IN SEPTEMBER, Nikki Weston of West Bromwich wrote to the Bugle in the hope that our everresourceful readers would be able to assist in her quest to discover more about her great-uncle who was lost in the Second World War. She knew his name and when he died and that a pub in his native Greets Green was named in his honour, but Nikki had no photographs or any particular details about her great-uncle’s life and tragic death.
Once again Bugle readers have proved their worth and Nikki has now been provided with a wealth of information and pictures. George Evans, John Howes and W. Jacks, all from West Bromwich, wrote to the Bugle with their recollections of Nikki’s great-uncle and several other readers also contacted her directly.
Nikki has kindly given the Bugle copies of the photographs she recently received and an update on the latest information unearthed, but the quest does not stop and Nikki again asks for the Buglers’ help in filling in the gaps in the story.
Nikki writes: “In Bugle 942 I asked for information regarding my great-uncle Joseph Sidney Weston, who was a sailor on HMS Emerald until 1944. Can I say a massive thank-you to all the readers who kindly spent their own time phoning and emailing me with lots of priceless information, and also sending information to the Bugle. I was even invited to the home of one lady who knew Joseph and supplied me with photographs and personal accounts. All the information given has gone a long way in helping me with my quest to find out as much as I can about this remarkable man.
“Joseph Weston died in January 1944, aged 24. He was known locally as ‘Smiling Joe’ and ‘Popeye’ to the kids, because he did impersonations of Popeye for them. He lived and grew up on the Greets Green estate in West Bromwich with his mother, brother Ernest (Ernie) and step-brother James (Jimmy) Cook. When Joseph left school he started work in Darby’s brewery in Vernon Street, which has unfortunately since gone. He worked closely with Mr Darby and helped out at his mansion as well.
“Joseph was called up to go to war and so joined the Royal Navy, where he enlisted on board HMS Emerald.
“When Joseph failed to return home, the brewery, as an act of remembrance, said that they would name their next pub after him. They were going to name it the ‘Weston Hotel’ but, after speaking to his mother, Adelaide Weston, the brewery named the pub the ‘Jolly Sailor’ as she wished. In fact, it was Adelaide who opened the pub at the request of the brewery.
“It was rumoured that Joseph’s ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat on 31st January, 1944, while on North Sea convoy duty, and sank, taking Joe and its crew down with it. However, after more research it’s been discovered that this was not the case. HMS Emerald was stationed at Colombo, Sri Lanka, in January 1944 and returned to Britain in April, prior to supporting the Normandy landings. She was withdrawn from operational service in late 1944 and scrapped in 1948.
“It now appears that Joe was missing presumed killed while on his way to Tanzania. He was reported missing, presumed killed in action after only a day or so. Joseph left Dudley Port railway station on the Sunday and his family received a telegram on the Monday, stating that he was missing presumed killed. This being only two days from leaving home until the telegram arrived. Where he actually died is still a mystery as the service dates don’t add up. Surely it would have taken more than two days to get to Tanzania and for the telegram to arrive home.
“Any further information that anybody had will be greatly appreciated. I’m particularly keen to speak to anyone who has comprehensive knowledge of Royal Navy history.”
Can anyone help Nikki with further information? In the photograph Able Seaman Joseph Weston wears an “HM Patrol” cap tally, which suggests that he may have served with the Royal Naval Patrol Service. The RNPS operated many small auxiliary vessels such as trawlers, whalers, drifters, motor fishing vessels (MFV), and motor launches for anti-submarine and minesweeping operations in British coastal waters and to protect convoys during the Second World War. Because the RNPS used mainly poorly-armed vessels, such as requisitioned trawlers, largely crewed by reservists and ex-fishermen, it was nicknamed ‘Harry Tate’s Navy’ after Harry Tate (1872- 1940), the music hall comedian noted for his act as an incompetent bumbler; another nickname was ‘Churchill’s Pirates’. The RNPS fought around the world in all theatres of the war but is perhaps best remembered for its minesweeping in British coastal waters, keeping the shipping lanes open so that vital supplies could reach our shores.
The badges on Joseph Weston’s sleeve, a gun with a star above and the letter Q below, indicate that he was a Gunnery Quarters Rating 3rd Class, which entitled him to extra pay of 3d a day.
The exact circumstances of Joseph Weston’s death are unknown and open to conjecture.
It is believed he was en route for Tanzania but it seems he may not have left these shores.
Because his remains were never recovered and he has no grave his name is engraved on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial which records naval personnel lost at sea or otherwise without a known burial place. It bears the names of 9,666 lost in the First World War and 14,922 that died in the Second World War.
The Commonwealth War Grave Commission records Joseph’s serving unit as HMS President III. This was not a ship but a shore establishment in London that trained crews for Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships, so perhaps Joseph was receiving further gunnery training when he went missing.
Was Joseph in London when he was reported missing, presumed lost? If so, this coincides with a series of bombing raids by the Luftwaffe on London and the South East, which may account for his death.
Following the Blitz of 1940- 41 German air raids became relatively infrequent as the Luftwaffe’s efforts were concentrated on supporting the German armies across Europe. Meanwhile, the RAF carried out increasingly effective raids on Germany, with the first 1000-bomber raid in May 1942, and by the end of 1943 the RAF had largely neutralized German night fighter defences and could inflict massive damage on German cities and industry.
Hitler called for revenge and, countermanding plans for the Luftwaffe to concentrate on defending Germany from RAF attacks, gave the order for a new offensive with renewed bombing of London and other targets, a terror bombing campaign that would deter the British from ever attacking German cities again through fear of reprisals.
Operation Steinbock, as it was known, began on the night of 21/22 January, 1944, with a force of bombers scraped together from various European theatres. The raid was a failure with the inexperienced German crews unable to locate London and dropping their bombs on the Home Counties instead.
However, the raids continued until May 1944 and became known to Londoners as the ‘Baby Blitz” due to its much smaller scale.
British losses are not recorded but it is thought that the Germans lost 329 aircraft out of the 522 that took part.
Was Joseph Weston killed in an air raid? It may account for his remains never being found.
Can Bugle readers rise to the challenge once more and supply Nikki with any more information on the Jolly Sailor? We look forward to any responses in the hope that Buglers can complete the story.