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Simeon Henry Harris Warder


This page was written by Simeon’s nephew, and is reproduced here with his kind permission.

He has published an extensive family history on his web site, “South Monmouthshire families” which is well worth a visit. The author is very interested to hear from anyone who can add to the story. Please contact me and I will pass your details on to him.

Here my contact tells some of the tale of his Uncle, Simeon H.H. Warder:

Simeon Warder: taken in November 1980 at Undy Churchyard after the funeral of his mother, Hilda May Warder (nee Harris).


“Simeon Henry Harris Warder was born at Cwm Soar Farm, Jerusalem Lane, Glascoed, on 9th September 1910 and was what we would nowadays call a professional sailor in the Royal Navy.

His story is partly as told to me by my mother, Myra, Sim’s youngest sister, but this is now clarified and augmented after obtaining his Royal Navy service record. This has made for very interesting reading after further cross reference research was carried out on the ships’ war diaries. It always helps to know where to look for the detail.

Simeon joined the Royal Navy at the tender age of 14 years and six months as a Boy Sailor on 25th April 1925 during the inter world war years and finished his service on 2nd November 1945 as a Leading Seaman (Corporal equivalent).

Prior to the Second World War, in particular Sim served on HMS Malaya, an ex WW1 battleship with 15” guns, which is known to have visited Weston Super Mare in the 1930 to 1933 period. My mother then aged between about 2 and 5 years old, with her mother and elder sister caught a P&A Campbell paddle steamship from the Newport (Welsh) side of the Bristol Channel to go across to Weston and visit Sim. A shipmate of Sim's (known as "Lofty" for his 6ft 2in stature) took a shine to my mother and carried her all around the ship on his shoulders during their visit. My mother has a pink small scarf, or large handkerchief, with the ship’s silhouette image and "HMS Malaya" stitched across one corner.

My mother also has got a memento of Sim's visit, whilst posted to HMS Exeter a heavy cruiser with 8” guns, to the 1939 World's Fair in New York. It is a blue bordered print silk scarf depicting HMS Exeter and a corner diagonal black overprint marking their visit to the fair; and a commemorative envelope which I now have.

Sim was an Able Seaman when he was on HMS Exeter. At the time of the Battle of the River Plate, 13th December 1939, he was posted to one of Exeter's turrets. During the battle his forward turret was disabled and he was consequently ordered to go aft to the last turret left firing and unfortunately whilst proceeding to his new post he witnessed a shipmate being struck by an enemy shell.

After the action, whilst helping clear up the battle damage, he tripped over an open hatch and twisted his knee. This resulted in Sim missing the ship's parade in London, when Exeter got back to the UK, where the ship was granted the freedom of the City of London and the luncheon given to the crew in the Guild Hall in honour of their brave action. Sim meanwhile was sent to Scotland to have his knee operated on and it was here that he met his future wife, Frances.

An interesting footnote is that Sim was presented with a gold wrist watch by his fellow villagers, from the area around Undy, for his part in the battle and this was reported in the local press.

It would appear that there was some ship's controversy as to the lack of proper credit afforded to Captain Bell (after the action), who started the Exeter’s attack on the Graf Spee alone. Subsequently the Exeter took a hammering while Ajax and Achilles caught up and manoeuvred to the other flank of the Graf Spee. It should be remembered that the Graff Spee had bigger, therefore longer range and more powerful guns, which seriously disadvantaged the British cruisers. The German enemy’s fire had to be somehow split – the rest is history as they say.

In my Mum's autograph book there is a poem which was written in Sim's own hand and runs like this (verbatim):-

BATTLE OF THE RIVER PLATE

 

You've heard of Britton's Heroes

On Land, in Air and Sea.

But here's a tale will stir you

The fate of the "Graf Von Spee".

 

The 13th of December.

Twas her unlucky date

For then she met Exeter

Around the River Plate.

 

We met as Dawn was Breaking

She raked us with her Shell

Yet still we went in at her

Our faith in Captain Bell.

