Saturday, December 03, 2011

Able Seaman William S. Truett, M.N.

(Top): Able Seaman (Gunner) William Scott Truett
SS 'Empire Leopard', Merchant Navy
[Lost at sea by enemy action, 02.11.1942, aged 22]

[Courtesy of 'The Whitehaven News']

(Bottom): Truett family headstone (Whitehaven)
[Commemorating William S. ('Biff') Truett & family]

For additional information click on 'Comments' below


Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

Additional information

(a) William Scott Truett
CWGC Citation

Casualty Details
Initials: W S
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Able Seaman
Regiment/Service: Merchant Navy
Unit Text: S.S. Empire Leopard (London)
Age: 21
Date of Death: 02/11/1942
Additional information: Son of William Beck Truett, and Margaret Ellen Truett, of Kells, Whitehaven, Cumberland.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 43.
Memorial: TOWER HILL MEMORIAL, London (UK)

Sunday, 04 December, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(b) Some biographical details

William Scott Truett, known to his friends as 'Billy' or 'Biff', was born at Whitehaven, Cumberland (now Cumbria) in 1920. Billy Truett was the son of William Beck Truett and Margaret Ellen Truett (nee Conery) who had married earlier in 1920. In WW2 the Truett family home was at 27 Solway Road, Arrowthwaite, Kells, Whitehaven.

Billy had one sister - Joan - born in 1925 and died on 27 February 1927 at the age of 2 years. Although Billy Truett has no known grave, and is commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial, London, he is also remembered on the family headstone in Whitehaven Cemetery (seen above). Mrs Margaret Truett passed away in 1963 at the age of 67 and Mr William Truett (Snr.) passed away in 1975 at the age of 75. Margaret and William were both interred in Whitehaven Cemetery.

Earlier in the war Billy had already been sunk twice as the result of enemy action. In November 1942 Billy Truett was one of four Whitehaven seamen reported missing with the sinking of the SS 'Empire Leopard', and its loss was reported in the local newspaper, 'The Whitehaven News' (see below). Because he had successfully come through twice before, Billy's parents initially had a degree of optimism their boy would come home safe yet again.

This is how 'The Whitehaven News' reported the loss of the four Whitehaven seamen and the SS Empire Leopard in its edition of Thursday 13 November 1942:

Four Whitehaven Men Missing

Four Whitehaven men serving in the Merchant Navy aboard a vessel recently sunk by enemy action are reported missing. Two of them, William H. Acton (27) and George Acton (22) are brothers. William was married as recently as August to Miss Mary Nulty, Church Street, Whitehaven, and George, when at home lived with his parents at George Street, Whitehaven. Both were in the Merchant navy before the war.

A third member of the crew, Thomas Cradduck, whose home is in Marlborough Street, is a member of a Whitehaven family which for generations has consisted of seafaring men. Aged 41, he has a wife and five children. One son, also in the Merchant Navy, is seriously ill in a hospital in India.

The fourth Whitehaven man aboard the ill-fated vessel was 22-year old William Truett, of Solway Road, Kells. In spite of his youth, 'Biff', as he is known to his many pals in Whitehaven, has spent several years at sea and has twice been a survivor from torpedoed vessels.

Whilst only two survivors from the vessel have so far been reported, the relatives of these four men are living in hopes that they have been picked up by another ship.

Sadly, this time there was to be no happy ending. None of the four seamen mentioned by name in the newspaper report would ever return home. They had already made the supreme sacrifice and their final resting place was known to God alone.

Sunday, 04 December, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(c) A family remembers

(i) In remembering the first anniversary of Billy Truett's death (2 November 1943) Mr and Mrs Truett placed the following tribute to their son Billy in the 'Family Notices' section of 'The Whitehaven News' (28/10/1943):


Truett - In loving memory of our dearly loved son, William Scott, A.B., who was lost at sea through enemy action on November 2nd 1942, aged 22 years.

Our hearts are sad and lonely,
Our brightest dreams have fled,
Our hopes, like summer roses,
Are withered, crushed and dead.

Never one day forgotten, by his loving Mam and Dad, 27 Solway Road, Arrowthwaite."

(ii) For the fifth anniversary of Billy's death (November 1947) Mr and Mrs Truett placed the following tribute to their son in the 'Family Notices' section of 'The Whitehaven News' (Thursday 30/10/1947):


Truett - Treasured memories of our dear son, William S., A.B., presumed lost at sea, November 2nd 1942.

He stood the test, he stood it well,
The pain he bore no one can tell,
Without farewell he fell asleep,
A hero in the ocean deep.

Longed for always by Mam and Dad, Solway Road. Not forgotten by Grandfather, Grandmother, Uncles and Aunts."

