-H.M.S. Hood Crew Information-
The Memories of Howard Denis Spense
by Howard Spense
Updated 06-May-2014

Howard was one of the lucky few to leave Hood just before she sailed to intercept Bismarck. He submitted his story to the website via our website forum in 2000

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A Charmed Life on the Ocean Wave, or, Memories of a Very Able Seaman Howard Denis Spence

My home town was Portsmouth in Hampshire and my father, Howard Ernest Spence served on H.M.S. Hampshire in World War One and luckily left her just before her final voyage when she was sunk with Lord Kitchener on board.

In WW2 I joined the Hood as an ordinary seaman in May 1940 at Plymouth. Among my shipmates that I remember were Jon Pertwee, Ian Seraillier (author of the "Silver Sword"), "Lofty" Bonner, "Mad" Grey, "Young" Coote, "Ginger" Fitch, "Nobby" Ball (who got married on his final leave), "Boy" Clayton, AB Miles, RR Gillichan, Christian Brau (Free French Navy), "Honest" Thomo the librarian, Edwards (the grandson of the Archbishop of Wales, St Asaph) and many other fine lads. Later I even had a chat with Admiral Somerville (a fine man) as I nipped up through the Admiral's Bridge and he suddenly appeared and said "Oi! Get your hair cut"! I replied "Yes Sir"! and went to my look-out post.

After convoy work in northern waters we left Scapa Flow in June 1940 with news of the fall of France and arrived at Gibraltar 23rd June 1940. Admiral Somerville took over command of Force H. We had shore leave and the main street in Gibraltar was a seething mass of sailors, soldiers, airmen and refugees. I remember having a few drinks in a bar and moving with mates to the main street and it was a mass of sailors and soldiers fighting each other. The next that I knew was being dumped in a picket boat and eventually it was dark and I fell asleep aboard the Hood. Eventually being awoken by crashes, explosions and gunfire, I staggered to the upper deck to my position as loader in the 4"AA guns crew and my mates warned me of trouble because there was an Italian air raid going on. CPO Sheppard listened to my excuses and I explained that my promotion board was coming up and that it would be a disaster if I went on Commander's Report. He relented and told me not to be so stupid in future and that kindness saved my life.

On July 3rd 1940 Force H sailed towards Oran to stop the French fleet from joining the Axis forces. Negotiations failed with tragic results and one French near miss showered our 4"AA gun with purple dyed water and I thought that I had been hit. The gunfire from the 15" and 4" guns was terrific and gave me tinitus as a legacy.

Later, back to Scapa Flow and forays into northern waters with the news that the German super battleship, the Bismarck was at sea. Some 13 of our crew, myself and Jon Pertwee included had draft chits to go south. Another was a matelot who had hit a PO with a rifle. On route to Pompey I stopped at a pub near Victoria station in London (Waterloo had been bombed) and at the end of the bar was a stocky chap in nondescript clothes - he was a deserter from the Hood - neither of us spoke, but went our separate ways.

I arrived home at Portsmouth by May 24th 1941 and heard a radio announcement that H.M.S. something-or-other had been sunk - we could not catch a name, but I had a presentiment that it was the Hood, and this was confirmed the next day. A telegram arrived for my parents and I took it from the telegraph boy "regret your son missing, presumed killed" - a further telegram arrived dated 29 May 1941 "your son not on board, regret anxiety caused". What a sad but lucky escape as only three were saved out of some 1400.

Strangely enough from early boyhood I have had a recurrent dream of a huge warship collapsing above me, a minute figure nearby - I have had a life bonus of some 58 years to date, for which I thank God.

Howard Denis Spence