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History of HMS Dorsetshire 1930 to 1942

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Dorsetshire prewar
Dorsetshire prewar
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Type: Heavy Cruiser
Class: Dorsetshire
Pennant: 40
Built By: Portsmouth Dockyard
Cammell Laird Shipyard Birkenhead
Laid down: 21 September 1927
Launched: 29 January 1929
Commissioned: 30 September 1930
Lost: 5 April 1942


After commissioning Dorsetshire was the flagship of the 2nd Cruiser Squadron Atlantic Home Fleet, and then between 1933 and 1935 was on the Africa station. After a refit in 1936 she joined the 5th Cruiser Squadron on the China station and was in that area when war broke out in 1939.

In October 1939 when German surface raiders appeared on the oceans, Dorsetshire was despatched with Cornwall and Hermes to form Force I to hunt down the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee which was finally cornered at Montevideo on the River Plate in December 1939. During the early part of 1940, Dorsetshire carried out trade protection duties in the South Atlantic searching for Axis blockade-runners. In February she intercepted the German Wakama off Rio and the German crew scuttled the ship.

At the end of May 1940 the cruiser arrived at Plymouth and then sailed for Freetown employed to protect convoys between Sierra Leone and Great Britain. In May 1941 she was diverted to hunt for the battleship Bismarck that had broken out into the North Atlantic. This search culminated in her shelling and torpedoing the crippled battleship and administering the coup de gras. During the encounter with Bismarck the Dorsetshire expended 254 shells and 3 torpedoes.

In July 1941 HMS Dorsetshire was in Newcastle upon Tyne undergoing a small refit, after which she sailed to Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, to Glasgow on the Clyde and finally to her new station in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where she would be based whilst on trade protection duties escorting convoys down the West African coast.

Whilst on these duties Dorsetshire encountered the German raider supply ship, Python west of St. Helena in December 1941. The German crew scuttled their ship but one of the U boats, UA that had been moored to the Python when they were found, quickly dived and fired five torpedoes at the Dorsetshire - luckily they all missed!

When Japan entered the conflict, Dorsetshire joined the Eastern Fleet based in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and whilst undergoing a refit in April 1942, mainly to add anti-aircraft armament, they were ordered to re-join the main fleet under Vice Admiral James Somerville who was refuelling at Addu Atoll in the Maldive islands.

The British had been warned that a Japanese battle fleet was approaching Ceylon from the Bay of Bengal to the east. (Historians refer to this incursion as the Indian Ocean Raid). The Dorsetshire left Colombo in Ceylon at 2200hrs on the evening of the 4th of April 1942 together with the Cruiser HMS Cornwall. They travelled at maximum speed south and west of Ceylon to reach their planned rendezvous in the Maldives at 1600hrs the next day, Easter Sunday.

Unfortunately, Naval intelligence had drastically underestimated the range of the enemy aircraft and a Japanese spotter plane from the approaching carrier force found both Dorsetshire and Cornwall steaming towards the Maldives. Fifty-three Japanese Val bombers attacked the two British ships in groups of three, diving with the sun behind them to make themselves a difficult target. Both ships were sunk in a very short time, and from a total complement of 1,546 officers and men 1,122 were rescued after they had been in the water for 30 hours.

The Cruiser HMS Enterprise and the British destroyers HMS Paladin and HMS Panther found the crews in the water after almost giving up the search, as the area had already been covered without finding anything and darkness was not far off. The Captain was told the search was complete but he insisted the search was to continue and when asked in which direction he answered, "The direction we are already going in is as good as any". Shortly after the search resumed, the last rays of the sun reflected on a biscuit tin nailed to an oar being held aloft by the wretched survivors. The lookouts saw these reflections and the survivors from the Dorsetshire and Cornwall, five miles away, were found.

Today HMS Dorsetshire lies at the bottom of the Indian Ocean at position 01.54N, 77.45E, which is approximately 500 miles SSW of Sri Lanka.


Stoker 1st Class

Francis Albert Anstis DKX/122179

This is the story of Frank Anstis Naval service during WW2.

It describes how he came to join the navy, survive the sinking of the cruiser HMS Dorsetshire and finally make his way home to loved ones in Devon. The story centres round events on Easter Sunday 5th April 1942 in the Indian Ocean, 500 miles south west of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka).

1 - The Naval Volunteer

I was born at the small village of Greenham near Wellington in Somerset on 31/10/1921. My family and I moved around a great deal during my childhood because my father, an agricultural worker with a responsible job, was unable to hold down a job for any length of time because of recurring illness.

I left school at 14 and because of my interest in radio, electrics and mechanics I tried in vain to get an apprenticeship. Employers at that time expected to be paid for the privilege of training their apprentices which was economically out of the question for my parents.

So I started work as a gardener in a Manor house called Grantlands in the village of Uffculme nearby. I worked at Grantlands for four and a half years and did quite well. The elderly lady of the house had three sons. When she died the sons had a sale and disposed of the majority of the contents of the house and when the Army approached the sons about the house, Grantlands was sold and the Army moved in. It was not long before the Army reduced the Manor House to a shadow of its former self.

I left Grantlands when the house was sold, and was unemployed for a fortnight. I had a five-mile cycle ride to draw unemployment pay, which was a princely sum of 8 shillings (40p)! That made somebody bloody laugh!

I decided to join up as a volunteer rather than waiting for the inevitable call up. As a volunteer I would be able to choose which of the three services I wanted to join. As I was already 19 years old call up would soon have happened anyway. I believed that the Navy was the best of the 3 services and what appealed to me was that naval sea battles often took place up to 20 miles apart so we wouldn't be at close quarters with the enemy. Another reason I decided to join the Navy was that I thought it would be safer than the Army. I also very much liked the uniform and my girlfriend's father was an ex Royal Marine with a lot of stories about the First World War. As I was a volunteer, had I failed the Navy medical I could have simply gone home and waited to be called up in the normal way.

I signed on in Exeter on 28th February 1941 passing my medical A1. After joining up, my parents thought I had been looking around for another job but I had actually decided to join the Navy. A few days later I received a railway warrant and orders to report to HMS Royal Arthur in Skegness, a former Butlin's holiday camp in peacetime. I was nearly 20 years of age and this would be the first time I had ever been away from home so it was going to be a great adventure for me. We arrived in darkness. Each of us thought we were on our Jack Todd, but when we stopped at a branch line for Skegness we realised that there had been lots of us all going to the same training camp on the same train. There we were kitted out, and received basic training square bashing, swimming tests etc. for eight weeks after which I was sent on leave and went home to Waterloo Cross for a week.