(iii) As referred to above, William Scott Truett is also commemorated on the family headstone in Whitehaven Cemetery. This is a transcription of what is written on the headstone:

"In Affectionate Remembrance of
Died Nov. 4th 1963, aged 67 years,
Beloved wife of
Died June 28th 1975, aged 75 years.
Also their daughter
Died Feb. 27th 1927, aged 2 years.
And their son
Merchant Service, Lost at Sea
Through Enemy Action
Nov. 2nd 1942, aged 22 years.

The most poignant thing about the headstone is perhaps the final word written on it - REUNITED.

May they all rest in peace!

Sunday, 04 December, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(d) "Resting where no shadows fall"

Billy's sister Joan Truett passed away on 27 February 1927 at 2 years old. Joan was buried in Whitehaven Cemetery (Grave Ref. 1/W/79). After Billy Truett was lost at sea November 1942, Mr and Mrs Truett were left with no surviving children.

After having been ill in hospital for a time Mrs Margaret Truett passed away at the age of 67 on Monday 4 November 1963 - almost 21 years to the day after the sinking of the SS Empire Leopard. Mrs Truett's funeral service took place at 09.00 am on Thursday 7 November 1963 at St Mary's R.C. Church, Kells, Whitehaven, followed by interment in Whitehaven Cemetery. Mrs Truett's obituary described her as "... a loving and devoted wife."

William Truett (Snr.) passed away at the West Cumberland Hospital, Hensingham, Whitehaven on 28 June 1975. At the time he was 75 years old. Mr Truett's funeral service took place at St Peter's Parish Church (Church of England), Kells, Whitehaven on Tuesday 1 July 1975 after which he was laid to rest in the same grave as his dear wife Margaret.

As can be seen from the headstone photograph above, the two children were also remembered. At long last the Truett family were reunited - and at rest.

"Resting where no shadows fall".

(e) Billy Truett's hometown remembers

William Scott Truett is one of 173 casualties of WW2 listed in the Borough of Whitehaven WW2 'Book of Remembrance'. In April 1947 his parents wrote a letter to the Town Clerk, Mr Vickerman, asking for Billy's name to be included:

"27 Solway Road,

Dear Sir,

In response to your request for the names of The Fallen belonging to Whitehaven we wish to submit to you the name of our son,

William S. Truett (A.B.)
Merchant Navy

who was lost at sea through enemy action on November 2nd 1942 whilst serving as an Able Seaman in the Merchant Navy on board the S/S Empire Leopard which was torpedoed and sunk off Newfoundland, Nov. 2nd 1942.

Hoping our son's name may be entitled to a place on the 'Roll of Honour'.

We remain,

Yours truly,

Mr & Mrs Truett."

Monday, 12 December, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(f) Loss of the SS 'Empire Leopard'
(Monday 2 November 1942)

The cargo ship SS 'Empire Leopard' was sunk on Monday 2 November 1942, along almost all those on board (more than 30 crew and 7 gunners). It is believed only 3 crew members survived. Her cargo was 7,410 tons of zinc concentrate.

SS 'Empire Leopard' was part of Atlantic convoy SC-107 'en route' from Botwood & St John's, Newfoundland to Avonmouth in the U.K. The convoy was intercepted by the German U-Boat 'wolf pack' designated as Vielchen ('Violet'). It was a 'wolf pack' consisting of 18 German submarines. SS 'Empire Leopard' was sunk by U-402 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Siegfried von Forstner.

This was a time of 'happy hunting' for the U-Boat 'wolf packs', if one can put it that way. Of the 45 merchant vessels in convoy SC-10, 15 were lost, making an 'attrition rate' of 1 in 3. The other side of the equation was that the Germans lost just one submarine, U-132, and all its crew from the Vielchen 'wolf pack'.

Putting this into context, if there was one battle the Allies could not afford to lose it was the Battle of the Atlantic. After the war the British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote "... the only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril.". The statistics, simple as they are, perhaps illustrate how serious the U-Boat menace was to the Allied cause at that time in the war, and how important it was to prevent merchant shipping losses along the all-important Atlantic convoy route.

Eventually, during 1943, the Allies turned round the fortunes of war in the Atlantic, especially following the Washington Convoy Conference of 1 - 12 March 1943. While the turn-round came too late for the crew of the SS 'Empire Leopard', the German U-Boat menace was significantly reduced. The Battle of the Atlantic was won and eventually the war was won.

On 13 October 1943 U-402, the German submarine which had torpedoed 'Empire Leopard', was itself sunk in the middle of the Atlantic by an acoustic torpedo from an Allied aircraft belonging to an Escort Carrier. All the crew of U-402, 50 in number, lost their lives. Their final resting place is somewhere at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean, as it is for most of the crew of SS 'Empire Leopard'.

More than 30,000 Merchant Navy seamen lost their lives during WW2 out of about 185,000 who served. The death rate among those serving in the Merchant Navy during WW2, which was almost 1 in 6, was proportionately higher than in any arm of the Armed Forces. The war on the High Seas was a grim one.

