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The Hallowed Ground & U-boats

My grandfather David Walter Kirkup – my father’s father – was brought up on Lintz Hall Farm in Tanfield, County Durham, in the north of England.  Great grandfather John Carr Kirkup was an innkeeper, and great great grandfather David Kirkup was the bailiff of Lintz Hall Farm.

Grandfather David went to the University of Newcastle to study medicine.  Every day he went from the station in Lintz Green to Newcastle Central station, where he had a pony and trap to get to the college.  There were no cars or buses in those days.  Between the station and college was Grey’s monument, and one day he was stopped and got into big trouble for racing another student round and around the monument in his pony and trap!

My grandfather David became a dentist, and his first practice was in Jesmond, where he had a partner called Turnbull.  Turnbull ran off with the cash, leaving his wife and the debts.  Mrs. T or ‘aunty Turnbull’ (no Christian names then) lived with my grandfather David’s family for years afterwards.

   Grandfather David Walter Kirkup, South Shields dentist.

Later the family moved to 7 Kensington Terrace in South Shields.  The surgery was above the breakfast room, the room most used.  On a Sunday if a patient came with a toothache they were not sent away.  It didn’t happen every week, but when it did, my dad and his brother took turns to have the takings.  An extraction was two shillings, and my grandfather always used a spittoon on the floor to drop the tooth into.  Not all patients were extractions, so they would wait with bated breath for the wonderful ‘clunk’ into the spittoon, and then hope against hope for another!   As South Shields was a seaport, some of the patients were off ships – big Somalis the size of basketball players – with huge teeth!  My grandfather’s right forearm was twice the size of his left.

My dad’s older sister Betty was the cosmetic buyer for Fenwicks of Newcastle (and Bond Street).  One year Elizabeth Arden came to visit Fenwicks as one of her ‘best’ accounts and stayed at my grandfather David’s house.  There were probably no good hotels in the town.

My dad’s mother worked at a shop that sold umbrellas.  He rarely saw her as she was out at work every day – he was brought up by the family housekeeper, who was called ‘Auntie Kate’.  Then his mother became ill, and he was not allowed to go into her room.  One day when he was about ten years old he was coming home from school, and was told my someone to go home at once as his mother had died.  He ran along the lane behind Ocean Road and arrived at Roman Road, where the house was on the corner, and saw that all of the lattice blinds were closed.  It was hours later before he could pluck up the courage to go in.  He was sent to stay with neighbors and saw the hearse and cars leaving the house.  He never visited the grave or met any blood relations of his father or mother.  

Later, my grandfather married a much younger woman.  My dad would have nothing to do with her.  Grandfather David had a beach house, and his new wife used to spend a lot of her time there.  There were tales about her dancing on the tables in local taverns, but I don’t know whether that’s true.

One day after school, my dad and his school friends were playing cricket on the school grounds.  They were not allowed to play on the pristine seeded school cricket pitch – that was known as the ‘hallowed ground’, roped off and carefully tended by the school groundsmen.  Pupils would get into big trouble if they as much as stepped onto the hallowed ground – if a ball went on there, you were supposed to wait until the next morning and ask the groundsmen to get the ball for you.

But during the friendly cricket game, the batsmen hit their only two balls onto the school cricket pitch – the hallowed ground!   After some discussion, my dad and a boy called Lawrence volunteered to retrieve them.

The next morning as usual the whole school met for prayers and assembly in the school hall.  When it was time for announcements, the headmaster said, “The boys who trespassed on the hallowed ground of the cricket pitch, come to the front of the school.”  So my dad had to get up and stand in front of everyone and was caned in front of the whole school.  “Kirkup and Lawrence”, said the headmaster, “I’ve not finished with you yet.  Go to my study and wait for me there.”   So my dad walked out of the assembly, walked past the headmaster’s study, and out of the school gates.  He never went back. 

After attending Tynemouth Municipal High School across the river, in 1933 he signed up as a cabin boy on a merchant ship, the Rossington Court and went to sea, starting a career in the merchant navy.  (The Rossington Court was sunk later in a wartime convoy collision with the Athelviking.)  I have his merchant navy ‘Certificate of discharge’ book, which lists all of the ships that he served on.

In 1941 during the second world war he was in the Ethel Radcliffe.  On April 17 1941 he was torpedoed by a German E-boat from the Second Flotilla off the coast of Norfolk, and the ship was beached.  A month later the ship was bombed on the beach by Junkers 87 dive bombers (Stukas) on 14 May 1941, and was a total loss.  Lance Bombardier White of the Royal Artillery was awarded the military medal by King George VI, for holding off the Stuka attack with Lewis Guns.  

