Head of the Armed Forces sector
I was always interested in what connections existed between the people that I work with and the Armed Forces. Some are pretty obvious, such as the co-worker who is married to a serviceman, or my past service.
I decided to ask around the firm, and sent out a simple email asking for people with connections to respond to me. I was unprepared for the sheer number of responses and connections with the Forces. They fall into two groups set in time; those with historic ties and those with current close family members involved.
To summarise the present connections include a number of colleagues with serving nephews, or friends in training to join. I was happy to see that the links to current day forces were still pretty strong, which isn’t that surprising given that we are square in the heart of Wiltshire where military links are ingrained.
The historic links brought up some amazing stories from the past including several gallantry medals. One story in particular caught my attention and involved a relative (her husband’s paternal grandfather) of Trish Watkins a lawyer in our Private Client department.
The citation is incredible and involved the ship that he was aboard being torpedoed at night in the North Atlantic causing the vessel to break apart. Bombardier (Bdr) Watkins was close to the impact site of the torpedo which exploded and threw his friend violently against the bulkhead. The ship was broken in half by the torpedo detonation, and was sinking quickly. The men assembled on the deck and it was quickly realised that his friend remained missing. Bombardier Watkins went back below decks, in what would have been almost total darkness and found his friend. He somehow managed to get him up two decks to get topside and over the side of the stricken ship before it sank. Thankfully an empty liferaft that had floated free of the ship was nearby and he managed to get himself and his comrade into it. They spent several hours adrift awaiting rescue while Navy destroyers tried to hunt the U-Boat with depth charges until daylight broke.
Bdr Watkins was awarded the George Medal by King George VI at a ceremony in Buckingham Palace. The George Medal is an incredible award made in circumstances of conspicuous gallantry not in the presence of the enemy. His London Gazette entry is number 3505 made on 21 January 1941.
Two twists of fate arise from this incredible story. He was hospitalised after this event and eventually married the nurse that tended to him. The ship he was on was destined for Singapore which fell only six weeks later to the Japanese. Perhaps it was fateful that the vessel never made it. The amazing thing also is that Bdr Watkins couldn’t swim.