I did my practical training at HMS Cabot, a former orphanage taken over by the Navy in Bristol. When this phase of my training had ended I came, eventually, to HMS Drake, my Depot in Devonport, Plymouth. I had not been in Plymouth more than a few weeks when I was drafted with various other people from different departments up to Hebburn, Newcastle on Tyne, to join my first ship HMS Dorsetshire. She was a County class cruiser. I was flabbergasted at her sheer size floating there in the harbour. I had never seen Navy boats or ships and knew nothing about them, but I was very keen to know, very interested. I went aboard with the other lads and were shown our mess deck where we were to live and sleep, and given our watch. The crew was divided into starboard and port watches - I was in the starboard watch. I was taken down to the engine rooms and saw the size and pressures of steam that were used. There were four Parsons turbine engines driven by super heated steam.

My first night aboard I was given a hammock position that was about 7ft above deck on rails; this was my sleeping position for the time I spent on board. My hammock was allocated above the end of the mess table where we ate. On the table below my hammock our tea and sugar boxes were stored. Everyone slept in hammocks in our mess and there were about ten or twelve of us in each mess. I had been shown how to tie in the clews of my hammock and to re-make it on rising. They came round and checked it and passed it. They said, "Yes boy, that's all right, you can do it up now", they wanted to see me "lash up and stow" as they called it. It did look good when it was "lashed up" but when I slung it up and hopped up on the pull rail to get in I tipped myself ass-over head landing on the table and knocking over the tea and everything. Everyone thought this was bloody funny, except me - there were tears in my eyes.

Most of the others seemed to get away with it but some of their hammocks looked very twisted as well and not very safe to sleep in. Then an old timer, a three badger who would have done a considerable time in the service said "Don't worry, I'll show you how to have the best hammock on the mess". He went and got a spreader to spread one end of the hammock to allow space for a pillow and give me headroom. He knew his stuff and in an hour he had everything done.

The Navy asked me what my trade was, I told them I was a gardener, They said they couldn't give me a job as a gardener but as I was interested in mechanics the best place for me was the engine room. This suited me down to the ground. After about a fortnight in harbour we sailed to Scapa Flow in the Orkneys, a very desolate, cold, place at that time of the year. I soon achieved the position of stoker first class on promotion and that made a few extra bob a week difference in my pay.

I was starboard watch on board and I could be allocated to either A or B boiler room which meant that I could possibly be attending either boiler in either boiler room on the starboard side. The duty allocation was allotted at the start of each watch.

The boilers were triangular shaped made by Babcock and Wilcox, Yarrow.

Steam was produced as saturated steam then re-heated as superheated steam to drive the ship's turbine engines. Between the three triangular-shaped tubes were thirteen cones with high-pressure oil jets vaporising heated black oil into a vapour and pressurised through the jets into the main furnace. My job was to watch the chief stoker's hand signals. When more revs were required in the engine rooms the chief stoker would give a hand signal, up two fires, up four fires etc. The top speed was twenty-eight knots which is thirty-four miles an hour or so. When the order was given to increase speed I immediately opened up the jet by pulling a lever which opened a flap on the top and bottom of that particular fire and that would ignite one furnace between the triangular tube sections. That was my normal job.

I was also required to check, in spare moments, fire and bilge pumps, and other small bits of equipment. When I first joined as second-class stoker I was also required to make the cocoa in the middle of the watch. We used to pinch potatoes from the potato locker and place them under the pipe lagging in the boiler room to bake them. Certain engineering officers would come down, ignoring the lovely smell, pick up my decarbonning rod I used for cleaning off the cones and poke the potatoes out treading on them so they were inedible. That happened at times.

Security and discipline was very strict on HMS Dorsetshire and I was not immune.

I wrote letters regularly to my girlfriend (now my wife of course). The officers censored all letters, they looked for any factual information that might have been innocently written down and obscured them with a red pen. As I wasn't a great letter writer, and writing so regularly, I found it difficult to think of new subjects and news to write about that had not been mentioned in previous letters home. On one occasion I wrote a letter to my girlfriend that would have gone as an air-graph letter. I started thinking. Wouldn't it be nice to tell Rene where I was and what we were doing? I had no more sense than to write down some words on a scribble pad to check the spelling and see if they looked right. On the same scribble pad I wrote the places on route from Newcastle down to Ceylon. Because I had the scribble pad on top of my letter the pressure came through to my letter. The imprint of the various names I had written down was discovered in my letter when it was censored and I was put on Commander's report and scolded rather badly. They accepted my explanation but said that we no way wrote down any names of any ports or gave details of what we were doing. I received 5 days stoppage of pay, which was quite a lot of money and I thought was very unfair - going to see the Commander, double march, off caps, stand at attention, tell him your story, the reasons why, get scolded, on caps, and double off quickly. I felt quite humiliated.

We all had the option to receive or decline the traditional daily tot of Navy rum known as grog (because it was diluted with water). We indicated our preference by entering "Grog" or "Temp" in the log. "Temp" stood for temperance. The tot cost 6d (old money) and 6d a day times seven sixpences or 3/6d a week was deducted from my pay but I always had my tot of rum which was very nice after a tiring middle watch to help me kip. The ratings below petty officer received a rum ration of "three and one" that was one tot of one hundred percent volume rum to three of water. Made especially for the Royal Navy it was strong, blended Rum from all over the world that couldn't be obtained by anyone but the Navy. If it was someone's birthday on the mess they had sippers. If you were not on watch you had a little sip from the other members of the watch as well as your own tot. Many of the lads had four birthdays a year and sometimes it wouldn't be noted and they went off laughing! The rum issue was made at eleven o'clock every morning because of the people going on watch at noon. You'd have your tot then eat your dinner fetched from the galley.

If you were on watch you changed into your heavy equipment, boiler suit and boots to go on watch for four hours at a time, changing around every two or three days. Because of the four-hour watches around the clock, one four-hour watch was split in two and was known as the first dogwatch and the second dogwatch. The first dogwatch was from four 'til six and the second dogwatch was six 'til eight. So watches were swapped every forty-eight hours.