His next ship, the Sacramento Valley, a 4,573 ton steam freighter with a cargo of 6,843 tons of coal en route from Cardiff to Pernambuco, was torpedoed by U-106 captained by Jurgen Oesten on June 6th 1941 at 5.03am.  (The German navy keeps excellent records.  Jurgen Oesten was a 'U Boat Ace' with 19 ships sunk.  In wartime, we all have a job to do.)  Three crew were lost.  My dad and 45 others were in open boats until rescued.

Then he served in the Everoja, a steam merchant vessel of 4,830 tons.  In 1941, with a cargo of sugar,  as part of Atlantic convoy SC-52, 80 miles east of Belle Island Newfoundland, he was torpedoed by U-203, captained by Rolf Mutzelburg, another decorated U-Boat ace.  There was no loss of life, and they were in open boats until picked up by HMS Nasturtium, and landed in St Johns, Newfoundland.  Rolf Mutzelburg was killed on 11 September 1942 in a freak accident when diving from his conning tower into the sea.  U203 was sunk by HMS Biter when attacking a convoy in April 1943.

All of these sinkings would have put me off being a merchant seaman, but he signed up again, another eight voyages.  In 1943 he was in Egypt, as I have his Suez Canal Port Said shore leave pass.  He ended up as Chief Steward of the ships in which he served.  

  WG 'Pat' Kirkup's Suez Canal pass photo, October 19th, 1943.
Board of Trade. Continuous Certificate of Discharge
Merchant Shipping Act 1894
           
Walter Granville Kirkup   Born: South Shields  
National Union of Seamen membership number 114349    
           
Ship Engagement Discharge Rating Voyage Comments
Rossington Court 4-Jan-1933 23-Jul-1933 Cabin Boy Australia Very good
Geddington Court 31-Oct-1933 5-Mar-1934 Cabin Boy British Columbia Very good
Geddington Court 2-Apr-1934 30-Oct-1934 Cabin Boy North Pacific Very good
SS Penhale 4-Dec-1934 18-Apr-2025 M.R. Boy Foreign Very good
SS Penhale 21-May-1935 4-Nov-1935 M.R. Boy Foreign Very good
Manistee 9-Sep-1937 12-Oct-1937 Asst Steward West Indies Very good
Totuguero 9-Mar-1938 27-Jun-1938 Asst Steward West Indies Very good
Cormonde 12-Aug-1938 Not completed Asst Steward   Voyage not completed
Boydall 18-Sep-1939 Not completed Steward   Voyage not completed
Ethel Radcliffe 17-Jan-1940 22-Apr-1940 Deck Hand * Foreign Very good
Ethel Radcliffe 25-Apr-1940 6-Jul-1940 Deck Hand * Foreign Very good
Ethel Radcliffe 7-Jul-1940 1-Jan-1941 Deck Hand * Foreign Very good
Ethel Radcliffe 3-Jan-1941 17-Apr-1941 Deck Hand * Foreign Sunk by enemy action
Sacramento Valley 10-May-1941 6-Jun-1941 Deck Hand * Foreign Sunk by enemy action
Everoja 22-Aug-1941 3-Nov-1941 Deck Hand * Foreign Sunk by enemy action
Empire Keats 12-May-1942 18-Mar-1943 Asst Steward Foreign Very good
Regent Panther 16-Jul-1943 29-Mar-1944 2nd Steward Foreign Very good
Dan-Y-Bryn 27-Jun-1944 9-Jul-1944 Chief Steward Foreign Very good
Dan-Y-Bryn 10-Jul-1944 29-Aug-1944 Chief Steward Special operation Very good
Dan-Y-Bryn 30-Aug-1944 22-Nov-1944 Chief Steward Foreign Very good
Dan-Y-Bryn 23-Nov-1944 21-Feb-1945 Chief Steward Foreign Very good
Dan-Y-Bryn 22-Feb-1945 13-Aug-1945 Chief Steward Foreign Very good
Dan-Y-Bryn 14-Aug-1945 2-Nov-1945 Chief Steward Foreign Very good
           
Released from the Merchant Navy on termination of war service.  Certificate issued.
* Deck hand was used as the description for deck gunners in the merchant navy.  

 

The Dan-Y-Bryn was the only ship my dad  talked about.  He finally made Chief Steward on that ship, and liked nothing better than to polish glasses and silverware, or to carve a big joint of beef.  He liked a drink too, and I am sure that being Chief Steward gave him plenty of opportunity for that!

