RUMSEY, Eric George Henry. Leading Sick Berth Attendant (P/MX 58359)
Royal Navy, HMS Cossack
Died 23 October 1941, aged 24
Eric is not listed in the Borough's Book of Remembrance, but is included here because the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records note that he was the "son of George Henry and Dorothy Florence Alberta Rumsey, of Epsom." However, that address has yet to be established and, in any case, the Borough connection seems likely to be weak.
The family's origins were in East Anglia. Eric's father, George, was born in Bramford, Suffolk and, as a 17 year old "Apprentice Motor Car Body Building" is recorded in the 1911 Census as the oldest of three children living with parents Abraham and Eliza Rumsey (respectively, Head and Assistant Elementary School Teachers) living in the School House, Bramford, near Ipswich. Eric's mother Dorothy Florence Alberta (née Woods) had been born in Thetford, Norfolk in 1895. She is recorded as a 16 year old in the 1911 Census living with her uncle, John Leavold, at 110 Dover Street, Norwich and working in a Chocolate Factory.
George and Dorothy married Q4 1915, registered in the Wangford District, Suffolk. Eric, their first child, was born on 19 November 1916, registered in the Bosmere District, Suffolk. Their second child, Godfrey, was born Q3 1919, registered in the Spalding District of Lincolnshire. But Wangford seems definitely to have been their home patch - and this is where George, aged only 39, died in Q3 1929.
It seems likely that Eric joined the Navy before WW2 began, so it is not surprising that he is not found in the 1939 Register. But, perhaps because of transcription errors, Dorothy is not found in that Register either: she had neither remarried nor died as the latter occurred in Q3 1975, registered n the Bournemouth District.
Eric's naval service was as a Leading Sick Berth Attendant aboard the 1,870 ton destroyer HMS Cossack. This was relatively new, having been completed (by Vickers-Armstrongs Ltd in Newcastle-upon-Tyne) in June 1938. She became famous in her first action, on 16 February 1940, when she boarded the cornered German supply ship Altmark in then neutral Norwegian waters, and rescued nearly 300 merchant seamen originally captured by the German cruiser Admiral Graf Spee.
HMS Cossack arriving at Leith on 17 February 1940, with British prisoners rescued from the Altmark
IWM Photograph - Public Domain
After minor repairs, HMS Cossack returned to duty and saw further action in Norwegian waters following the German invasion of 1 March 1940. Among other actions she was, on 1 May 1941, involved in the closing stages of the finally successful hunt for the German Battleship Bismarck.
On 21 October 1943, HMS Cossack was escorting Convoy HG-75 which had just left Gibraltar bound for the UK when she was hit by a torpedo from U-boat U-563. The explosion blew off the bow section and destroyed most of the forward section, killing 159 officers and men, including Eric. 60 survivors took to floats and were rescued.
Against the odds, HMS Cossack did not sink. The next morning, she was boarded by a volunteer crew and a tug and escort from Gibraltar arrived to take her in tow. However, the weather worsened and prevented the salvage. The volunteer crew was taken off, and HMS Cossack sank about 200 miles west of Gibraltar.
Eric is one of the almost 15,000 WW2 Royal Navy personnel commemorated on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial who were lost or buried at sea.
Roger Morgan © 2018
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