On 13 October 1943, German aircraft torpedoed SS Empire Haven (6,603 GRT) in position 36°15′N 02°23′W, north of Oran, Algeria. The merchantman was under contract to the Ministry of War Transport (MoWT) and travelling as part of Convoy MKS 21. One of the convoy escorts, the minesweeper HMS Rye, took Empire Haven under tow and brought her into Gibraltar.
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham, Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet, signalled:
I congratulate you, the escort force and convoy MKS 21 on your sturdy defence of convoy against heavy harassing attack. The enemy got a sore head he is likely to remember.
Empire Haven lay there until 1946, awaiting repairs. She was sold to R. Chapman & Son and renamed Clearton.
So much for wartime events.
Enter my grandfather, SBA aboard HMS Rye, and wondering in a period of postwar austerity whether he was entitled to a share of salvage money for “assistance rendered to” Empire Haven.
I do not have copies of the letters that my grandfather sent to the Admiralty in 1946 and 1947, but I do have the replies sent my the Director of Navy Accounts.
In the first reply, dated 24 December 1946, the Admiralty acknowledges Rye‘s salvage of Empire Haven and states that a “share of the award will be made as early as practicable.”
The reply also rejects a claim for salvage on the Liberty ship SS Francis W. Pettygrove, also damaged during German attacks on Convoy MKS 21.
The second reply, dated 27 March 1947, acknowledged receipt and return of my grandfather’s S.459 form (certificate of service record in the Royal Navy), stating “a remittance on this account will be sent you shortly.”
Here is a snapshot from my grandfather’s updated S.459 showing the payment of £2 5/- (two pounds and five shillings) as his share of salvage for SS Empire Haven.
Not exactly a princely sum. My grandfather spent his salvage money on a halfway decent hat.
He still had that hat thirty years later in 1977 when he took me on the train from Waterloo down to Portsmouth to see the Queen’s Silver Jubliee Fleet Review. Memorable day for eight year old me: Southern Region breakfast in the dining car, a tour of HMS Victory, carvery lunch at the Keppels Head, miles and miles of grey funnels at the fleet review, heaps of ice cream, and home in time for tea.
I miss you, you silly old bugger.