SHORTLY BEFORE MIDNIGHT on the 11 November 1942 the first of five torpedoes fired by U-515 struck HMS Hecla while being escorted to the invasion beaches at Algeria by HMS Venomous and HMS Marne.
A further torpedo blew off the stern of HMS Marne. As Venomous hunted the U-boat the 800 crew members on Hecla abandoned ship. Almost 500 were rescued by Venomous and another sixty by HMS Marne which refused to sink and was later towed to Gibraltar. Among those rescued by Venomous was the South African war artist Herbert H McWilliams who had joined Hecla at Simonstown where it had been under repair for several months after striking a mine. His vivid paintings on the back of an old chart of Hecla sinking illustrate his letter describing the event in a book of his wartime letters to be published in Spring next year.
The survivors of the Hecla and the crew members of Marne and Venomous commemorated the 50th anniversary of its loss at a dinner in Stratford on Avon in 1992 but those alive today may be too old and frail to mark the 70th anniversary on the 11 November. But they will be thinking of their shipmates who died during that long night off the North African coast on Armistice Day. Bill Forster, the publisher of Herbert McWilliams wartime letters, would like to hear from survivors and their families and would be especially interested to hear from men who served on HMS Venomous or HMS Marne. Bill would also like to speak to anybody who served on Shropshire in 1941 or with Coastal Forces at Lowestoft in 1942. Herbert McWilliams was a rating on HMS Shropshire in 1941 and after being commissioned was posted to Coastal Forces at Lowestoft where he served on Motor Launches and MTB. Herbert H McWilliams took part in the landings on Sicily in 1943 and joined the Service’s magazine Parade as Naval Editor, photographer and war artist. His wartime letters will be published in Spring next year as War at Sea: Letters Home, 1941-1945.
After the war he joined his father’s architectural practice in Port Elizabeth, competed for South Africa in sailing at the Olympic Games in 1948 and became well known as the designer of racing dinghies as well as one of the foremost architects in South Africa. His paintings hang in galleries in London, Port Elizabeth and Johannesburg. The book begins with a personal introduction to the man he knew by Clayton Holliday, the former Director of the King George VI Memorial Art Gallery in Port Elizabeth and the Ditsong National Military Museum in Johannesburg.
Holywell House Publishing
88 Holywell Hill, St Albans, AL 1 1DH
E-Mail: billforster@ holywellhousepublishing.co.uk