Able Seaman Edmund James (P/JX 296267)
H.M.S. Fidelity, Royal Navy.
Killed in action 1st January, 1943.
Ted James came from 10, London Street, Leek, and was one of several young men from that tiny street to be killed in the war. He volunteered for the Royal Navy and by the winter of 1942 was on convoy escort duty in the Atlantic. His ship, H.M.S. Fidelity, was a Royal Navy ‘Q’ ship or armed merchant cruiser. Vessels like this were frequently used on convoy escort duties.
The North Atlantic weather in December, 1942, was so bad that Allied convoys transporting vital supplies to Britain were forced to sail further south in calmer waters. Unfortunately, so were the German U-boats. Convoy ONS 154 left Britain with forty five merchant ships on 19th December bound for Halifax, Nova Scotia. H.M.S. Fidelity was one of the seven escort ships. On Boxing Day, the U-boats spotted the convoy but were driven off by the escorts. The next day, a U-boat managed to get in between the columns of ships and torpedoed two merchantmen, sinkimg both with heavy loss of life.
Over the next few days, more merchant ships were sunk but one of the U-boats was destroyed by the escort vessels. Only the arrival of two Royal Navy destroyers gave the convoy some respite. This was not to last, however, and H.M.S. Fidelity was the to be the next victim. The ship had fallen back with engine trouble and was out of sight of the convoy. Three U-boats stalked the ship and fired torpedoes, quickly finding their mark. The Fidelity sank quickly. The convoy’s battle with the Germans had cost fourteen ships and the lives of four hundred and eighty six seaman, including Ted James.
The late Charlie Robinson from Broad Street, Leek, was a crew member of one of the destroyers sent to help the convoy. He recalled: “When we got to the scene it was dark and I was on lookout. I remember seeing burning ships and tiny red lights twinkling in the water. Merchant sailors had these lights attached to their clothing. They also carried whistles; I heard them blowing by the dozen. Seamen were pulled out of the water covered in oil and many with burns. It was a terrible sight”.
The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, said after the war: “The only thing that ever really frightened me during the war was the U-boat peril”. By the end of 1943, the tide had turned and the Allies were winning the Battle of the Atlantic and U-boats were being destroyed in ever-increasing numbers. Of some 820 German submarines built, over 700 had been destroyed in action by the end of the war. Some 32,000 German submariners died at sea out of an estimated 39,000 who volunteered for service with the U-boats.
Edmund is commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.