Captain Agar VC was our skipper. You didn't see very much of him but he made all the important decisions. Our Captain was very well thought of by the crew. He was a gentleman who had seen great service in the First World War. Whilst he was stationed in the Baltic during the Russian revolution he had sunk a troublesome Russian Bolshevik Cruiser the Oleg with his coastal motorboat armed with mines/torpedo sometime during 1919. That was why he won the VC.

I saw the actual remains of his boat at Duxford in the 1980's on a visit to the Imperial War Museum. He was a very nice, quiet man, and spoke to us at Church services on Sunday etc. which we all had to attend.

Commander Byas was our commander who virtually ran the ship and dished out the punishment. He wasn't too well liked and considered a bit too strict and a little unfair sometimes, but he was a good Commander and had control. No one could grumble about the way he ran the ship.

2 - Action Stations

We were ready for sea and the orders came for HMS Dorsetshire and HMS Cornwall to leave harbour and to join the fleet in the Maldives. We left Colombo on Saturday night at 10pm on the 4 April 1942 and were about five hundred miles out. Cornwall was about five miles away going at the same speed. We were told about an attack by the Japanese carrier aircraft at Colombo resulting in the sinking of several of our ships plus some other local boats.

When we left we didn't know what the purpose of the exercise was. We thought we were going to beef up the rest of the fleet because the size and weight of our cruisers Cornwall and Dorsetshire were about ten thousand tons each, with eight to nine hundred people serving on them. We also had powerful armament that would be useful to the Fleet. We were progressing with Cornwall at a good speed when we noticed that there were enemy aircraft shadowing us and we knew then that there was going to be an attack and everyone was sent to action stations.

I was hoping that when we went into action I would be off watch because my action station, off watch, was a fire party outside the sick bay which, by the way, was caught by a direct hit and killed everyone in the sick bay bar two of the doctors. I thought that should we go into action, I wouldn't be in the bottom of the ship in the boiler room but on the main deck by the sickbay and at least have had a good chance of survival.

When the attack took place I was in the worse possible place in the boiler room yet I survived. Only two out of seven of us in the boiler room survived. Yet if I had been off watch at action stations I would have been outside the sick bay and would have been killed. That was one of my nine lives!

I went down on the afternoon watch at noon with the other six people noon 'til four. We had been forewarned that an attack was imminent, so we were obviously concerned because we were 3 decks down, well below the water line. The stoker on the starboard boiler behind me was called Wills; I remember that, he perished because he hadn't been given the order to abandon ship.

It was Tom Shirley, my stoker PO, who said to me later, "The ship suddenly shuddered and the water level gauges fractured hissing out water and steam, we were going at top speed, twenty-eight knots". After the shudder, Tom said, "They've started" (attacking us) and, "That's our eight inch forward guns firing a broadside". I had experienced target practice on the Dorsetshire and when you fire eight-inch twin guns close up that really shakes you, crockery would tumble off and break.

Tom, a very nice man, said, "Yes, that's what it is" but immediately a terrific shudder came and all the lights went out. Steam was hissing everywhere. There was no order to abandon ship, not even from the chief stoker George Whooley. It was Tom who said, "We've been hit - we've lost all our steam pressure, put all fires out" because all sprayers were on into the main furnace. We turned off all the sprayers and the oil supply and there was only the glow of the red-hot cones that the fires were fed with.

We were in virtual darkness except for the glow from the fires through the ducting. Tom said; "Lets go" and he and I went up the starboard ladder, a long ladder with probably twenty-five rungs. He went first and I followed tight on his heels, shaking like a leaf and I expect he was too. He said, "Come on". I followed him and got into an air lock that was used to restrict the air to the boiler rooms below. The air lock door was open and we went up another deck to where the force fans were. They were stopped and it was mighty hot. We came up level with the main deck that would have been our normal exit, the deck below the upper deck. We looked for our lifebelts that we hung up just inside the normal exit to the main deck. The lifebelts were gone and the exit was a ball of fire blowing in gas and smoke, no way could anyone get through there. I looked around and thought we were going to burn to death right here.

But Tom said, "Come on!" and he knew, because he had been on the ship longer than me, that there was a service ladder or escape ladder several rungs high, which took us up to a very small exit on the main deck. We came out on the deck amid-ships, roughly between the for'd funnel and breathed fresh air. Tom went first and I had to scramble out behind him. Tom was soon out of sight. The sight that greeted me was horrific, bodies, body parts, blood, screaming, men in agonies of pain, a terrible sight, and this unnerved me rather. The ship was listing to starboard and going down by the stern.

Dorsetshire on fire and listing
Dorsetshire on fire and listing
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The ship was covered (with water) up to amidships, the bows rose fifty feet into the air from the guardrail to the water surface with the flooded stern section filling rapidly with water. I looked across to the port side of the ship that was very quiet because everyone was jumping off the starboard side, the lowest part of the boat. I went over to the port side to clear my eyes from the sights I had seen. I couldn't walk over that lot and see what I saw. I went there for a few seconds when I suddenly heard the clatter of the fighter planes machine-gunning the port and starboard in groups of three.

I looked up and saw a Japanese fighter quite close by. I could see the cockpit, the pilot's face, his goggles, his equipment, and the bullets coming from the machine gun. I straightened myself up against the steel bulkhead only about six feet away from the guardrail. About seven or eight machine gun bullets hit the deck within six inches of my feet. I waited for this plane to clear, everything was happening in seconds.

I ran forward towards the bows and another plane came in doing the same thing. I sheltered under the 8 inch "A" gun turret on the foc'sle main deck until that and another plane had cleared. I ran to the guardrail, stripped off my boiler suit and shirt, kicking off my boots that we wore as a protection from the heat of the steel plates. I got on the outside of the guardrail and steadied myself with my hands behind me. I jumped into the water and finished up in a pile of wreckage and thick black oil the state of treacle, which had congealed in the cold sea.

