I served on HMS Exeter
The Exeter was sunk in the 'Battle of the Java Sea'
Latest News December 2016
Grave-robbing and the betrayal of our heroes -
British Second World War wrecks in the Java Sea have been illegally scavenged for scrap
The wreck of the Exeter was discovered by amateur divers about 15 years ago and the public are shocked to hear that this ship, and others, have been plundered, as the wreck should have been classed as a war grave. More . . .
Those who did not go down with the ship were held as prisoners of the Japanese, in a disease ridden camp, described below.
HMS Exeter, damaged after the Battle of the River Plate
I served on HMS Exeter by Christopher Gwynne Hodge, (Known to all as Gwyn)
To all those who fought a daily battle to survive
‘HMS Exeter is probably most famous for taking part in 'The Battle of the River Plate,' close to the coast of Argentina and Uruguay in South America, in December 1939. This was the first naval battle of World War Two, during which it received extensive damage, which took over a year to repair.
When the ship was fully repaired and recommissioned, I was proud to be assigned to the now famous ship and sent to sea. I served with one of the three 8 inch gun crews as its telephonist and my task was to relay the instructions from gun control.
HMS Exeter was sent to the Far East after the Pacific War started in December and In early February 1942 she was assigned to the Striking Force of the joint American-British-Dutch-Australian Command and tasked with the defence of the Dutch islands.
When I was new to the ship, I had a very unfortunate experience when I failed to hear Action Stations being piped, as I was sleeping in my bunk. I was late in reporting to my gun position and was therefore put on a charge and called in front of my superior officer,
who asked why I was late reporting for duty. I told him that I had only awakened when I heard the sound of the men running on the stairs.' He said, 'On the stairs, get out of my sight.' 'I was lucky that he realised how much of a 'Sprog' (young recruit) I was, as I did not even know the proper name was companionway.'
'I was on the HMS Exeter when the Japanese fleet in the Java Sea sank it. After a few days on the deck of a destroyer, we were taken to Macassar, (Makassar on modern maps) the capital of the Celebes, a tropical island now called Sulawesi. There, later in the day we landed and had to walk a few miles, most of us without shoes, so with the very hot road, many suffered from blisters for days after. Over the three and a half years working on building roads and in a rock quarry, we were to regret having discarded our shoes when taking to the water.
When we arrived at the barracks, there was nothing there, so we slept on a concrete floor for over a month, then we were given bed boards, but no bedding. The worst thing was lack of food and to get a little more we traded with the locals but if we were caught, we were beaten with a crowbar, but our Officers complained, so they beat the whole party with a baseball bat instead.
With malnutrition we lost one in three’.
Details of life as a POW are given here later in this article . . .
Gwynne C. Hodge
HMS Exeter in January 1942 during the Battle of the Banka Straits.
Exercise on Board
HMS Exeter, 6th Battle Honour, Sunda Strait 1942
1 Arising from correspondence with the Chairman of the River Plate Veterans during 1980/81, the Admiralty Board has awarded the Battle Honour 'Sunda Strait 1942' to HMS Exeter commemorating her final action during the morning of1 March 1942.
2 HMS Exeter sailed from Surabaja during the evening of 28 February 1942, in company with HMS Encounter and USS Pope, Exeter had recently been damaged in action, and with only two boilers in operation was capable of 16 knots, but while on passage during the night, steam was raised in two more boilers, allowing her to work up to 23 knots. The force was ordered to proceed to Colombo via the Sunda Strait, along a track which intended to avoid known enemy surface dispositions, and minimise the risk of aircraft detection.
The three ships were sighted in the Java Sea and were intercepted at 0930 on 1 March, well to the east of the Sunda Strait where HMS Perth and USS Houston had encountered and been sunk by Japanese forces during the night. Four Japanese heavy cruisers opened fire at about 1000.
