SAILORS serving in HMS Richmond paid a touching tribute to 800 men lost at sea almost 70 years ago in one the greatest shocks in the Royal Navy’s history.
Standing to attention on the flight deck of the Portsmouth-based frigate, the sailors bowed their heads in remembrance to the men who lost their lives when HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse were sunk by the Japanese in 1941.
In December 1941, the battleship – the newest in the fleet – and her accompanying battle-cruiser HMS Repulse were the firepower of Force Z, sent to the Far East to deter Japanese aggression.
But on December 10, 1941 the two ships were sunk by Japanese bombers after an abortive operation to prevent the invasion of Malaysia.
More than 800 men were lost, including the task force commander Admiral Sir Tom Phillips, and Prince of Wales’ captain Capt John Leach – the father of the late First Sea Lord Sir Henry Leach.
Richmond broke off from exercises with the Australian and Malaysian navies to make for the approximate resting place of HMS Prince of Wales in the South China Sea.
There, all engines were stopped, the White Ensign was lowered to half mast and her ship’s company mustered on the flight deck for a service of remembrance which culminated in reading the Ode of Remembrance and the laying of a wreath of poppies in the sea.
They were joined by sailors from the Royal Australian, Malaysian, New Zealand and Republic of Singapore navies.
Captain Mike Walliker, the commanding officer of HMS Richmond, said: ‘The act of remembrance allowed my ship’s company to remember the sacrifice that was made here and honour the highest standards of the service that they met all those years ago,
‘With this ceremony we renewed our commitment to those standards. It was particularly poignant given that Richmond, like Force Z, is currently endeavouring to ensure stability and security in the region – albeit 70 years later and in a somewhat different world order.’
Richmond is away from her Portsmouth home for seven months. Having devoted the first half of her deployment to tackling piracy off Somalia, the Type 23 frigate has shifted to the Far East to exercise with Britain’s allies in the region – celebrating 40 years since the Five Powers Defence Agreement between the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore.