Hello and welcome to this little story about a

which I consider worthy of viewing on a website, especially if that site can be described as 'naval'.

The naval fraternal spirit is manifestly spread across the many associations which we proudly belong to. In my case, one of those is the Submariners Association.  Recently the Secretary of the Derbyshire Branch of that Association, one Terry Hall, told me of a correspondence he had had with a lady from Derbyshire whose father served in the RNVR during world war two.  Devotees of naval history will recall that had it not been for the reserve forces [RNR, RFR, RNVR to name a few] the Royal Navy would not have been able to fulfil its commitment to the nation such was the enormity of the task, without the great numbers of reservists/volunteers  serving at sea and in support roles ashore.  The father of this lady [Ann ROBBENS nee Hibble] was Lieutenant Commander Bill Green Hibble RNVR, an Australian.

The second world war had two 'end of war dates' the first being the Victory in Europe [VE Day] on 8th May 1945, and the second, the Victory in Japan [VJ Day] on the 14th August 1945. Thus the war ended on VJ Day, a day when the celebrations proper could and did start in earnest.

Just over two months later Bill Green Hibble,  was serving in Portsmouth and was a member of the ward room mess at HMS Victory, the Royal Naval Barracks in Queens Street Portsmouth.

For six long years each and every Trafalgar Day Dinner had been celebrated under the 'clouds of war' starting with October 21st 1939 until October 21st 1944, and the celebration due on October 21st 1945 would be the first without those 'clouds' for many a long year.  Whilst it was to be a continuation of celebrating Lord Nelson and his comrades, this Dinner in particular, must also have celebrated the defeat of the Axis Powers which from a naval perspective, had been executed in the spirit of Nelson.  Notwithstanding the ambiance and diners personal thoughts, the event must be directly associated with the second world war and as such, any recollection of it must be regarded as a piece of our history.

Ann has some of her fathers papers, and amongst them, there is the Menu of the Trafalgar Day Commemoration Dinner [his Menu] which was celebrated on Tuesday 23rd October 1945.  Whilst of importance in itself [for the reasons I have stated above] it is made the more so because of the signatures [autographs] on it which he must have gathered throughout the evening.  He himself has signed the centre-spread page.  The Menu cover has been signed front and rear by thirteen men and all I would think guests and not mess members,  except perhaps for the Mess President.

In the PDF below, you will be able to use the Adobe zoom tool and scroll bars to get a better read of the data. I have also annotated the Menu signatures with numbers which will assist you in deciphering who's who. Sadly [at least at present] I have been unable to decipher four signatures:  it is possible that one might be the signature of the ward room Mess President.  I have also guessed at two others signatures although I am confident they are whom I say they are.  It is pleasing to see that none is of the incomprehensible squiggle type of signature !

Of the greatest importance is of course the signature of Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope KT GCB OM DSO** , our most famous admiral of world war two and known in the Fleet as ABC. At this time he was the First Sea Lord, possibly the ultimate dinner guest at this event ? Admiral Cunningham was born in Ireland to Scottish parents but was educated in Scotland.  He took the name Hyndhope because it was near to his roots in the county of Selkirk, Scotland.

Of the deciphered signatures, the next in importance is Sir Charles Edward Kennedy-Purvis, Admiral KCB who was the Deputy First Sea Lord.

Then:-

 Sir Algemon Usborne Willis, Admiral KCB, promoted to Admiral of the Fleet March 1949,
Sir Arthur Francis Eric Palliser, Vice Admiral CB, Fourth Sea Lord Chief of naval supplies and transport. Promoted Admiral May 1947,
Claud Barrington Barry, Rear Admiral CB, Rear Admiral [Submarines] HMS Dolphin 1942, Naval Secretary to First Sea Lord at this event.  Promoted Vice Admiral in 1946 and then retired. Re-employed 1950-1951 as an Admiral [Retired],
Richard Victor Symonds-Tayler, Commodore Second Class, Chief of Staff to C-in-C Portsmouth [HMS Victory].  Promoted Rear Admiral January 1946 - Vice Admiral March 1949 - Admiral January 1953,
Sir Noel Laurence, Admiral KCB, Retired 1943, [guessed at]
W A Sturdee - Son of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Frederick Charles Doveton Sturdee GCB KCMG CVO of world war one fame, [guessed at]
Harold Wyllie, famous maritime artist whose work adorns the front of the Menu. His name is printed on the Menu underneath the left hand ship and he has signed just to the right of that.

The other four signatures are not yet known.  If you know, I would appreciate an email so that I can update this page.  Thank you in anticipation.

Click here for the PDF TRAFALGAR MENU OCTOBER 1945.pdf

Thank you Ann for sharing your fathers memento with us, which must be considered as a national historic document.

