MORE than 70 years after she was sunk in a torpedo attack with the loss of most of her crew, the third HMS Penzance has been given a lasting memorial in west Cornwall.
The Hastings-Class sloop was sent to the bottom by a German submarine south-west of Iceland as she escorted a freight convoy laden with supplies bound for a blockaded Britain.
All but 14 of her 104 crew were killed in the attack.
Relatives of the survivors and of those who died on board the ship on August 24, 1940, witnessed the poignant dedication of the granite memorial at Penlee Park, Penzance.
Among them was Marianne Donovan, whose father Charles Allen was one of the few to survive the blast in the mid-Atlantic.
“I think the crew would all be pleased that this many years down the road, they haven’t been forgotten,” said Mrs Donovan who travelled from Ontario in Canada for the ceremony.
Leading Signalman Allen was just 23 when the torpedo hit HMS Penzance, ripping a hole through the vessel and sinking it almost immediately. He was on the bridge of the ship when a German submarine was spotted.
“He said one of those on watch on the starboard side suddenly hollered, ‘Bloody hell – tin fish, amidships, starboard’,” said Mrs Donovan, 70.
“There was no time for the engine room to take evasive action.”
Thrown from the bridge into the sea, Mr Allen landed in a slick of flaming oil and was left with burns to his hands, feet and face, as well as a broken nose.
He was rescued with six other crewmen by one of the freighters in the convoy – only for this ship to be sunk just a few hours later.
Luckily most of the crew were able to take to life rafts, were picked up by a passing Swedish vessel and taken into port at Baltimore. He then spent months recovering from his injuries in the States before arriving back in the UK, where he married Mrs Donovan’s mother Marie.
“He didn’t talk about it a lot, but when it came to the anniversary of the sinking he’d get a bottle of rum to have a toast to his shipmates one by one – he never got to 90,” Mrs Donovan said.
“He also had terrible nightmares – but in those days men were made to suck it up.”
The family left England in 1951 and settled in London, Ontario. Mr Allen died in 1993.
His daughter was instrumental in the setting up of the plaque in Penzance after discussing the subject with the commanding officer of the current HMS Penzance, Lieutenant-Commander Alex Bush.
The minehunter arrived in the town on Thursday and the crew spent the weekend in Penzance before leading the memorial service and unveiling of the plaque on Sunday.
Lieutenant-Commander Bush led the ship’s company on a march through the town, thanked all those who attended the service and gave a short speech in Penlee Park.
“I’m immensely proud to bring my ship to Penzance and to reinforce the superb relationship the town and the ship have built over the years,” said Lieutenant-Commander Bush.
“We’re honoured to be able to be present for the unveiling of this memorial plaque.”
At the service, Lieutenant-Commander Bush unexpectedly passed the honour of unveiling the memorial plaque to Bob Medforth, from Hampshire, whose father, Petty Officer Stoker Walter Medforth, went down with the ship.
Other relatives present at the service included Christine Eborall, niece of Engine Room Artificer 2nd Class Arthur Cyril Friend, who died during the attack; John Middleton, ERA Friend’s second cousin; and Simon Wavish – great nephew of HMS Penzance’s captain, Commander Allan John Wavish, who died during the attack – and his son Matthew.
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