Home » Human Life » From Cuba Street to Buckingham Palace: The Remarkable Story of Harry T Waterman DSM (1917-1984) by Gerard Gilbertson – Part Two

From Cuba Street to Buckingham Palace: The Remarkable Story of Harry T Waterman DSM (1917-1984) by Gerard Gilbertson – Part Two

From Cuba Street to Buckingham Palace: The Remarkable story of Harry T Waterman DSM (1917-1984) Part Two

Last October, Gerard Gilbertson sent a fascinating short history of his Grandfather John F. Gilbertson who was Mayor of Poplar between 1938 and 1939 which we published on Isle of Dogs Life.  I am delighted to say that Gerard has written another piece which is published in two parts, this time about his uncle Harry T Waterman who was born in Cuba Street on the Isle of Dogs.

In the second part, Gerard gives a detailed account of the spectacular events surrounding the sinking of the Italian submarine Pietro Calvi in July 1942 and the subsequent award of the DSM (Distinguished Service Medal) to Harry for “bravery, skill and determination”. The investiture was by King George VI at a ceremony at Buckingham Palace in December 1942.

Harry’s award of the DSM, his injury, the end of his service on HMS Lulworth, and his return to civilian life.

The high point of Harry’s naval career was probably the action that led to his, and other crew members’, award of medals of distinction. This was the sinking of the Italian submarine Pietro Calvi in July 1942 to the west of the Canary Islands while on convoy escort duties heading for Liverpool. This event has been extensively recorded and documented, so we are fortunate enough to have a reliable picture of what happened.

Pietro Calvi was launched on 31 March 1935.The first war patrol was from Liguria to the Atlantic Ocean, and lasted from 3 July to 6 August 1940. After overhaul at La Spezia, Calvi sailed on 6 October 1940 for a second Atlantic patrol reaching Bordeaux on 23 October. Calvi suffered storm damage during its third patrol off the British Isles from 3 to 31 December 1940. The fourth patrol was between the Canary Islands and the Azores from 31 March to 13 May 1941. Calvi sailed on 1 August 1941 for a fifth patrol off the Canary Islands. During the sixth patrol from 7 to 29 December 1941 Calvi, Finzi and Tazzoli rescued sailors of the sunken raider Atlantis. The seventh patrol was off Brazil from 7 March to 29 April 1942. Calvi sailed on 2 July 1942 for its eighth, and what transpired to be final, patrol.   

The Italian submarine Pietro Calvi (http://www.wrecksite.eu)

The encounter of Pietro Calvi with HMS Lulworth is well documented in British, American, and Italian sources. For the purposes of this article, I am taking first an Italian source, which describes the event as follows:

“On July 13th, the Calvi received orders to seek a ship proceeding by itself and of the type “Andalusia Start”; the ship was not found. The day after, the boat received orders to attack, if conditions were favorable, convoy S.4. 115 from Freetown to Great Britain escorted by H.M.S. Londonderry, H.M.S. Lulworth, H.M.S. Bideford and H.M.S. Hastings. This convoy had been sighted by U.130 which, later on, had made visual contact with the Calvi.

At 22:30 the Calvi sighted one of the escort vessels, probably the Lulworth, and Captain Longobardo ordered a crash dive. Immediately after, in position 30° 07’N, 26° 07W, the Calvi was targeted with the launch of depth charges which did not cause serious damage. After a pinpointing maneuver, the Lulworth dropped a cluster of bombs, this time hitting the submarine. The boat began taking water in the forward compartment and the captain was forced to accept the inevitable duel with the surface units. Once surfaced, the Calvi received concentrated fire which it tried to avoid by running away at full speed. The Lulworth continued keeping the Calvi under fire, mowing down all the personnel on deck.