Since writing that thank you to Ann, I have received a few bits and pieces of her fathers relevant to his service in the navy, and to give the story a more personal touch as it were, these have been added here in respect for his services to his country throughout WW2.  It also allows us to look at the Boom Defence Branch now, in 2009, defunct.

First then to his service, to chart his chronological career from start to finish of those most difficult six years of death, destruction and privation.

Just about all reservists/volunteers were appointed into Temporary positions, abbreviated to Ty, and many into Acting roles, the name being rarely abbreviated. The rationale for this was that the war would be temporary [but how long is a piece of string ?} and certainly never in peoples wildest dreams would it be for six long years. Men in the Royal Navy proper were often appointed into Acting roles and called as such, and also appointed for temporary periods,  but the word temporary was never used as it was for the wavy navy.

Note that Bill joined at the end of January 1940 when both the British and the Germans had suffered some major losses to their respective navies in the early weeks of the war with the tragic loss of the Royal Oak and many hundreds of her crew and the self destruction of the Graf Spee with a relatively small loss of lives.

He joined as a Warrant Officer in the Royal Naval Reserve [RNR] and was appointed as a Temporary Boom Engineer. This tells us immediately that he must have had some connection with a navy {British or Australian perhaps} for him to be a reservist directly associated with the permanent navy.  Career officers and men of the Royal Navy, upon leaving the navy, are, if eligible for a re-call to serve in times of war or emergency, discharged to civilian life with an obligation enshrined by law, to obey any re-call notwithstanding.  For this commitment they received a small cash bounty. You will note from the title of the document in List 1 below, that upon completion of the war [and of Bill's service] he was in the RNVR {Royal Naval Voluntary Reserve} meaning quite literally that he not a naval man {he could well have been a mercantile mariner or a fisherman, or a man of the sea per se} although many volunteers had no knowledge of the sea. During these years the navy was a complicated organisation without the clear dividing line the navy of today has namely that of the upper deck and the lower deck - officers and ratings.  Then warrant officers were considered as officers and whilst not living in the wardroom, they mustered with wardroom officers {and gunroom officers} quite separately from the men of the lower deck. They, like commissioned officers were appointed [not drafted as were ratings], wore officer style uniforms {four buttons instead of a ratings three buttons}, carried swords and many of their number were to become commissioned warrant officers and then commissioned officers but usually no higher than the lieutenants rank.  For this first list below, Bill was still a warrant officer and serving in the RNR as at the 25th May 1942 virtually all his service being in foreign parts. Boom Engineer is really a civilian title with the navy usually using just BD -Boom Defence - and during WW2 the BD Branch comprising of officers who were 'engineers' in the use of booms and their associated devices and ratings who were BD 'technicians', was large, employed in all parts of the world and were much admired for keeping vital navigable waterways and harbour safe from enemy infiltration.  They were men who were quintessentially 'seamen' who were conversant with ropes, wires, splices, knots, nets, mines, obstacles, engines, cables, you name it and they spent just about every wakening moment out on the water is a variety of boats, vessels and crafts.  Unlike the mainstream navy, they didn't go to sea into deep water {except when steaming to their appointed geographical operating area}, but when the mainstream navy returned to harbour or a sheltered haven, the BD boys were waiting with the welcome and the provision of a secure R&R {Rest and Recreation} stop-over.  Boom Defence is much too complicated to explain in this media, and I always like to show this picture when trying to do that branch justice. Portsmouth harbour gives succour to the premier British naval port safe haven. From as far a field as the Tudor times, a rope or chain-cable has rested on the sea bed across the harbour mouth ready to be hauled taut {by hand capstans} to stop enemy ships from sailing into the harbour.  Shortly after the start of the 20th century, that rope/cable had become a cumbersome and complicated boom stretched between Spice Island {Portsmouth side} and Fort Blockhouse {Gosport side}.  My picture shows the sailors who at that time were not BD men {but ordinary sailors} exercising the 'boom' and all the nets and gadgets which were attached to it.

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This was the basic badge worn by ratings of the Boom Defence Branch.  For senior members the badge would be adorned with a crown above the badge, and for all, the addition of a series of stars denoting proficiency.   It shows a marlin spike placed in the centre of a shackle. 

To help you to understand the Boom Defence Branch and what Bill did for nearly eight years of his life have a look at this pdf file BOOM DEFENCE - HARBOUR DEFENCE.pdf  Note the entry FOSSBECK to which I will return to in List 2 below.

This document was issued by the Admiralty and deals with Bill's official sea time.  We will learn that in addition he had experience in the merchant vessel M/V Rodi as well as in HMS Fossbeck.

