WWII Memories
Personal Histories of World War Two

Guarding Merchant Convoys

This is a record of an interview with Captain Don Owen from North Ferriby. He was interviewed in February 2002.

Interview With Captain Don Owen

Captain Owen is 83 years old (in 2002) and joined the navy when he was only 19.

He was an apprentice on the Eastern Prince (a merchant navy ship) until he got his second mate's certificate in 1936.

In 1938 he became a second mate and he was called up in 1939 when the war started, entering the navy as a 2nd Lieutenant.

He did a lot of work with navigation so he became a navigations officer.

The first ship that he served on was HMS Keith.

This destroyer was lost to bombing whilst waiting off the beaches at Dunkirk on its 7th crossing to rescue troops.

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Arctic Waters

The second ship he was on was a corvette called HMS Meadowsweet.

This ship was torpedoed in a Russian convoy near Iceland.*

* In September 2005 a letter from Charles Miller from Glasgow gave the following extracted comments:

"Dear Sir,

I served in the Royal Navy 1941-1946 and I am a member of the RN amateur Radio Society (Scotland).

According to 'A Dictionary of Ships of the Royal Navy Second World War' his first ship, HMS Keith was indeed sunk at Dunkirk.

Second ship HMS Meadowsweet (see below).

Third ship HMS Zulu was sunk by Italian aircraft off Tobruk and not in the North Atlantic convoy as stated. Fourth ship HMS Eskimo survived the war.

I joined HMS Meadowsweet at commissioning in Avonmouth July? 1942, and served as a Telegraphist on her until October? 1945.

From July 1942 to December 1943 she was attached to B1 Escort Group operating from Londonderry, Northern Ireland to Argentia in Newfoundland.

In January 1944 we set sail to join South East Asia Command, spending some time on convoy duties in the Mediterranean before eventually arriving at Columbo Sri Lanka (Ceylon).

Both VE and VJ were spent at sea in the Indian Ocean."

Flower Class Corvette

Built: C. Hill and Sons Avonmouth Bristol 1942.
Sold: 1952 to Ned Mij Voor de Walvishaart and converted to a merchantile whale catcher, Gerrit W. Vinkle.
Disposal: Broken up in South Africa 1965.

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This ship was torpedoed in a Russian convoy near Iceland. Only four of the crew of eighty-four survived.
Captain Don Owen

Only four of the crew of eighty-four survived as they were on watch on the bridge at the time.

A few hours later they were picked up out of the water from their life raft by a Greek tramp steamer.

About ten hours later this ship was also torpedoed and they had to spend twelve days aboard a lifeboat during which they buried seven of the survivors at sea.

Captain Owen said that the hardest convoys he was on were the Russian convoys.

These were in icy cold and extremely rough waters and they had to chip the ice off the ship to avoid it capsizing in the water.

Once you were in those waters you could only survive for one minute.

Once the convoys reached the Russian coast the people on them were not even allowed off their ships apart from once a week to political rallies.

Even then armed guards escorted them.

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The food was often not very good on board ship because you rarely got hot food due to the water getting into it or washing it overboard.

The usual meal was corned beef sandwiches with cocoa.

The ships were very crowded and the crew had to sleep anywhere they could find room, for example on tables.

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Different Ships, Weapons and Places

The next ship he was on was a tribal class destroyer called HMS Zulu.

This ship was also sunk on one of the North Atlantic convoys.

The last ship he was on was another tribal class destroyer called HMS Eskimo.

This survived the war and was the best ship he had ever been on.

It was well armed and very quick.

There were three different types of guns used on the ships; these were the Oerlikon (a Swiss gun), Bofors, (a Swedish gun) and then his personal favourite, the English 4.7 inch gun.

He visited lots of places in the war including South Africa, America, Newfoundland, Halifax, Malta, Iceland and Russia.

He enjoyed going to some of these places because they were not blacked out like everywhere else and goods were more freely available in the shops.

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Memories and Home Life

His worst memories of the war were of being torpedoed, as this was very scary for him.

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The only happy memory he has from the war is when he was told that it was over.
Captain Don Owen

The only happy memory he has from the war is when he was told that it was over.

He was on HMS Eskimo, based in the Far East at Trincomalee at the time.

His family lived in Wales away from the bombing.

He had two brothers, one in the Navy and one in the Army.

The one in the navy was lost overboard during the war but the other one is still alive today.

Whilst at sea there was very little news of events at home and the captain and officers were reluctant to let the crew hear news in case it disturbed them.

Captain Owen was happy to help with this interview but wished to be reassured that it would not result in him being contacted by strangers about it.

As I left his home he showed me a picture of HMS Eskimo on the Russian convoy being narrowly missed by a bomb.

He also had pictures of other ships that he had sailed on.

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