The loss of the Auxiliary Cruiser HMS Jervis Bay is one of the most stirring stories of the Royal Navy in the Second World War. The David and Goliath struggle between the passenger liner converted for war taking on one of the Kriegsmarine’s finest pocket battleship is real ‘boys own’ stuff, and the Irishman Captain Fegen in command of the ‘Jervis Bay’ was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross for his actions. However it was understood at the time that his award also reflected the bravery of the rest of his crew and not just his own selflessness.
Some of that crew, like eighteen men from Wick in Caithness had signed up as war time Royal Navy Reserve sailors after pre-war service in the Merchant Navy.
Captain Fegen’s V.C. citation describes the action succinctly
"For valour in challenging hopeless odds and giving his life to save the many ships it was his duty to protect. On the 5th of November, 1940, in heavy seas, Captain Fegen, in His Majesty's Armed Merchant Cruiser Jervis Bay, was escorting thirty-eight Merchantmen. Sighting a powerful German warship he at once drew clear of the Convoy, made straight for the enemy and brought his ship between the raider and her prey, so that they might scatter and escape. Crippled, in flames, unable to reply, for nearly an hour the Jervis Bay held the German's fire. So she went down; but of the Merchantmen all but four or five were saved."
What it doesn’t describe is the terrible damage the Admiral Scheer’s guns had done to the Jervis Bay and its crew. It had turned the pre-war cruise ship into an inferno with its 280mm guns as the Jervis Bay, hopelessly outclassed by the German ship, had relentlessly sailed towards the Scheer to draw its fire and save the merchant ships of convoy HX84.
Like their Captain the men of Caithness acted in the finest traditions of the Royal Navy and nine made the ultimate sacrifice. The people of Wick never forgot the Jervis Bay, or the part their men played in the battle with the Scheer and in November 2006 a plaque was unveiled in the town in their memory. The HMS Jervis Bay Memorial, Wick lists the nine local men who died to save their Merchant Navy comrades on this day seventy years ago.
James Anderson, Old Schoolhouse, Thrumster, married.
James Bain, 18 Wellington Street, wick, married, aged 27.
John M. Bain, 24 Kinnaird Street, Wick, aged 27.
David R. Bremner, 31 Smith Terrace, Wick, married, aged 29.
William Bremner, 5 Macarthur Street, Wick, aged 32.
John Innes, Burnside, Oldwick, Wick, married, age 33.
William B. Miller, 31 Smith Terrace, Wick, aged 27.
John C. Munro, New House, Keiss, aged 28.
Alexander Webster, 41 Argyle Square, Wick, married, age 32.
You can read more about the Jervis Bay here and here.
EDIT: Since posting this, I was dismayed to read a report in the John O'Groat Journal that vandals have defaced the Jervis Bay memorial plaque.