HMS Royal Oak
Scapa Flow 14 October 1939
LEATHERHEAD TOWN MEMORIAL
Walter Clive Bonner, Band Corporal, Royal Marine Band:
Desmond Ernest Kirkby (inscribed as Kirby), Boy 1st Class: age 17
Leonard George Martin, Boy 1st Class: age 16
Richard Poulter, Ordinary Signalman: age 18
COBHAM WW2 MEMORIAL
Desmond Ernest Kirkby, Boy 1st Class: age 17
Royal Marine Bandsman
The sinking of HMS Royal
HMS Royal Oak was completed in 1916,
one of five Revenge Class battleships. By the start of WW2 she was
no longer suitable for front-line duty, in particular because of her lack
On October 14 1939 she was at anchor at
Scapa Flow, in the Orkneys. This Fleet anchorage was penetrated in a
daring attack by the German submarine U47 under the command of Günther
Prien. German air reconnaissance had provided high quality images which
revealed the vulnerability of the anchorage but also alerted the Royal
Navy, causing a partial dispersal of the Fleet.
Despite grounding and being caught briefly
in the headlights of a taxi, Prien finally identified a battleship target.
A salvo of four torpedoes was fired but one lodged in its tube. Two missed
but the third hit the Royal Oak's bow causing little visible
damage. Prien turned U47 and fired one torpedo from a stern tube. This
missed. He turned again, reloading the bow tubes. At 01:16 a salvo of
three torpedoes all hit, blowing a hole in the armoured deck, destroying
the Stokers', Boys' and Marines' messes and causing a loss of electrical
power. Cordite in a magazine ignited and the fireball rapidly passed
through the internal spaces. Royal Oak's list worsened and she
sank at 01:23. 835 men died of whom 134 were Boy Seamen. The practice of
sending 15-17 year old Boys to sea was then generally discontinued.
The bodies of most of those who died could
not be recovered. They are remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.
The Royal Oak is a war grave. At least 386 men were pulled from
the chilling and fuel-oil coated waters.
Despite having drawn attention to the
vulnerability of Scapa Flow, the Admiral commanding was retired. The
defences were improved and were officially opened just after VE Day in
Prien and U47 were lost in March 1941. Some
U47 crew members who took part in the attack on Royal Oak survived
the war, having transferred to other vessels and some of them met Royal
The Vicar of Leatherhead, Rev Gerard HB
Coleridge wrote in the Parish magazine:
THE VICAR'S LETTER
The Vicarage, Leatherhead
October 16, 1939
My Dear People,
This hitherto somewhat remote and intangible
war has come this day very close to us as a parish. The sinking of H.M.S.
Royal Oak has involved the loss of at least four Leatherhead boys, namely
Clive Bonner, Leonard Martin, Richard Poulter and Desmond Kirkby, and
these names form the first of a new Roll of Leatherhead men who have laid
down their lives for Peace and Freedom. Our hearts go out with sympathetic
respect to those to whom they were especially dear.
All four were all pupils at Leatherhead
, in Woodvill Road (the precursor of Therfield
School). Their loss was reported in the local press as follows:
Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser -
Friday 20 October 1939
LEATHERHEAD'S FIRST WAR CASUALTIES
FOUR LOST ON "ROYAL OAK"
ALL OLD CENTRAL SCHOOL PUPILS
There were four Leatherhead people on the "Royal Oak,” which, as was
announced by the Admiralty last weekend, was sunk in Scapa Flow, and all
four lost their lives. They were, Ordinary Sig. Richard Poulter, 18 years
of age, son of Mr. and Mrs. James Poulter, of 3, Gravel Hill; Boy Desmond
Ernest Kirkby; aged 17, whose home was at 2, Cinema Place, High-street;
Boy Leonard Martin, aged 16, youngest son of Mrs. Martin, a cook employed
at Fairmead, Leatherhead-road, which is part of the Leatherhead Cottage
Hospital; and Band Corpl. Walter Clive Bonner, Royal Marines, aged 26,
eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Bonner, 34 Poplar Avenue.
All four who lost their lives as a result of
the disaster were former pupils of the Leatherhead Central School.
Cpl. Bonner was married last year. His wife
lives at East Rudham, Norfolk. He was a native of Leatherhead and was
always a keen musician. He joined the Leatherhead Town Silver Prize Band
before he left school. He joined the Service at the age of 14 but had only
been on the “Royal Oak” a few months. Before that he served on H.M.S.
