A few days ago I posted an article about Francis Langdown, a Young World War 1 sailor in our community. A few days later I received the most remarkable email which fits an incredible intricate piece of this war time story into the picture. For completeness I am re-posting the original Francis blog here, with the text from the email added in below. Both pieces of text are of course with the very kind consent of the document providers and writers. Guy.
A short while ago I posted a blog about Baden Singleton and his war time experiences. This blog is about another war time sailor from our community, but the article is written by me for reasons which will quickly become clear.
Francis David Keith Langdown lived at 1 Green Lane, Catherington (now Clanfield), joined the Merchant Navy and had his first sailing on the SS Pretoria Castle which was owned by the Counties Ships Management Co. She was ferrying equipment to Africa. This first voyage was a two month round trip starting in London and finishing in Southampton where Francis held the role of Deck Boy .
His second trip from Cardiff on the SS Box Hill, a 5,677 Ton Steam Cargo Ship 137m long with a top speed of 11.5 knots. She sailed on the 7th November 1939 picking up 8452 Tons of Wheat from St John, New Brunswick. – Photo Below.
The SS Box Hill did not make it to her destination and was lost after hitting a German mine laid 9 miles off the Humber coast. She broke in two and sank immediately, the first ship lost by the Counties Ship Management Co in the Second World War. She was sunk on New Years Eve 1939 with the loss of all 22 crew onboard. The telegram (below) informing his mother of his death was delivered on New Years Day 1940.
Francis was born on the 7th September 1924, and died in the explosion aged just 15 Years 3 Months.
In the next 10 days we unveil the fully restored war memorial in the village as a tribute to the 117 lives lost from the Parish in the two World Wars and Afghanistan. You may not know anyone named on the memorial, and assuming this is the case, look out for Francis David Keith Langdown age 15 years and 3 months who tragically gave his young life at the very start of World War 2.
We hope very much to see you in the Village Square for the memorial re-dedication on Sunday 20th July from 2:30pm.
Thank you to Cllr Schillemore for providing this fascinating and tragically sad set of historical documents, and also to Mrs Goddard for allowing me to share it here.
Now follows the email that was sent in after a blog reader read the article. Sincere thanks to Patti for allowing me to post it here in full.
I was reading the tragic story of this young man when to my surprise the name of Counties Ship Management appeared on the telegram notifying his parents of his death. My grandfather, A.R Newnum, was Managing Director of Counties (CSM) in the period spanning the war years. They both managed and owned ships and their own ones were nearly always called something Hill. Box Hill, Ludgate Hill, Mill Hill etc. Anyway, perhaps the family of young Francis might like to know what happened after the loss of the Box Hill.
CSM lost most of their fleet during the war, 163 men and 13 ships. They stuck out the Blitz in their offices in the City, sleeping on camp beds as long as they could but eventually they were bombed out too and moved to Oakley Court in Bray. (Oakley Court subsequently became the HQ of Hammer Films who made horror films!) CSM made over their ships to the government and managed them on its behalf, some 17 at the time so that the cargoes and convoys could be arranged.
The Merchant Marine made a huge contribution to the War Effort, without their courage and determination the country would have been starved of the food, ammunition and material it so desperately needed. Many of the vessels were aging and unarmed tramp steamers, unused to combat and totally dependent upon their destroyer escorts. They were indeed heroes. They struggled on, never knowing when or if they were going to be blown to smithereens and without being able to fight back. We owe those men a lot.
I imagine that back in 1939, poor Box Hill was on her own, without the protection of an escort, such as it was.
The losses were heart-breaking for my grandfather. He loved ships and the sea and knew all the Masters and many of the Officers personally. Many of them became close friends. My mother told me that the only time she saw her father cry was when the Mill Hill was lost. She was special to him, my grandmother had launched her and the Master and Chief Engineer were particular friends. It was the last straw.
I would like the family to know that the Company did care, and would have been appalled at the loss of Francis at such a young age. My grandfather would have felt deeply for his parents as he had himself lost his only son to meningitis aged 13.