3 - Ordeal in the Sea

Dorsetshire sinking stern first
Dorsetshire sinking stern first
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I hit the sea pretty hard and without a life belt to break the fall. I must have gone below the water at least half the distance I had jumped from the deck and came up spluttering. According to the Captain who was watching men jumping off towards the very end, he said it was a height of at least fifty feet. He saw someone stripping off his dark blue uniform and kicking his boots off on deck just before the ship sank. He presumed it was engine room branch and it could have been me he was watching but I couldn't say for sure because it might not be true. He specifically mentioned this story in his report. I jumped off the starboard side when it was still sinking from the stern. I came up spluttering oil, frightened to death. I went down again a little way, came up and was sick bringing up a lot of oil that was in my mouth and throat. I struck out, I wasn't a very good swimmer, my best stroke was the breast stroke and I swam away from the ship, probably fifty or sixty yards until I could swim no more.

What with the oil taking effect and the frightening state of affairs I was exhausted absolutely and all I could do was kick and tread water. I rested a moment and turned round and saw the bows of the ship sliding gently back into the sea. In less than two or three seconds it had disappeared causing a lot of froth and the Dorsetshire was on its way to the bottom. I panicked and looked around me. There were groups of men at different places because we had drifted away from the ship. There was a terrible noise. I shouted help at the top of my voice because I had no lifebelt and if I couldn't tread water any more I knew I was going to drown. I shouted help twice and someone came to me, he was a very good swimmer, I don't know who he was but we had a lot of Australians and South Africans on board who were marvellous swimmers. He shouted to me, "Hold on" "Hold on" he had brought a blown-up lifebelt that he had probably got from a person who didn't need it any more. He managed to get it on me, around my waist and he said, "You're OK now", just rest a minute or two and then get back to the lads". He swam in front of me and he helped me, looking after me. After resting a couple of times we eventually reached the nearest group of men that were hanging on to a part of the main mast that had floated off or it could have been one of the booms that were used for the motorboats in the harbour.

There were about eighteen or twenty men hanging onto the boom you could only see the men because the boom was under water. They made space for me on the boom, I was absolutely exhausted but I couldn't drown because I had a lifebelt on. The ship had disappeared and there was a terrible lot of noise from other groups of men who were badly wounded and dying.

When I jumped into the water I hit my left groin badly on some wreckage, gashed my foot and scalded my arm on a steam pipe or a jet of steam. I hadn't felt any pain because the salt water seemed to numb it. Apart from my wounds, complete shock was now getting hold of me but I felt safe, I was hanging on and we were helping each other, talking and trying to blank out things. There was a shout of sharks being in the area around the main group. I hadn't seen any personally but some of the other survivors had and many of the floating dead bodies had disappeared which we presumed were taken by sharks. We weren't actually attacked because it was thought that the smell of the black oil and the noise had deterred any attacks. We had been told by the skipper to make noise and splash to keep the sharks at bay.

Whilst in the water three Jap fighter planes came low over the survivors machine gunning. I thought after all I had been through I was about to die with a machine gun bullet in me. I let go of the boom and forced myself under the water hoping this would lessen the force of the bullets. No one was hit as far as I know and whether they were trying to hit us or scare us I'm not sure. One of the planes did a victory roll, joined the other two and presumably went back to join their carrier. We were in the water approximately thirty hours from one thirty pm in the afternoon of Easter Sunday. The attack lasted around eight minutes in total, my watch stopped at one thirty as I hit the sea because it wasn't waterproof.

We weren't too concerned about hunger because we had just eaten a good dinner before the attack took place; it was the thirst that worried us.

The Japanese were very clever; they didn't start their attack until the sun was high in the sky so it upset our guns accuracy. I read a Japanese report that they dived from the sun on purpose. The Japanese reported that they dropped thirteen, one thousand pound bombs and scored eleven direct hits on the ship.

After being in the water and everyone eventually getting into one main group the badly wounded were in two boats with the doctors helping people in the greatest pain. After about four hours in the water several Fairey Swordfish, which were carried on all cruisers, were sent out to look for us, they knew roughly the area where we were. They were delayed initially, first someone said they heard it then they said they could see it, and then nobody could see anything, so we thought it was imagination. One minute your hopes were up then the next minute they were down. The Swordfish aircraft was finally spotted, and came in right over us signalling with their Aldis lamp "Hang on help coming". Our signals section was able to pick the message up and this was conveyed to everyone.

We were happy; we cheered, watched the horizon and thought it will be no time now before we were found. We hoped the message would get back and they would send help. We were aware that the Cornwall had been bombed and sunk nearby so there was another group of men in the vicinity in exactly the same position as us, but we didn't see them at all. Two destroyers and a light cruiser were sent to find us but were late in starting because they had to collect survivors from other British warships sunk earlier the day before in Colombo.

Eventually we saw masts of three ships on the horizon, and everyone cheered. Then someone said "They're Japanese" We immediately thought of being bustled on board, beaten and kicked to death, prisoners of war and that didn't help, but we soon realised that they were ours when we saw the White ensign flying. They were HMS Panther a fairly old destroyer, HMS Enterprise a light cruiser and HMS Paladin a modern destroyer.

4 - The Rescue

The Paladin found us. The other ships picked up the survivors from the Cornwall.

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Survivors coming on board the rescue ships
Survivors coming on board the rescue ships
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They came in as close as they could, let their nets down over the ship and everybody was on the main deck ready to help with ropes. Some of them dived overboard into the water to help the injured climb the netting. I was able to get up there on my own steam; I didn't require help, but many did. I was glad to be standing on something solid after so long in the water. The crew of the Paladin hosed us down with warm water and soap. We stripped off nude and they helped us to clean off. We were like black-men with thick oil in our eyes, faces and hair, you wouldn't have recognised anybody. Our shipmates on the Paladin got us cleaned up a bit and brought us their own clothes, shorts, shirts something to put on your feet. If they had it they gave it to you, your old clothes were thrown overboard.

We were parched so were given drinks of lemonade and soon after, a rum issue was ordered and I had neat rum that almost put me to asleep afterwards. The Paladin suspected there were Jap subs around and started dropping depth charges. That really frightened us after our ordeal in the water. The following morning we were making our way back towards the fleet when they transferred the wounded men including me to another ship that took us back to Male in the Maldives.

