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The Story Of John Hornby 1901-1974

Author - John Haydn Barker Hornby, 2001. Edited and Published 2003 Copyright © Hubmaker
No part of this publication may be reproduced by any means without the prior consent of the publisher.

Chapter 3 - Battleship Hood

John Hornby joined the Battle Cruiser "HMS Hood" on the 13th August 1922 after further transit periods, mainly at "Vivid", "Columbine" and "Valhalla". "Columbine" was a drifter used as a nominal base ship at Rosyth in Scotland and "Valhalla" was a V/W class destroyer of 1,339 tons, built in 1917, also used as a repair ship and mobile workshop based in Malta.

"Hood" was the most famous ship in the Royal Navy, and libraries and bookshops are filled with information about her even today. Suffice it to say her that she was a fast, up to date, heavily armed vessel of 42,000 tons; the pride of the Navy. She was, at that time, under the command of a very strict, almost ferocious Captain Mackworth, but for my father the great highlight of this period was the Empire Cruise of 1922-3. In fact this trip was probably the best and most memorable of his whole career. Life was good for the navy men between the wars and in those days of course Britannia did rule the waves. Any comparison of fighting ships with other countries shows that clearly. It was important to Britain to remind the world of that fact at that time, and to send the two finest capital ships, with escorts, around the world on a flag flying exercise was all part of the diplomatic practice of the time. The fleet was wonderfully received wherever it called and my father and thousands of other sailors had the time of their lives. The full story is written up in the contemporary book "The Empire Cruise".

John also kept a diary of events and received his "crossing the line" ceremony and certificate (awarded to all sailors who cross the equator for the first time) on 30th August 1922.

Battleship Hood - On board HMS Hood, 1923
In HMS Hood, 1923
Part of that voyage included a visit to Brazil, where he had some co operation with Japanese sailors, and learned from them the martial art of the time Ju Jitsu. He spoke more than once of his wonderful memories of those days, most of all the great loyalty to the mother country of the native peoples. He wrote of Cape Town, Australia, New Zealand and Tasmania, the South Sea Islands including Fiji and Samoa; of West African natives singing in the moonlight, of Hawaii, and the "natives with fuzzy hair in their small boats". He went through the Panama Canal, and called at Halifax, Nova Scotia and was away all told for ten months.

Above all he could never get out of this mind leaving New Zealand with everyone on the packed out shoreline singing the haunting and famous New Zealand farewell song "Now is the Hour". During my own visit to San Fransisco in 1966, I met a man who remembered "Hood" visiting in 1923. In those days, of course, the Golden Gate Bridge had not been built.

It was during this period than my father set himself up a business aboard ship making sailor's suits. These were of a traditional fixed pattern of course, and made of standard material called blue serge. A complete suit cost a sailor 12 shillings and six pence, (72.5 "new" pence) measured to fit. My father bought bolts of serge from shore establishments, and at the height of his business he had 3 sailors working for him and owned several sewing machines. My mother said that much of his time he lived well on the proceeds of this work, and sent all his pay home to her.

He was promoted to acting Petty Officer before he left the "Hood" on 7th May 1925. (The loss of the Hood was one of the greatest blows to the allies in the early part of the Second World War 24 May 1941. She was destroyed by the German battleship Bismarck, and simply blew up. She sank in three minutes and there were only 3 survivors). This tragedy has been well documented in many books.

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