Here is the text of Daniel Morgan’s address at the start of this year’s 24/11 ceremony:
Ladies and gentlemen, if I could have your attention please…
On behalf of the Dunedin Society, I would like to welcome you all warmly – or as warmly as this November day will allow – to Southsea for this short memorial service dedicated to the loss of His Majesty’s Ship Dunedin 64 years ago today. Thank you for making the effort to be here. I know that some of you have come an awfully long way. I know too that some of you have been coming here for many years, long before any organized event took place.
With regard to today, in what is rather a case of doing last things first, I would draw your attention to the bottom of today’s memorial information sheet, and extend an invitation to all of you who have the time and the inclination to join us at the Royal Sailors Home Club in Queen Street at the end of this service, where light refreshments will be available.
For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Daniel Morgan, my link to this community being two generations away, namely through my late grandfather, Ted Unwin, who was H.M.S. Dunedin‘s final Executive Officer. It is an honour to have been asked to give this brief address today on behalf of the Dunedin Society, an organization I helped Stuart Gill and Lt-Cdr Chris Broadway and set up four years ago after Stuart and his father Bill had such success in finding other former crew members who had survived the events of November 24, 1941.
More importantly, it gives me particular pleasure to welcome for the first time to a Dunedin Society event Arthur Binley and Andrew McCall, who along with Bill Gill and Jim Davis, both also here today, lived through the harrowing event that we are here to commemorate. They join for the first time at a commemorative event a very small band of former Dunedin men who are still known to be with us. Members of this group also here with us today include Alan Jarvis, Tommy Handley and Keith Mantell. All of these men served on H.M.S. Dunedin at one time but were drafted off the ship prior to its final fateful sailing. The presence of all these former crew members really does give these occasions extra resonance, and I am in no doubt that I speak for everyone here when I say that we are truly grateful for their making this annual winter trip to Portsmouth.
I began this short address at 1321, in keeping with the circumstances of H.M.S. Dunedin loss to two German G7e torpedoes, which 64 years ago were – as I speak – running silently through the water towards their target. They took more than five minutes to reach Dunedin. That we choose to note this timing is not a macabre gimmick, but recognition by the Society that, of all the millions of events that made up the Second World War, this particular one, at this particular time, set in place the cataclysmic event that took so many lives away and affected so many others. These five minutes irrevocably changed the lives of thousands of people.
The sinking of HMS Dunedin was of course just one of several hundred warship losses suffered by the Royal Navy in the Second World War. But the loss of Dunedin was perhaps unique in one respect: unlike all other Royal Navy warships that sunk with very heavy loss of life, this event was – until recently – poorly documented and almost unknown to the outside world.
Principally this is because she was sunk a very long way from home, on lone patrol in the Mid-Atlantic, in circumstances that were not clear even to the Admiralty until much later. Perhaps also, her late November sinking is overshadowed in the history books by a much more public loss, closer to home, of a much larger warship with even greater loss of life: H.M.S. Barham, on 27th November. And of course it was overshadowed by the tide of global events: by the time the survivors were back home, Pearl Harbour had been bombed by the Japanese and America had joined the Allies in the most globalized war there has ever been.
Thankfully, with the publication of Stuart Gill’s magnificent work on the loss of Dunedin, this terrible event has been properly restored to the history books. More importantly, the memories, letters and recollections on which Stuart drew – many of which were provided by those of you who are here today – gave expression to a collective human loss whose impact affected so many lives back in 1941, continued to affect so many lives over the subsequent decades, and will doubtless do so for many years yet.
This aspect of human loss is of course why we are all here today. For when the two 500-kilogram torpedoes of U124 struck the ageing hull of H.M.S. Dunedin at 1326 on 24th November 1941, they did so much more than deprive the Royal Navy of a valuable warship and 85% of her highly efficient and well-trained crew.
As a result of this act of war 64 years ago, 419 families lost someone forever in the unforgiving waters of the Atlantic, many thousands of miles from home. These torpedoes deprived mothers and fathers of their sons. They deprived women of their husbands. They deprived children of their fathers. They deprived wider family of loved ones. And they deprived fiancées and sweethearts of their betrothed.
Nor should we forget, particularly as our gathering is honoured today by the presence of those who were forced to endure this event, that these torpedoes deprived the fortunate survivors of great friends, fellow crew members and partners in a profound camaraderie that perhaps only the horrors of war can forge. Those who died were men with whom those here today had served shoulder to shoulder, in some cases for years, in the fight against the evils of Nazism.
We know all too well that we cannot change the past, that we cannot erase the permanent and unforgiving ink of history. But in our small way, the four generations here today can acknowledge that their sacrifice, the ultimate sacrifice of human life, is not forgotten. In a word, we can remember.
And on this note, I would like to ask Bill Gill, former Royal Marine and now President of the Dunedin Society, to lead the tribute to the lost men of H.M.S. Dunedin.