This story is one of more recent times. It has been written by Billy Kynaston Williams in memory of his father. It includes details of an tragic event at sea during the Norwegian Campaign of WW2, 80 years ago, which resulted in his father ending up as a Prisoner of War. It is also essentially a love story.
Thomas Lawrence Williams (1915 – 1990)
With the commemorations of VE Day, having just past, I thought I would share this short piece summarising my father’s war experiences, particularly as the 8th June will be the 80th anniversary of him becoming a prisoner of war in Germany.
He was a merchant seaman in the employ of the Orient Steam Navigation Company Ltd, having joined after completing his course at the National Sea Training School at Gravesend.
Despite the imminent threat of war in 1939, it started as a good year for him, because it was the year he married my Mother, Enid Catherine Kynaston, in Holyhead. He was then employed as an assistant steward on the company’s RMS Orford, a 20,000-ton liner providing mail, cargo, and passenger services to Fremantle and Sydney, Australia – sailing via Gibraltar, the Mediterranean, Suez Canal, and Colombo.
By 1940 he had been transferred to the company’s RMS Orama, which had been requisitioned by the Admiralty and refitted as an auxiliary armed troop transport, becoming the HMAV Orama. His wartime role on the ship, probably among many others, was as a member of a gun crew manning one of the ship’s newly installed anti-aircraft guns.
In 1940 the Orama was engaged in the Narvik campaign transporting the British Expeditionary Force to Norway. This proved to be a disastrous campaign for Britain and resulted in a number of significant naval casualties including the sinking of the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, two destroyers, HMS Ardent and HMS Acasta, a Norwegian oil tanker and, of course, the Orama.
On 8 June 1940, 300 miles west of Narvik, they encountered the German fleet comprising the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and the heavy cruiser Admiral Hipper with other lighter vessels. The Orama was sunk by a combination of gunfire from the Admiral Hipper and a torpedo from the destroyer Z 10 – nineteen men were killed and 280 became prisoners, including my dad. Thankfully the Orama was not carrying troops at the time.
The images above show the Orama listing after the engagement with the Admiral Hipper and finally sinking. The survivors were picked up by the German Navy and were transported to Trondheim in Norway, and then to Oslo in cattle trucks. From there they embarked onto a small coaster for their transfer to Germany. On arrival they were moved, again in cattle trucks, to Stalag XIIIA in Wolfsburg in Bavaria arriving sometime in late June 1940.
The telegram below was received by my grandparents following the sinking (curiously not sent to my Mother).
Thankfully my Dad survived the sinking and his subsequent incarceration relatively unharmed. It was not until later it was learnt that he had been injured whilst evacuating onto the Orama’s lifeboat when a crew member fell on him injuring his leg quite badly. Later, whilst in the PoW camp, he suffered at least one recurrence of Malaria, first contracted during his earlier voyages to the tropics.
What communication there was from him seemed to indicate, not surprisingly, that he was getting by. One that was sent to my paternal grandparents at Christmas 1941 is shown below.
His PoW record card shown below was obtained when inmates ransacked the camp’s offices following its liberation by the allies. The photo of him bears witness to the hardships that he and all PoWs suffered during this period.
Somehow a few photos did emerge from his time as a PoW, such as the one shown below with my Dad in the front row, third from right. (His record card and other photos from this period have been donated to the Holyhead Maritime Museum).
The POW camp was eventually liberated in April 1945. Repatriation from there involved being flown home, probably from Brussels, in a Dakota and arriving somewhere in southern England on 5 May 1945, before finally arriving home in Holyhead two days later.
The group photo below was taken immediately after the war and includes other Holyheadians who were also unfortunate in being prisoners of war. Included in the photo is my Mother – front row, first right who worked as a secretary for the British Red Cross.
Fortunately for me, liberation allowed him and my mother to immediately start a family, but around about the time when the photograph below was taken, Mam had developed MS and finally succumbed to the disease at Easter 1960, aged 43.
After the war Dad joined the British Transport Commission’s (later British Rail) cross-channel ferries from Holyhead to Ireland, serving principally on the MV Hibernia until his first retirement at the age of about 58. He then bought a sweet shop and tobacconist in Thomas Street, Holyhead (the Ten-o-Clock Shop), successfully running that, with his second wife, until finally retiring in about 1980 and then moving to live in Trearddur Bay. Dad passed away in December 1990.
Billy Kynaston Williams
We are very grateful to Billy for writing up his father’s so well illustrated story and allowing it to be published here. It is important that his story, and others like it, should not fade into the forgotten pages of history.