We landed at Male; it was very hot there with a beautiful beach. The Navy had organised wooden bunks from somewhere and we had a bunk each. It was there that at last I met up again with my old friend aboard ship, Tom Shirley, who had saved my life in the boiler room. He said "There's a little canteen just down the road if you want some fags, I've been down there but I haven't got any money". I had my little web belt with my little bit of money, because it could be thieved even aboard ship, they weren't all so innocent you know. I said "I've got some money Tom, what do you want a pound? Ten shillings?" "Ten Shillings will be OK ," he said. We went down and bought some sweets and fags and whatever and that was all right. Tom said, "I'll pay you back as soon as possible" but he said, "I don't have anything on me" (because he had all his clothes blown off him. He had been badly burned when he caught the blast of a bomb on board ship). We stayed the night and had some food; it was a warm night so we didn't need any bedding. We both slept like logs until next morning then went down to the sea to wash and I recollect the beautiful coral in the water. We were in the Maldives for two days.

We left the Maldives and Tom and I were both put on a hospital ship although we didn't see one another. I told Tom after, that I had been in the sick bay in bed with shock and bronchitis, in a bit of a state and it wasn't improving. The hospital ship took us to Durban via Madagascar. We got to Durban and I was taken by ambulance to a hospital outside of Durban which had been a racecourse and pavilion converted for troop distribution to the Middle East.

My wounds were treated quite quickly but the shock and bronchitis were the main problems and took longer. I stayed in hospital for a fortnight and we were very comfortable there. The doctor asked one of the other naval lads and me if we wanted a drink. We said "Oh yes please!" I was rather partial to a glass of beer and the Doctor said he would provide Guinness for us. One in the morning and one in the evening - and on prescription! That was our treatment. The doctor said we should drink it and it will give us strength and do us good. I recovered from the bronchitis and shock, was dished out with a blue suit for injured Naval personnel and was eventually sent on a fortnight's convalescent leave offered freely by ex pat's living in Africa who wanted to help the war effort. I went to an area in Zululand, it had a strange name that sounded like "Ginenglover" I will always remember that, but whether that was the correct pronunciation or not, I can't remember.

We stayed at a doctor's house and they were British, he had joined the South African war effort and was in North Africa working as a doctor. An Afrikaans doctor took over his job but didn't live on the farm. I was with another lad also on leave and we lived on the farm with the doctor's wife for a fortnight. We enjoyed our stay very much but it was a very desolate place. Sugar cane was the big crop growing everywhere with horse and carts transporting the cane. The Doctor's wife had three "boys" looking after the house and food. She came into our bedroom every morning with an early cup of tea and a box of fifty "Cape to Cairo" cigarettes. I gave the boys half of the cigarettes because although I smoked, I couldn't have smoked fifty cigarettes a day. I might have smoked thirty a day but not fifty. The boys were delighted, looking after us and feeding us very well; they couldn't do enough for us.

One morning the doctor called and asked if we would like to go with him to visit a leper colony. "Oh goodness" I said, " I don't want to catch leprosy".

He said, "Don't worry, you won't catch anything, you'll be all right with me". We went down some pretty rough tracks to an old, dilapidated building and met the staff. The doctor said "Don't touch anything, keep your hands by your side just in case. You will never have the chance to see such a thing again". That was enough to give you a shock, the state of some of those people with half a face and half a body and little kiddies and babies with no legs. They never came out of there once they went in and were probably treated rather poorly. It was an experience, but I can't really say I actually enjoyed it.

5 - Back to the Navy

Our leave finished and we went back to a camp at Durban, a mixed forces transit camp. On the way back on the train, we had to go over a big viaduct. We were looking out of the window at the scenery and the river below when, just after we had crossed the viaduct, the train made an awful jerk and we were nearly thrown out of our seat. We had hit a cow on the track and this had split the train leaving us separated in the after-end of the train. The forward part of the train went on into Durban, dropped off that half of the train and then came back to hitch up the back half of the stranded carriages.

I landed back in Durban and was put on a troop ship going to Madagascar then Mombassa, Kenya, where I joined the Submarine depot ship HMS Adamant which was a Cunard pleasure liner converted to accommodation workshops and quite a big sick bay. Submarines came in and were repaired, refuelled and re-torpedoed. With all the equipment aboard we could have virtually built a submarine on that ship.

I very much enjoyed my time on the Adamant because we were stokers but there were only minor boilers running, just to service the ship so we had very light duties.

One day I was talking on the quay and an engineering officer, a Lieutenant Commander (a "two and a half ringer") heard me. He said, "You come from the West Country don't you?" Well, I spoke very much like I do now (with a West Country accent) so I said, "Yes I do, and my Depot is Devonport". It wasn't any good saying I lived at Waterloo Cross, so I said I lived near Exeter. "Oh! I know Exeter very well" the officer said, "My wife and I live in Plymouth now but we used to live on the outskirts of Exeter before the war". "Well" the officer said, " It's really nice to talk to a fellow West Country-man" and I thought to myself - how bloody nice! - a two and a half ringer, he could have really been off-hand, but he was really nice. He said, "I see you are a stoker" and I said, "Yes a survivor from the Dorsetshire". Well, he knew all about County Class Cruisers and the sinking of my ship. He said, "You've had a hard time boy", and I said, "Yes, but I'm all right now". He said, "What did you do before the war?" I laughed and said I was a gardener, he laughed and said "Dear, dear, dear", I said I volunteered because I preferred to go into the Navy but there were no jobs for me as a gardener so the Navy thought that working in the engine room as a Stoker would give me a chance to learn things I was interested in, like engineering and electrics.

This is exactly what happened and whilst on the Adamant I was able to work as a mate to some of the finest electricians and engineers. I learned a lot and this encouraged me. I didn't go for promotion because I wanted to keep on doing what I was doing, I had experience on generators and some watch keeping with a more experienced man in charge, of course. I worked through the watches and finally had a draft chit passed to me to say that the following day I would be catching a train with another stoker, whom I didn't know, and that we would be going up to a Fleet Air Arm station west of Nairobi, an aircraft service station for the carriers in the fleet that needed repairs that couldn't be done on board.

There was a continuous flow with parts and bits coming from the UK and America to the station. We could have virtually built a plane up there. We were about five miles from Nairobi and had to have our own electricity supply. The base was called HMS Korongo. It was a very interesting place. They had these people all working on aircraft, even the old Swordfish. All these blacks were helping in the camp, working on generators with us but all we had was a clipboard to take regular readings from the controls on the generators. The blacks did all the dirty work; they changed the oil, cleaned and polished the brasses and they loved it, they really loved it. We got on very well with them, they learned a little bit of English and we learned a little of their lingo.

