Shipwright 2nd Class Charles Brabyn D/M7215 died on 17 September 1939, aged 49, aboard HMS Courageous in the early days of WW2, having served in the Royal Navy throughout WW1.
Courageous, an early British aircraft carrier built in 1916, was sunk by German submarine U-boat U29 off the SW coast of Ireland. HMS Courageous was one of the big early British naval casualties of the first month of the war. 687 crew survived the sinking, their return featured on newsreels. Brabyn was amongst the 515 crew members who died. He is remembered with many of his crewmates on the Plymouth Naval Memorial, panel 34, column 3.
Catherine Ince in her wonderful first selection from wartime West Briton newspapers Life in Cornwall 1939-42 (published by Truran books, 2001) mentions:
Torpedoed British Aircraft Carrier
The Admiralty yesterday issued the final list of survivors of the aircraft carrier Courageous, the 22,500 ton ship which was sunk by a German submarine on Sunday evening … Of the 1,200 officers and ratings on board, 18 officers and 560 ratings would appear to have lost their lives … A curious feature of the disaster is that of the number of men from several Cornish places serving on the aircraft carrier, half are missing and half saved. Thus six from Penryn and Falmouth were lost, and six saved …”
West Briton 21 September 1939.
The Brabyn family were local boat builders. According to Ralph and Marie Bird’s photographic history Devoran and its River, several of the Brabyn built boats survive today such as the Jo-Jo (william Brabyn, 1905, Calenick) and the Daisy Belle (built by William Brabyn, 1895 at Calenick) now restored at the National Maritime Museum Cornwall.
Charles Brabyn was born 8 May 1890 at Point, Devoran. He is listed on the CWGC website as the son of Stephen Welling (Wellington?) Brabyn (b. south Feock, around 1857, died September 1943) and Elizabeth Brabyn (born around 1856, possibly in Australia?) His parents married in 1889 in Truro. Elizabeth, mother of Charles Brabyn died in 1915 in Truro. His father Stephen may have remarried a Selina Williams in 1917. Stephen Brabyn at Point, Devoran is listed as a Bargeman in 1901 and 1911, part of the busy life of the port and river that once was Devoran, Point and Penpoll.
Charles is listed as the husband of Elizabeth Mills Brabyn (nee Williams) of Truro, Cornwall. They married on 1 June 1919. Charles left her £411 effects in probate after his death on war service. Elizabeth his widow died in 1971. They appear to have had a daughter, Elizabeth Joyce Brabyn (born 1st June 1920, died 4 June 2000).
Charles appears to have served a long time in the Navy as I have found a naval medal record on Ancestry.co.uk on 29 April 1929 to Shipwright Brabyn M7215 of HMS Hood, for Long Service and Good Conduct.
C.Brabyn also appears on the Devoran Roll of Honour in the Village Hall as having served in WW1.
In the 1911 census, the 21 year old single Charles Brabyn is listed as a shipwright living in 41 Clarence Road, Torpoint with his married shipwright uncle John Brabyn (b. 1862, St. Feock) both employed at the Government Dockyard (would this be Plymouth?)
Tony Dyson in his 2007 research notes (with input from Graham Crocker) that “Chief Petty Officer Shipwright Charles Brabyn joined the Royal Navy aged 18 [c. 1908] and retired at the age of 47 to begin a small small business as a Shipwright at the site of the present Penpoll Boatyard. Recalled to Active Service at the outbreak of war he served on HMS Courageous, an aircraft carrier which was the first British ship to be sunk in the Second World War”.
Chief Stoker William Alfred Head, D/K52949 Royal Navy, died aged 41 on 17 January 1942 when his ship HMS Matabele was torpedoed by German submarine U-boat U454. He is remembered at panel 69, column 1, Plymouth Naval Memorial to those Royal Navy crew with no known graves or lost at sea.
HMS Matabele was sunk whilst screening or escorting Convoy PQ-8 from Iceland to Murmansk, one of the Russian or Arctic Convoys. Only 2 survived out of 238 crew due to the freezing cold waters.
HMS Matabele was a Tribal class destroyer, built in 1936/7 by Scotts of Greenock and commissioned on 25 January 1939. After Atlantic and Norway convoy duties, it underwent repair and refit in Falmouth from May to July 1940.
So hopefully William had a chance to visit his wife Marion Maud Head of Devoran. The CWGC website lists him as being the son of Ernest and Ellen Head.
