South West Wales

Proms night for HMS Trinidad Arctic Convoy veteran

John Farrow
Image caption John Farrow is thought to be the last survivor of HMS Trinidad

The last surviving crew member of a ship lost in the Arctic Convoys will be at the Last Night of the Proms for a special march dedicated to the vessel.

HMS Trinidad went down in 1942 - just seven months after the new cruiser undertook its first mission.

John Farrow, from Pembrokeshire, was a 20-year-old gunner on the ship.

Now 92, he will be at the Royal Albert Hall for a performance written by the late composer George Lloyd - a Royal Marines bandsman on the ship.

Lloyd's piece was adopted as the official march for the ship, which at its launch was regarded as one of the fastest and most technically advanced vessels in the Navy.

It was part of the perilous trips during World War II in which Britain sent supplies to Russia in waters vulnerable to attack from German ships, planes, mines and submarines.

Just five months into its first convoy, HMS Trinidad was crippled in a battle - a hole blown in its side by one of the ship's own torpedoes.

The musician - already a well-known composer - was in the transmitter department that took the full impact, and while he escaped with his life, he was so traumatised he was unable to return to music for decades.

For gunner John "Jack" Farrow, the memories of the day are vivid.

He had been working in Salford as a French polisher when he and two friends volunteered almost as soon as war was declared in September 1939.

"We went down to Devon for training. Two of us survived the war and one did not," he recalled.

Image caption The cruiser HMS Trinidad was destroyed following a bombing raid in May 1942

"It was freezing - absolutely freezing. The weather was the killer and I'd have four pairs of socks on.

"I happened to see this white wake coming towards us - that's a torpedo - and the captain or one of the other officers said: 'That's one of ours'.

"And of course it hit us."

The young sailor was above deck when the blast hit unlike many of the bandsmen gathered below.

"As soon as it hit the ship, it started to go over. The hull in the side, you could get two buses in it," he said.

"On the other side, inside the ship, was the transmitting department, and all those in there drowned. It was next to the oil tanks and that's what did for most of them"

Bandsman Lloyd was in fact one of the few to make it out. Some 17 men died in the explosion.

"Later on they got the bodies to take out to sea to bury," said Mr Farrow.

"Two bandsmen - he must have been one them (Lloyd) - played the Last Post."


The young gunner Farrow stayed with the ship as it limped to Murmansk for repairs.

After almost two months, HMS Trinidad set off for home only to be targeted by a German bombing raid. This time it was the end for the ship.

"The ship was ablaze," said Mr Farrow, who spent 60-years working as a cabinet maker and French polisher in Tenby after the war.

Image caption George Lloyd wrote the HMS Trinidad March while a Royal Marines bandsman on the ship

"She was really giving us time to get off. She was a good ship.

"I will never forget jumping the 10ft from our burning ship to the destroyer which rescued us. You needed to concentrate because if you fell in the water you'd be dead within two minutes of the cold.

"They put a torpedo in her and then we all watched her go down, that beautiful ship, brand new."

And in the midst of the unfolding tragedy, the sailor also had his thoughts on home, his family and the money he had been saving to get married.

His £60, which would be worth some £2,400 today, and 30 bars of chocolate were in his locker.

"The ship was burning away like hell. I could see my £60 in my locker," he said.

"I thought about going to try and get it. If I did, I wouldn't be here. So I lost my £60 and 30 bars of chocolate."

First performance

As for the music being performed at the Proms, Mr Farrow said he was probably looking forward to hearing the march more now than at the time it was first played in the ship's aircraft hangar at Scapa Flow.

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Media caption'As soon as it hit the ship, it started to go over'

"They piped overhead that the band was going to play a new march written by one of the bandsmen of the Royal Marines," he said.

"Well, there was a war on and there was work to be done. So while the band is playing this tune and that, we were all working."

And besides, the sailor confessed, he and his mates were more in tune with singers such as Bing Crosby rather than military marches.

"But it is very good - very good," he added, as he prepared to hear it in its full glory at the Royal Albert Hall.

The composer Lloyd finally recovered from what would today be termed as post-traumatic stress but did not return to music for the best part of 30 years.

It was not until the 1980s that he established himself again. His last work, his Requiem written in memory of Diana, the Princess of Wales, was also performed at this year's Proms marking the centenary since his birth.

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