Reunion for St Albans Arctic convoy veteran
- Credit: Photo supplied
A WAR hero from St Albans who served Britain aboard a Royal Navy destroyer escorting convoys to northern Russia was reunited with his former shipmates at the weekend.
Ninety-one-year-old Frank Witton who was recently awarded the Arctic Star for service 70 years ago on HMS Woolston, met fellow veterans of Atlantic and Arctic convoys at Warwick last weekend.
It was the annual reunion of the V and W Association – the V and W class of destroyer was built for the Navy under the war emergency programme of the First World War.
Frank, born in St Albans in 1922, persuaded his employer Handley Page in Radlett, where he was in a reserved occupation and thus exempt from service in the armed forces, to release him so he could join the Navy.
He trained as a stoker and was posted to Rosyth on the Firth of Forth in January 1942.
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Frank’s first trip aboard HMS Woolston was his worst, escorting a convoy to Archangel in north Russia in weather so bad that the U-boats stayed away and waves crashed across the deck and through air vents into the boiler room where the stokers were on duty.
One Christmas they were at sea with nothing but dry biscuits to eat. So the skipper dropped two depth charges into the ocean and the ship’s whaler collected dead fish from the surface, enabling the crew to feast on giant cod washed down with rum.
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In 1943 HMS Woolston was in the Mediterranean escorting the troop carriers to the invasion beaches in Sicily.
Frank served on the destroyer until the war in Europe ended when it was sent to Bergen, Norway, to accept the surrender of the German U-boats and was welcomed by the Norwegians as liberators.
Frank then returned home to St Albans and looked after the boilers at the former Rose’s Lime Juice premises in Grosvenor Road.
About 30 people attended the V and W reunion, mostly associate members including local publisher Bill Forster, who set up Holywell House Publishing and has brought out a book on his father’s experience aboard a wartime destroyer.
Bill said that the V and W Association was set up 25 years ago by “Stormy” Fairweather who served aboard HMS Westcott. It initially had 300 members.
He added: “Although most are now over 90 years old they were up to midnight after the reunion dinner.
“I recorded hour-long interviews with three veterans and one of them, aged 94, has just had his driving licence renewed for another three years!”
For more information on the association, the bravery of the Arctic convoy veterans and next month’s 70th anniversary of the turning of the tide in the Battle of the Atlantic, see www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk