HMS Dunedin Remembrance 2007: Southsea Naval Memorial

Address by Stuart Gill:

Sixty six years ago, at this very minute, three torpedoes were sent on their way towards HMS Dunedin as she patrolled alone in the South Atlantic in search of an enemy surface vessel.

On board HMS Dunedin were nearly five hundred men. None knew anything of what was happening in the sea beneath them, but the repercussions of what happened a few minutes later would reverberate across the years to the point where we are standing here today in remembrance.

We gather here, at this moment, not for morbid or dramatic reasons. We come here because it gives each of us a point of focus every year whether we are at this spot or in Staffordshire at the permanent HMS Dunedin memorial, or somewhere quite different, perhaps in a quiet place of our own choosing where we can privately remember and pay tribute to the men whose names appear on these walls behind us and who are on our minds today.

I am one of the lucky ones. My father stands here with us today, one of the survivors of the tragic events that we are commemorating. And with him, I see Jim Davis, Andrew “Boy” McCall, Bertie Jeffreys, and Arthur Binley, our survivors. In past years we have been privileged to have others with us – here or at other reunions – Harry Cross, Les Barter, John Miles and Albert Cooke, all of whom we have since sadly lost. I am sorry to say that Tommy Handley, who was lucky enough to leave Dunedin the day before she sailed on her final voyage and who is a staunch supporter and regular at the Dunedin reunions is too ill to be with us today. But he says he’ll see us all next year!

We welcome new members of the Dunedin Society today, including relatives of Telegraphist Horner, Chief Stoker Wicks, Gunner Goldfinch and Lt Paymaster Caws . We also have the son of Able Seaman Knight and the daughter of  Lieutenant Milner, both survivors (but sadly no longer with us). To all our new members I say welcome.

And, as ever, it is good to see again people who have become my good friends in the few years we have been building the HMS Dunedin Socriety.

Our presence here today and the fact that new members of the Society continue to join us, is testament both to the need to remember loved ones and relatives, but also to the enduring wish for us all to remember the sacrifice made by an earlier generation so that we might live in the freedoms we enjoy today.

I am constantly struck by this power, this unwavering desire to recall and to connect with what happened so long ago, this intensely human need to remember. The HMS Dunedin story is a poignant example of how we all share this need. It has enabled us to build the story from a few fragments of memories and fading photographs into a comprehensive account of how a group of ordinary men served their country and lost their lives for it.

Bit by bit, we have pieced together the story of what happened to Dunedin and her men.

We know what happened to HMS Dunedin and we know where and when it happened.

In the time it has taken me to say these words, the three torpedoes were still making their way in the direction of HMS Dunedin as she zig-zagged away from the U-boat.

The men on board were going about their daily lives on one of His Majesty’s light cruisers. Some were on the bridge, still keeping a watchful eye; others were finishing lunch; others were serving lunch; some were just relaxing, trying to escape from the intense heat of the tropical sun.

Others were writing letters home; some might have been reading letters from home, perhaps for the hundredth time as they tried to squeeze out another ounce of news.

The fortunes of war turn men into victims. Men, who were one minute going about their business and the next being propelled into a maelstrom of disaster. I have been speaking for about five minutes, the time it took two of the three torpedoes to reach the ship from the incredible distance of 4,000 metres. The third missed and so did a fourth, fired a few minutes later at close range.

Today we remember and honour the victims of the vagaries of war that beset HMS Dunedin, who, on that lunchtime in November 1941, was making her lonely patrol on a gentle swell in the South Atlantic.

Let me finish with the words of the Admiralty in January 1942: “HMS Dunedin has been doing most difficult and dangerous work with very little rest for everyone on board and was outstandingly efficient at it. We should all remain for ever in the debt of those who died that we may live.”