Monday, 9 April 2012

Joseph Roy Stracey 1922-1942 and HMS Hermes

Today, 9th April 2012, is the 70th anniversary of the sinking of HMS Hermes off the coast of Sri Lanka in the Second World War. On board was a 19-year old marine, my uncle, Joseph Roy Stracey. Tragically, he was one of the 307 men who was lost when the ship went down.

HMS Hermes
HMS Hermes was the world's first purpose built aircraft carrier, launched in 1919. By the Second World War she was considered to be an old vessel. Nevertheless, she had a distinguished wartime career hunting for German U-boats in the Atlantic and tracking down enemy shipping in the Indian Ocean as part of the Eastern Fleet. The Eastern Fleet was formed in 1941 following Japan's entry to the war the previous December. Japan had experienced a series of successes in the Far East and, with these successes, was winning domination over the Indian Ocean. As a result Britain's vital shipping routes - which she needed to supply India and Ceylon with troops to avert any future invasion by Japan - were under threat. The Eastern Fleet's aim was to regain control of the Indian Ocean, with the fleet temporarily based at Trincomalee on the island of Ceylon.

On 5th April 1942, Japan attacked the Ceylonese naval base at Colombo sinking several ships. Then, four days later on the 9th April, they turned their sights to Trincomalee. The ships which had been in harbour, including HMS Hermes, had received prior warning that there was going to be an attack so had sailed out into open waters. It was on their return to Trincomalee that they were spotted by Japanese reconnaissance aircraft and attacked by over 30 fighters. She received 40 direct hits and sank within ten minutes.

The HMS Hermes burns after being attacked by Japanese aircraft.
This photo was taken from a Japanese plane.
HMS Hermes sinking following her attack by 30 Japanese fighters.

My 19-year old uncle was one of the many who died on that day.  Born and bred in East Finchley, London, he had enlisted in the Royal Marines a month before his 18th birthday. He must have been so eager to join up. Did he feel patriotic? Was he craving adventure in a wider world? His service record states that prior to enlistment he had been a factory hand, so becoming a marine must have offered excitement, a chance to see the world as his father had done in the previous war. And of course, at that age, one feels immortal.

Roy had six months of training at the Royal Marines Depot at Deal in Kent before spending the next four months in Plymouth. Whilst training he was pronounced 'good' at swimming, and qualified in Parade, Tactical Training, Naval Gunnery, Small Arms, Anti-Gas and Seamanship. He became part of the Hermes crew in December 1940.

He was tall, a six-footer like his father, and good-looking. In November 1941, the Hermes underwent a two and a half month refit in Simonstown, South Africa. It was there that Roy met the woman that, according to my father, he became engaged to. Her name was Lorraine and, unfortunately, that's all we know about her. Nonetheless, the one photo we have of them together speaks volumes as it shows two people very much enamoured of each other. It was a romance that was not to end happily as, less than three months after they parted, Roy was dead.

Roy and Lorraine in South Africa
I often wonder whether his body was recovered and is one of the unknown sailors buried in Trincomalee Cemetery. Or was his body consigned to the deep? I will never know. Either way Roy is commemorated on Plymouth Naval Memorial. The family have visited on several occasions to pay our respects and find his name amongst the thousands of other members of the Royal Navy who have no known grave. For me, I'm incredibly sad that I have an uncle that I never had a chance to know but I keep the photo of him and Lorraine on display in my home to ensure I never forget him.

This blog is in memory of my Uncle Roy and the other 306 men who died with the HMS Hermes.

Marine Joseph Roy Stracey 1922-1942


  1. found this page while researching Japanese Indian Ocean raid, March-April 1942. Well done

    1. Thanks very much. I've just re-read my post for the first time in two years. At this time of year, I feel particularly proud of Uncle Roy.