Veterans commemorate anniversary of sinking of HMS Royal Oak

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SPLASHING about in the sea in the aftermath of a German torpedo attack, Kenneth Toop did not know whether he would live or die.

As luck would have it, the boy sailor caught sight of a catamaran and got on board before waiting to be rescued.

Survivor Kenneth Toop

Survivor Kenneth Toop

Mr Toop recalled surviving the sinking of HMS Royal Oak, which claimed 833 lives, during a memorial event at the weekend marking 75 years since the tragedy.

Survivors, service personnel and their families took time to reflect at a service in the Church of St Barbara on Whale Island, Portsmouth.

Mr Toop, now 91, was asleep on HMS Royal Oak when she was torpedoed by German submarine U-47 at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands on October 14, 1939.

He jumped out of his hammock and got up to the upper deck before sliding down the side into the cold waters.

4/10/14  ''The Royal Oak Association Memorial Service to mak the 75th year of the loss of the ship and 834 men at St Barbara's Church, HMS Excellent. Bryan Wilkins 76 lays a wreath in memory of his father Joe.''Picture: Paul Jacobs (142916-5) PPP-140410-184448003

4/10/14 ''The Royal Oak Association Memorial Service to mak the 75th year of the loss of the ship and 834 men at St Barbara's Church, HMS Excellent. Bryan Wilkins 76 lays a wreath in memory of his father Joe.''Picture: Paul Jacobs (142916-5) PPP-140410-184448003

‘There was a lot of fear, everyone was drowning,’ Mr Toop told The News.

‘As I went up on to the deck, the ship was going over.

‘I slid into the water and I swam and splashed about.

‘By luck, I managed to bump into a catamaran and I got myself on to it before I was picked up.’

The Royal Oak Association Memorial Service to mak the 75th year of the loss of the ship and 834 men at St Barbara's Church, HMS Excellent. ''Picture: Paul Jacobs (142916-6)

The Royal Oak Association Memorial Service to mak the 75th year of the loss of the ship and 834 men at St Barbara's Church, HMS Excellent. ''Picture: Paul Jacobs (142916-6)

Rev Dr Martin Quayle spoke of the cruelty of the enemy and how the tragic incident at the start of the Second World War ‘shocked the nation’.

‘The sinking of the Royal Oak shocked the nation and its communities to the core,’ he said.

‘It’s something that simply should not have happened. It was thought the ship was safe.’

Prayers and a brief moment of silence were held for those who died, around 40 of whom were members of the Royal Marines.

Arthur Smith, 92, was rescued after diving off the ship.

‘The water was so cold,’ he said. ‘I still think about all of my young mates who died.’

Gareth Derbyshire, secretary of the Royal Oak Association, lost his grandfather Ronald Derbyshire, 29, a leading seaman.

‘My father was only two when his father died, so that had an impact on the rest of his life,’ he said.

‘It’s important to make sure the memory of all of these people is remembered.’

A memorial service is held every year at Whale Island about a week before the date of the attack.

Son speaks of pride as he lays wreath

BRIMMING with pride, Bryan Wilkins laid a wreath in memory of the father he lost so early in life.

Mr Wilkins was just a baby when his father, able seaman Joseph Wilkins, died onboard HMS Royal Oak. He was 36.

But that does not stop him remembering what happened and paying his respects each year.

Bryan, a former Ministry of Defence police officer who lives in Kirby Road, North End, said: ‘I was only 13 months old and I never knew him, but he knew me.

‘That’s why I come to the memorial services.

‘It chokes you up when you hear about what happened, especially when you read books and see the stories being told on television.

‘Laying the wreath was a very proud moment, for all of the family.’

Another memorial event will be held to coincide with the date of the sinking in Orkney on October 14.

Ship’s demise came despite having complete refit

HMS Royal Oak was one of five Revenge-class battleships built for the Royal Navy during the First World War at Devonport Royal Dockyard in Plymouth, Devon.

She first went into combat at the Battle of Jutland in 1916 as part of the Grand Fleet.

The ship was refitted in 1922 with plates to protect against torpedoes but they did not stop her from sinking at the hands of the Germans.

In total, 809 men and 24 officers died as a result of the attack HMS Royal Oak suffered while anchored.