The Encounter and Pope laid a smokescreen and the Exeter's repair parties managed to flash up one more boiler and raise her speed to 26 knots, but her fire control system was defective, and the fall of shot had to be plotted and correction applied by Dumaresq. The Japanese, aided by air spotting, fired quickly and accurately but did not obtain a seriously damaging hit until approximately 1120, when a 8-inch shell struck the Exeter's forward boiler room, starting a fire which forced the abandoning of the space. Steam power was soon lost and the ship was immobilised, although all guns which could bear on the enemy continued to fire. At 1130, a Japanese destroyer dorpedoed the cruiser from short range. A total of 14 torpedoes were fired and 20 minutes later the Exeter capsised and sank. The Captain 44 officers and 607 ratings were rescued by the Japanese. HMS Encounter and the Pope were ordered to proceed independently when the Exeter was stopped, but both were later sunk, the British destroyer by gunfire, and the American by bombing and gunfire. Encounter's ship's company were immediately rescued by the Japanese, the Commanding Officer, six officers and 143 ratings being picked up, but the Pope was lost some distance to the eastward, and the rescue was delayed by two or three days when only a few survivors remained.
3 All survivors were taken to prison and not released until September 1945. No awards were made before 22 January 1946, when Captain O. L. Gordon MVO became a CB; the Cdr (E) became a member of the DSO; and three DSC's and eight DSM's were awarded; seventeen officers and ratings were also mentioned in dispatches, one posthumously.
4 In recounting this action the Admiralty Board has decided that the Battle Honour is justified in that this was 'an exceptional case where outstanding efforts were made against overwhelming odds'.
A commemorative stained glass window featuring St. Andrew exists in the Chapel of St. Andrew within Exeter Cathedral. The dedication reads as follows:
Dedicated in memory of the officers and men who gave their lives in the last two actions of HMS Exeter in the Java Sea on 27th February and 1st March 1942 and those of her company who died in Captivity. And a thanks offering to Almighty God from those who surviving the dangers of the sea and the violence of the enemy by His Good Grace returned to their Native Lands.
St. Andrew. Cruiser Crest of HMS Exeter. Semper Fidelis.
A cruiser which was completed at Devonport in 1931, 8390 tons, Length 575ft verall, Beam 58ft, Draft 17ft, 6x8in guns, 4x4in guns, 4x3pdr, 8x2pdr pom-pom, 6x21in tripled torpedo tubes, maximum speed 32 knots and a ships company of 630. Aircraft 1-Fairy 111F.
Machinery-Parsons Geared Turbines. 4 screws, Oil fuel 1900tons, Radius 10,000miles at 11 to 14 knots, top speed.
Severely damaged at the Battle of the River Plate in December 1939 and then spent one year in dockyard hands.
On 27-28 February 1942, sailing as part of Admiral Karel Doorman's American-British-Dutch-Australian Combined Striking Force, consisting of cruisers & destroyers, which was intended to challenge a Japanese invasion of Dutch East Indies. In an engagement, East of Java, with a Japanese cruiser and destroyer force, Exeter was hit in the boiler room early on and speed was reduced to 15 knots. On 1st March 1942, in company with one British and one US destroyer, Exeter attempted to escape to Australia, she fought a 90 minute battle against 4 Japanese cruisers and 3 destroyers and was sunk by torpedo.
Depot ship for submarines, built at Clydebank. Displacement 8,900tons, complement 502 (including 64 repair staff and 43 as spare submarine crew).
MAP of the camps in the Far East.
Macassar is at the lower centre
What follows, is something concerning Gwyn's post-war life and more details of the 1942 battle and their life in the Japanese POW Camp. Something very painful for Gwyn to relate, so extracts were taken from a book which features his experiences and later he records his repatriation via Perth and Cape Town.
The Happy Couple, 20 January 1941
Gwyn Hodge, with his dog Remo
Another 'Mumbles Man', Larry Owen first met Gwyn Hodge in 1953 -when I was playing table tennis for Mumbles and he was playing for Jack Cowley's - a league team formed by a table tennis playing local newsagent.
