In recent times, I have been researching the Roll of Honour for World War II. That involves several sessions in Stornoway Library to peruse the various publications for:
Ness to Bernera
Gress to Upper Coll
as well as an on-line Roll of Honour for Uig on the Hebridean Connections website. The village of Tong appears to have fallen by the wayside in this respect. Like with the Faces from the War Memorial project (World War I), I have listed those that lost their lives in the years between 1939 and 1945, or in later years if as a result of war service. The result can be seen here.
One of the most remarkable stories (and there are quite a few to be found) surrounds HMS Rawalpindi.
Image courtesy uboat.net
Rawalpindi was an Armed Merchant Cruiser, converted from a passenger liner by adding 10 pieces of gunnery. While patrolling north of the Faroe Islands on November 23, 1939, she investigated a possible enemy sighting, only to find that she had encountered two of the most powerful German warships, the battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau trying to break out into the Atlantic. The Rawalpindi was able to signal the German ships' location back to base. Despite being hopelessly outgunned, Captain EC Kennedy of the Rawalpindi decided to fight, rather than surrender as demanded by the Germans. The German warships returned fire and sank Rawalpindi within forty minutes. Two hundred and thirty eight men died, including Captain Kennedy. Thirty seven men were rescued by the German ships and a further 11 were picked up by HMS Chitral (another converted passenger ship). Captain Kennedy, the father of broadcaster and author Ludovic Kennedy, was posthumously Mentioned in Dispatches. A detailed account, from the perspective of the Scharnhorst, can be read here.
Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain spoke in the House of Commons afterwards: "These men might have known, as soon as they sighted the enemy, that there was no chance, but they had no thought of surrender. They fired their guns until they could be fired no more, and many went to their deaths in the great tradition of the Royal Navy. Their example will be an inspiration to thosse that come after them".
In spite of these fine words, and in spite of later German reports, captain Kennedy was 'merely' [not my words] mentioned in despatches, and the crew have not been posthumously rewarded for their bravery.
This entry is dedicated to the 238 that lost their lives that day, and to the bravery of all 276 crew. Eight of the dead came from Lewis.