BY TIM MANSFIELD
THE TRAGEDY THAT BEFELL HMS TRINIDAD is perhaps made even more poignant by the fact that had the events of 1942 happened a year later it is not inconceivable that HMS Belfast could have shared a similar fate.
Belfast was known to be a happy and lucky ship (notwithstanding November 1939 when she was mined).
Trinidad did not share in that good fortune.
In March 1942 HMS Trinidad, a Royal Navy Colony Class Cruiser was on escort duty with an Arctic Convoy en route to Russia. Progress was slow and dangerous; 100ft waves, constant darkness, incessant and effective attacks from the German Air Force and U-boats posed a constant and deadly threat to the 800 men on board; and all the time the ship was fighting the most incessant enemy of all – the bitter arctic seas.
Trinidad came under attack from three German destroyers. She fired three torpedoes, but two of them froze in the launching tubes; the third misfired, the bitter cold had affected the gyro of the torpedo and it came full circle to strike Trinidad in her port side.
The force of the explosion ripped a 60ft hole in her side.
32 men perished, 9 of whom were members of the Royal Marines working in the Gunnery Transmitting Station, deep in the bowels of the ship.
Trinidad underwent temporary repairs in Murmansk and attempted to return home under her own steam, but following another devastating Luftwaffe attack on 13th May 1942, the crew were taken off under the most horrendous conditions and the order was given for HMS Matchless to sink her with torpedoes.
As Trinidad slipped beneath the waves, she flew the signal ‘I Am Sailing to the Westward’.
One of only three survivors from the Royal Marines detachment was a young Royal Marines musician by the name of George Lloyd.
Following the sinking, George Lloyd suffered terrible mental illness (what we would now call PTSD) but found solace and hope in music. He spent many years in the country growing carnations and mushrooms. Eventually his health improved.
He went on to compose no less than 12 symphonies, 4 piano concertos, 21 violin concertos, 3 operas and a cantata. In 1977 his first eight symphonies were broadcast by the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra under Sir Edward Downes.
His march ‘HMS Trinidad’ which he composed for the ship soon after the outbreak of war was performed at the Last Night of the Proms in September 2013, in the presence of the last remaining survivor of the tragedy; one of the very few military marches ever to be honoured in this way.
“I’m Sailing to Westward now,
Waves wash away my darkest fears,
No-one can hurt me,
Duty has called me,
To celebrate my days.”
Text taken from the narration to ‘Am sailing to Westward’ (Comp: Harvey © Chevron recordings) and from the sleeve notes to ‘Harrison’s Dream’ © Chevron recordings