cept a con­voy head­ing for Tripoli.

The Bri­tish cruis­ers, sail­ing in sin­gle line, with three de­stroy­ers ac­com­pa­ny­ing them, en­coun­tered rough seas on a par­tic­u­larly pitch black night when the Nep­tune sailed into an un­charted minefield, laid some months ear­lier by the Ital­ian Navy.

The minefield had been laid just 15 miles from the coast of Libya and in shal­lower wa­ter than was usual and so it was to­tally un­ex­pected.

The two other cruis­ers, HMS Pene­lope and HMS Aurora also sailed into the minefield, both hit­ting mines and sus­tain­ing dam­age.

The Nep­tune hit two mines, caus­ing some dam­age and at­tempted to re­verse out of the minefield but hit a third mine which de­stroyed the steer­ing gear and pro­pel­ler, leav­ing the ship in­ca­pac­i­tated.

The Pene­lope and one of the de­stroy­ers, the Kan­da­har, tried to reach the Nep­tune but the Kan­da­har hit a mine and was strug­gling, Cap­tain

O’Conor of the Nep­tune sent a sig­nal to ‘keep away’ and an hour or so later the Nep­tune hit a fourth mine and be­gan to sink.

Of the two lo­cal men lost, the first was Sub-Lieu­tenant James Mercer Knowles, of 39 St He­lens Road, Orm­skirk, son of lo­cal brewer Wil­fred Knowles and his wife Anne.

James had mar­ried in West Alvring­ton,

Kings­bridge in early 1940 af­ter join­ing the Royal Navy.

It was June 1942 be­fore his par­ents and wife Sheila were of­fi­cially told of his death.

For many months af­ter the sink­ing there was hope that many of the crew had been taken pris­oner by the Ital­ian navy; in fact only one man sur­vived the sink­ing, out of a crew of 764 of­fi­cers and men.

James is re­mem­bered on the Ply­mouth Naval Me­mo­rial, the HMS Nep­tune me­mo­rial at the Na­tional Ar­bore­tum, and the War Me­mo­rial in West Alvring­ton and the Orm­skirk Parish Church Me­mo­rial.

The sec­ond lo­cal man who was lost was Sur­geon Lieu­tenant Eric Beres­ford Rid­ing, son of the late Sa­muel Joseph Rid­ing, Master Builder who died in 1934; and Mary Agnes Rid­ing of Al­lan­dale, Ally’s Lane, Orm­skirk.

Eric had at­tended Orm­skirk Gram­mar School and was 27 when he was lost.

Eric’s brother Dou­glas was also a Doc­tor.

Eric is re­mem­bered on the Orm­skirk Com­rades Me­mo­rial, the Orm­skirk Parish Church Me­mo­rial, the Con­gre­ga­tional Church me­mo­rial, the Gram­mar School Me­mo­rial, the HMS Nep­tune me­mo­rial at the Na­tional Ar­bore­tum in Al­re­was, Stafford­shire and the Ply­mouth Naval Me­mo­rial.

The me­mo­rial to the crews of HMS Nep­tune and HMS Kan­da­har – a 7ft tall Der­byshire grit­stone pyra­mid at the Na­tional Me­mo­rial Ar­bore­tum, Staffs

Above, lost at sea: Sur­geon Lieu­tenant Eric Beres­ford Rid­ing

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