Unforgotten Heroes

With my ever present forgetfulness lurking in the background I’m always on the look out for things that will stimulate important memories and I find the internet an amazing catalyst.

In June 1994, I was fortunate to accompany my late father John Shores on a trip to Portsmouth for one of a series of reunions he loved attending with his old wartime shipmates from HMS Largs.

Largs 1
We’re a couple of swells…

They were organised via a type-written bulletin distributed by post and I have quite a few in my possession that he handed down to me shortly before he passed away four short years ago…

Largs
An earlier 1993 reunion in Largs, Scotland

In one communication from June 1993, just after a reunion in the namesake town of Largs in Scotland in May,  a poem written by shipmate Phillip Edward de la Taste was published about his war-time memories of HMS Largs that is very poignant and is shared below.

Memories

Do you remember when first we met
Hair cut short and innocent of fear
Laughing and joking with apprehension
Unaware of what was near?

And can you remember Desmond Wells?
He came from Dorset way
Now why did I think of him?

Wasn’t he the first to go, posted to a trawler –
Sweeping – not long out then bang – farewell.

And what about “hands to bathe”?
And diving off the side – the water cool, inviting –
Shouting, plunging, being pulled by the tide.

Then Francis nearly drowned – we pulled him in
Did he ever learn to swim?
We were young, it was good to be alive.

After midnight a welcome cup of kye
The chatter of the Morse –
“A number of subs in the area”
The warm night takes on a sudden chill.

The watch is ended – a quick lean against the rail,
Gulp in the cool air, feel the breeze.
The sea glistening in the midnight – so very beautiful
But don’t look down.

Then to the hammock, slung ready – mustn’t disturb the others!
A sudden movement – oh – not another rat!

Crossing the Equator
The ceremony of “crossing the line”
The Chief was dressed as Neptune
That was a happy time.

The malaria caught in Freetown – that felt really rough!
The kindness of our chief again – he wasn’t so very tough!
I owed him more than to forget his name
But his voice remains.

Now for the job for which we’d trained – others did so much more
Saw landing craft full of men heading slowly through the waves to the shore.
Then the noise – the guns – the shells – rockets beat a tattoo
A plane comes whining down – the bomb drops in the sea close to the rail
The ship shudders – an old converted merchant vessel, she wasn’t built for this.

The danger past, we wait to hear those words
“Liberty men starboard watch” – we’re going to town.
“Behave yourselves – be back on time” – again our Chief P.O.
But he was old, so very old, so how was he to know?
He had served for many years and now was back for more
He knew the things that happened when the lads first went ashore!
He was all of forty-two.

Now from the docks we hurry on – the pleasures there are waiting
The bars, the girls, the sights – but not for us –
We didn’t reach the gates.

And then…
Conscious now, all silent – a nun looked down and smiled
The tears came fast – they wouldn’t stop – then she spoke as to a child
I was alone.

A Maltese couple came through the ward – searching
He stopped and looked closely – mumbled something kindly and slowly turned away,
I hope they found their son.

And then that night the terrible screaming – it came from the far end bed
I stared up hard at the mosquito net
Next morning he was dead.
It was the young Italian – one of the foe
Just one arm – no legs
Why did his God desert him and what a way to go.

Who decided I should live but you would have to die
Did you discover why?  Or was I here on your behalf
To taste life’s tears and joys – like the thrill of chasing tiddlers
With a pair of laughing boys.

Or does it end in darkness – the way it all began
And is our idea of eternal life just the vanity of man
If so, sleep on my friends, sleep on.

The years so long, yet brief, have passed now
And I’m filled with a deep regret
For I remember so little of you and that day
How and why could I forget?

Phillip Edward de la Taste – Telegraphist

In my father’s handwriting underneath it he wrote that sadly Phillip passed away in his sleep, just three weeks after the reunion which brought back at least some of his memories.  His poem was read out at his funeral which was attended by five of his Largs shipmates who laid a wreath in the shape of an anchor in his memory.

In my collection of dad’s papers I also have another poem called “What A Mess” that actually mentions my father having a nickname of “Tich” Shores (he was 5′ 6″ tall) which has got to be a lot better than mine from the army of “Gloria” from the TV series “It Ain’t Half Hot Mum” (as my marching was horrible)…

What A Mess

In Mess 26 there’s quite a good crew,
Some faces are old, some faces are new,
Of the good old crowd, sixteen remain,
I shall try to mention them name, by name.

