Christmas cake reveals submariner’s sad story

The Christmas cake bought for Bert Smith in 1939
The Christmas cake bought for Bert Smith in 1939
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THE mystery behind a Second World War-era Christmas cake has been unwrapped.

Family members bought the dessert for submariner Bert Smith in 1939 in time for his Christmas leave.

Submariner Bert Smith's telegram home.

Submariner Bert Smith's telegram home.

But he never got the chance to eat it as he was lost at sea on submarine HMS P33 in the summer of 1941.

The dessert was gifted to the Royal Navy Submarine Museum, in Gosport, by his sister Flo Burbage in 1983.

Staff at the time did not record the story but research has revealed all the details.

George Malcolmson, archivist at the museum, said: ‘Using contemporary correspondence between the museum and Mrs Burbage and archive movement records we finally discovered the full story.’

Bert never got to eat the cake as he was serving on HMS Osiris in the Mediterranean in 1939.

When he was on leave in the UK he sent a brief telegram to his family, saying: ‘the wanderer returned for brief spell still in one piece.’

But he never got the chance to return home as he was sent to join the crew of HMS P33 in Scotland.

She was then sent toward Malta and on her first patrol she suffered a fierce counter-attack by three torpedo boats.

And 100 depth charges were dropped on the submarine forcing her to dive to safety below her normal depth.

It was after repairs she was lost when she was patrolling off the coast of Libya intercepting an enemy convoy.

The commanding officer of HMS P32 in a nearby area heard a sustained depth charge attack.

Nothing was heard from HMS P33 afterwards.

Archivist George added: ‘The Christmas cake is a poignant and timely reminder of the feeling of separation so keenly felt at Christmas time by service men and women of Royal Navy.’

Bert never got to eat his cake but he is commemorated in the museum’s Area of Remembrance, which lists the 5,300 submariners who died in active service. His Christmas cake is on permanent display at the museum.

For opening times, call the museum on (023) 9254 5036.