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Frederick William Simpson, DSM

Frederick William Simpson was born in Hull, Yorkshire on 7th October 1904. His father was a hairdresser by trade but, during the Great War served in France with the RASC. It was whilst his father was on the Western Front that his mother died of TB. Bill Simpson, as he was known to his friends, was brought up by an aunt. He sold newspapers and firewood to make a little money and help buy his clothes.

After leaving school he went to sea as a trimmer with the Hull fishing fleet, his first ship was the Kite, owned by the Gamecock Fishing Company, followed by the Bona and Savittra of the Trident Company. Bill often said that a trimmer was the lowest form of life known to a fisherman and saw no future in working six hours on and six off for days on end with very little time at home. So, he decided to leave the industry and enlisted in the Royal Navy on 9th March 1923 as a Stoker Second Class.

He underwent his initial training at HMS Pembroke. On completion he was drafted to HMS Repulse, a Battle Cruiser built in 1916. It was whilst he was aboard Repulse that his life really started. He went around the world on the British Empire Tour in company with HMS Hood and several other Cruisers. HMAS Adelaide joined up with the force at Sydney, Australia but her crew mutinied in Fiji.

On 17th January 1925 he joined he joined HMS Dolphin for Submarine Training, during the next several years he served on the L25 (11th February 1925 to 2nd April 1925), L22 (3rd April 1925 to 20th May 1926), L25 (1st October 1926 to 9th November 1927), L56 (4th March 1928 to 10th February 1930), H24 (20th August 1930 to 26th October 1931), H44 (13th January 1932 to 2nd November 1933), Thames (1st July 1934 to 3st March 1935), Otway (1st April 1935 to 28th April 1936) and Rover (29th April 1935 to 31st March 1936). During the General Strike of 1926 the L22 in company with L26 left Dolphin under sealed orders and joined up with the destroyers Wallace & Vancouver, the L26 going to Hull and the L22 further north to Newcastle to form a communications link. There was no shore leave granted but the submariners were allowed to exercise on the Jetty.

On 13th October 1936, now a Petty Officer Stoker, he re-joined General Service and an old Destroyer called Wrestler. 1936 saw him aboard the Greyhound, a 'G' Class Destroyer built in 1936 by Vickers Armstrong, her main armament was four 4.7 inch guns, she had a speed of 36 knots. The following year Greyhound was off the coast of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. She evacuated hundreds of our Nationals from Spanish ports and repatriated the crew of a Royalist Destroyer sunk off Gibraltar. Prior to the outbreak of War in 1939 Greyhound was serving a two-and a half year Commission in the Mediterranean. When war seemed imminent the Fleet left Malta and based itself at Alexandria.

Greyhound was ordered to Toulon, a French Naval Base to test liaison, (he assures me that even in those early days it was non-existent). She then returned home and served at the Western approaches. Incidentally, Greyhound put to sea in such a hurry from Gibraltar she left behind the Ship's postman and the Captain's servant, they didn't catch up with her again until November several months later and were still dressed in their tropical whites.

In the month of April 1940 during Operation "Wilfred" Greyhound, Glowworm, Hypereon and Hero were on a mine-laying sortie. Glowworm commanded by Lt. Commander Roope rammed the German Cruiser Admiral Hipper, only 38 of Glowworm's Ship's Company survived. Roope was awarded a posthumous VC, the first to the Royal Navy during the War.

In late May and Early June Greyhound was once again in action, this time at Dunkirk.

We did two very successful trips and brought several hundred men back. Our third trip was disastrous, we were hit by dive bombers and lost a lot of the crew. We were towed back to Dover by a Polish Destroyer; we couldn't pronounce her name, so we called her 'The Bottle of Whiskey'.

After temporary repairs at Chatham it was back to the Mediterranean, Italy had now entered the war.

Our main task was convoy and escort duties, either Gib. To Malta, Alex. to Malta or to Tobruk when it was surrounded by Rommel, we also escorted convoys to Greece and Crete. Many of our ships were lost on these occasions because of the confined waters. The supplies to marooned Tobruk and Malta had to be carried out by fast Naval vessels during the period when there was very little or no moon. HMS Kelly eventually arrived on the scene with Mountbatten, and as he was Senior Captain "D" he changed all that and would have an extra run or two when the moon was filling. Obviously, we sustained more casualties. At one time Malta became almost impossible to maintain and aviation fuel had to be transported by submarine in barrels lashed to their casing. They'd travel on the surface at night and submerged by day, releasing them off the coast when the tide was favourable.

One task force I remember was quite a large on leaving Gib. to assemble as Freetown, Sierra Leone. We were to go to Dakar where there was a large Vichy French Fleet assembled. We wanted them to change sides and join the Free French Forces. A Plenipotentiary went ashore under the protection of a white flag. But we received a very hostile reception and all hell broke loose. We suffered a lot of casualties and a Battleship was torpedoed but managed to limp back to Freetown with about a 15 to 20-degree list to port.

The above action described by Bill Simpson was Operation 'Menace' the attack on Dakar, French West Africa on September 23rd/24th 1940. The Vichy French Submarine Beveziers did manage to put to sea during the action and fired four torpedoes at HMS Resolution one of which hit he amidships causing serious flooding and a 12-degree list. He was taken in tow by HMS Barham. Whilst serving in the Mediterranean HMS Greyhound sank the following Italian Submarines, the Neghelli on 19th January 1941 and the Anfitriti off Crete on 6th March of the same year. Petty Officer Simpson was awarded the DSM for his part in the action against the Anfitriti. The Citation appeared in the London Gazette on 6th July 1941. He was invested at Buckingham Palace by King George VI on 13th October 1942.