They had a band there and they trained the blacks, we called them the "Tommy Cooper Hat" soldiers known as The Kings Own African Rifles because they all wore fez hats and they were absolutely dedicated to their regiment. Should one of them go astray for any reason and do something wrong, his punishment would be to be taken out of training and loaf and do nothing. They didn't punish him as such, but his punishment was "You're not staying in there with all those good men if you do things like that", "OUT!" "PUSH OFF!" "Don't want you", and they'd cry their eyes out and were really frightened and would eventually get back in again.

We were right out in the wilds and we saw lots of wildlife, lions, zebras, wildebeest all the darn lot, plenty of snakes and God knows what.

Eventually after three or four months we were drafted back again to the Adamant, and two more people came up to take our place. It was a bloody cushy number, a snip, because we weren't on normal watch keeping hours. We had six hours on and six hours off for forty eight hours then we had two days off in Nairobi looking around for what we could buy and chatting up the women who were nearly all black. We went into town on Fleet Air Arm lorries and trucks staying in there all day, it was a nice place.

I went back to the Adamant and carried on doing what I had been doing, still learning all the time. I never saw the engineering officer again; he was obviously still on board but with at least fifteen hundred men on board, including the top brass, that wasn't surprising. Submarines kept coming and going, then one Sunday a notice went up.

Two engine room personnel required to join HMS Triumph (a Trusty class submarine) which was pretty certain to be travelling back to the UK in two or three weeks.

Right Mister! - I want to bloody go home, I want to see my young lady. I went up to the office and asked if I could go and see the submarine. They said yes, but there will be two of you as someone has already requested to see the sub. You're under no obligation as you're a volunteer.

Well, my God, - I had a surprise when I got down there - you couldn't swing a cat or put your arms out straight without hitting something. Bunk beds to sleep on, the two diesel engines that they used to charge their batteries when they were on the surface, God, you had to squeeze through on the side. You couldn't walk straight!

So two of you would be watching those engines back to back touching each other when you passed. Well not me, not bloody likely, and it's a long way down too, I came back and told them it's not for me; I'd rather wait.

Again after 6 months or so on the Adamant another notice went up. A "D" class destroyer, HMS Duncan, wanted a stoker and so I volunteered. I thought that being a volunteer, if I didn't like it, I could always get back to the Adamant. This was a much smaller ship than I was used to and the old timers used to tease me saying "You'll find a bloody difference on there boy, from what you were on before you were sunk, you'll get chucked around!"

I joined the Duncan and went to sea. It was rough! As I was watch keeping the weather got worse and I was jumping and bouncing about in front of those boilers, rolling and tossing, it shook me up. I couldn't eat, I couldn't sleep, so I went to the doctor and I told him, "I volunteered for this job and I can't stand it, I'm ill".

He said, "You are, and this is not for you, but because you're a volunteer we'll get you back to the Adamant as soon as possible". That was on the Saturday morning and I was told to get my kit together as I would be transferred on Sunday by motorboat back to the Adamant. That was after three weeks to a month on board.

I was off duty in harbour early on Sunday morning and we had to go to the Church Service on HMS Duncan's quarterdeck, sing a few hymns and say a few prayers, even if you were not particularly religious you had to be there. The skipper said after the service, "I have some good news for you lads" - "Everyone here will be much happier going back to your jobs. We are leaving here for the UK in approximately two to three weeks". Oh the noise, you should have heard it, everyone was jumping and cheering and everything. I thought to myself well, my dear soul, I would stay on this ship if it killed me, now I could get back to the UK! But it was too late; it was all arranged. Back next morning, pick up my kit, down the boom, jump into the motorboat and back to the Adamant.

The Duncan never went to sea again on normal patrol, when it left Mombassa it went straight back to the UK and by that time, at the end of 1943, the Mediterranean was cleared. I was still on the Adamant; I had left it too late. If I'd known what was going to happen I wouldn't have gone sick. I was desperate to get home; I'd been out there a long while.

The next thing - another draft would be joining a troop ship in Mombassa adjacent to the Adamant and would be sailing down to Madagascar which had been occupied by the Vichy French when France was occupied by the Germans.

We were sent down there and although we were stokers, the Navy was short of patrol staff to keep discipline ashore and try to stop punch-ups.

We landed up in quite a comfortable house that was formerly a nunnery; there were plenty of beds, good food and runs ashore.

Funnily enough, I had a job going to the market in Diego Suarez, the port nearest the camp. I was given a trade cycle and was allotted to go, each morning at 6 o'clock, to the early morning market to buy meat for the camp, beef or whatever, camel sometimes I think! It was red anyway!

It was kilos then and I didn't understand metric measure, so I had to think roughly 2lbs to the kilo and I went down with the bike and came back with the meat. There was never any money involved because it was paid through the office - I just had what I wanted.

They drove on the right hand side of the road out there. I started out on the right hand side but by the time I had gone two hundred yards and the first turning I found myself on the left hand side of the road, hence my refusal to drive on holiday nowadays. I stayed there for quite a while. They had a cinema we used to visit twice a week, it was a really good job, we paraded around, marched around, did a bit of rifle shooting. It was a slap-happy set up really. If the Vichy French and the Malagasy natives got into punch-ups we were the ones to sort them out, part them up and threaten them. It was a bit dodgy because, you see, the Vichy French would have thought nothing of shooting or stabbing us. We were enemies because they were favouring the Germans of course, but the Navy kept them in check by rationing their food.

We acted like Military police really to the local population but in Naval patrol uniform leggings and so forth. I remember one night we went to the cinema and the entrance was up a long flight of stone steps like the entrance to some cathedral. We'd buy bags of peanuts, go in, eat the peanuts and throw the shells on the black heads below. We had the best seats being white. We were outside the cinema waiting to get our tickets and on each side of the entrance were two huge Kings African Rifle men standing guard doing the same job as we were just waiting for someone to make trouble. My friend and I were close enough in the queue see a punch-up starting. First there were two in the fight then there were four. It happened really quickly and could have developed into something big.

