OSMOND AND ERIC TILDEN (HMS DUCHESS AND HMS FIREDRAKE)

Lt (E) Osmond Peter Tilden, RN
Cdr Eric Henry Tilden, DSC, RN

Introduction

9 Ashdown Road, original home of the Tilden family.
9 Ashdown Road, original home of the Tilden family (2016)
Image courtesy of Peter Reed

Mr and Mrs Tilden, Harry and Ada, lived in Ashdown Road, Epsom for more than 40 years, from about 1908 onwards. Harry was born in New Cross in 1870 and began as a bank clerk, working his way up to become Secretary of the Bank of England from 1917 to 31 December 1926, when he retired. He married Ada Osmond (born 1873 Hammersmith) on 3 October 1899 at Totteridge, Hertfordshire and they lived at Winchmore Hill before moving to Epsom. The children were as follows.

NameDetails
William Osmond1900-49. Educated at Epsom College; spent 10 years as a tea planter in Assam, then proprietor of the Progressive Laundry in Banbury and latterly a farmer near Rugby. Married Evelyn Mary Frogley in Calcutta, 1926 (3 children). Buried Preston Capes, Northamptonshire.
John Frederick1903-96. Married Olive Butterfield 1928. Lived in Banstead for many years.
Eric Henry1905-42. See below.
Osmond Peter1909-39. See below.
Mary Osmond1911-94. Married Roland Wigg 1934. Latterly lived in Eastbourne.

6 Ashdown Road, subsequent home of the Tilden family.
6 Ashdown Road, subsequent home of the Tilden family. (2016)
Image courtesy of Peter Reed

Harry died on 27 January 1951 and Ada in 1970.

Osmond Peter Tilden

Osmond was born on 8 March 1909 at Ashdown Road and became a pupil at Lancing College (near Arundel); his biography is on the Lancing College War Memorial website and tells us the following.

Osmond was at Lancing from 1923 to 1926 and in 1927 he joined the Royal Navy as a special entry cadet on HMS Erebus, an old First World War monitor, which was at that point a gunnery training ship. He became a midshipman in 1928 and then attended the Royal Naval Engineering College at Keynsham for four years; he was appointed Sub-Lieutenant in 1930 and Lieutenant in 1932.

He first saw service in home waters in HMS Champion (light cruiser), HMS Exeter (a heavy cruiser which subsequently engaged the Graf Spee at the Battle of the River Plate), followed by stints in the Mediterranean with HMS Dauntless (light cruiser) and back to the Home Fleet in HMS Sovereign (assumed to be HMS Royal Sovereign, a battleship). None of these ships were modern but the next one, HMS Duchess (H64), a destroyer, had been commissioned only in 1933 so at least she wasn't one of the Jutland relics which were still around.

HMS DUCHESS
HMS DUCHESS © IWM (FL 10926)

The commanding officer of HMS Duchess was Lt.Cdr. Robert Charles Meadows White and in December 1939 the ship was returning to the Clyde with two other destroyers as escort to a much larger battleship, HMS Barham, which most definitely was a Jutland relic. To give you a crude comparison of the relative sizes of the two ships, Barham was 643 feet by 90 feet and Duchess was roughly half the length and a third of the width.

HMS Barham
HMS Barham (1914).
Image Source The U.S. Naval Historical Center via Wikipedia

There is a point to make here which is no reflection at all on the crew of any ship, or indeed on the Admiralty, but the fact is that war had only just been declared, personnel were being drafted to vessels - some of which had been in mothballs - in a hurry and it was chaotic, with crews not being as well trained in unfamiliar wartime situations as anyone would have wished. So, at just after 4 a.m. on 12 December 1939, Duchess was zig-zagging in complete darkness and fog off the Mull of Kintyre when she hit Barham. The massive Barham cut her in half and many of the crew, including Meadows, were trapped in the sinking wreckage (there were no escape hatches at this time). All of that was awful enough but it got worse. Duchess's depth charges had been primed and they now exploded. According to most reports, 129 men, including six officers, were killed and just 23 men survived. Osmond is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial (33.1.).

In 1931 Osmond had wed Sophia Hilda Ife (born 1913 Cork). After the war she married George R Hunter and died in 1985.

As a postscript, HMS Barham did not last much longer. She had already been torpedoed, with some casualties, on 28 December 1939 and what happened to her in the end was a monumental tragedy. On 25 November 1941 she was on escort duty in the Central Mediterranean when she was torpedoed by U-331 at a range of just 375 metres. The U-boat commander, who had fired a salvo of four torpedoes, was not sure what he had hit but escaped. In fact, Barham had been hit amidships by three of the torpedoes; she capsized and a few minutes later the magazine exploded, sending her to the bottom. 862 men were killed (some reports of the numbers lost say about 840), although hundreds of survivors were rescued. The sinking was captured on film by British Pathé.


Eric Henry Tilden

For some of the details of Eric's life I am indebted to a website devoted to HMS Firedrake, much of the information having been supplied by two of his sons (there is a photo of Eric on the website). There was also an obituary in The Times of 30 December 1942.

Eric, known as Tom, was born in 1905 in Winchmore Hill and attended Rose Hill Prep School, then in Banstead: this was a school which specialised in preparing boys for universities and military/naval colleges. He entered the Royal Naval College, Osborne in 1919 and graduated from Dartmouth in 1922. Oddly, considering what happened to his brother Osmond, he was a midshipman in HMS Barham from 1923 until 1926, when he became a Sub-Lieutenant and served in HMS Wryneck (destroyer) and HMS Ramillies (battleship). From 1931 he specialised in anti-submarine duties. Subsequently he served in the 6th Destroyer Flotilla and the 4th Submarine Flotilla in China. After a course at the Royal Naval Staff College, Greenwich he joined HMS Nelson in 1938.

ON BOARD THE BATTLESHIP HMS RODNEY AT SEA. 1940.
ON BOARD THE BATTLESHIP HMS RODNEY AT SEA. 1940. © IWM (A 2066)
The ship shown is HMS Nelson firing her 6 inch guns.

Nelson was sister to HMS Rodney which was famously involved in the demise of the German battleship Bismarck, and the two ships were often together in the early days of the war, along with other famous names of the period, such as the King George V, the Ark Royal and the Hood. There is a full account of HMS Nelson's exhausting activities on the Naval-History.net website which, if I may say, is a stunning piece of research. However, for present purposes we must stay with Eric, who, as a Lieutenant-Commander on Nelson, was awarded the DSC in June 1940 for 'courage and resource in operations on the Norwegian Coast'.

In June 1941 he was promoted to Commander and ran HMS Osprey, the anti-submarine training establishment, which was by then at Dunoon. In September 1942 he was given command of the destroyer HMS Firedrake (H79). The ship had been in the wars, especially during 1942, but by September she was back on Atlantic convoy defence duties. Unfortunately, however, on 17 December 1942 she was torpedoed by U-211 some 600 miles south of Iceland and broke in two. The bow went down but the stern section floated for a while and the corvette HMS Sunflower managed to rescue just 26 of the crew. 122 others, including Eric, perished.

HMS FIREDRAKE
HMS FIREDRAKE © IWM (FL 10040)

Eric is commemorated on the Chatham Naval Memorial (51.1.)

In 1930 Eric had married Kate Esther Jones (born 1905), whom he had known since childhood; they were married in and lived in Cookham, Berkshire. There were several children. Kate died in 1987.

Note: Nearly all of the ships mentioned are covered in depth on the internet, either on Wikipedia or one of the specialist naval websites such as uboat.net or Naval-History.net.

Linda Jackson, June 2016



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