Lionel Elderton Clark, Naval Auxiliary Personnel, HMS Jervis Bay, 5 November 1940

Lionel Elderton Clark, Assistant Cook, 118385, Naval Auxiliary Personnel (Merchant Navy).  Lionel was born in Sussex in 1916 the son of Robert Charles Clark and Clara Elizabeth Elderton Clark (Clara lost her left leg above knee to a Puff Adder bite when they were living in Simonstown, South Africa, before WW1).  Robert had moved the family to Tenby during the Great War where he was an instructor with the local Royal Garrison Artillery. Lionel was educated at Tenby Council School and Greenhill School before joining the Merchant Navy.   He served aboard HMS Jervis Bay as an Assistant Cook.  23 years old when listed as Missing, Presumed Killed, he is commemorated on the Liverpool Naval Memorial.  HMS Jervis Bay was sunk by the German “pocket battleship” Admiral Scheer on 5 November 1940.

Clark Family, Madge, Lionel, Clara (Mother), Kitty and Eric
Robert and Clara Clark
Lionel, Clara and Eric Clark

On the evening of November 5 H.M. Armed Cruiser “Jervis Bay,” with a convoy of 38 ships, was steaming slowly through the North Atlantic. It was 5 p.m. of a fine autumn day and the light was slowly fading, when suddenly a large enemy warship was sighted on the port beam of the convoy, about twelve miles distant. The raider, thought to be a German “pocket battleship,” was first sighted by a Swedish ship of the convoy, and a few minutes later a salvo burst overhead, but did no damage. The German guns were then turned on the “Rangitiki,” the largest ship in the convoy, and the “Jervis Bay.”

Deutschland Class Cruiser (Pocket Battleship) Admiral Scheer

Immediately signals were made to the merchant ships to take avoiding action by turning away under cover of smoke. Captain E. S. F. Fegen, R.N., then steered his ship full speed ahead towards the enemy, with the object of closing the range and thus being able to bring his 6-in. guns into action against the raider and also draw the enemy fire away from the ships in convoy. Hit forward early in the action by 11- in. shells, with her steering gear smashed and badly on fire, the merchant cruiser kept on her course, closing with the enemy and continuing firing her port guns until she began to sink.

Captain Fegen fought until the battered decks of his ship were awash and her superstructure on fire. He was last seen, with one arm badly wounded and hanging useless by his side, standing on all that was left of the bridge, while the “Jervis Bay,” with her ensign still flying, settled slowly by the stern. She effectively held the enemy fire while most of the ships of the convoy made their escape. The heroic action of the captain of the “Jervis Bay,” who attacked a ship of overwhelming force, knowing the inevitable fate of his ship and men, to protect his convoy, is true to the best traditions of the Royal Navy.

The Victoria Cross was posthumously awarded to Captain Fegen, who went down with his ship.

It is rare to have detail of one’s family members death but in the book If the Gods are Good (The Sacrifice of HMS Jervis Bay), by Gerald A Duskin and Ralph Segman, pages 168, 169 and 170 there is this very sad account of how Lionel (Nobby) Clark died:

P3 Gunner Tom Davison had spent his adult life at sea, and this was the first time he had had to abandon a ship. He was twenty­ seven, a wiry five foot eight, and balding. Typical of men of Kent, he had high cheekbones and a firm chin. Still barefoot, after having run straight out of a bathtub to his aft action station, he made his way up the port side of the boat deck looking for a lifeboat, which he preferred, or a raft, if necessary. As he approached the canteen, a small voice called, “Davo, will you help me?”

It was Nobby Clark, a young, slight, gentle steward. Davison, whose character and physicality were the reverse of Clark’s, did not know him well, but he had talked with him now and then, and regarded him as a nice chap. The man’s leg was torn open, and he could not walk.

“You’ll look after me,” said Clark, “won’t you, Davo?”

Of course, I’ll look after you, Nobby.”

