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The staff of the Sick Bay on HMS Hecla
those who died - and those who lived

The staff of the Sick Bay were photographed on the deck of HMS Hecla while it was based at Havelfjord, Iceland, in 1941. Fred "Slinger" Woods belonged to the dental branch and was not included in this photograph of the sick bay staff but he was able to put names to the faces. He knew them all quite well as the dental branch shared accommodation for a while with the sick bay mess onboard.

Sick Bay Team on HMS Hecla

The medical officers and Sick Berth Attendants (SBA) on HMS Hecla at Havelfjord in Iceland
  Standing from left: George Morrell, Les ("Ginger") Rowles, Brian ("Bernard") Shaw, CPO Norman Brown ("Brownie"), Walter Joyce, PO Charles Bastable and George Male.
Seated in front: Surg. Lt Cdr C. de W. Kitcat RNVR (left) and Surgeon Lt Stephen L. Hetherington RNVR
Brian Shaw and CPO Norman Brown died when Hecla was torpedoed.
Ronald Wright and Walter Sadler who joined Hecla during its refit at Glasgow also died that night.
Courtesy of Kenneth Brown

Some of the sick  bay team may have left at Glasgow during the refit. Walter H. Sadler, Ronnie Wright, Maurice Hudson and Arthur Ching joined during the refit but Arthur was "a supernumerary in the ship, a relief for casualties in the fleet".

Two dental surgeons, Surgeon Lt (D) K. Rees LDS and Surgeon Lt (D) A. McPherson RNVR LDS, joined HMS Hecla at Glasgow in January 1941 but they were members of the Dental Branch of the Royal Navy and not part of the Sick Bay team. Fred "Slinger" Woods in Australia, recalled the names of the SBA(D): "The Dental Branch included LSBA (D) Arthur Bullock, LSBA (D), Fred Woods, who worked with Surgeon McPherson. The other section of the Dental branch was Dental Mechanic A. Moncrieff and PO Dental Mechanic Brian Collings" (Lorraine Woods).  Slinger Woods died after a fall in February 2018.

The medical staff and Sck Bay Attendants, including members of the Dental Branch, on the day HMS Hecla was torpedoed

This list is extracted ftom the complete crew list compiled by TNT Data Services from the Pay and Victualing Ledgers which can be downloaded as a PDF from this web site.

Medical staff on HMS Hecla

Arthur Ching described what happened  on the night of the 11 November 1942:

"At 11 pm on the 11 November 1942 Hecla was struck by the first of five torpedoes, in a boiler room beneath the sick Bay where Brownie and I were sleeping, we immediately dressed and got the sick patients to the wardroom ante-room, after this, two more torpedoes struck the ship, which cut off power to the boat hoists. The captain gave the orders to "abandon ship", which necessitated lowering of all the rafts etc with no lights; there was bound to be some confusion and I believe that some people were struck by falling life-rafts and sustained fatal injuries. My last sight of Brownie was in the wardroom prior to 'abandon ship'."

George Male wrote in a letter to Kenneth Brown that:

"My last memory of your Father is that late that night I was with him, the Medical  Officers and other Sick Berth Staff when we mustered aft in the Quartermaster’s lobby. We had by then done what we could for two men, badly burned, who had come up from the boiler room. I know your Father got off the Ship but did not see him again."

Les Rowles described what happened in a letter to Bob Moore on the 12 February 1988:

“Our PMO Lt Cdr Kitcat told us to look after ourselves, so my pal and I slid down a rope into the drink and started to swim to Marne which had stopped to pick up survivors. We didn’t swim far as the Marne’s stern was blown off before our eyes so Bernard and I thought we would be best off on a raft. The raft was overladen and had people hanging on to the sides. Every so often we would get tossed off and had to swim back and every time we swam back there would be less of us as the night passed. It was surprising how far people would drift from each other in such a short time. We had little lights plugged into our lifebelts and you could see them bobbing about in all directions, a sight never to be forgotten. During the night a destroyer slid close to us; they threw us a line, we missed it and she sped off much to our disappointment.

