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CPO George Woodley
The following text and photographs show just some of the items Chief Petty Officer George Woodley bequeathed to the Marshland Museum as requested in his will.
George had a long, exciting and often dangerous career in the Royal Navy. He joined on the 31st of August 1936 at HMS Saint Vincent in Gosport.. He joined his first ship, HMS Revenge a Battleship, on the 2nd September 1937. the 29th December saw him transferred to HMS Nelson, another Battleship, & promoted to Ordinary Seaman.
George had various posting to other ships & shore establishments then came the day when his war took a turn for the worse.
October 1940 saw him stationed on HMS Excellent, the gunnery school at Whale Island, Portsmouth. Summoned by the Drafting Master-At-Arms he was told to muster with his kit for transportation to Glasgow. From there George & other RN personnel were driven in a lorry to Dalmuir West where a cargo ship was being fitted out for service with the RN.
HMS CRISPIN, a merchant ship of some 5000 tone displacement had a cargo of empty oil drums which in theory assisted her buoyancy in times of emergency. She was painted brown with black sides & buff coloured upper works.
Fitted with one 6'' & one 4'' guns plus .303 Lewis guns, manned by RN Reserve officers a Commanding Officer RNR, merchant seamen plus Royal Navy junior rates it was obvious she was a ''Q'' Ship.
After training & trials the ship took part in convoy escort duties. Initially nothing untoward happened, just the usual Atlantic bad weather, cold winds, rough seas & the constant rolling of the ship.
Then came the convoy where life changed. After escorting a convoy for five days that was heading towards Halifax, Canada, the ship departed to rendezvous with another convoy that was heading towards the UK. They were alone and very vulnerable. George had the first watch (2000 - midnight) & was sheltering from the weather in a passageway on the 1st deck when there was a sudden violent explosion that lifted him off his feet. They had been torpedoed.
The order to abandon ship was given & George managed to get into a 32' lifeboat. They were 700 miles north west of Ireland. At around 0600 the following morning they were rescued by HMS Harvester. there were 119 survivors but 8 officers & 12 rating were lost. HMS Crispin had been sunk by U107 on the 2nd February 1941 commanded by Fregattencapitain Gunther Wilhelm Hessler who was the son-in-law of Vizeadmiral Karl Donitz C-In-C U Boats.
George's Royal Naval career didn't end with the sinking of HMS Crispin. He had previously served on HMS Delight, a WWII 'D' Class Destroyer which was sunk by German dive bombers on the 29th July 1940 while attempting to transit the English Channel during daylight hours. Luckily George had left the ship by then but his luck ran out the following year.
He joined the Light 'C' Class cruiser HMS Coventry which was serving in the Mediterranean. The ship was to the north west of Alexandria when attacked by 16 German Junkers JU 88s. Heavily damaged and on fire the ship had to be scuttled by HMS Zulu. 63 members of the crew lost their lives luckily George was saved.
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