Before he joined the Royal Navy, Boy Kirkby
had lived at Cinema Place since his babyhood, and after attending the
Central School, he was employed as an errand boy in the town. At the age
of 15 he entered the Royal Navy. He was a keen swimmer and in 1933 he was
awarded a certificate of proficiency in swimming by the Surrey Education
Boy Leonard Martin was a cousin of Cpl.
Bonner and he joined the Royal Navy when he left school at the age of 14.
His home was formerly at Highlands road, Leatherhead.
Ordinary Sig. Poulter joined the Navy two
years ago, thus achieving his life’s ambition. A native of the town, he
was the youngest son of five, and was keen cricketer, footballer and
swimmer. After leaving school, he worked for a time in the General Cable
Company Works at Leatherhead. One of his brothers is also in the Navy.
Sig. Poulter was 18 in August last and was last home on leave in June. His
parents received a cheerful letter from him only a few days before his
Memorial Service. The Vicar of Leatherhead (the Rev. G. H. B. Coleridge)
will conduct a memorial service at Leatherhead Parish Church on Wednesday
next at 3 p.m.
Dorking and Leatherhead Advertiser -
Friday 27 October 1939
TRIBUTE TO ROYAL OAK VICTIMS
At Leatherhead Parish Church on Wednesday afternoon a memorial service was
held in honour of the four Leatherhead men who lost their lives in the
Royal Oak disaster. As reported in last week’s issue of this journal, the
four men were Boy Desmond Ernest Kirkby, aged 17, of Cinema-place,
Leatherhead; Boy Leonard Martin, aged 16, son of Mrs Martin, a cook
employed at Leatherhead Cottage Hospital; Ordinary Signalman Richard
Poulter, aged 18, of 3, Gravel Hill, Leatherhead; and Band-Corporal Walter
Clive Bonner, Royal Marines, aged 26, of 34, Poplar-avenue, Leatherhead.
In addition to relatives, others present
included Sir Arthur Glyn, Bt. (Chairman of the Elementary Schools
Sub-Committee of the Surrey Education Committee), Mr. Stephen King, J.P
(formerly Headmaster of the Leatherhead Central School, where all four
victims attended). Mr G. W. Fairs (a member of the Leatherhead Urban
District Council), Mr. S. R. Drake (representing the Leatherhead Division
British Red Cross Society), and Mrs. E. R. Still. A half-muffled peal of
bells preceded the service, which was conducted by the Vicar (the Rev. G.
H. B. Coleridge), and the hymns sung included "Jesu, Lover of my soul,”
"The Church’s One Foundation,” and "Eternal Father Strong to Save,” and
Psalm xxiii was sung. Mr. F. H. Lockett, who was at the organ, played
Chopin’s "Funeral March” and the Nunc Dimittis was chanted.
There was no address.
All are named on the WW2 plaque on Leatherhead's
Town War Memorial
(the casualty links below are to the
Commonwealth War Grave Commission entries for each):
Desmond Kirkby is also remembered on the Cobham
- his CWGC record states that his parents were
Ernest and Emily Kirkby of Cobham, Surrey. The spelling of his surname on
the Town Memorial and in the RBL Roll of Honour is Kirby.
Further work is in hand to establish the
family histories in each case. Desmond Kirkby's address of Cinema Place,
High Street is presumed to be Leatherhead. There was The Picture House
in the Victoria Hall in Leatherhead High Street but Cinema Place has yet
to be located.
From James and Nellie Poulter, the parents
of Richard, in 1943 the war took another of their five sons:
- Saturday 8 May
LEATHERHEAD PARENTS’ LOSS
Mr. and Mrs. J. Poulter, of 3, Gravel Hill, Leatherhead. have been
notified that their son, Sapper
Leonard Victor Poulter
[see for family history], reported
missing in the Middle East on November 14th, must now be assumed to have
lost his life. Sapper Poulter, who was 23 years of age, joined the Royal
Engineers soon after the outbreak of war, went to France, and was
evacuated from Dunkirk. He went overseas again a year ago. He was educated
at Leatherhead Central Schools, and was a carpenter by trade. This is the
second loss his parents have sustained, as their youngest son, Richard
Poulter, aged 18, who was serving on H.M.S. Royal Oak, did not survive the
ship’s loss on October 14th, 1939.
Leatherhead Parish Magazine: 1939 volume (Surrey History Centre, Woking)
British Newspaper Archive, courtesy of Lorraine Spindler
Cobham War Memorial http://thebignote.com/2012/11/09/cobham-wwii-memorial/
the website editor
would like to add further information on these casualties
e.g. photos of them, and of any recollections within
last updated 2 Dec 19: 30 Jul 20