Roll of Honour

William F. Denny

William F Denny

William 'Bill' Francis Denny was born in Felsted in 1918.  He worked in the Family business as a butcher, a fun loving mimic, lively, friendly and thoughtful and a regular church goer.  Despite being teetotal would socialise in pubs and drink ‘Vimto’ instead of alcohol. He would also compete in the pub amongst his colleagues where string was tied around forearm muscles and see who would snap the string first. William would often be the winner.

He served as an Able Seaman, aboard HMS Firedrake and was killed in action on 17th December 1942, aged 24.

Bill was the son of Ernest William and Edith Mary Denny, of Latchingdon, Essex.

William Denny is not remembered on the War Memorial in the centre of the village, but is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial, and at Little Leighs Church.

HMS Firedrake

On the night of the 16th December 1942, HMS Firedrake, an 'F' class Destroyer, was the escort leader to convoy ON153, with 43 ships bound for Canada.

They sailed in a force 12 storm the worst the Atlantic had seen for a very long time. At about 17.00 hrs, the ASDIC operator picked up a contact. HMS Firedrake tracked the contact to about 5 miles south of the convoy, when at 20.10 hrs she was hit by a torpedo fired by U-boat U211. The ship broke in two. The bow section sank immediately, with the stern just managing to stay afloat.

Lieutenant D.J. Dampier RN had a tally up and found there were 35 still on board. He quickly got the men to work shoring up the bulkheads of No. 3 boiler room, and making safe and jettisoning the depth charges and torpedoes. The gun crew were ordered to fire star shells to attract the attention of the other escorts, because all the radio and signalling equipment had gone with the bow part of the ship.

At about 22.00 hrs, one of the other escorts - HMS Sunflower, a Flower class Corvette - was attracted by the star shells so she made towards them, firing star shells herself. The skipper first thought that the stern section of Firedrake was a U-boat and was about to fire HE at it, but then suddenly realised what it was.

He tried to get his ship as close as possible to HMS Firedrake in order to get the survivors off, but the weather was so bad and the sea too rough. There were 60 foot waves breaking over the two ships, which were bobbing about like corks, so he decided to stand by and hope the weather would get better. At about 0040 hrs on the 17th December, the weather worsened and the bulkheads started to give way under the tremendous battering. The stern of HMS Firedrake started to sink, so the men had no option but to take to the water, and at 00.45hr the stern sank.

The Sunflower moved in quickly to pick up the men in the water, a Newfoundland rating, G J Furey, had a rope tied around his waist and was lowered down the side of Sunflower. He would swim out to a man and grab hold of him, then his mates on board would heave them back to the ship and get him onboard. He and his mates managed to get 27 on board but one died later. There were 168 of the Firedrake's crew lost and 3 others that had been picked up earlier that had survived an earlier sinking that night.