The last desperate act of the boat, a couple of torpedoes, was easily avoided while the British machine guns kept hitting the deck. Captain Longobardo, realizing the unevenness of the fight, ordered the crew to abandon ship and scuttle the vessel. Meantime, various officers and sailors, including Captain Longobardo, were killed by the enemy bullets and at the end the burden of sinking the boat rested with Captain E. Aristede Russo. Meantime, a boat from the Lulworth had approached the boat and a member of the British crew, T.V. (sic: in fact F.W.) North, came aboard and would be lost with the submarine. The U.130 arrived on the scene launching a torpedo at the Lulworth, but failing its target. Meantime, the Calvi went down and was followed, soon after, by a violent explosion. It is not believed that the German torpedoes caused this explosion; perhaps it was one of the depth charges which had been trapped on some part of the superstructure. Eventually, after about 4 hours, the British came back to the site of the sinking and picked up three officers and 32 sailors”.
Source: Laura K. Yost (http://www.reginamarina.net)

An English-language source gives much the same information:

“At 10.30 PM, Italian submarine Calvi and U-130 attack Allied convoy SL 115 (from Freetown, Sierra Leone, to Britain) 575 miles West of Tenerife, Canary Islands. Calvi is detected by British sloop HMS Lulworth….. Calvi dives but is forced to surface by depth charges from HMS Lulworth which then rakes Calvi with shells and machinegun fire (42 killed). The crew abandons ship and scuttles Calvi, just as HMS Lulworth’s boarding party arrives (1 British sailor is trapped on the submarine and drowns). HMS Lulworth is chased away by torpedoes from U-130 but returns after 3 hours to rescue 35 Calvi survivors.“ (Source:worldwar2daybyday.blogspot.de)

Harry Waterman (left) aboard HMS Lulworth.. Depth-charges are ready for release at right. (Undated, personal family photo)

HMS Lulworth, according to other documentation, also rammed and damaged the Pietro. These factual reports, of course, give no indication of the horrific nature of the events which took place on that dark night just before and after midnight, with a total of three submarines hovering around the convoy and HMS Lulworth firing multiple torpedoes, with depth-charges being dropped and exploding, with the Pietro  being rammed and crew members being slaughtered. The horror of this wartime scenario is, all these years later, almost impossible for us to imagine.

It was for his role in this action that Harry received his Distinguished Service Medal. This is documented by an article in the Supplement to the London Gazette of October 20th 1942:

(Enlargement of photocopy of p.4550 of the Supplement to the London Gazette dated as shown above. Harry’s name appears towards the end of the list)

So we see that a total of 11 crew members, including the drowned member of the attempted boarding party F.W. North, received important awards for “bravery, skill, and determination” in this action.

Notification of the investiture at Buckingham Palace was sent to Harry by the Admiralty in a telegram of 25th November (leaving Harry less than a week to prepare for it!). As far as I know, the two guests he was allowed to take with him were his mother Julia and sister Kathleen. That was the small party of Watermans invited to attend the ceremony at which King George VI awarded the medals.

 Telegram from the Admiralty informing Harry Waterman of arrangements for his DSM investiture at Buckingham Palace  on Dec 1st 1942. The telegram is addressed to his home in Middle Road, Higher Denham, and reads: “From Admiralty: Arrangements have been made for your attendance at investiture Buckingham Palace at 10.15 a.m. 1st December. Service dress will be worn. Tickets of Admission for two guests to accompany you will follow”

The Distinguzished Service Medal, as awarded to Harry Waterman. The medal was silver with the embossed head of the reigning monarch on the obverse side,  the ribbons were dark blue and white. It was established in 1914, but discontinued in 1993. 

Harry in uniform in centre of photo,  on leave at his new home in Denham in summer/autumn 1941. To his left: his parents Joseph and Julia Waterman, in his arms his nephew Gerard (the author of this article!!), to his right two of his sisters Margaret and Kathleen, kneeling in centre his younger brother Terence. (Private family photo). Julia and Kathleen were with Harry at his investiture at Buckingham Palace.

Harry’s service on the Lulworth continued until June 1943, when he was badly injured in an accident on board. It appears that someone violently closed a hatch that Harry was negotiating, and as it slammed shut his left hand was trapped – the three middle fingers were badly lacerated and had to be subsequently amputated at the terminal joint. He was immediately transferred to a land base (Pembroke), and in November of that year was sent on recuperation leave to Newfoundland in Canada..

