South East Wales

Service honours HMS Urge, and its Bridgend benefactors

HMS Urge
Image caption The loss of HMS Urge was not made public in 1942

The loss of a Royal Navy submarine, its crew of 29 and 10 passengers, has been marked on the 69th anniversary of it being reported missing.

HMS Urge, adopted as a craft by the townspeople of Bridgend, was lost in the Mediterranean in 1942.

A memorial service, organised by The Submariners Association and hosted by Bridgend council, paid tribute to Urge's role in winning the battle for North Africa during World War II.

The vessel helped the Malta squadron, known as the fighting 10th, strangle supplies to Rommel's Afrika Corps.

But it was attacked, probably by Italian aircraft, on a journey from Malta.

The loss of the submarine was not made public for some time in order to spare the British population more bad news, and to avoid the sinking being used by the Axis forces as a propaganda coup.

The memorial will also reflect the feat of the people of Bridgend, who raised the money to pay for her and two other warships.

Nationally, £955m was raised during Warship Week of 1941, of which Bridgend collected about £300,000, the equivalent of £10m-12m in 2011 prices.

Roy James, secretary at the Welsh branch of the Submariners Association, explained how the celebration came about.

"I'm a submariner myself, though the boats on which I served were the first nuclear subs in the 1950s. But older people in Bridgend kept asking me if I knew what happened to the sub that Bridgend bought?"

"So I started investigating, and when I looked into the archives of the Glamorgan Gazette, I found this incredible story of how one town exceeded all targets and expectations, and managed to adopt not one, but three warships."

"Even more incredibly, as I was returning the archives to the librarian at Bridgend Reference Library, she said, 'Oh, we've got some sort of plaque to do with that, we were going to throw it out, because we didn't know what it is or what to do with it.' Well it all started from there really."

The plaque was HMS Urge's official crest, presented to the people of Bridgend.

It recognised the dinner-dances, fun-runs and whist drives which paid for their boat.

Throughout her year in service, Urge continued to receive parcels of food and luxuries from the people of Bridgend.

Had she not been sunk in April 1942, the crew was looking forward to paying their thanks in a parade through Bridgend at the end of her tour of duty.

"I've been able to track down the family of the submarine's captain, Lt Cdr Edward Tomkinson, and I'm pleased to say that both his daughter and grandson will be attending the service," Mr James said.

"What has been most exciting is the letters from Lt Cdr Tomkinson, which the family have been kind enough to give us copies of.

"They describe how grateful the crew were for the passion with which Bridgend had adopted their boat, and how it constantly reminded them - in the most difficult and frightening situations - of just who exactly they were fighting for."

Pride of place

On 27 April, 1942, HMS Urge left Malta on passage to Alexandria, but she never arrived.

No concrete explanation has ever been discovered for her sinking, but she was reported missing on 29 April. It is possible that she struck a mine outside Malta or that she was sunk by the Italian torpedo boat Pegaso in the eastern Mediterranean.

At the time of the loss the submarine was carrying 10 passengers, as part of the evacuation of the 10th Submarine Flotilla from Malta to Alexandria.

Among them was celebrated war correspondent, Bernard Gray.

His name does not appear in the official records and it took inquiries by his family's lawyers and Naval authorities on Malta to discover his likely fate on the Urge.

Whilst his surviving daughter is too ill to travel from Kent for Wednesday's service, she has donated the letters describing her father's experiences aboard the submarine to the HMS Urge collection.

This will take pride of place in Bridgend's reference library, when it opens later this year.

The memorial services was held at a wedding ceremony room at the Register Office in Bridgend at 1100 BST on Wednesday.

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