A week apart

The next two letters are dated only a week apart and neither contain book titles. The first was written five days after Hugh’s return from Turbulent’s 10th Patrol. This patrol was in two parts with the Christmas break separating them. As the Tyrrhenian Sea was known to be heavily mined, Linton kept alert as usual.  Making his way back to Malta on January 9, he received orders to destroy land targets. 

January 11 was a busy day and Linton achieved a sinking in the morning. In the afternoon, he surfaced near the Calabrian Coast, the narrow stretch of water between Sicily and the toe of Italy.  Turbulent bombarded a goods train with her guns. The target was hit eight times and led to a train engine being added to the Jolly Roger.  This action prompted Linton’s remark that train-wrecking was fun. However, he questioned whether trains were suitable targets for a submarine. He felt that the necessary recces were time-consuming and that, as these raids took place in daytime, the risk of being attacked was too great. A Patrol Report describes the action as follows:

January 11th 1943  1615 hours – Turbulent fired 22 rounds at the San Lucido railway station. Italian sources confirm that one steam engine was damaged, the electric and high tension lines were cut and a cottage was hit. The coastal battery from Paola fired 14 rounds at the submarine, forcing her to submerge.

Soon after, Linton left the area for safe haven in Malta. Admiral Harwood was full of praise for the 10th patrol:

HM s/m Turbulent’s 10th Patrol Report 18th December 1942 – 14th January 1943

This excellent patrol is typical of the tenacity and sound judgment which has distinguished the operations of HMS Turbulent under the command of Commander J W Linton. Her fine record of 50,000 tons of enemy shipping destroyed has been well earned and reflects great credit on her company.

Harwood, of Admiral Graf Spee fame, had taken over as Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, from Admiral Cunningham when the latter spent some time in America. After a few days rest following the patrol, Hugh wrote his first January letter.

First letter


JAN 19TH 1943

Dear Jim,

This is the first opportunity I have had to write since my letter on December the fifteenth. I just received your airgraph dated December fourth  – rather good time I thought. It was rather a surprise to get any mail at all this time in as there has been a bit of a change since last I wrote and I didn’t think the mail would catch up with us so quickly. Perhaps the G.P.O. in all its wisdom anticipated our move and acted accordingly. It is a long time since I have returned from patrol without hearing from you in one form or another, and I’m afraid I’d be a bit disappointed if there wasn’t something with your handwriting on it waiting for me.

Hugh is referring to the move in which Turbulent was lent to Malta. It was Scott Ritchie who obtained Hugh’s service record.  After being attached to Turbulent from August right through until January 17, Hugh was now temporarily, for the week of January 18-25, under the auspices of HMS Talbot. The Royal Navy’s Submarine base was at Fort Manoel, named after the island in Marsamxett Harbour, Malta, which was used by the 10th Flotilla.  Manoel Island is separated from Grand Harbour by Valletta’s large promontory, Floriana. The island is broadly triangular in shape and is also bounded by the Creek of Lazzaretto and Sliema. These had provided some shelter for naval vessels but had been attacked by enemy bombs. 

Women’s jobs

So you are training to be a Fire Guard Instructor?

Since the Spring of 1939, Jim had been carrying out duties for Air-Raid Precautions and took her examination in December 1942. She passed and received a certificate three days later. She probably told Hugh about this. 

1942 Sunday 6th December  Sat for A.R.P. [Air Raid Precautions] exam.

In one of her pieces of writing for possible publication, Jim uses her experience and training to produce this rather amusing anecdote. She called it Going to bed.

It is surprising how many women are displacing men in their jobs these days. Quite efficiently into the bargain!  It is rather a blow to most men you know.  Some time ago I was reading about some W.R.E.N.s who were manning naval picket boats.  Enough to make old Nelson turn over in his grave!  Who said it was a man’s world? 

Just think it is only about twenty-five or thirty years ago since women were fighting for the right to vote, and now one finds them displacing men in all sorts of jobs, owning more than half the property in the world and whose opinion carries considerable weight in the political world.  Not bad in twenty-five years.  Now that they have been given their heads I don’t see how the curb can be applied – not that I’d care to see it myself.  If women had been in a more influential position years ago perhaps all this rotten mess would never have occurred.  Still it is a bit of a shock to find women doing a man’s job efficiently and still remaining quite feminine.