Gwyn Hodge is a legend in his own lifetime, a Welsh international gymnast, the longest serving league table tennis player in Swansea, Welsh weightlifting champion and a survivor of three and a half years in a wartime Japanese death camp. His experiences there were immortalised in the book "No Surrender";
Until I left Swansea in 1960, I saw Gwyn mainly when I needed new clothes,
as he was the manager of Burton's in High Street. My meetings with him until I retired to Mumbles in 1998, were infrequent, but since then we saw each other regularly as members of Mumbles Baptist Church, where Gwyn had been an active worker for Christian Aid for at least fifty years;
At 83, though frail physically, he was still feisty, cheerful and had the strength of mind and Christian faith that enabled him to be one of the few survivors of the Macassor death camp.
He survived into the 21st century.
Sixty years on and my generation can only wonder at the fortitude of men such as this, some little more than boys, who endured such experiences from which so many did not recover or indeed survive. He had never forgotten his comrades from the HMS Exeter and had allowed me to use extracts from one of his books, which chronicled life as a POW under the Japanese. This one recorded the life of the crew of the Exeter and others, at the POW camp near Macassar. NO SURRENDER records much that he finds too painful to narrate.
The photographs illustrating this article are from his private collection, unless otherwise credited.
http://www.cofepow.org.uk/ Honorary Life Member of COFEPOW http://www.cofepow.org.uk/
Copyright © FEPOW Fame
Extracts from 'NO SURRENDER'
Bill Johns, kindly dedicated this copy of the book-
To Gwyn Hodge, Who fought a Daily Battle to survive, Sincerely, Bill Johns
P 113, 'B' Garage Party was notorious for the punishments meted out, and became known as the poko, or 'beating-up', party. Men came back from work bleeding and sick, not as a result of the hard work-Lord knows, that was bad enough-but of the general beatings they had suffered during the day. The party was in charge of a Nip Chief Petty Officer, with a PO second in command, ad an appropriately cruel and mean set of ratings who never missed an opportunity of savaging a prisoner.
At the end of the working day the prisoners, physically exhausted after non-stop cement-mixing, or carrying heavy loads, were told to fall in, while grinning with delight, the Nip guards would rush off to fetch their implements. The POWs would wait apprehensively in rows of five for the proceedings to begin.
The Chief would then walk along the front row asking questions in Malay. If answered correctly he would repeat the question in Japanese. If no answer was forthcoming the unfortunate individual would then be pulled from the ranks and literally thrown to the waiting guards, who would start beating and kicking him, then throwing him judo style until either he lapsed into unconsciousness or his limbs gave under the assault.
On other occasions we would be drilled, with the orders rapped out in Japanese. Soon chaos would ensue, as none of us knew any but the basic commands. A mass beating would then take place, no one being excused. Tools for this beating would include baseball bats, bamboo canes split so that they cut the flesh, the occasional horsewhip, which usually managed to churn out pieces from flesh was left on our bodies. The most cruel and terrible weapon was a solid one-inch-diameter iron bar, whose owner was known as the 'Iron-Bar Merchant'. Such treatment was to say the least, poor recompense for a hard days work.
'Only Two Could Stand Up'
Gwyn Hodge, on left, with fellow POW, 1945
. . .This in many case would be the last straw for men who had literally slaved all day, been beaten up savagely, and wearily walked back to camp then to be savaged again by Yoshida and his sadistic guards. The example set by Yoshida to his ape-like guards made sure that a tyrannical standard of toughness and unveiled cruelty was maintained. and punishment was only a portion of the cross we had to bear-there was in addition hunger, disease, backbreaking toil, and the complete severance from our homes and loved ones. to them we were now the legion of the dead.
For many POW's survival was linked to their initial physical condition and the amount of hardship and punishment they were able to withstand. Those who were tough and strong when they first marched through the gates of Macassar camp had a head start on their less fortunate brethren, and though nearly all of us eventually fell sick, those who had the initial reserves of strength managed to weather those critical years of imprisonment. .
. . .As the third year of our captivity drew on, the deaths mounted. It seemed a long while since we had been shocked by the news of five men dying in one day. Now the death cart was kept waiting at the end of each day, waiting just in case of a 'late departure'. Then it would be rushed off to the burial ground, where the prisoners were interred with indecent haste and virtually unmorned. It made my blood boil to realise that in the hospital less than a mile away were medical supplies that could have put the cart out of business.
Such was the apathy at this stage that as the grim burial party passed through the camp entrance only one question was asked: How many today?