 

Period 1 - Start of war until late May 1942. Now to the first of three lists.  Bill joined the BD Branch in Scotland at HMS Cochrane which is in Rosyth on the Firth of Forth not far from Edinburgh. After just a couple of weeks he was whisked off to Malta to the main naval barracks of HMS St Angelo right bang in the middle of Grand Harbour which very soon afterwards was to be bombed {far more severely than the London Blitz} by the German and Italian air forces. Known as the Siege of Malta it lasted from 1940 until 1942 and so Bill would have been stationed there in what until the Vietnam War, was one of the greatest saturation bombing of a land mass ever recorded. In late January 1941 he was moved east to Egypt to HMS Nile at Alexandria, normally a lovely Mediterranean posting. HMS Nile was a shore establishment,  based at Ras el Tin Point, Alexandria, HMS Nile had a large number of personnel on the books - mainly those based in the Eastern Mediterranean. Alexandria was the main British naval base for the central/eastern Mediterranean fleet {Gibraltar being the Western Base} with Malta being the sought after base but besieged by the Axis forces at this time. Remember that the Mediterranean fleet had many roles to fulfil and these were the closure of the supply line to Rommel in North Africa; the destruction of the Italian Fleet; the supplying of the life line to Malta and her long suffering people; and the support of Allied forces endeavouring to attack the under belly of Europe to engage the Germans in Crete, Scilly and the Greek and Italian main lands. Alexandria was critically important to Admiral Cunningham the C-in-C in the Mediterranean but until made secure it was a potentially dangerous harbour given the expertise of the enemy and specifically that of the Italian frogmen who manned underwater weapons known as human torpedoes.  The worst disaster was the attack on HMS Queen Elizabeth in December 1941 which caused a great deal of damage to the mighty 15" gun battleship.  However, she was taken to the USA for repairs, and once repaired, did stirling work in the Far East against the Japanese.  She survived the war and in 1948 she was sold for scrapping. Bill was not in Egypt when this attack occurred. Note that throughout the lists the abbreviation 'addl'. This means additional and if we were to take the first entry it means that the man is accommodated and victualled [fed] in HMS St Angelo {where his pay account is held} but he doesn't work there; he works for the Boom Defence Depot of Malta.  In May of 1941 he was re-appointed to HMS Sheba which is the main barracks in Aden at the south end of the Red Sea. Here, HMS Sheba looked after some of his material requirements but Port Sudan {his place of work} was a long way from Aden so he would have been accommodated somewhere in that port. Port Sudan was founded by the British in 1909 as the terminus of a rail line linking the Red Sea to the River Nile. It is on the Red Sea immediately opposite to the Saudi port of Jiddah which receives pilgrims on their way to Mecca 334 kM from Port Sudan which is 1126 kM from Aden as the crow flies. After seven months at Port Sudan he was moved south out of the Sudan and into Eitrea to the port of Massawa now known as Mitsiwa still in the Red Sea, a distance of 500 kM, effectively now 675 kM from Aden as the crow flies. His pay account etc therefore stays at Aden at HMS Sheba. By May 1942 his pay account had been shifted to HMS Stag, a shore base in Port Said which looked after all naval personnel based in Egypt. However his duties were back with the Naval Officer in Charge [N.O.I.C] Port Sudan.  Port Said was 1260 kM north of Port Sudan so only a little further on than was Aden, but HMS Stag had outlaying posts in several Egyptian places and the nearest to Port Sudan was at Port Tewfik {or Tewfiq} at the very bottom of the Suez Canal {by the city of Suez} on entering the Red Sea. Port Tewfik was 1140 kM from Port Sudan.  Clearly there are pieces missing for we don't know how he travelled from one part of the world to another save for this little piece of paper. It tells of how he got from Malta to Egypt to fulfil his second appointment in Alexandria.

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For those of you who would like to know about naval warrant officers and their uniforms, customs, pay, privileges etc, have a look at these pages THE ROYAL NAVY WARRANT OFFICER PART ONE  THE ROYAL NAVY WARRANT OFFICER PART TWO  THE ROYAL NAVY WARRANT OFFICER PART THREE.  The warrant officer rank which would have been familiar to all during WW2 ceased to be in 1949.