Those two African Rifle soldiers at least six feet three inches tall grabbed the heads of two of the fighters and banged them together. As those heads collided (I can hear the "click" now - I have just heard it) and then threw them down the steps. They rolled and tumbled, down over the steps. That put pay to that, shut everyone else up and we went in and enjoyed the film. That was the sort of things we experienced. I stayed in Diego Suarez for a while and eventually got drafted back by troop ship to Mombassa to join the Adamant again. That was the day I walked aboard the Adamant smoking and got a few days of stoppage of leave for breaking the smoking rules.

6 - Home to the UK and De-Mob

Shortly after rejoining the Adamant we were taken aboard a liner, I can't remember the name. It was converted into a troop ship to leave for the UK. We journeyed home via the short route, now relatively safe through the Red Sea, Suez Canal, the Mediterranean, Gibraltar and home. I landed in Northern England, joined the train and stopped at Crewe for tea and sandwiches and carried on to HMS Drake, Devonport; my depot.

From there I worked on another ship being converted called the Allaunia. This was being converted at the dockyard at Devonport as a supply ship. I worked with skilled mechanical people who could see that I was very knowledgeable when it came to marine engineering. They helped me and I worked with the tiffies, the electricians and the engineers. It was lovely really; we put in some of the machines, big lathes, the refrigeration installation and things like that. I was living ashore in St.Budeaux, Devonport, in a private house and travelling to and fro to work at the dockyards each day to work on the Allaunia, hitch-hiking home most weekends to Bradfield (near Willand).

I joined the lease-lend carrier the Patroller not as a watch keeper but looking after the fresh water supplies on board the ship from the officers' mess to everywhere else on board. It was a good job, a day job unless there was a call in the middle of the night when an officer couldn't get his shower to work or if there was a pressure loss. It wasn't usually a mechanical problem. That was a snip job and I did the same job all the time I was on the Patroller.

We went to Freemantle and Sydney on three trips. We were ferrying out new troops to replace wartime troops that had been in the Far East and Australia throughout the war and bringing others home to the UK. It was a marvellous ship, American, it had a Goffer bar where you could buy ice creams and lemonade any time of the day and that was the last ship I served aboard. From there I got drafted back to HMS Drake again for about a week before I was demobbed.

The funny part was, when I joined HMS Drake for the last time ready for de-mob (the Japanese war was over by then) the PTI's said, "Ah", "Right", "When are you boys leaving the ship for demob?" "Tomorrow?" " Right, swimming pool, swimming tests". I had to do two bloody lengths of the pool and I was going home tomorrow. I told them who I was and what I had experienced but I don't think they believed me, they thought I was trying to get out of it. Then they said, "You're doing well lad".

We washed, dried up, cleaned up, had some food, and then handed in some of our kit, like my mattress and things I didn't want. I kept my hammock and kit bag, a couple of suits, my Burberry coat and overcoat. I had a few presents I bought whilst on the Patroller, some silk stockings and a little Koala bear for Gwendolyn Holley, she still has it and treasures it now.

I went to the clothing store; the bloke looked out over the counter and summed me up. He went, "Huh!" - " Five foot nine inches, fifteen and a half collar, six and seven eights hat, (trilby of course), size 9 shoes; We don't have a size 9 here's a 10"; A bloody purple suit; A purple suit mind you! I got seventy-five pounds gratuity money! - seventy-five quid and a free warrant for all I had been through to come home. It was worth it though I can tell you, to come home!!

7 - A Job in Civvy Street

I heard one of the engineers at a local factory here in Willand had died suddenly in a pub. They wanted a maintenance engineer and I thought I know all about that. I know about refrigeration, about mechanics, I know all about generating. I had a good knowledge of electricity and knew I could do the job. So I went up to the factory in my sailor suit, all the girls admired my uniform when sailor Jack came in (I had kept the uniform you see). I went to see the boss. He asked what credentials I had which weren't much because everything had gone down with the ship.

Anyway the boss said, "Let's have a walk around", he takes me down to the engine room to great gas engines generating 3-phase mains voltage running the whole factory. He said, "This is what you will be looking after". I thought this is all right; watch keeping in here is going to be a snip this is. I said, "Will the other chap give me the procedure for starting etc?" He said, "Two shifts, you start 5.30am one week and 1.30pm the next week alternately". The other chap came from Holcombe Rogus and had been down there with the chap that died. The chap that died was the better engineer of the two and they hoped I had more knowledge and would do a lot of the electrical work that the assistant couldn't do.

I then went to see the boilers with the boss. There were two vertical boilers with coal fires and I met the boiler man who's name was Charlie Pengelly. The boss said there would be times when I would be required to fire up the boilers during holidays and if Charlie was ill and so on and did I have the know-how? "Oh yes Mr. Maunder" I said, "Although I have never had to fire a coal burner I have been used to thirteen fires on one boiler and fifty two fires flat out in one boiler room and there were two boiler rooms so you can work that out a hundred and four fires could be lit and steaming". "Yes", he said, "But there is a 100lbs pressure here you know, not a pressure to be played around with of course, very dangerous, leaks". I said, "Mr Maunder I have been used to working on boilers with pressures of two hundred and fifty and two hundred and seventy five and on destroyers at three hundred psi. That is an oil stove compared to what I know. I can assure you given the time and the opportunity I can handle this". He said "We haven't got a high pressure feed pump so we have to inject the water. Do you know anything about that?" which of course I did.

He took me up the bake house next, he said "We make about seven products here sausages, burgers, pasties, pies, faggots, ham, quite a bit of equipment up here as well, pastry rollers, dough mixers, bone machines, sausage fillers, fridges up here as well to cool it all, pastry rolling machines, burger stampers etc". I thought this is all a bit much. Does he expect me to look after all of this? What am I going to do when two things go wrong at once? Different bosses were responsible for different departments and this came under the shop part of the Company and my area came under the Engineering Director who knew nothing about the other part of the operation.

Thinking back to what my role was in the Navy I asked how I was going to stay in the boiler room watch keeping on those engines if something goes wrong elsewhere.

"Oh" he said, "You don't stay in the boiler room all the time, you oil it up, you have automatic oilers on both engines everything is 100% reliable". Then he took me across the yard to the egg-grading centre, four machines grading boxes of eggs being brought in from the farms every day. Then they started plucking chickens, they bought some dry pluckers that could pluck a hundred chickens a day. Well, nobody realised what responsibility I had at Lloyd Maunders. They really piled it on me. Later the Company started processing chicken in a big way, collecting from the broiler farms in the area five hundred a day. Eventually this went up to seventy five thousand a day mainly to go to Sainsbury's supermarket.