Though he gave Clark some faith to hold onto, Davison did not deceive himself. The only hope for the immobile steward lay through the same forest of flames that had confined Sam Patience to the forward part of the ship. Since the boat deck was forward of him, Davison reckoned that he had to find a way through the fires. “You hang on here,” he told Clark. “I’m going forward. We might be able to get some boats away.”

He got on his hands and knees and managed to avoid the flames and the hot air that threatened to scorch his lungs. The acrid smell of burning paint made him gag and caused his eyes to tear. When he had passed through the blazing remains of the superstructure, he stood up. The intense heat of the fires inside the ship rose through the decking.  Davison scooted around until he found a place where he could keep his feet from roasting. Two young naval reservists, Bob Liddle and Maurice Farthing, were in the same area. Liddle’s eyes revealed his dread: “I can’t swim, Davo. See to us all right, will you?”

Davison seemed to be attracting lambs. “I can’t put my arms around the pair of you in the water,” he said. “But, I’ll tell you what: you keep close to me and we’ll see what we can do.”

As they scrabbled forward. the heat intensified. Davison spied the jolly-boat surrounded by men who were lowering it.  “We’ll try to get you in that,” he told the two dependant lads.  But he could see that too many men already had laid claim to a place in it, and he said: “Come on, you follow me. We’ll get on the deck above, and there may be a chance to slide down the falls and get into the boat that way.” He climbed to what remained of the bridge deck where the jolly-boat davits were. He grasped one of the twine falls and turned back to Liddle and Farthing. They were not there.  He looked over the rail to the main deck and saw neither of them.  The boat was gone, too. He took the rope again and leaned over the side of the ship. There it was, in the water and filled with men. The two young men must be in it, he thought. They were not among the survivors.

Then he remembered-what about Nobby Clark? The wounded cook had slipped from Davison’s mind while he was trying to help Liddle and Farthing.  He had given Nobby his promise. The little man was depending on him, but they were separated by the fires that continued to burn across the ship’s beam.  Davison felt a wave of anguish. He hopscotched barefoot over the deck, doing his best to avoid the hot spots. This time, however, he could not find a path through the flames. He flagellated himself: I’ve let him down. I forgot about him.

Davison remained obsessed for the rest of the war and beyond with the question: What was Nobby thinking of me when he died? The remorse he suffered did not prevent the selfless old hand finally from taking steps to save himself. About the same time that Sam Patience looked around and saw only Bill Greenley in the forward area, Davison, who saw neither of them, lowered himself over the side and slid into the sea. Wearing only trousers and a jersey, and no shoes, he sucked in air and gagged on it as icy water rose up his torso. As happened to many other men, he at first could not move his diaphragm. He began clawing at the hull. Just as quickly, he squelched the climbing instinct and began applying his experience and intelligence.  Realising that he could never make it up the ship’s side and that the Jervis Bay was going to sink, he started swimming away from her. The effort generated the breathing reflex and body heat and kept his arms and legs from numbing.

Thomas Davison, “Davo”, R.N.R., Able Seaman. (Dover, Kent, England.)
 Action Station – Member of P3 gun-crew.

Lionel had 3 brothers (Cyril, Roy and Eric) and 2 Sisters (Madge and Kitty).

Lionel’s family had an awful 1940.  His brother-in-law, Samuel Snell Lewis (husband of Madge) was killed aboard HMT Argyllshire on 1st. June 1940 when it was torpedoed of Dunkirk (during the operation to rescue the British Expeditionary Force from the beaches) by German E-Boat, E34.  His younger Brother, Eric, just 18, was killed at sea when S.S. Mill Hill in convoy HX-66A (from Halifax Nova Scotia), laden with Pig Iron, was sunk with all hands on the night of 30th. August 1940 by German Submarine U32.  A strange combination of an E Boat, U Boat and Pocket Battleship virtually wiped out the Clark family.

In 1944, Kitty lost her husband (my Grandfather), when he was killed in action at the Battle of Mogaung, Burma.  He was a Company Sergeant Major in 1st. Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, who were part of 77 Brigade of the famous Chindits.