Period 2 - 18th June 1942 to 31st July 1944 On the 18th June and nearly 2˝ years since joining, Bill stopped being a warrant officer. The next day, the 19th, he was officially promoted with a commission and given the rank of Temporary Lieutenant [E] {'E' Meaning Engineer}. Had he continued with the RNR he would have worn two straight stripes {in the Royal Navy we call rings stripes} but instead he was transferred to the RNVR at this date and wore two wavy navy stripes. He finished the rest of his service in the RNVR. As a newly commissioned officer he continued his duties as a Boom Defence officer at Port Sudan and his account stayed at HMS Stag. A few weeks later he was back at Alexandria and HMS Nile. On the 11th December 1942 he was appointed to HMS Rooke as additional but without a portfolio.  HMS Rooke is the main shore barracks in Gibraltar. This could so easily have been a rest period for him and just one month later he was back in the UK stationed in London at the Admiralty on Whitehall.  His accounts were therefore administered in HMS President headquarter ship for all naval personnel in the capital. Here, he resumed his Boom Defence duties.  On the 8th March 1944, after 1 year 4 months in London, he was at Portsmouth for special duties in Boom Defence matters and now his account was at HMS Victory III.  The title HMS Victory was ambiguous because there was Nelsons flagship and the main Portsmouth naval barracks both called HMS Victory with outlaying stations also affected. HMS Victory III was an administrative title directly associated with the main Barracks.  In late May 1944 Bill was involved with a ship called HMS FOSSBECK and this as a direct result of his previous employment viz "special duties at Portsmouth Boom Depot" in which he had been involved in a highly secret planning with the invasion of Europe very much to the fore. On joining HMS Fossbeck he was given an Acting Lieutenant Commander [E] rank and his ship was assigned to "special duties with the Boom Defence Officer of Group A". The Operation was to be called OPERATION FORCE MULBERRY which is now part of history. It was designed to place artificial harbours at Normandy immediately after the D-Day landings had been executed. It was to be an exciting two months for Bill and you can read that story here in which the name HMS Fossbeck appears several times. Full text of "FORCE MULBERRY".  Finally in this list, Bill goes back to Portsmouth to continue his "special duties" obviously in direct support of the Normandy Landings.

During Bill's service,  naval officers wore a coloured cloth between the stripes or in the case of a sub lieutenant, below their single stripe.  Executive officers {seamen officers} did not wear coloured cloth.  Engineering officers wore the colour PURPLE whereas electrical officers wore the colour DARK GREEN.

Period 3 - 31st March 1945 to 14th August 1947 On the 31st March 1945, Bill is rewarded with the rank of Temporary Acting Lieutenant Commander [E] notwithstanding any appointment he may have.  He is permanent [as it were] although he is temporary because of his RNVR status !

He remains in Portsmouth until the end of the war in Europe and on the 25th June 1945 he starts to work on Boom Defence matters but this time in Gosport, on the other side of Portsmouth harbour.

At the beginning of November 1945 he is appointed to Ceylon to the naval base at Trincomalee where HMS Highflyer is the shore base.  Here, I should imagine, with the pressures of the war now gone and the lovely climate,  he relaxed and enjoyed his 1˝ year stay there. On the 13th May 1947 he returned home to the UK, to Chatham in Kent and the main barracks HMS Pembroke. One week later he was once again a free man who had served his country well.  He remained on full pay for  virtually three further months and was finally released on the 14th August 1947.  The mention of "Released Class A" simply means as follows.

The essential details of Bevin’s demob plan had been announced back in September 1944. It divided servicemen into two categories, or classes. Most men – nine out of ten – were in Class A. For these men, the order in which they would be demobilized was calculated according to two factors: their date of birth, and the month that their war service began. Two months of service were equivalent in value to one year of age. Each servicemen was allocated a Release Group Number that he could consult on a simple table published in the official Forces guidebook, Release and Resettlement. The older you were and the longer you had served, the lower your Group Number would be. Groups were to be released in turn, with Group 1 first, then Group 2, and so on.

It is rather a pity that Bill Hibble's record is not recorded on this website as I believe it should be Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) Officers 1940-1945

For his service he was awarded five medals. The 1939-1945 Star  - the Africa Star - the France and Germany Star - the Defence Medal and the War Medal 1939-1945.  As per normal practice for WW2 medals they are not rim marked as were WW1 medals and today's medals. This is how Bill was informed of his medal rights - click on the thumbnail below.  So many people consider it a meanness that our Government did not issue a separate medal for the Siege of Malta, the Africa Star being the recognised Malta medal. I note the desire of at least one family member to have a set of medals to replace lost medals in this case Bill's miniature medals, the ones he would have worn on the night of the Trafalgar Night dinner on his mess undress, the very reason for writing this web page. Such a set is very easy to procure commercially and at a low cost.  I know that it is not the same as owning the originals,  but since they were unmarked, having a set of pristine medals and ribbons matches the requirement and after all, they are symbolic and personal rewards of loved ones who lived in harsher time than we have ever done, their service and devotion to duty laying the foundation for our good and secure future. Men and women born in the 'black years' rendering them eligible to suffer the war years of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 plus all in between including total privations and going without, are honoured and revered, and having a set of medals just helps to say thank you to them.  Thus, my advice is to purchase those five medals as miniatures {or as full sized medals - a little more expense but worth it and from the same commercial source} fully mounted and ready to wear, so that on occasions like Remembrance Day YOU can attend any ceremony wearing your Dad's medals on your right side, and be proud, unashamedly.

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Regrettably, the Royal Cipher is not at all clear on the top part of this picture which sits above the top line of "The Secretary of the Admiralty...."

 

Click here Arrow Themeset to see a small photograph album.