Chief Steward at home    |    Geddington Court     |     Regent Panther

The Dan-Y-Bryn was on eight dangerous wartime convoys to Murmansk and Archangel, in Russia.  But it was a 'lucky' ship, and was never hit.  When he met my mom a year or so later, he had with him the papers to marry a Russian girl in Murmansk.  As far as I know, he did not marry her.

Merchant navy and U-boat links

Everoja page:  http://uboat.net/allies/merchants/1196.html

Sacramento Valley page:  http://www.ubootwaffe.net/ops/ships.cgi?boat=106;nr=12

U-106 page:  http://www.ubootwaffe.net/ops/boat.cgi?boat=106

U-106 Jurgen Oesten page:  http://uboat.net/men/oesten.htm

U-203 Rolf Mutzelburg page:  http://uboat.net/men/muetzelburg.htm 

From my dad's last letter to me, written two days before he died in 1994:  "I mentioned D Day plus three when we arrived at SWORD.  I was at SWORD beachhead as Chief Steward of the Dan-Y-Bryn.  We dropped anchor off SWORD with our cargo of bombs and Guinness which we had taken on board at Liverpool.  I can understand why we had the Guinness, but I have never been able to understand why we actually had BOMBS in the hold.  Surely it would have been easier to load them on planes in England and drop them in France or Germany.  Fifteen minutes or so and the ship next to us was blown right out of the water by a limpet bomb that was attached to her by a midget sub or Special Underwater Teams.  For the attacking force we also had teams of underwater people looking after our interests. Nevertheless we were petrified with fear all the time we were at anchor and everyone was more than glad to up anchor and away after all of the cargo was safely ashore.  Under these conditions there are no brave men unless they have no feelings - but some people can cope better than others." 

Here's a story he wrote to his D&P company colleagues in 1979:  "During the 1939-45 war I had the privilege of serving with an arm of His Majesty's Forces and being attached to Merchant ships on Atlantic convoys and elsewhere around the world.  The enemy were not at all sporting and shot at us with torpedoes etc. without warning.  We were only very rarely given the opportunity to fire a shot back at them.  After three such occasions and having been forcibly parted from my ships, the Admiralty in their wisdom decided it would be better if I had a spell ashore.

I was invited to do a series of lectures explaining to Naval recruits the difference between serving on a Merchant ship and a Naval vessel.  Although I had not ever served on a Naval vessel I decided in my wisdom to accept the job.  My first assignment was at a Naval training center in North Wales, to a captive and capacity audience in the camp cinema,

Blinded by the array of 'brass' in the first rows and gripping my notes tightly in a clammy hand, I ended the ordeal, explaining that in my opinion the correct procedure after being hit by a torpedo was to make for your lifeboat if it still existed.  My final lines, "He who fights and runs away - lives to fight another day!" I thought was appropriate for the occasion.

To judge by the ovation I was given, the Ratings agreed.  The top brass in the audience did not - my career as a lecturer was over.  I was given a rocket and sent home."

My dad was stuck with two names I don't think he liked - Walter and Granville, as he never used either.  He always signed his name 'WG Kirkup', and adopted his merchant navy name 'Pat', which was his sister's name.

After the war he found himself in Walsall, working as a baby photographer.  He answered a newspaper ad my mom placed in the Express & Star for a lodger.  They met at the George Hotel, and he rented a room from her at 38 Littleton Street, and used the small room under the stairs as his darkroom.  They got married in 1947, the year that I was born.  My mom had been married before, to a man she called ‘Dawson’, and had two children by that marriage, my sisters Barbara and Carol.  My mom was a tailoress and used to make women’s suits, very popular in those days.  But after a while she gave up tailoring and helped my dad with the baby pictures.

The baby pictures business worked like this. They would stand outside baby clinics and take pictures of each baby in their pram as they came out of the clinic.  Then on Friday (pay day) they would take the ‘proofs’ to the mother’s house, and take an order for prints.  My mom was very good at that, telling each mother that her baby is the best looking, and that she had put his picture up on the wall!  My dad always said that he was no good as a salesman, and wanted to throw the pictures at people if they refused to buy them!

As I was growing up, the baby picture business changed into a developing and printing (D&P) business, which took over the whole downstairs of our house, and some extensions, and we lived upstairs.  We used to develop the pictures for most of the local chemists, including Boots.  Of course in those days this was all black and white.  I helped in the D&P works from an early age, putting prints on the ‘glazer’, and eventually learned to do all of the jobs.  This was useful background when I went to photographic college, many years later.

  WG 'Pat' Kirkup at his D&P office, 1973.