Friday, 28 October 2016

How to make a Hero - Part 2

The hero of my forthcoming book, The Girl from Simon's Bay, is a naval officer who served on four ships that called in to Simon's Town, the Royal Navy base at the foot of Africa, during the Second World War. I had identified the ships, now I needed to design a career that would put my man in the right ship, in the right place, at the right time.

Once again I turned to navy records. I looked for actual young men of a similar age who'd gone on to distinguish themselves on similar vessels to my potential hero. I identified four men who filled the criteria. Born between 1910 and 1911, they either went to Dartmouth as cadets or joined the navy after school. Each was a midshipman in 1928/29, and served on battleships (HMS Nelson and HMS Revenge) or cruisers (HMS Effingham, HMS London). All reached the rank of Lieutenant in 1932/33, and pursued Gunnery training at HMS Excellent in Portsmouth. Upon the outbreak of war, one was assigned to HMS Royal Sovereign, one was on HMS Rodney, one was on HMS/HMNZ Achilles and one was on HMS Coventry. All survived sinkings and crucial battles. All continued in the Royal Navy, 3 retired as Admirals.

It was from the strands of these four very different, but real, individuals that my hero sprang. He needed their dedication, their skills, and sometimes their luck to survive. I have not named any of the officers whose careers I researched. But there is one whom I'd like to acknowledge, who provided a particular inspiration. He was Lt (later Rear Admiral) Richard Washbourn, of HMS/HMNZ Achilles. He was awarded the DSO for his bravery at the Battle of the River Plate in 1939. Here is an extract from his citation:

When ... several splinters struck the gun director tower, killing three men and wounding two others, though wounded on the head by a splinter which half stunned him and killed the man behind him, continued to control the main armament with the utmost coolness. He set a magnificent example to the rest of the Tower crew, who all stood to their posts and made light of the incident. Thus the primary control kept working and secured throughout the action a high rate of hits on the enemy.

Of such are heroes made...

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