 

Now she scuttled by her crew

A sorryful sight to see

The Pride of the German Navy

"The Admiral Graf Von Spee”

 

S. Warder – HMS Exeter

HMS Exeter, taken after the Battle of the River Plate

It was hard for Sim to talk of the River Plate action and also separately later being overboard in Icelandic waters after his ship collided with another vessel. One day in about 1953 he did open up and talked to my mother about what must have been harrowing experiences.

In the later half of 1941, Sim with 300 shipmates from HMS Exeter was posted to the newly commissioned HMS Kenya, a light cruiser with 6” guns. Whilst on HMS Kenya he saw action in Icelandic waters, the sinking of the Bismarck, Norwegian raiding operations, Arctic convoys to Russia, Mediterranean convoys to Malta – see the film “The Malta Story” which amongst other things recounts Operation Pedestal, the Normandy landings and the sinking of U747. Sim must have impressed as he was promoted to Leading Seaman during this period.

Whilst serving on HMS Kenya his ship was struck on 25th June 1941 by one of our destroyers HMS Brighton, a lend-lease vessel which came off second best as a result of this collision. The approaching destroyer in thick fog was on a running tide and blacked out – that is it had no lights on for location or identification by enemy submarines. My mother Myra, who was Sim’s youngest sister, notes that when he recounted the story many years later, he said that he saw the approaching destroyer at the last moment and shouted to another shipmate to "Jump". Sim survived because of three factors; One, he was stocky (less surface area to loose heat from); Two, he supposedly had two buoyancy aides on - a life jacket and a Mae West - which besides better keeping him afloat, added extra insulation; Three, he was picked up just in time as he was in the freezing cold winter Icelandic water for quite a long time.

Current research has found the collision record which happened in thick fog, but we have no information on any casualty details. So far these other records do not appear to be on the internet. If anyone does know more about this incident, then please do get in contact.

Simeon Warder married Frances Main Doherty at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Edinburgh on the 17th September 1942. Frances was seven years younger than Sim and was born in Rubislaw, Aberdeen on 22nd September 1917. They had two children. Frances died over 20 years after her husband on the 9th July 2004 at Corstophine Hospital, Edinburgh.

The last bit of recorded action for Sim was when he was on HMS Fame, a destroyer which was part of the Normandy landings and acted as a submarine screen vessel for the invasion force. This screening duty resulted in the successful attack and sinking of submarine U767, on 18th June 1944.

All good things must come to an end. Sim finished his time in the Royal Navy on HMS Diomede, which he was posted to after VE Day. Without further excitement he was released from the senior service on 2nd November 1945.

As a result of Sim’s war service he was awarded a number of campaign medals…

1939 - 1945 Star

Atlantic Star

Africa Star

France & Germany Ribbon – goes with Atlantic Star

War Medal

 

By 1947 Sim was working for the Post Office in Edinburgh and by 1965 he had become a Spirit Merchants Manager. In 1980 he was known to have been a Public House Manager and then retired by 1982. Unfortunately he died on 6th October 1983 aged 73, at the Northern General Hospital in Leith, Edinburgh, from cancer of the tonsil – by all accounts a victim of passive smoking.

Simeon’s nephew concludes: For my part I did coincidentally live in the 1980’s as a near neighbour to an old HMS Exeter shipmate of Sim's, this was Harry Attwood (alas now also deceased) a Royal Marines Sergeant, who lived a few doors down the lane from where I was living in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, who did remember Sim as a shipmate when we struck up a conversation on the subject of HMS Exeter”.

 

FURTHER DETAILS OF SIMEON’S ROYAL NAVY SERVICE RECORD ARE ON THIS LINKED PAGE:

LINKS

HMS EXETER – vessel history

HMS Exeter – River Plate crew list

HMS Exeter – war diary

HMS Kenya – war diary

HMS Brighton – war diary

HMS Fame – war diary

Submarine U767 – ship details

Submarine U767 – wreck details

Submarine U767 – lost & found


RECORDS


Census - 1911