Orders, Decorations and Medals (25 September 2008)
Date of Auction: 25th September 2008
Estimate: £4,000 - £5,000
Distinguished Service Medal, G.VI.R. (JX. 130198 J. Derrick, L. Smn., R.N.); 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star; Africa Star; Italy Star; Burma Star; War Medal 1939-45; Greek Medal of Military Valour, 4th class; Cadet Forces Long Service, E.II.R. (Lieut. (S.C.C.), D.S.M., R.N.R.(sic)), mounted as worn, the first officially corrected in places, very fine and better (9) £4000-5000
FootnoteD.S.M. London Gazette 1 January 1941.
John Derrick was born in Bath, Somerset in August 1911 and entered the Royal Navy as a Boy 2nd Class in May 1927. Advanced to Able Seaman in November 1930, he was serving in the repair ship H.M.S. Resource at the time of the Chalcidice earthquake, and was awarded the Greek Medal of Military Valour for his part in the relief operations - ‘Rendered valuable services and granted permission to wear the Greek Cross of Valour, Class IV, for relief work after the earthquake in Chalcidice, 1932’ (his service record refers). Derrick, who qualified as a diver while aboard Resource, also appears to have been awarded the Hellenic Red Cross Medal, or certainly a related Certificate of Commendation (see below).
An Acting Leading Seaman in the destroyer Javelin on the outbreak of hostilities, under Commander A. F. Pugsley, R.N., he was present in operations off Norway and Dunkirk, early actions that no doubt contributed to the award of his D.S.M., but it was following his deeds that November, when Javelin was severely damaged by two torpedo strikes, while engaging enemy destroyers in the Channel, that his decoration was confirmed. As it happened, and as was his want in the absence of the Kelly undergoing repairs, Lord Mountbatten was aboard in his capacity as Captain (D.), 5th Destroyer Flotilla. Christopher Langtree’s definitive history, The Kelly’s, which includes two spectacular images of the damaged Javelin, takes up the story:
‘As they turned the British ships lost the targets on their directors and steamed right into the paths of torpedoes launched by the German ships. Most missed but two topedoes hit Javelin in the bow and stern. The first hit almost blew the stern off up to Station 64 and ignited the oil tanks. The stern dropped off two minutes after the explosion but luckily the aft magazine did not explode. The second hit blew off the whole bow forward Station 30 and caused rapid flooding up to Station 35, flooding No. 2 Magazine at a rate of 6 inches per hour. The German ships turned away, pursued by the rest of the flotilla, but escaped undamaged. The four ships then returned to stand by Javelin which had been reduced from a length of 366 and a half feet to 155 feet. At midday the tug Caroline Moller arrived and by passing a line round Javelin’s torpedo mount was able to tow her back to Plymouth at two knots, arriving on the 30th.’
As related in the Bath & Wiltshire Chronicle and Herald in March 1955, when Derrick met Mountbatten again during the First Sea Lord’s visit to his local Naval H.Q., the two sailors were quickly overheard recalling the events of November 1940:
‘And as they yarned about that cold November day in 1940, when their destroyer was all but blasted from beneath them by German torpedoes, strong March sunshine picked on two medal ribbons from the rows of insignia on each man’s uniform. For Lord Louis Mountbatten it was the D.S.O.; for C.P.O. Derrick, the D.S.M. - and both medals were won by brave men in the same action ... ’
Afterwards interviewed by the newspaper’s reporter, Derrick recalled:
‘There was a terrific explosion, water went up in the air like a water-spout, and the next thing I knew was that I had two men where I had started with 16 - many of the crew left by small boats and rafts, or were taken off by supporting ships. The Javelin was in such a bad way that she hardly looked worth salvaging. But Lord Mountbatten decided to try and get her in. Throughout the day we were bombed by Dorniers who were trying to finish us off but we were eventually given a strong escort and towed, after-part first, back into port. Lord Haw Haw was gloating that the Javelin had gone down but by the time we returned the B.B.C. were able to put him right.’
Derrick was presented with his D.S.M. at a Buckingham Palace investiture held in March 1941, on which occasion the King asked him about the circumstances leading to the award of his unusual Greek decoration.
