Duncan Blair's Story


Duncan was a 19 year old Able Seaman on the Glowworm. He is currently living in retirement in Australia. What you are about to read are his words spoken on tape and sent to me:

'The Glowworm was with the Renown to screen the minelayers that intended to mine the entrance to Narvik. On the morning of 7th April 1940 we lost a man overboard by the name of Ricky. Able Seaman Ricky, who was a lifebuoy sentry.

We were ordered to turn around and search for him. Well this we did, and we did it for hours and hours, and unfortunately he was never recovered. We turned to rejoin the unit. After steaming for what seemed hours and hours we were unable to find them. We did however run into some very heavy weather. In fact it was force 10 on the Richter scale. Believe me it was really terrible weather. I've never experienced anything like it in my life before nor since.

On the morning of 8th April as we were steaming in the hope of picking up the rest of the unit, we came across two German destroyers which we immediately engaged. We were fortunate enough to inflict some damage on one of the destroyers and they both turned and fled immediately back into the squalls that were blowing across the ocean. When we appeared on the other side of the squall, lo and behold in front of us was this bloody great German ship, The Hipper. The Captain ordered smoke to be laid so we had a smoke screen, and we turned around and went back into it. When we came back out of it the next thing was to fire torpedoes at her, which was done. But unfortunately none of them found their mark, which may have made a big difference to the whole episode.

In the meantime we had received many hits. We had dived back into the smoke screen. When we came out the Captain said "stand by to ram" and that is what happened. We turned around and we ran straight into the Hipper smashing into her side and tearing a gaping hole in her. I believe this was instrumental in disabling her water desalination plant. As we turned away we received many hits some of them very serious. In fact one of them ripped a hole in the engine room in the starboard side of the ship. The Captain, then realising that we were sinking, ordered us to abandon ship.

I was in the Petty Officers' Mess as an ammunition handler. When the order came I went through onto the starboard side of the fo'c'sle. There was a Carley raft there which was still in tact. I believe it was the only one that was left in that condition. But to undo the lashings was impossible as the seawater had tightened the rope up considerably. I could not undo it by hand. There was a young Able Seaman there by the name of Morris from Bournemouth. I asked him if he had a knife on him because I wasn't allowed to carry a knife being in ammunition supply. He produced a very small penknife that his girlfriend had given him. It had on it "Souvenir of Bournemouth" or something like that. I managed to cut the Carley raft free from its lashings. Morris and I heaved it over the side. There were two splashes, one as the raft hit the water and one as I hit the water along side it. I managed to scramble aboard but what happened to Morris I'll never know because from that day to this I never saw him again.

The raft slid alongside the ship and me and the other men in the water managed to push off so that we weren't carried into the gaping hole in the starboard side. Eventually after we had cleared the ship I turned round and saw the ship sliding under.

The last person to talk to our Captain was a Petty Officer named Townsend. Both he and the Captain used to play cricket for the flotilla. The Captain said to Townsend: "I don't think we'll be playing cricket for a long time yet". Then he proceeded to go to the wardroom where the sea cocks were situated to open them and sink the ship.

We were in the water for quite a considerable time before the Hipper returned and proceeded to pick up survivors. Among the survivors a few names have come to mind; Petty Officer Townsend; Petty Officer Walter Scott; Leading Seaman Smith from Southampton; Leading Seaman Shergold; Able Seaman Andrew Perry; Able Seaman Edgar Seeward; Able Seaman Bob Rainer; Able Seaman Mallett; Able Seaman Merritt; Petty Officer Gregg and one or two others.

Eventually I was helped out of the water with a rope. From my waist down I was absolutely frozen. I never felt so cold in all my life and I don't think I've warmed up yet. We were taken to Wilhelmshaven and handed over to the military authorities where they proceeded to interrogate us. Two of our ratings who were ASDIC operators had an immediate change of status by becoming torpedo men. After interrogation we were sent to a prison camp in a place called Spannenburg in Germany where we were registered in an officer's camp of all things. I was given POW number 161. Then we were sent to a naval camp near Bremerhaven. Whilst there I met two Flight Sergeants who had been shot down over Germany on the day war was declared, operating a leaflet drop.

I finish by saying two of the brightest moments in my life were: one when I joined Her Majesty's Royal Yacht Victoria and Albert at Portsmouth in 1945 during the Coronation season. I was one of the six boys on the ship who were awarded the Coronation Medal. The other great moment of my life was when I eventually returned home and heard the news that the Captain of Glowworm Lt Cdr Roope had been awarded the Victoria Cross. The very first action of World War II resulting in the award of the VC'.


Above: Duncan (centre) With My Uncle Bill (right) and another sailor from the Glowworm at somewhere called the 'Chorus Bar Quadrangle', just before the war.


Above: Duncan when he was serving on HMS Victory.

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