In this letter, Hugh has quite a lot to say about the changing roles of women. At first, he seems uncomfortable with women in uniform but then acknowledges that a woman can easily take on a job that used to be reserved for men. He must have been fully aware of how women were stepping up to carry out work left by servicemen. Jim, with her love of physical exercise not only in her sporting activities but also in helping out on both her brother’s and her friend’s farms, was well aware that women could work as well as her male counterparts.

A good start

The year just ended was a very successful one for us and we closed it in a rather fitting manner with a touch of humour tagged on.  This year started well and I hope we can keep it up.  There was no rest camp this time in, for reasons I can’t explain here.  We had forty-eight hours general leave which turned out to be quite enough under the circumstances.  The weather has been quite cold and I seem to feel it more now after the steaming heat of last summer.  Did you notice the battle-dress I was wearing in the photograph I sent you?  It is rather odd garb for a naval man but it was issued to us to keep warm in, and also because we had very little else to wear at the time.

The shortage of clothing may have been due to the loss of Medway and the touch of humour may be a reference to the bombing of trains.

What do you think of the news nowadays?  Most encouraging don’t you think?  The Russians are doing very well and Rommel is about thru in North Africa.  Italy would chuck her hand in tomorrow if it wasn’t for the Germans. The general feeling is much more optimistic.  Our air force is beginning to bear some weight now. We seem to be on a more nearly equal footing with the Luftwaffe.  Taking it all in all things look much better than they did a year ago.

Building on the success of Operation Torch, the Allies wanted a stronger position in North Africa and were able to take advantage of the harbour at Algiers for the 8th Flotilla. Beginning in early January and leaving every twelve hours from Malta, submarines made the hazardous passage to safe harbour where they found the depot ship Maidstone awaiting them.  Turbulent was not among these early transfers.

Looking forward

You were saying in your last letter that your brother was in Scotland at the present time. It is a grand country to travel in, but like you, I prefer the softer climate of England. When I return I expect to get at least a month’s leave and I intend to do a bit of travelling if that is still possible. Perhaps you could suggest a few quiet places that are worth visiting. I’m looking for something quiet and peaceful where I can get away from all this for a while. It will be about June before I return to England but that should be about right for me. There are so many places in England worth a visit that it is hard to know where to begin.

Hugh was anticipating his well-earned leave with Roberta and anxious to use it wisely. Meanwhile, Guy, according to his Service Record, was at a military hospital in Orkney at this time. Hugh would have been dreaming of his own return to Scotland.

Hugh and Roberta at their wedding outside East Church with bridesmaids and best man

The marriage certificate, delivered to me by hand by Polly Rubery, shows that Hugh and Roberta were married ‘after banns’.  Hugh is a ‘bachelor, electrical engineer, Petty Officer Royal Navy now engaged in war service’. Roberta is a spinster working as a cop-winder.

Number eleven Walkinshaw Street was Hugh’s destination in September 1940. On April 17, 1941, Roberta left this address for the short walk to East Church.  She was carrying a large bouquet. A few months younger than Hugh, she was accompanied by two smiling bridesmaids. The elder was a cousin, Elizabeth Haire, who signed the register as a witness. Waiting at the church were the minister Reverend William Runciman with Hugh and his bekilted best man, Roberta’s brother Robert, Scott’s father. Hugh and Robert were good friends.

Scott told me that 11, Walkinshaw Street, was home to the Ritchie family. Roberta’s uncle had a tailor’s shop at the same address. Although Hugh was brought up in the Thorn area, less than half an hour’s walk away, it was from 16, Walkinshaw Street that he and his mother and siblings had departed for America in 1928. Hugh and Roberta must have been childhood sweethearts.

16 Walkinshaw Street, Johnstone, former home of the Whyte family

There would have been little time to celebrate before Hugh was due back at Chatham to embark on sea trials with Osiris.  He left Johnstone a few days after the wedding.  When Hugh was at Holy Loch, he and Roberta tried to arrange a meeting but his duties meant that it never took place.  No wonder Hugh’s thoughts were on returning to Scotland for a belated honeymoon.

Radio news

According to the radio England has been subject to more than the usual number of air raids lately. I hope none of them have been too close to home. It is hard to get accustomed to them again after a period of comparative quiet. I don’t suppose they are anything like the mass raids of a year ago – I hope not.

Jim makes no mention of air raids in her diary during the autumn of 1942.

Just heard a news broadcast of one of our late successes and it sounds strange having someone else describe it. Not much like the actual incident I assure you! You were asking me some time ago if I ever listen to the radio. Yes I do. Every night at sea we listen to the news at 2200 G.M.T. The broadcast is quite clear and we get some good musical programmes at times from the B.B.C.

