Robert Edward SAWKILL

Husband of Alice Sawkill, of Ambler Thorn.  Robert served in the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) as a Private. He was serving as DEMS (Defensively Equipped Merchant Ship) Personnel when he died on 20th May 1941, aged 31

He is commemorated on the PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL.

Robert was serving on the steam merchant ship Rothermere, sailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada to England, one of 33 ships that formed convoy HX-126. 

The convoy was first attacked on 19th May by enemy U-boats causing it to disperse. Rothermere, now on her own, was hit in the engine room by one torpedo fired from U-98 at 17:29hrs with a second torpedo fired at 17:56hrs which caused the ship to sink stern first.

The master, 18 crew members and three gunners were lost.  32 crew members, one gunner and one passenger were eventually rescued.  Convoy HX-126 reached England on 28th May with the loss of nine ships.

Defensively equipped merchant ship (DEMS) was an Admiralty Trade Division programme established in June 1939, to arm 5,500 British merchant ships with an adequate defence against enemy submarines and aircraft. The acronym DEMS was used to describe the ships carrying the guns, the guns aboard the ships, the military personnel manning the guns, and the shore establishment supporting the system. (source Wikipedia).