We were picked up by Venomous about 1700 hours. I remember trying to climb aboard but slipping back; someone said grab him and I was hauled aboard where I just flaked out. When I came to our PO’s Officers’ Cook was standing over me looking after my belt. He was very upset, he told me his mate, a young lad named Moss [Brian C Moss, Cook(O), DM/X.70330] was gone.  Also around me were a couple of Venomous’ lads with a tot which was pushed down me, I had no choice; also a cigarette and not forgetting the corn beef straight out of the tin with fingers (not enough knives and forks to go round). It tasted good.”

Lt Cdr H.C.R. Alexander RN, the Navigating Officer on Hecla, witnessed the rescue of the Sick Bay Team by HMS Venomous: "When dawn came Venomous was busy picking up survivors, some still clinging to bits of timber, some dead, others lying on small planks, a very few on Carley floats of which the most heartwarming was the Sick Berth staff led by young Surgeon Lieutenant Hetherington, keeping stroke with their paddles and singing the 'Volga Boat Song' together with their wounded casualties".

The two officers and most of the Sick Berth Attendants survived including George Male, Kenneth Collings, Les Rowles, Fred ("Slinger") Woods, Monty Moncrieff (MX75336), Maurice Hudson (MX80425) plus the supernumerary, Petty Officer Arthur Ching. The two dentist, Surgeon Lt (D) K. Rees LDS and Surgeon Lt (D) A. McPherson RNVR LDS, also survived. George Leonard Morrell was born at Newton Abbot, Devon, in 1920 and joined Hecla on Christmas Day 1940 shortly before she was commissioned. Hecla was his first and last ship. After his rescue he was posted to HMS Drake at Devonport and in November 1942 to the Royal Marine base at Lympstone, Devon. He left the Navy as a Sick Berth CPO in 1961. His sister married Edward (Eddie) Diggines (MX52889), a cook on Hecla.

Chief Pretty Officer Norman Brown(D/E.36509), Leading Sick Berth Attendant William Brian Coulson Shaw (D/KX.64151), known as Brian Shaw, SBA Ronald Wright (D/MX.80073) and SBA Walter Sadler (D/MX.72983) died that night.

Brian Shaw stayed with the Roux family on their farm at Bainskloof in Western Cape on "uphomers" while Heclawas being repaired after detonating the mine on 15 May 1942. Louise Duncan sent me scans of the letters Brian Shaw wrote to her Mother Cynthia Roux and her Mother's letters to his parents, Edmund Coulson Shaw and Florence Hoskins Shaw, of Frodsham, Cheshire, after his death and in 2017 I was able to trace and return these letters to his family.

The Principal Medical Officer (PMO), Surg. Lt Cdr Cecil de Winton Kitcat RNVR (1900-67), had followed his two cousins, brothers, into the Royal Navy. He retired as a Sen. Cons. Chest Phys. in Somerset and lived at Nether Stowey. His deputy, Surgeon Lt Stephen Lonsdale Hetherington RNVR (1914-93), became a GP in Caversham, Reading, and lived in Henley on Thames. Both his son, Dr Peter Hetherington, and grandson took up medicine as a profession but were not called upon to serve their country at sea in wartime.

Greg Clark, the "Schoolie", on HMS Hecla was the youngest officer when he joined her on Boxing Day 1940. After the war he became a Curator at the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth and wrote Doc: One Hundred Year History of the Sick Berth Branch which was published by the RN Museum in 1984. Although out of print copies can be found on the Internet.

Return to the "Home Page" for HMS Hecla
to find out more about its history and the stories of other survivors

The story of HMS Venomous is told by Bob Moore and Captain John Rodgaard USN (Ret) in
A Hard Fought Ship
A Hard Fought Ship contains the most detailed account of the loss of HMS Hecla yet published
  Buy the new hardback edition online for 35 post free in the UK
Take a look at the Contents Page and List of Illustrations

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