The eerie parting note of the bugler sounding the 'Still' was the only record of their departure; but they had gone beyond the walls of the camp and the guards would
molest them no more. . .
. . .Virtually everyone in the camp was now sick. All men who could stand, and many who could not, were forced out of camp to work. . .
. . .The guards showed a sadistic delight in the pain and torture endured by those
Inside the camp there was much speculation. One story was that the war was over. . .. . .We waited apprehensively as the Dutch Commandant climbed on to the platform and began to speak in Dutch. We listened without comprehending, but as he spoke we began to sense his meaning, confirmed for us by a Dutchman in the ranks who muttered, 'The war is over, The war is over'. . .
. . .pandemonium broke loose; tears, shouts, screams, kissing and handshaking.
Things now began to move, Event followed event, sometimes in bewildering confusion.
The Australian officer walked slowly down the gangway, preceded by determined Australian guards with rifles at the ready, coolly surveying the Japanese onlookers. The Japanese admiral moved forward with a bunch of flowers which he offered to the Australian.
The officer ignored the Admiral and the reception party, heading instead for the wizened POWs, shaking hands with each member of that special guard. With that clasp of the hand we returned to our own world and our self respect.
To this day I can see the look of disdain on the Australian officer's face as he tossed the proffered bunch of flowers into the Java Sea.
NO SURRENDER by W.E. Johns and R. A. Kelly ISBN 1 85227 151 5
The book Was returned to Gwyn and I believe it is out of print
HMS Maidstone arrived in Fremantle, the port near Perth, on September 30, 1945, to a rousing welcome from the Western Australian public.
Its crew of 440 officers and ratings of the Royal Navy had been prisoners of war at Macassar (Celebes).
The men had been members of crews of the Exeter, Encounter, Electro, Stronghold, Jupiter, Anking and Francol, all of which were lost in action in the Java Sea early in 1942.
On its arrival, a big crowd greeted the Maidstone, with the public taking advantage of the newly restored liberty to visit the wharves.
Captain Shadwell that night thanked the people of Western Australia for the magnificent welcome they had given the Maidstone crew.
While in Western Australia, the men were fitted out with new clothes and visited various country centres. Some men had their ailments treated at Hollywood Hospital.
Unloading ex-Japanese Prisoners Of War
When they left on the Maidstone, after about six weeks, each man carried an Australian Red Cross hospitality parcel containing tins of fruit, tomato juice, rabbit and condensed milk and two packets of sweets.
The extract above taken from the Perth local newspaper, does not reveal everything about ex-POWs' time in Perth.
Gwyn Hodge collapsed while on parade and was taken to Hollywood Hospital. He told me, 'The only time the lads there were in their beds was when the Red Cross ladies called at visiting time. My visitor asked me if there was anything I wanted, I asked for a packet of peanuts.'
He continued 'We were usually down the town. After all, we had been locked up for all those years, so the doctors thought it would do us more good to get out and about and have a chance to do normal things like go to the shops, the park or the pictures.'
'On the voyage home we stopped off in South Africa so as to allow us to regain our strength. While there, I met several Royal Navy Officers, one of whom was a ships' photographer. After asking about the sinking of the HMS Exeter and my time as a POW, he later met me again and gave me all the photographs of RN ships published here.'
The men of the Exeter came home; but, as with all those men returning from Far Eastern Camps, their repatriation was not easy. Sick in mind and body, these emaciated figures had to be transported almost around the earth to their homes in Britain. Many of them came home only in body and uniform; their minds are to this day, locked in the horrors of Macassar.
Pellagra, dysentery, malnutrition, malaria, Weil's disease, tropical ulcers, foot rot and heat: couple these with loneliness and desperation, and what are the cures? Brutality experienced on all sides; seeing shipmates die; unclothed, unwanted and unclassified; for disposal only. No news, letters or parcels. What was to be done with men who had suffered in such manner?
A struggle for rehabilitation began at Queen Mary's Hospital, Roehampton, and continues to this day.
. . . For many of Exeter's ships company the miracle of recovery was achieved; for some the battle was already lost.