War tragedy 70 years ago today

As war breaks out, early deaths shock Exmouth. As Britain remembered the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War on the September 3 1939, little did Exmothians know how soon it would dramatically change so many of their lives.

As war breaks out, early deaths shock Exmouth.

As Britain remembered the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War on the September 3 1939, little did Exmothians know how soon it would dramatically change so many of their lives. That day came just two weeks later, on the September 17 1939, poignantly seventy years ago today, when one of the Royal Navy's largest vessels, the aircraft carrier HMS Courageous, was dramatically sunk in the South West Approaches, thus becoming the Royal Navy's first loss of the war. Struck by two torpedoes fired from the U-29, a German U-boat commanded by a Lt Cdr Schuhardt, the stricken carrier keeled over to port and sank within twenty minutes, taking with her the Captain and 518 members of her crew.

Sadly, this early and tragic loss was felt most strongly in the West Country with East Devon and Exmouth suffering in particular.A Devonport based ship, HMS Courageous had a largely West Country based crew, many of whom were reservists, and her Captain, Captain Makeig-Jones, was also an East Devon man. However, it was Exmouth which most felt this early loss, for on board when the carrier slipped out of port under cover of darkness as war was declared were a group of young local family men. All had shared a pre-war interest in radio which had seen them enlisting in the Royal Naval Volunteer Wireless Reserve long before the outbreak of war. As the storm clouds of war gathered they had been mobilised in July 1939 and, from their initial call-up, had all been posted to the Courageous. None survived her sinking.

Today, these young Exmouth men are still linked together on the same panel at the impressive Naval War Memorial situated on Plymouth Hoe, overlooking the waters from which they sailed, never to return. .


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