I retired from Lloyd Maunder on 31 October 1986 on my sixty fifth birthday; I have been retired twenty years and I am now eighty five years old. I worked at Lloyd Maunders for forty years and three months.

Recorded on 31/4/2007 and transcribed over two days 11th & 12th May 2007 by David Woolfenden (Son in Law to Frank Anstis.)


In 1994 Frank Anstis discovered there was a Dorsetshire Association and this organisation held an annual re-union in Plymouth. Through contacts with the Association he managed to trace his old friend and saviour Tom Shirley who was still living in Staffordshire. A telephone call to Tom in early 1995 resulted in a very emotional re-union after more than fifty years, although they were never to see one another in the flesh again. Tom Shirley "passed over the bar" in 2006.

During the conversation Tom reminded Frank that he still intended to pay back the ten shillings he borrowed on the Maldive Islands all those years ago and both of them were very amused by the joke. Following this telephone conversation Tom wrote to Frank and his wife Irene.

This is Tom's letter.


Hello Frank & Irene,

I never thought when I got up on Sunday morning that I was to be taken back fifty three years, and I had to laugh to myself afterwards, you asked me whether I could tell who was calling, I hadn't a clue but as soon as you said where were you when "D" was being bombed, I straight away guessed it was you, probably because at that particular time I was in the company of nine blokes, and as seven of them did not make it, that only left you. To say that I am pleased to have caught up with you again is putting it mildly, although to be quite honest I can only remember what you looked like rather vaguely, it must have been that last blast that hit us when we had reached the fan flat that scrambled my memory; when we were being asked afterwards to find out who had survived, I could not remember who my messmates were.

From what you told me it seems that your memory of what happened is fading so if I try to fill in some gaps it might jog yours; the fact that you and me are here at all, I am convinced, is because we had the afternoon watch. Where was your damage control station in the forenoon? Mine was aft in the officers' flat over the aft engine room. From all the evidence that we have been able to gather over the years, some from Japanese naval records, the ship received many direct hits from the after boiler room to the stern, the engine room must have been decimated, which would account for the fact that all the engineer officers including the Warrant "E"s were killed.

(To digress a moment, should you go to the reunion this year Warrant Officer Ferris's widow is most likely to be there, although at the moment I cannot remember what her name is now).

When we went down on the afternoon watch I had the two boilers on the starboard side, and I do remember that one of the stokers was Ginger Mills. Was the other one you?

Anyway as we had been at action stations since nine in the morning, being shadowed by Jap planes we did not know what to expect, but as we were at full speed with all the sprayers on I was fully occupied watching water levels. When we felt the first explosion and the ship lifted, my first thought was it was the result of a broadside from our main armament of eight inch. Did we ever have a shoot while you were on board? If so you probably thought the same, I knew what it was like and we had done plenty, especially at the Bismarck; it was when the second one happened that I realised that we were being lifted, not moved to one side, that we were being hit and I said so to Chief George Whooley.

Things happened fast after that, first the lights went out (this was bound to happen as both generators were in the after engine room) and at the same time water gauge glasses were broken, without lights, and with no idea where the water was in the boiler, we had no option but to close the oil down. With the sprayers off it was virtually dark except for a glow from the hot bricks.

In my memory, my one thought was to leave the room, and even now I cannot remember being conscious of any one else around, that is until I had got to the top of the ladder in front of the air lock and found someone that turned out to be you.

Before I could open the air lock door it opened and two young tiffies came out having decided to leave the fan flat above.

How am I doing so far Frank, are you with me?

We pushed those lads back into the lock and made our way along past the fans until we came to a short ladder that took us to the armoured deck (main deck level) my mess was just outside. The next memory is very clear, the other two lads had gone up the ladder, you were standing at the bottom of the ladder and I was almost at the top when there was an almighty bang, it must have been the only bomb that had hit us forward of the boiler rooms. It had gone through the sick bay that was on the starboard side through to the port side into the Marine's mess, turned and finished up in our boiler and I think that is why we were the only ones out.

The blast fatally burned the two tiffies (although they didn't die until some time during the night) there is something that has puzzled me over the years, I was half way up that ladder and you were standing at the bottom, quite close. I had all my clothes blown off me and as I found later gashed about the head and burned on the behind and legs. Hazily, in my memory you seemed to be untouched. We then tried to get on the main deck (where my mess was) but when we opened the door we found a raging inferno, it was when we found our way up the next ladder on to the upper deck that I thought that I had lost the sight of one eye but it was filled with the blood from my head.

Once we had found our way out on to the upper deck I found myself quite alone; where you had disappeared to I did not know. The upper deck was a shambles.

I found a rope hanging down from the starboard cutter and dropped down into the water. I don't remember seeing you on board the destroyer Paladin that picked us up, I was down in the SPO mess flaked out, but I do remember the depth charges. We were taken to a small island in the Maldives where the fleet was anchored. All the people that were wounded etc. were put aboard a merchant ship and I am certain that you were one of them; otherwise you would not have been on the hospital ship with me. The hospital ship was called the Vita and we had to wait for her, as she had to go and pick up the survivors of the Hermes. I cannot remember how long it took us to reach Durban; we went down there via Madagascar.

It was when we went into hospital I seemed to lose sight of you, and that Frank is about all I can do to help you fill in the gaps in your memory. Sorry I have been so long in writing, but this arthritis really is a big handicap when trying to do anything.

I am enclosing a few items that might interest you. Can you recognise me?

If you do go to the Reunion I do assure you that you will be made most welcome. Survivors are getting very thin on the ground. As you know it is held in the Fleet Club in Devonport, over the years it has had a lot of money spent on it and now it is like a good very good hotel - I do recommend it.

Just a quickie on the routine, on the Friday night we have very informal get together, food is laid on and this gives everybody the chance to have a good natter. Saturday night is the main night, the Club put on a very good dinner. There are a couple of blokes you may remember, they probably joined up with you, Bill Foster and Stan Higgins; they are almost certain to be there.

Well Frank I could go on but at this rate you will never get this, so I'll say cheerio, hope you don't find it too long and full of mistakes.

All the best

Tom Shirley

Some Contacts

Author: D J Woolfenden

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