Strabane Royal Naval Officer David Leslie Craig.

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Strabane Royal Naval Officer David Leslie Craig. © Gray's Museum, WW2 Peoples War. WW2 People's War is an online archive of wartime memories contributed by members of the public and gathered by the BBC. The archive can be found at bbc.co.uk/ww2peopleswar

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Tyrone men in the Royal Navy

As an inland county, Tyrone was never an obvious source of sailors but some men from the county did serve in the Royal Navy. One of these was Able Seaman Frederick Barr, from Strabane, who lost his life on the destroyer HMS Kingston in Malta on 5 April 1942. Frederick Barr, the son of Sam and Mary Anne Barr, was only 19.

His ship had been damaged by gunfire during the Second Battle of Sirte, off the Libyan coast, on 22 March and had sailed to Malta for repairs. On 5 April the ship was in Grand Harbour, Valetta, when it was bombed by enemy aircraft and suffered more damage with Frederick Barr being among the casualties.

There was a further raid two days later that caused even more damage. Then Kingston was dry-docked but, on the 11th, was attacked a third time and damaged beyond repair. The ship had been built in 1939. Frederick Barr is buried in Imtarfa Military Cemetery, Malta.

Earlier in the war, Cookstown man Able Seaman Andrew Curran died when the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious was sunk on 9 June 1940. The carrier was returning to Britain having evacuated RAF aircraft from Norway and was steaming at 17 knots when it was intercepted by the German battlecruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.

Although it was a clear day with good visibility there was no lookout in the crow’s nest and no aircraft were on patrol. Glorious was escorted by only two destroyers, HM Ships Ardent and Acasta. These were no match for the German battlecruiser which bombarded Glorious with her 11-inch guns. Nonetheless the two destroyers did their utmost to protect the aircraft carrier. All three Royal Navy ships were sunk with the loss of 1,474 lives. Only 45 men survived. Andrew Curran is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial (Panel 37, Column 2).  

Possibly the youngest Tyrone man to die in action was Boy 1st Class Edward Stanley McCorkell who was only 17 when he perished in HMS Dorsetshire. His ship, a Norfolk-class cruiser built in 1919, was sailing with HMS Cornwall, a Kent-class cruiser, in the Indian Ocean south of Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, on 5 April 1942 when they came under attack from Japanese aircraft. Dorsetshire was hit by ten bombs and sank in about eight minutes with 234 men lost. Edward McCorkell is also remembered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial (Panel 67, Column 3).

Other Tyrone sailors who lost their lives included 26-year-old Able Seaman William Darragh, of Cookstown, who died when the destroyer HMS Grenville was sunk by a mine off the coast of Kent on 19 January 1940 (He is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial (Panel 38, Column 2); Able Seaman William Albert Doherty, aged 19, of Killeter lost with HMS Diamond which was sunk by German air attack during the evacuation of Greece on 27 April 1941; there were no survivors. Leading Air Mechanic Samuel Frederick Hamilton, from Omagh, died in North Africa on 29 January 1943 and is buried at Bone. Attached to HMS Cormorant, the Royal Naval Air Station at Gibraltar, he was 27.

On 19 December 1941 the Achilles-class cruiser HMS Neptune was sunk by mines off Tripoli with the loss of 763 lives. There was only one survivor. Among the dead was Ordinary Telegraphist Joseph Stewart, aged 21, from Cullion. He is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial (Panel 50, Column 3).  

Another Tyrone man who joined the Royal Navy was Gerald Ralph Auchinleck Darling who was a student at Oxford when war broke out in September 1939. Better known as ‘Bunny’ he volunteered for naval service and then, in 1941, for flying duties with the Fleet Air Arm. Flying fighter aircraft from Royal Navy aircraft carriers he survived the war although he was accident prone and crashed nine times. He attributed his survival to his good-luck charm – a black shamrock that he painted on each of his aeroplanes.