Uncle Bills medals (at least the Hamilton one)

I had two Uncle Bills, one on each side of the family. But it was the Hamilton one who got killed in the Second World War.

William George Bell Hamilton

Birth
o 18 JAN 1920
o in West Calder, West Lothian, Scotland

Death
o 22 MAY 1941
o in HMS Gloucester

My Dad used to go up to the Scottish National War Memorial every year and look him up in the book. You can still visit it without paying the admission to Edinburgh Castle.

I’ve got all the paperwork from my Gran, who had to wait what must have seemed like a lifetime, from the missing in action letter to confirmation of his death. I’ll get round to scanning that in sometime, but here’s a picture of the posthumous medals that got sent to my Grandad.

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Sinking of the HMS Gloucester, 1941

22 May 1941 , Crete

Gloucester formed part of a naval force acting against German military transports to Crete, with some success. On 22 May 1941, while in the Kithera Channel, about 14 mi (12 nmi; 23 km)14 miles (26 km) north of Crete, she was attacked by German Stuka dive bombers and sank, having sustained at least four heavy bomb hits and three near-misses. Of the 807 men aboard at the time of her sinking, only 85 survived. Her sinking is considered to be one of Britain’s worst wartime naval disasters.

The circumstances of the sinking were featured by a BBC programme. According to this, the despatch of Gloucester, alone and low on fuel and anti-aircraft ammunition (less than 20% remaining), into danger was a “grievous error”. Furthermore, the failure to attempt to rescue survivors after dark was “contrary to usual Navy practice”. A survivor commented “The tradition in the Navy is that when a ship has sunk, a vessel is sent back to pick up survivors under cover of darkness. That did not happen and we do not know why. We were picked up by Germans.”

Another account of the sinking differs from, and adds to, the BBC report. In this, Gloucester and Fiji, both already low on ammunition, had been sent to support the rescue of survivors from the destroyer Greyhound. Fierce air attacks further depleted their ammunition and they were given permission to rejoin the main fleet. It was during their return that Gloucester was sunk. Fiji was sunk later the same day.

On 30 May 1941, in a letter to the First Sea Lord, Sir Dudley Pound, Admiral Cunningham wrote, “The sending back of Gloucester and Fiji to the Greyhound was another grave error and cost us those two ships. They were practically out of ammunition but even had they been full up I think they would have gone. The Commanding Officer of Fiji told me that the air over Gloucester was black with planes.”

The wrecksite is a protected place under the Protection of Military Remains Act.

 

Here’s the entry in the Book of Remembrance at the Scottish War Memorial;

Details

Surname HAMILTON
Firstname William George Bell
Service number P/KX119526
Date of death 22/05/1941
Decoration
Place of birth West Calder
Other
SNWM roll ROYAL NAVY AND ROYAL MARINES
Rank Sto 2
Theatre of death

And here she is, before she got sunk.

HMS Gloucester

 

And this is what it looked like when the Huns hit her; (Photograph taken by a German airman recording the sinking of Gloucester off the coast of Crete, 22 May 1941)

HMS GLoucester

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And there wisnae even a war on

My Uncle Bill (William Robinson), my Mums brother, joined the Army in November 1946. He was 19, and the war was over, but he was joining up as a regular soldier, signing up for 5 years, plus 7 years in the reserve. He enjoyed the life of a soldier, as obviously the family trade of shoemaker didnae appeal, and was a boxer and played for the Army football team. In fact, he was so good at football, that Blackburn Rovers asked him to leave the Army and become a professional footballer in England. But he refused.  Eejit.

He left after his 5 years were up, came back to Edinburgh and became a driver for the Chairman of Brown Brothers.  So it must have been a helluva shock, when 5 years after he left the army, they called him back up and parachuted him right into Egypt to fight during the Suez Crisis! He survived, but said he never forgot how the Egyptians knew they were coming, and were shooting his comrades as they floated alongside him. Here’s a couple of pages from his Army book.

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The War may have been over, but rationing went on until 1954. Here’s a couple of scans from what must have been his last ration book, which may be why the Co-op still owe him some eggs.

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Margaret Robinson

Margaret Robinson

My Auntie Margaret, Margaret Robinson (Birth 25 Apr 1916, Death 04 Feb 2003) was the eldest of the Robinson sisters. She married Sonny (Francis Early) and had a daughter also called Margaret (who married Peter and who is still in Edinburgh). She didn’t have much to do with us, and I don’t really recall ever meeting her. I’m pretty sure I was in her house once, but I must have been very young. Here she is pictured with Uncle Bill.

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William (Bill) Robinson

William (Bill) Robinson

William (Bill) Robinson, twin of Alice, was closest to my Mum, and she looked after him after he had a stroke. A confirmed bachelor, he had a few stints in the Army, even being called up when a reservist to be parachuted into Aden. A quality footballer, he was offered professional terms by Blackburn, but wanted to stay in the Army.

And here is my Uncle Bill, in his army days, with bunnet at a ludicrously jaunty angle. As it should be.