Next attending the gunnery establishment Excellent, and advanced to Temporary Petty Officer in December 1941, Derrick joined Wild Swan in January 1942, aboard which destroyer, on 17 June of the same year, his recent attendance of Excellent proved telling - no less than six enemy aircraft were downed by her accurate gunfire. The following eye-witness account of that fateful day has been taken from Peter C. Smith’s history of Wild Swan:
‘Within a minute or two, of course, we were at full action stations and then the twelve Huns slowly dropped out from the cloud base. As they crossed ahead of us we opened up with our two foremost 4.7s. The first few rounds burst remarkably close, and at least two of the raiders appeared to be hit, and climbed back into the clouds. A minute or two later these two dropped out of the clouds again steering wildly. We held our breath as they collided head-on, each doing about 300 m.p.h. One caught fire and dived vertically on to a Spanish trawler. The whole lot blew up and a shower of pieces went flying through the air. The other died headlong into the sea, quite close to the burning wreckage of his opposite number. He released his bombs about a hundred feet up - too late - they fell only a few yards away, and he was also blown to pieces. During the early part of this fierce engagement, Wild Swan was steaming at nearly 25 knots, and altering course continuously to try and avoid the bombs which were falling alarmingly close. She had no time to go and look for German airmen in the sea who might have escaped ...
... About this time Wild Swan experienced a very near miss which severely shook her entire hull, and caused extensive damage. As she lost speed, the rudder also jammed and the crippled destroyer was out of control. Her speed through the water had dropped to only walking pace, when the Wild Swan collided with a trawler which became impaled on her bows. The ship soon stopped, and the Spanish crew were hauled aboard ...
... The sixth bomber caught us. He dived down out of the sun at an angle of 50 degrees and, although the starboard pom-pom and Lewis gunner fired through his wings, five bombs hit the water 15 feet from the ship’s side and went off immediately under the keel. All the guns were firing individually as the electrical circuits and supplies were shattered. This quarter of an hour gave us time to rig a jury wireless aerial. One aircraft came in and machine-gunned us. Unfortunately for him the 12-pounder crew - by now all stripped to the waist, scored a direct hit on one of the engines. As he turned away, the forward guns engaged him and he slowly lost height, hitting the water in a sheet of spray. Before the aerial was finished somebody yelled, “Look out, here he comes.” High up above a machine was coming down at full throttle. He was about 2000 feet up and had a long way to go. All the guns’ crews spotted him simultaneously and I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much stuff going up into one machine. He turned his cannon on us and let go four 500lb. bombs. They fell a few feet from our starboard quarter. Although the Lewis and Bren gunners could see this lot coming straight for us, they kept up a hail of fire right till the bombs exploded. There was a rending of steel plates as the old ship broke her back. The flooding of the engine room was completed, depth charges thrown into the air and the 12-pounder lifted clean off its mounting ... ’
With the order to “Abandon ship” given, Wild Swan’s survivors took to the water, some reaching Carley floats, others the ship’s whaler and motorboat, and a Merchant Navy pattern raft which had been recovered at sea at an earlier date. A long night ensued, during which ‘thoughts were mainly centred on the chances of being found the next day’ - and 30 men died of exposure. Salvation finally arrived in the form of the destroyer Vansittart, which was directed to the survivors by an R.A.F. Sunderland.
Confirmed in the rank of Petty Officer, Derrick returned to Excellent, where, with the exception of time aboard the destroyer Valentine from December 1943 to February 1944, he remained employed until removing to the Wager in the Pacific in April 1944, aboard which latter ship he was present in the Okinawa operations and still serving at the War’s end. Finally pensioned ashore in August 1954, he found employment as an Admiralty Messenger at the Naval H.Q., Bath, in addition to service in the local Sea Cadet Corps, in which capacity he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the R.N.V.R. in August 1957.
Sold with a large quantity of original documentation and photographs, including Certificate of Award for his Greek Medal of Military Valour and Hellenic Red Cross certificate, dated 22 December 1932, both framed and glazed; Buckingham Palace investiture admittance ticket, March 1941, and a telegram from the recipient to his mother, ‘Awarded D.S.M. New Years Honours, Jack’, dated 4 January 1941; his Certificate of Service and Gunnery History Sheet; a fine array of career photographs (approximately 50 images), together with a small family photograph album which includes one or two R.N. scenes, among them a picture taken at Chalcidice in 1932; ship Christmas cards (4); and assorted newspaper features.
Also sold with a quantity of prize medals (10), mainly for R.N. rifle and revolver competitions, but also including a Fleet Championship award for 1934, a Royal Tournament award for 1939 and an Army Rifle Association “Methuen Cup” Medal, clasp ‘1948’, these last three in their fitted cases of issue.