L/Tel Trousedale shouts “Gimme De Boat”
Where the sparkers keep watch dressed in duffel coats,
A heaving deck and a flaming gun,
He says it’s his only kind of fun.

L/Tel Raven likes women and beers,
He’s not very fat but the beer disappears,
And though poor old Ray has lost some of his hair,
He can still attract women and make them all care.

Of L/Tel Beach, quite a lot I could say,
He’s dashing, debonair, smart and gay,
Whilst he jokes and laughs and clowns,
His favourite name for a friend is “Towns”.

L/Tel Gaughran is a real “Goode”bloke,
Going through life making joke after joke,
He’s fond of the sun is this jolly young man,
And his body is brown with its glorious tan.

Now about the rest of the sparking branch,
Starting with Chris who lived on a ranch,
The horse he rode, bent his legs so I’ve heard,
So to cover them up he grew a thick beard.

Bill Sykes is his “townie”, from Sheffield they come,
A city of steel, all its men like their rum,
Of the steel works in Sheffield, tall tales they relate,
They think it’s the only place known for steel plate.

Reggie Rumbles is the pride of the home,
From his writing pad does he seldom roam,
When he lets himself go, then look out for sparks,
For this Hamersmith lad plays all kind of larks.

“Pincher” Martins causes no undue alarm,
Though “Pincher” was once in the Fleet Air Arm,
Many tales he can tell of the men in the air,
How they flirt with death, never giving a care.

“Jock” Reid comes “fra” Maybole in Scotland’s fair land,
Says the scenery’s lovely, gorgeous and grand,
He’s fond of his grub, whether plain food or sweets,
And is the best man I know for scoffing “Big Eats”.

“Maggie” Smith comes “fra” Scotland too, so they say,
Where he taught and he thrashed little children all day,
Though when I was at school, and I could have wished,
He would have taught me, and with his cane swished.

Sad Simmons wields an artist’s brush,
And never does things with a rush,
Except each day Syd’s watch ashore
Then he’s off like a shot, for he’s friend galore.

“Blondie” Mathews has only the best tailor,
In fact he is known as “The Gentleman Sailor”,
From Hastings he comes, does this smart man,
In his work or his play, he’ll be spick and span.

“Tug” Wilson draws in black and white,
Ladies faces, nice and bright,
Not long ago with his face a huge smile,
He walked with his bride down the centre aisle.

Freddie Dun is a man who likes a good drop of beer,
Though he hasn’t had very much chance this year,
But once a day our Fred’s in heaven,
For the rum comes up at half eleven.

“Tich” Shores was an architect’s man,
And even now he likes to plan,
Though he doesn’t plan to do much work,
I shouldn’t like to say he’d shirk.

I’m “Wacker” Lacey from a very old city,
Chester’s the place, antiquated and pretty,
Dublin born, I’ve a real “Irish Paddy”,
I get roused at times (but I’m not a bad laddie).

And now I’m afraid my story is ended,
I hope no-one above will feel offended,
We look forward to days of peaceful slumber,
From the day they release our demob number.

L Lacey 

So about a week ago I was trawling eBay with my usual search of “HMS Largs” hoping without too much hope to get a new photograph or some other memento when to my amazement up popped an advert for a used HMS Largs tie with a silhouette of the ship and the Combined Operations emblem above!

Largs tie

Now I don’t remember dad having one but I’m sure it could only have been produced by the Largs Association and in their September 1995 newsletter it is mentioned as being MOD approved, so I immediately ordered it and it duly arrived safely to be treasured alongside my own Intelligence Corps and Medmenham Association ties!

I have also decided to order a DVD of film from the Imperial war Museum of cine film onboard HMS Largs during D Day off Sword beach that I’d found through a Google search.  Alas for Crown copyright reasons when it arrives I’m not able to share it online, but includes footage of events my father told me of the midget submarine coming alongside that spied out the coast prior to the landings.

Following on from this theme in my next post I’ll share an amazing recent catch up with relatives of the air crew that served with Dennis Wright of 149 Squadron RAF who wartime diaries I transcribed a few years ago in this blog, who were able to share photos of him, his chums and his Lancaster aircraft which really brings yet another set of heroes to life again.

We will remember them!

Unforgotten Heroes