Monday, 12 December, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(g) An earlier adventure of 'derring do'

The first time Billy Truett had been torpedoed by a German submarine was in the spring of 1941 during his first deep sea voyage. The ship was lost off the west coast of Africa. On that occasion 48 of the ship's company of 61 were rescued. Most of the crew managed to make it into the lifeboats. They then used their seafaring skills to make for the West African coast and eventually they boarded another homeward-bound ship.

After Billy Truett returned to his home port of Whitehaven he gave an account of his recent 'derring do' on the High Seas to a reporter from "Whitehaven News" on Tuesday 6 May 1941. The report was published on Thursday 08 May 1941 and has been transcribed below.


Young Whitehaven Sailor's Ordeal

The ferocious, inhuman manner in which Hitler's minions are waging the Battle of the Atlantic was typified by an experience which befell a 20-year old Whitehaven seaman, Mr William Truett, who is now at his house after a harrowing time on his first deep sea voyage.

Looking fit and well, none the worse for his experience, Mr Truett calmly told a "News" reporter on Tuesday of his escape. Now an able seaman gunner, Mr Truett went to sea soon after leaving school and was engaged on vessels plying a coastal trade. Some weeks ago he sailed for India for his first deep sea voyage. The outward voyage was free from serious incident but on the return voyage he saw the 9000 tons cargo boat on which he was working sent to the bottom of the Atlantic.

"We were off the West coast of Africa", Mr Truett said, "and I had just taken over the wheel shortly after 8 p.m. when our boat was struck by a torpedo.We got the order to abandon ship and our crew of Indian and white sailors got safely away in three lifeboats. We looked back at the ship and the skipper decided there may be a chance to take her into port.

We were on our way back to the ship when another torpedo struck her. Her stern came up and the ship sank quickly taking with her all my belongings.

We were quickly pulling away again when the submarine surfaced and began shelling the lifeboats. One boat with 13 men aboard was blown clean out of the water. I learned later that the Indian cook was lifted clean out of the boat by the blast. He was wearing a life jacket and was later washed ashore but I think he died in hospital.

There were 23 men in our boat, the majority of them delirious, and our only provisions consisted of a very small barrel of water, about two gallons, and some bully beef. We were adrift for 43 hours and our water was rationed out to two tiny sips each day.

Eventually we sighted land and came ashore on a sandy beach near which was a small native village. There was a post office at the village and a telegram was sent to the nearest town to inform the authorities of our arrival. Whilst we were on the beach an aeroplane of the coastal command swooped down and a message was dropped. I got the message which informed us that one boat had arrived in the port.

The villagers were very good to us and after we had fed on bananas and water we rested before starting on a trek through the jungle to the port. On our arrival there we learned that of the ship's company of 61, 48 were saved."

Mr Truett and his companions were taken aboard another homeward bound vessel which safely reached this country.

Asked about his future plans, this modest member of the gallant Mercantile Marine said after a stay at home of about three weeks he would be ready to go to sea again. His experiences have not shaken him at all and he has no wish to remain in a shore billet.

"I only hope the next time a 'sub' comes along I will have a chance at getting a shot in at him. It was tough luck he did not show up an hour or two sooner when we were having gun drill - he would then have got a taste of his own medicine once we got him in the gun sights."

Monday, 12 December, 2011  
Blogger ritsonvaljos said...

(h) Dedication

This article has been dedicated to the memory of William Scott Truett (1920 - 1942):

A sailor's grave in the ocean deep,
It marks the place of your final sleep,
God bless you still though we never met,
Your name and brave deeds we cherish yet.

(Armistice Day, 11 November 2011)


Cumbria County Archives & Library Service
(Whitehaven Records Office)

'The Whitehaven News'

Mrs Joan Little, Volunteer
Cumbria County Archives & Library Service

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Further reading

To read an overview of the role of the Merchant Navy in WW2 on the BBC "People's War" website, click on the following link:
WW2 Fact File: Merchant Navy

To read further stories about the SS 'Empire Leopard' and some of its crew written by 'ritsonvaljos' for the BBC "People's War" project, click on the following links:
Torpedoed by a German U-Boat, 2 November 1942

George and William Acton, Merchant Seamen with the SS Empire Leopard

An Unwanted Letter from the Minister of War Transport in London

To read the family story of Tom Cradduck, another seaman who was also lost when the SS 'Empire Leopard', click on the following link:

A Father and Son of the Sea

Monday, 12 December, 2011  
Anonymous said...

I am staying at a Hotel Neat the Merchant Naval Memorial near Tower Bridge. Each day i stay i visit the Memorial and stand in front of WILLIAM TRUETS named on the memorial and will dio until i leave.
Anthony Truett
Son of a Far East Prisoner of War

Wednesday, 31 October, 2012  

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