Halifax heroes who died on the Hood

HMS Hood: the battlecruiser, pride of the Royal Navy, was sunk by German warships in May 1941. Inset: Donald Nicholl, one of three Halifax seamen among the 1,415 who died
HMS Hood: the battlecruiser, pride of the Royal Navy, was sunk by German warships in May 1941. Inset: Donald Nicholl, one of three Halifax seamen among the 1,415 who died
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IT is 70 years since the sinking of the battlecruiser HMS Hood during the second world war with the loss of 1,415 men.

The Hood was sunk during the early hours of May 24 1941 during an epic battle with the German warship Bismarck in the Denmark Strait.

Donald Nicholl, died on HMS Hood 1941. Nostalgia

Donald Nicholl, died on HMS Hood 1941. Nostalgia

The ship sank very quickly, taking with it all but three of her crew, who were picked up by a destroyer sent to rescue survivors. This was the greatest loss of life from a single ship sinking during the whole of the war.

Three Halifax men were lost in the sinking and two others had Halifax connections.

Able Seaman William Donald Nicholl, Royal Naval Special Reserve, the son of Annie and William Nicholl, lived at Winterburn Terrace, Warley.

Donald had been born in Australia after his parents emigrated there but had returned to Halifax with his mother when his father died. He attended Warley School and later the Crossley and Porter School and Orphanage.

He excelled at all games, especially rugby and cricket, and played for the Old Crossleyans and Kingston Cricket Club. He was a member of Warley Congregational Church, where he was a Sunday school teacher and sang in the choir. He was 21 years old, enlisting in 1940 while working as a chartered secretary at Whitley’s Mill in Hanson Lane.

Also lost on the Hood was Royal Marine Frederick William Bailey, of Vickerman Street, Parkinson Lane. He had 24 years of service going back to the first world war and in peacetime had been a member of the crew of the Royal Yacht Victoria.

He left his wife, Vera, and 12-month-old daughter, Anne.

The youngest Halifax man to perish was Able Seaman Charles Labane Spillane Smith, who lived in Ovenden Crescent, Halifax.

No official news was heard of him until June 6 and his mother had been anxiously waiting. She had last heard from him a week before.

Charles had recently passed naval exams and hoped to be posted to submarines. He attended Pellon Lane and Akroyd Place schools. He excelled in swimming and was a boy scout. He had been in the Navy for four years.

Other men lost with local connections were Able Seaman Alfred Le Woury, who had fled from Guernsey 12 months before. His mother lived at Bond Street, King Cross, Halifax. AB Le Woury had visited Halifax several times.

Marine W C Greenwood’s wife had lived in Halifax for 10 weeks helping with evacuees. She lived with her three children at Willow Terrace, Sowerby Bridge. They came from Brighton.

Chief Petty Officer W W Jennings, a native of Portsmouth, was married at Halifax Parish Church in August 1932. He had served on HMS Hood for eight years. He was the son-in-law of Mr and Mrs Kennedy, of Rydal Mount, Halifax.

The Bismarck, Germany’s newest and most powerful battleship was finally sunk at 11.01am on May 27 1941 by a torpedo launched from the Dorsetshire after a five-day, 1,750-mile chase in the Atlantic during which several British destroyers and the RAF mounted attacks. A hundred German sailors were picked up following the sinking, which restored British confidence following the retreat from Dunkirk.

The three survivors from the Hood were Midshipman William Dundas, Signalman Ted Briggs and Seaman Robert Tilburn, of Leeds.

The ship’s lost crew are commemorated on the naval memorial at Southsea and in the church of St John the Baptist, Boldre, Hampshire. Their details can be viewed on the HMS Hood website and anyone with new information can ask for it to be added.

* Gillian Highley lives at Markham Mount, Rochdale Road, Halifax. Among the Halifax men who died on the Hood was Donald Nicholl, whose mother was a distant relative of Gillian Highley’s husband, Kenneth Highley.