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Lieut. Bill Wedge

Discussion in 'WWII Obituaries' started by GRW, Mar 11, 2020.

  1. GRW

    GRW Pillboxologist WW2|ORG Editor

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    "John Francis Newdigate (‘Bill’) Wedge (13 July 1921 - 7 January 2020)
    Bill was born and brought up in Forest Hill, south-east London, the eldest of three children. He had a sister Pat and brother Philip (‘Pip’). Bill was 98 when he died and all three lived into their 90’s and his brother ‘Pip’, who began as a music journalist with New Musical Express but lived for thirty years in Canada working on programming for commercial television, is still alive.
    Their father John Frederick Wedge (1883-1954) was a merchant seaman, apprenticed at the age of 16 in a three masted sailing ship, the Aldergrove, on the run from Chile to Australia, taking nitrates out and coal or wheat back. For four years he didn’t return home. He also worked on cable-laying ships around Africa and in the Indian Ocean. Bill wrote in his Diary that his father "progressed to second mate and told tales of fights, with Chinese crewmen trying to gouge his eyes, and of sleeping with a string connecting his toe and the door handle, with a revolver beside him. He qualified as a Master Mariner but never had a command in steam. He travelled the Indian Ocean and New Zealand among other places, latterly in cable-laying ships, and was ship-wrecked two or three times." He was nicknamed Bosun or ‘Bosun Bill’, and from an early age his son was nicknamed ‘Little Bill', and then just Bill.
    Bill's Mother mother was the seventh child of a family who owned several tobacconist shops. She had fair curly hair and was nicknamed ‘Bubbles’, later changed to ‘Bobbie’. She was 26 when Bill was born and his father 38. 'Bosun Bill' left the sea and worked in nautical journalism and publishing and became the editor of the standard book of reference, Bown's Flags and Funnels. His father's life at sea must have innspired Bill Wedge to serve in the Navy when the war came.
    There was not much money in the family as Bill was growing-up, but he was a bright child and won a free place at Roan School in Blackheath which, in his words. ‘was throughout a great joy to me’ – the teaching, the scout camps and the sports.
    Bill left school at 16 and after studying for his banking exams joined Barclays at 17. It was 1938 and he knew war was coming, and joined the RNVR as his father had done in World War 1. He could not imagine himself in an aircraft and certainly didn’t want to be a solider charging with a fixed bayonet.
    He was called up on the day war was declared and signed on as a Telegraphist (he had been a short-wave enthusiast in his mid-teens, exchanging messages around the world and listening to US, Cuban and South American music stations during the night hours). After six months training at a former Butlins holiday camp in Skegness he joined his first ship, HMT Norse, a requisitioned trawler being used as a minesweeper on the Thames Estuary, at Sheerness in April 1940.
    His minesweeper provided a grandstand view of three events that determined Britain’s future: the ‘armada of little craft returning from Dunkirk’, the Battle of Britain, when Bill observed the dogfights in ‘cloudless and beautiful’ skies and the Blitz with waves of bombers flying overhead on their way to London. He felt safer at sea than on home leave in Forest Hill during a bombing raid.
    Bill was commissioned as an officer and joined the destroyer HMS Worcester at Harwich as a Midshipman in May 1941. He was in charge of the pom-pom anti-aircraft guns when at action stations. Worcester was an escort for east coast convoys from Rosyth on the Firth of Forth to the Thames estuary. Bill was promoted to Sub Lt J.F.N. Wedge, RNVR and his lively pen sketches of the wardroom on the Worcester provides an insight into the life lived by wartime officers.
    On 12 February 1942 Worcester was one of six V & W Class destroyers which took part in the attack on the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau and cruiser Prinz Eugen, on their Channel Dash from Brest to Wilhelmshaven at the mouth of the River Elbe. Bill describes his memories of that day on this website.
    The Worcester was the last to attack and was hit repeatedly, lost power, drifted to expose her port side, was heavily damaged, on fire with the bridge destroyed and with both boiler rooms flooded she was close to sinking. Twenty-six crew were dead. Bill survived but ‘very foolishly’ had taken the cotton wool from his ears to hear orders better and was partly deaf in his left ear for the rest of his life. In his 90s he became the last surviving participant of the Channel Dash and was honoured at the 75th remembrance in 2017.
    Bill left HMS Worcester while she was being repaired and was sent to the Clyde and Scapa Flow and then on anti-submarine training before being sent to New York in August 1943 where his next ship HMS Garlies, a Captain Class Frigate, was being built at athe Boston Naval Yard on the east Coast of America as an Atlantic escort.
    He spent five weeks in New York awaiting her completion. He had been a jazz and big-band fan from his teens and visited all the clubs (which charged half-price or nothing for servicemen) and saw Ella Fitzgerald, Mel Powell, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller. He was 22 and in heaven."
    John Francis Newdigate (‘Bill’) Wedge (1921-2020)
     

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