One of the last HMS Kelly heroes dies at 94

HERO ... Ronald Hall. Below, Hebburn-built HMS Kelly, whose sinking he survived.
HERO ... Ronald Hall. Below, Hebburn-built HMS Kelly, whose sinking he survived.

ONE of the last survivors to have served on the legendary Hebburn-built warship HMS Kelly has passed away at the age of 94.

The vessel, captained by Lord Louis Mountbatten, was sunk by German dive-bombers during the invasion of Crete on May 23, 1941, with the loss of 130 lives.

Harry Tomlinson (HMS Kelly survivor) at Holroyd Court, Bispham. HMS Kelly.

Harry Tomlinson (HMS Kelly survivor) at Holroyd Court, Bispham. HMS Kelly.

A survivor that day was leading seaman Ronald Hall, who has died in his hometown of Grimsby.

His passing means there are now believed to be only two men alive who served on the vessel, which was built at Hebburn’s former Hawthorn Leslie shipyard.

Today, tributes were paid to heroic Mr Hall, a father-of-three, who helped pull a shipmate to safety after the Kelly sank almost 74 years ago.

However, the vessel’s demise proved just the beginning of a renewed comradeship between Mr Hall and his fellow survivors.

For half a century members of the Kelly Association paid an annual pilgrimage to South Tyneside on Remembrance Sunday, to lay wreaths on a memorial in Hebburn Cemetery.

Lord Mountbatten himself led the association until his murder in 1979, after which his great-nephew, Prince Charles, stepped into the breach until it was disbanded in 2002. Mr Hall, a fish merchant during his working life, retained a lifelong admiration for his former captain, describing him as “the type of man who comes along once in a lifetime”.

His daughter, Vicki Caster, said: “My father called his house ‘Mountbatten’. The Kelly, the Royal Navy and his comrades were in many ways his family.

“Dad even wanted to call me Kelly, but my mother wouldn’t let him.

“My dad travelled to the North East many times and made many friends there over several decades.”

HMS Kelly and her crew’s story became the inspiration for one of the greatest British war movies of all time – In Which We Serve, starring Noel Coward, who intoned the film’s first powerful words: ‘This is the story of a ship’.

It also proved inspiration for a 1978 musical, Kelly, written by pop star Alan Price and Jarrow-born playwright Tom Kelly.

Mr Hall and fellow survivors would also later be awarded the Freedom of Crete.

The vessel’s legacy lives on today through the TS Kelly Sea Cadets in Hebburn.

Mrs Caster added: “Dad always said, as Mountbatten also said, that ‘we didn’t leave the Kelly, the Kelly left us!’.

“Dad remained at Action Stations when it sunk and he was plunged into the water and surfaced covered in oil, with both ear drums perforated.

“He dragged his shipmate ‘Tug’ Wilson onto a lifebuoy and remained in the water for between eight and 18 hours, before he was rescued by the HMS Kipling.

“Ironically, it was a chap from Grimsby who pulled him out of the water.”

The Mayor of South Tyneside, Coun Fay Cunningham, said: “I was saddened to hear of the passing of Mr Hall, but I’m sure his family will take comfort in the knowledge that he, and the other crew members of HMS Kelly, will live on in the memories of the people of South Tyneside.

“My thoughts are with his loved ones at this time.”

A funeral service for Mr Hall, whose wife Barbara died in April last year, is to be held at Grimsby Crematorium on Tuesday, February 3, from 11am.