Tony Dyson’s in his 2007 research notes that Marion Maud Head his widow later remarried to become Mrs Rowe, mother of Christopher Rowe who still lives in Devoran. Christopher Rowe told Tony Dyson that the Head family were variously located in the Torquay / Paignton area as well as Acton in London and Bexhill.
William Head’s loss is mentioned in the Devoran parish magazine in March 1942 (quoted from Elizabeth Hotton’s collation of these parish magazines from WW1 and WW2, Cornwall at War (History Press, 2008), p. 126:
“We deeply sympathise with Mrs. Marion Head in the loss of her husband at sea. May God grant him refreshment, light and peace in Paradise.”
J. G. Jeffery
Flight Sergeant John Garfield Jeffery, 1601089 Air Bomber, 190 squadron, RAFVR, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve, died aged 22 on 19 September 1944.
He is buried with other crew members in Grave reference Protestant Section collective grave 1-4, St. Michielsgestel Roman Catholic and Protestant Cemetery, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands.
There are 5 other related graves from the exact same date in this cemetery either of Jeffery’s air crew (Navigator, Pilot, Air gunner and Air bomber John G. Jeffery) or Army Glider regiment staff. This may have been half of an entire air crew of 8 or 9 carried on a 190 Squadron Short Stirling Mark. IV aircraft when engaged in glider towing or supply drops during ‘Operation Market Garden’ and the Battle of Arnhem.
Jeffery’s aircraft and crew was one of two planes lost by 190 Squadron on 19th September 1944. The other aircraft belonged to Jeffery’s Squadron Leader Gilliard, DFC buried with three of his crew in Arnhem Oosterbeek Cemetery although five of his crew survived. The other half of Jeffery’s aircrew are buried at Mierlo Cemetery, the other side of Eindhoven about 40 kilometres away from Jeffery’s cemetery.
11 to 12 aircraft and 38 men were lost by 190 Squadron of No. 38 Group RAF during the 17 to 23 September 1944 operations.
Previously Jeffery’s 190 Squadron had been involved in supply and personnel drops as part of Special Operations Executive SOE missions supporting the French Resistance around D-Day June 1944, as well as dropping paratroops and glider troops and supplies as part of the D-Day landings.
No Short Stirlings survive in any museums, so the Stirling Project is aiming to rebuild the crew sections including the Air Bomber’s section – a cut away diagram shows the cramped conditions where John Jeffery would work.
He is listed on the CWGC website as the son of Lewis John Jeffery (a railway platelayer) and Florence Lillian Jeffery (nee Ferris) of Perranwell, Cornwall.
Tony Dyson’s 2007 research garnered information from Aubrey Ferris of Market Street, Devoran who was a cousin of Garfield Jeffery:
“Garfield was born and lived at No 1 Carnon Cottages on the Bissoe Road. He attended Perranwell School and then Falmouth Grammar School. He then passed into the Civil Service and worked in the Ministry of Labour. Having joined the RAFVR Garfield trained as a Bomb-Aimer and joined 190 Squadron flying in Stirling Bombers. Stirlings were used for towing the Horsa Gliders that carried troops and equipment to the Arnhem area as part of Operation Market Garden (featured in the film A Bridge Too Far). On the second day after the initial drop at Arnhem, Garfield Jeffery was on a resupply mission (his first mission over enemy territory) when shot down by anti-aircraft fire.”
Kemp is listed on the brass plaque inside the church, not on the granite war memorial. Three T.H. Kemp casualties are listed on the CWGC website for WW2, however this is the one with local connections.
Born in Devoran in 1885 to a family of coal and oyster merchants, Master Thomas Harold Kemp was living in Eastbourne, Sussex when he was lost at sea aboard SS Ocean Courage aged 57 on 15 January 1943. He is remembered on Panel 75 of the Tower Hill Memorial to Merchant Navy staff.
According to the EU Wrecksite website, on 15 January 1943 The Ocean Courage was sunk in the Atlantic, South of the Cape Verde Island and west of Gambia in Africa whilst sailing independently on a voyage from Pepel to the UK via Freetown and Trinidad with a cargo of 9000 tons of iron ore and mail. She was sunk by a torpedo from U-182, commanded by U-boat Captain Nicolai Clausen. The Master Captain Thomas Harold Kemp, 41 crew, 2 gunners and 2 stowaways were lost. Six crew and 1 gunner were rescued by British ship SilverWalnut and landed at Norfolk, Virginia.