Regarding the sinking of the Anfitriti, we got positive signals on the ASDICs at about six thirty am and brought her to the surface with several patterns of depth charges. As she broke surface we scored a couple of direct hits on her conning tower killing a number of her crew. They waved a white tablecloth and surrendered. Being an ex-submariner, I went in the whaler with the First Lieutenant (Lt R Scott) and the Boarding Party to try and salvage her. Once aboard the First Lieutenant stationed an Able Seaman to guard the Conning Tower Hatch. The After Ends and Motor room were almost flooded, and the Engine Room had several feet of water. The First Lieutenant went to the Wardroom and salvaged all the Confidential Book, and I kept taking them to the Bridge. When we got them all up, we realised that the whaler had gone back to the Greyhound which was lying about half a mile away. Before the whaler returned the Submarine sank beneath us. We had to swim back to the Greyhound and all our efforts had been in vain.'

At the Battle of Matapan on 28th March 1941 Greyhound also took a very active part. The Warspite, Valiant and Barham opened fire at 4,000 yards on the Italian Fleet passing from Starboard to Port of our task force, the leading cruisers being illuminated by Greyhound's searchlights. The targets Fiume and Zara were both destroyed. Also sunk during the action were the Cruiser Pola and Destroyers Vincenze Gioberti, Maestrle and Alfiere. Damage was also inflicted on several other ships including a six-inch gun cruiser of the Colleone Class

I was down the Boiler Room at the time on watch. I knew what was about to happen then the gunfire started and the manoeuvring. The ship was heeling over as we altered course at high speed. The next thing I knew we had stopped and, minutes later, about forty Italians were led down on to the gratings. They were very excited and chattering away in Italian. I was a bit apprehensive so I asked for an armed guard, but one couldn't be spared so I had all the heavy spanners collected up and put under the boiler foot plates in the bilges. But there was no trouble, I suppose they were more frightened and grateful at being picked up than anything else. Our sister ship the Griffin claimed to have fired the first shot but I can't verify that. I do know that they kept the shell case as a souvenir.

Greyhound's war came to an end on 22nd May 1941, during the Battle for Crete. She was sunk by German aircraft along with the cruisers Fiji & Gloucester and destroyers Juno, Kelly & Kashmir.

When the Greyhound was sunk in May 1941, I was lucky being off watch at the time. We'd just stopped to investigate some small vessels suspected of ferrying German troops to Crete and we were stacked by dive bombers. Many of the survivors were machine gunned in the water sand one boat load were completely wiped out. The Kingston, Fiji and Kandahar were ordered to stay behind and pick up survivors. It was a hazardous task but after bout four hours I was picked up by the Kingston. Our Captain, Commander Walter Roger Marshall A'Deane was picked up by the Kandahar. Later that afternoon the Fiji was sunk, and our Captain dived overboard to rescue on of her crew struggling in the water. He was never seen again.

Commander Walter Roger Marshall A'Deane was awarded to Albert Medal (Posthumous) for this last gallant act. The Citation appears in the London Gazette Supplement 4th November 1941. During the two years that the Greyhound was at War Marshall A'Deane was twice Mentioned in Despatches and was awarded the DSO and DSC. He was a gallant Officer and Bill always kept a portrait of the Captain on his living room wall.

After the Greyhound Petty Officer Simpson was pasted to the Destroyer 'Spare Crew', then to HMS Tumult (a 'T' Class Destroyer) as Chief Stoker. Tumult was still being built at the time at John Brown's Shipyard on the Clyde. In March 1943 on completion of her acceptance and work up trials she was commissioned into the Royal Navy and sent out to the Mediterranean with the remainder of the Class to form the 24th Destroyer Flotilla.

It was a different Med. to the one I'd left the year before; success was in the air and we savoured every moment of it. The war carried on for us, the victory in North Africa, the invasion of Sicily and Italy, the set back at Casino, the surrender of the Italian Fleet and the taking of all the ports up the coast of Italy till there was nowhere else for us to go.

On 30th March 1944 HMS Tumult in company with the Blencathra, Hambledon and Laforey sank the U-233 north of Palermo (Laforey was hit by three torpedoes by U-223 and sank in three and a half minutes, taking with her most of the crew). In December of the same year Tumult returned home for a major refit and to re-equip for the Far East.

Before the refit was completed Chief Stoker Simpson was drafted to HMS Excellent as a Fire Fighting and Anti Gas Instructor. He was discharged from the Royal Navy on 27th November 1945 after completing twenty-two year's service. Before I finish this brief narrative of his life, one experience I was thrilled to learn about was his part in the film 'The Cruel Sea'.

I think it was in the early spring of 1952/53 I was asked by Captain 'Jackie' Broome whom I knew from my time in submarines if I would Chief Stoker the Compass Rose for the film 'The Cruel Sea'. It was an old corvette we'd supplied to the Greek Navy and had it towed back from Greece. We had to make her ship shape and get her mobile. To make matters worse all the instruments and valve tallies were in Greek. The ship was in a bad way and Lloyd's wouldn't allow us to stay at sea during the night, neither would they allow us to proceed to Liverpool where some of the filming should have taken place. So, it was all filmed at Plymouth and Portland, we did manage to coax 17 knots out of her and that's what she was built to do. It was a marvellous experience I can assure you, something I'll always remember.
Bill Simpson (3rd from the right) with Jack Hawkins and Stanley Baker at the premiere of ‘The Cruel Sea’ in Portsmouth on 19th April 1953
Bill Simpson (3rd from the right) with Jack Hawkins and Stanley Baker at the premiere of ‘The Cruel Sea’ in Portsmouth on 19th April 1953

Bill Simpson spent the remainder of his life in Southsea and ran a small hotel overlooking the Solent. He retired in 1969. Sadly, he died on 1st October 1987, six days before his 83rd birthday