Lest we forget – Alan Walter

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Supper with Davy Jones. – That’s a phrase derived from one used by my uncle, Alan Walter (pictured right), in the one of his wartime letters sent from Montreal, Canada in September 1939. He was on board SS Tregarthen when it had a near-miss with another ship. He exclaimed: “another 3 inches nearer would have sent us to Davy Jones for supper”.

Here’s the text of another letter he sent from Montreal in the same month:

Dear All

Thanks for your three letters. I wrote one last week but I don’t know if you have got it because of this B. war. We are now in Mont having new plates put in, that were knocked out. The damage is worst (sic) that it was at first estimated and I expect we will be here another two or three days.

We still don’t know where we are going but where ever we go those Bloody Germans have submarines posted (please excuse language but they have had a dozen ships all ready. If we go to Aussy I will write or cable, because normally we take 60 days at sea and now that we have to zig-zag all the way we will be about 90. We started painting the ship gray today, because of this war the Apprentices don’t get any time to study and work all the time, we did four hrs off and 4 on coming over. We were very tired and experienced the coldest weather than I have ever seen. We wore two coats and half a long scarves, but now we are getting the hottest weather I ever had and we are going about out work in bare backs.

Although we had heavy weather coming across I was not sick. I am sending home more photos. Did you see our picture and summary in the Mail and Telegraph after the collision we are doing plenty of hard work stoking, scrubbing and unloading balast.

Love from Alan.

In the end, SS Tregarthen succombed to the torpedoes of German submarine U-48 (led by celebrity Lieutenant Commander Herbert Schultze) on 6th June 1941 with all 45 men on board becoming permanent guests of Mr. Jones at 51°48N 20°48W in the Atlantic.

The ship was in convoy OB329 which consisted of 41 ships and left Liverpool Saturday 31st May 1941, the convoy dispersed Thursday 5th June and the “Tregarthen” was sunk Friday 6th June by U-48 (the most successful U-boat of WWII). The “Tregarthen” was on a voyage from Cardiff to Kingston, Jamaica carrying a cargo of 7800 tonnes of coal and was sunk in approximately 3 minutes after being hit by a double spread of torpedoes both of which hit the ship towards the aft end.

I often think about my uncle, killed at just 18 years old as an apprentice in the merchant navy. He was very interested in nature. Friends say he usually had a dead rabbit somewhere about his person. He liked to draw birds. He was talkative and well-liked by colleagues and friends. He complained in his letters that he was having to work very hard, while getting little time for study. His ship was zipping about all over the Atlantic, bringing back essential supplies to the UK.

I often feel that it is a great privilege to be alive at 54 years of age. This is not a privilege allowed to my Uncle Alan. To enjoy that privilege myself, I am greatly indebted to Uncle Alan and his shipmates on SS Tregarthen for their readiness, when necessary, to take supper with Davy Jones.

First post on November 11th 2011.


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