Harry’s Navy service after HMS Lulworth

HMS Salisbury:

HMS Salisbury (I-52) was originally the American destroyer USS Claxton, transferred to the Royal Navy in 1940. She was lent to the Royal Canadian Navy in 1942 and sold to them in 1944. Harry was allocated to this ship Nov-Dec 1943

HMS Salisbury guarded troop convoys in the Atlantic until September 1942, when she was assigned to the Royal Canadian Navy. Based on St. John’s, Newfoundland, HMS Salisbury served on local escort duty until November 1943 when, with newer escorts available, she was placed in care and maintenance status at Halifax , Nova Scotia.

The “care and maintenance status” (i.e. as a hospital ship?) mentioned above must be why Harry was “stationed” on her from November until December 9th  1943 as part of his recuperation from his severe hand injury in June 1943. His wife Mavis tells me (personal communication) that he was “hospitalized in Newfoundland” after his injury.

HMS Salisbury (ca 1942), (Library and Archives, Canada) 

HMS Rupert

Subsequently he was assigned to HMS Rupert on which he served from January 1944 to November 1945. In fact, as he had been in Canada/Newfoundland since Nov. 1943, he may well have been allocated to the original crew that brought this brand-new ship from the US to the UK in January 1944.

This ship was laid down as the unnamed U.S. Navy destroyer escort DE-96 by Bethlehem-Hingham Shipyard, Inc., in Hingham, Massachusetts, on 25 August 1943 and launched on 31 October 1943. She was transferred to the Royal Navy upon completion on 24 December 1943.

HMS Rupert (K561) No date/place (navsource.org). She was new when handed over to the Royal Navy on 24.12.43.

Simultaneously with her transfer to the UK, the ship served on patrol and escort duty. On 30th March 1945, she joined the British frigate HMS Conn (K509) in a depth charge attack which sank the German submarine U-965 north of Scotland.

On 27th April 1945, the German submarine U-1105 detected three British frigates in the North Atlantic Ocean 25 nautical miles (46 km) west of County Mayo, Ireland, and fired two G7es – known to the Allies as “GNAT” – torpedos at them. Fifty seconds later, the first torpedo struck the frigate Redmill, followed a few seconds later by the second, together blowing 60 feet (over 18 meters) of her stern off. U-1105 evaded counterattack. Rupert stood by Redmill and rendered assistance, and Redmill managed to remain afloat and was towed to Lisahally, Northern Ireland. Harry was still a member of the crew of the Rupert at this time. (navsource.org)

Sierra Leone –  Harry in middle. ( Private family photo, pre-June 1943)

Harry’s release from the Navy

Towards the end of 1945 Harry was again assigned to the land base Pembroke, where on January 15th 1946 he was released into civilian life. In the family records there is a letter of April 1946 confirming he had been awarded a gratuity of twenty pounds (wow!!!) by the Admiralty in recognition of his award of the DSM. Back in civilian life he worked for many years for the Martin-Baker Aircraft company in Denham. He died in retirement in 1984.

Harry (centre, foot raised) with gunnery mates. Name of ship on cap is not legible. (Undated, unplaced, but probably on board HMS Lulworth, alternatively on training vessel during initial training at the start of his service in 1940/41;  personal family photo).

I never heard him talk of his brave but horrifying war service – recently, his widow Mavis wrote to me that he very rarely spoke about it at all: “people were so glad the war was over, all they wanted to do was forget it”, she said. The memory of gunning down fearful and fleeing crew members of the Pietro cannot have been one he would have wanted to conjure up very often.

This article is by no means intended to be a glorification of WW2 and its events, quite the reverse. But I do feel that, as is the case with the extremely young RAF pilots in the war years, the equally young and brave sailors in the Navy deserve to be remembered.

Harry Waterman, born and bred in Cuba Street, Millwall, was one of these.

Harry Waterman as a young boy, extreme left in second row,  St. Luke’s School on the Westferry Road, Millwall, ca 1927/28  (Photo: Island History Trust).

Many thanks to Gerard for sharing this story with our readers.







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