In the line of reading there is nothing to report this time. That last bundle of books you sent me came in very handy. I hope you have received my letter of thanks for them also the Christmas present you sent. By the way did I make a ‘faux pas’ in that letter? I’ve an idea I did. Have you received the stockings I sent you? I’m afraid there will be no more for some time to come.

I’m sorry to hear you are suffering from the cold weather. Never mind it won’t be long before spring is abroad in the land and the sun will be warm and bright again.

Tell your family I was asking for them. Keep fit and well. Looking forward to your next letter.




P.S. Don’t let the date on this letter lead you to make any wild guesses.

Both the nature of the fauxpas and the meaning of the postscript are a mystery.

Second letter

Turbulent made another patrol before heading to Algiers. The 11th War Patrol began by leaving Malta to patrol North of Sicily. Once again, Hugh dealt with his letter-writing immediately before leaving.



JAN.26TH 1943

Dear Jim,

Just a few lines to say ‘hello’ again. Hope you received my letter written about a week ago. There has been no further communication from you since that last airgraph which I mentioned in my letter. Some of the crew have had a few airgraphs since but my luck was out this time I’m afraid. By the looks of things it will be some time before there is any more mail for us.

January 26 is noted in Hugh’s service history as the day he returned to HMS Turbulent. During his make and mend time before boarding, he wrote his letters. These opening lines make Hugh sound as though he is desperate for mail and also that something is looming that would delay receiving his post. It is almost as though he is marking time. Perhaps writing letters on the eve of departure had become compulsive for him. This is an Air Mail Letter Card bearing the censor’s stamp next to Jim’s address. The heading is FROM H.M.SHIP.

J. W. Linton

Two days before Turbulent set off, Tripoli had been captured by the British Eighth Army so things were certainly reaching a critical stage. The crew would by now have every faith in and respect for Commander John Wallace Linton, known as ‘Tubby’. Born at Malpas near Newport in Monmouthshire, in 1905, he trained at Dartmouth and actually began his naval career in the Mediterranean as an eighteen-year-old. Undertaking courses at Greenwich and Portsmouth, including HMS Dolphin, he quickly rose through the ranks and began serving on submarines in 1929, the same year as he married Nancy Pitts-Tucker.

At the outbreak of war, Linton was in command of HMS Pandora in the Far East. They transferred to the Mediterranean early in 1940. Pandora soon joined the 8th submarine Flotilla and Linton was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in recognition of acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy. Having gained a reputation for success as well as perseverance in attacking enemy vessels, it is obvious that Linton became a significant target for German and Italian fire. He had commanded Turbulent since her maiden voyage from Barrow-in-Furness. She was one of a number of submarines ordered as soon as war broke out, laid down on March 15, 1940 and launched on May 12, 1941. Linton left Vickers Armstrong’s yard on November 30 for the overnight voyage to Holy Loch. Turbulent was commissioned the following day and began training and sea trials.

It was Christmas Eve when Linton would have said farewell to his wife and two sons. He left Holy Loch on January 3 and took a week to reach Gibraltar. Just a few days later, Linton took command of Turbulent’s first war patrol which returned to Gibraltar.

The second patrol was an opportunity for Turbulent to deliver passengers and much-needed stores to Malta and also to Alexandria where she joined the 1st Flotilla (which, of course, included ­Osiris) in the middle of February 1942. The successes of that year led to the award of the Distinguished Service Order. This is awarded for meritorious or distinguished service by officers of the armed forces during wartime, typically in actual combat (Wikipedia). Hugh, as part of this achievement, had served for nearly two years without home leave and must have been feeling somewhat war-weary. His letters obviously helped to keep up his spirits.

It has been quite cold here this time in – especially at night. Not as cold as it will be in England at this time of year, but cold enough. Plenty of sunshine in the daytime of course and very healthy weather.

Hugh may have been remembering the winters of his Scottish upbringing as well as sympathising with Jim. Climate and weather are favourite topics for Hugh at this time.

Hope you have been more fortunate in getting some of letters [sic] lately. There is not too many of them at the best of times.

How are you bearing up under your English winter? Have a little patience it won’t be long before spring is there.

            Good luck and good health



This was the nineteenth of twenty letters. Why did they stop? Turbulent was due to have a refit with the promise of extended leave for the crew after months, which had turned into years for some, of not seeing their families. Perhaps Hugh had returned to his bride and forgotten all about Jim. However, this was war-time and, far from happy endings being the norm, tragedies abounded.