Kemp rapidly became a Master fairly young (his Master’s Certificates are on ancestry.co.uk). His ship the Ocean Princess was built in the USA in 1942 and operated by locally founded St. Ives Hain Steamship Co.Ltd.
More can be found on our blog post about Devoran men on the Tower Hill Memorial which remembers Devoran’s T.H. Kemp and W.C. Nicholls (below).
Two W.C. Nicholls, both naval casualties, are listed on the CWGC website – both have probable local connections.
One local match is Able Seaman William Clifford Nicholls D/JX215000 who died 25 November 1941, HMS Barham, son of Percy and Mabel Nicholls, husband of Olive May Nicholls, East Dereham, Norfolk. He has no obvious local link on the CWGC website. He is remembered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial, along with other Devoran sailors Charles Brabyn and William Head.
The WW1 battleship HMS Barham operated against Italian Convoys in WW2 supporting the Desert war in Libya, patrolling the Eastern Mediterranean and based in Alexandria. HMS Barham was sunk by 3 torpedoes fired from U-Boat 331; the magazine [ammunition store] exploded and she sank within minutes with the loss of 861 men including Nicholls from a crew of 1311.
Tony Dyson in his 2007 research notes information given by Aubrey Ferris of Market Street, Devoran who was a cousin of W C Nicholls. William Clifford was an only son of Percy and Mabel. They lived at Sand Cottage, Carnon Gate. He attended Devoran School, then probably secondary school in Truro before joining the staff of Lennard’s Shoe Shop in Truro.
Another likely local match is William Charles Nicholls, Second Engineering Officer, Merchant Navy, MV Athelprincess, Liverpool, who died on 23 February 1943, aged 32. He is commemorated on Panel 11 of the Tower Hill Memorial, having no known grave.
He is listed on the CWGC website as the son of of Edward John King Nicholls and Eliza Dunstan Nicholls. In 1911, when William was only 10 months old, the family were living at 8 Bar Terrace, Falmouth where his father Edward (born Antrim, St. John’s Point, c. 1847) was a 64 year old Dock Master at Falmouth Docks. His mother Eliza was born in Kea, Cornwall c. 1867 and married in 1905. She died on 8 December 1934 at 1 Harriet Place, Falmouth. Her probate / estate was handled by a Harold Mayne Nicholls, shipping agent’s clerk.
So both of his parents were dead by the time William Charles Nicholls’ ship sank on 23 February 1943. His Clyde built tanker (Wm. Hamilton & Co, Glasgow, 1929) had successfully completed several convoys (OG014 in 1940, HX126 among others) as part of the Athel Line, carrying molasses for the United Molasses Co. Ltd.
On 23 February 1943 Athelprincess was caught straggling behind its convoy UC-1 from UK Liverpool (departed 15 February) to Curacao and New York. Athelprincess was torpedoed twice and sunk by a German submarine (U-boat U522) west of Madeira. It appears only one person was killed – William Nicholls. The rest of the 42 crew, 7 gunners and Captain or Master E.G.B. Martin OBE survived and were picked up by HMS Weston U72. Transferred to another escort ship, the USS Hilary P. Jones DD247, the Athelprincess crew minus Nicholls (the only casualty) were landed safely at San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Four other ships in Convoy UC-1 were torpedoed by U-boats of the 16 strong Dolphin Patrol. Two of the ships survived being torpedoed, a British Tanker called British Fortitude and Dutch motor tanker Murena. Two others, the US tanker Esso Baton Rouge and British tanker Empire Norseman were sunk. There are pictures of each ship on the Wrecksite website. The names of Merchant Navy men sunk on these ships are also on the Tower Hill memorial.
There were 35 ships in this convoy, protected by 9 British and American navy ships. The survivors of the Esso Baton Rouge were picked up by convoy escort HMS Totland. HMS Totland went on to sink the U-boat U522 with all crew / hands lost including its Captain Schneider.
William had an older sister, Elizabeth Maud Nicholls (b. 1906) and older brother James Edward Nicholls (b.1908).
Further research will help us work out which W.C. Nicholls is remembered on the Devoran War Memorial. Both were brave sailors who deserve to be remembered.