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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 4 - Time Aboard Destroyers

John's next posting was to "Egmont II" and the destroyer "Keppel" from 2nd February 1926 until 15th June 1928. Keppel spent this period of her life visiting Gibraltar, Malta, Argostoli, Skiathos, Egypt, Suez, Aden, Singapore, Hong Kong and China. Her role in China seemed to remain more in my father's memory than anything else, and his experiences were not good. The Navy's role was, at yet another time of civil war in China, to guard British nationals. Keppel patrolled the Yangtse River almost continuously to cover and support businessmen who had to trade with the Chinese people. The ship had to fight her way through firing from both sides of the river from Nanking to Wuhu, on the way to Hankow. He often spoke of the vast number of bloated bodies floating down and up river on the tide, victims presumably of the civil war. In his artifacts is a copy of the following poem, in his own handwriting, but I don't suppose it is his own composition.

Exploits of the Keppel 1926 - 1927

The Sahibs decided a flotilla should go
Although few officers or men did know
To a station far East where trouble was rife
So they sent the Third to frustrate the strife.

Through the tropics they went, foregoing their leave,
In all climes the natives they tried to deceive,
The East we arrived full of muscle and vim
And made our time fly "Interim".

To proceed to Shangai, we welcomed with joy
And decided good times we would enjoy
The quaint things that greeted us when we got there
I will try to explain as brief as I dare.

The call of the East from the depths of a Chink
And the junks that float with their cargoes of stink
Drove our thirsty lads almost to despair
Especially the POs and Chiefs who were there.

The Cafes de Luxe with the noise and their paint
Made all out young sailors frisky, but faint
And the Ricksha's who drive you many a mile
Were saluted with a sailors cheery smile.

Until they got tired of it all was ablaze
They found this was more than an ordinary craze
Good friends we left at the G.H.S.
The others to strive and do their best.

When one frosty morning we had a smart call
And found that a joke being played was not all
Chinks boarded a ship her contents to take
When Keppels arrived they thought it a bake.

We left Shanghai with a tear in our eye
But hope to go back again bye and bye
We ran up the river as far as Wuhu
The water was low and we could not go through.

We stayed long enough a ball game to play
We were very unlucky it was a wet day
When the match was over and the players were done
A Yank sailor muttered I guess the mud won!

Back to Shanghai we went with a smile
Thinking of Bright Lights we do all the while
Our Christmas was spent ...... delight
I don't know what happened, the damn lot got tight.

Christmas was over and work came along
Orders we got to proceed to Hong Kong
In very easy stages we die the trip
Meeting in places Sir Henry Grip.

We arrived Santua our flag flying high
Had no small idea that trouble was nigh
The forces who saw us thought it was best
To apologise now and then take a rest.

The next place we went to was not such a bore
We found they were selling cats in galore
Some of the boys at Amoy flipped their bats
And all had some sport in selecting their cats.

Our complements small for we left quite a batch
Practising gun drill on board the Despatch
For Keppel's too small for so many men
To properly shout Home! Out! In!

We left Amoy for our trip to Hong Kong
believe me you, we wont be there long
Ere long we heard they had curtailed our stay
We must fill up again and then "Dash Away".

The "third" mentioned in the poem refers to the third destroyer flotilla.

My father did, however, have many enjoyable times, as some of his photographs show, taken at Wei Hai Wei, and in Jessfield Park, Shanghai. There seemed to be plenty of tea parties, Embassy events and days out.

HMS Keppel
Jessfield Park, Shanghai, May 1927. HMS Keppel. JH 1st left.

I have a contemporary newspaper photograph of the 3rd destroyer flotilla leaving Hong Kong, bound for the Mediterranean. Britain, at this time, surrendered the concessions (areas) of Hankow, Nanking and Chinkiang to China.

He left the ship on 15th June 1928, again for "Vivid" before joining the aircraft carrier Glorious on the 7th January 1930, for three years, on promotion to "Petty Officer". Whilst at Vivid at this time, he sought permission to "practise on the piano in the canteen theatre from 4-5 pm". I don't know if it was ever granted, but I never heard him play. His favourite piece of music was Handel's "Largo".

It seems that during his service on Keppel he was deprived of his "good conduct" badge (13th October 1927) but it was restored six months later. He never told me why, and I never asked. I did ask my mother, in recent years, but she always insisted she didn't know.

Keppel had a distinguished war record. She served in the 13th destroyer flotilla and Force H at Gibraltar and in the Meditteranean from 1940-42, acting as escort to Atlantic and Russian convoys, in particular the tragic PQ 17, when she was leader of the close escort support vessels. In 1943 she was partially converted to along range escort, and later on sank 3 German "U" boats, U713, U229 and U344 the last in company with other ships. She remained on Russian convoys until 1945, survived the war and was sold out of service in July 1945.

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