Mechanician Robert John Silcock

Oakworth WW2 memorial

Petty Officer, Mechanician 2nd Class Robert John Silcock

Robert was born on 9th July 1914 in Wigan, one of two sons and four daughters of Peter and Emily May Silcock.
His siblings were Margaret (born 1915 in Pemberton, Wigan), Gwen (born in 1917), Eva, (born 1920) Peter (born 1923) and Marion (born 1930). Gwen, Eva, Peter and Marion were born in Maltby, Rotherham.
The West Yorkshire Electoral Rolls for Peter and Emily May Silcock indicate the family was living at 14, Adelaide Street in Maltby (Rother Valley) between 1921 and 1933 when they appeared at Oakworth and were living at Manor Cottage/Manor House here until at least 1957.

Leading Stoker Robert Silcock

Leading Stoker Robert Silcock, taken in 1934 when he was serving on HMS Hastings

Robert joined the Royal Navy on 5th September 1933 as a Stoker 2nd Class. He gave his civilian occupation as : Haulage hand (Colliery).

In the Royal Navy he served in the following ships/shore establishments:
HMS VIVID Royal Navy Barracks, DevonPort at Plymouth from 5 Sep 1933 to 31 Dec 1933 which would have been his basic training period.
HMS DRAKE late VIVID, from 1 Jan 1934 to 13 Apr 1934. This was a converted monitor being used as accomodation for Stoker training.
HMS HASTINGS Sloop from 14 Apr 1934 to 16 Sep 1935, becoming Stoker 1st Class on 20 JuL 1934.
HMS HARROW Minesweeper from 17 Sep 1935 to 24 Jul 1936
HMS DRAKE from 25 Jul 1935 to 9 Oct 1935
HMS SCOTSMAN Destroyer from 10 Oct 1936 to 26 Feb 1937
HMS DRAKE from 27 Feb 1937 to 30 Sep 1937, becoming Acting Leading Stoker on 18 Jun 1937 and becoming Acting Stoker Petty Officer on 30 Jul 1937.
HMS ROYAL OAK Battleship from 1 Oct 1937 to 31 Dec 1938 during which time he became Stoker Petty Officer on 30 Jul 1938. In November Royal Oak was used to carry home the body of Queen Maud of Norway and Robert was one of the men detailed to escort the coffin ashore in Oslo. British Pathe News video here
Robert then served at HMS DRAKE from 1 Jan 1939 to 13 Nov 1939.
His former ship HMS Royal Oak was sunk on 24th November 1939 whilst at anchor in Scapa Flow, Orkneys, by the U-boat U-47, with the loss of 835 crew members out of a full complement of 1,234 souls.

Enumerators collected the data for the 1939 Register on 29th September 1939 whilst Robert was serving at HMS Drake, Devonport. He married Draper's shop assistant Irene Yeo of Plymouth in the same year and she was living in Plymouth with her parents William and Rosalie Yeo, whilst Robert was serving in the Navy. Her father William Yeo was a shipwright at HM Naval Dockyard.
In 1939 the Silcock family with Robert's brother and sisters was living at Manor Cottage in Oakworth. Their father Peter was a builder's labourer.

Robert went for training at HMS PEMBROKE Royal Navy Barracks at Chatham from l4 Nov 1939 to 11 Oct 1940, where he became a Mechanician 2nd Class on 1 Oct 1940.
He returned to HMS Drake for a short while between 12 Oct 1940 and 18 Jan 1941 when he was posted to the new battleship HMS PRINCE OF WALES on 19 Jan 1941.
He served on her for her working up period, which was cut short as she was ordered to accompany the pride of the fleet HMS Hood to hunt for the German battleship DKM Bismarck, which had been spotted travelling North into the Atlantic Ocean from the Baltic Sea. They intercepted Bismarck and her heavy cruiser escort Prinz Eugen on 24th May 1941 and the battle of the Denmark Strait began, which resulted in the sinking of HMS Hood with all except three of her crew lost, a loss which shocked the nation. Damage was caused to HMS Prince of Wales, which had to limp away with a shattered compass platform and several malfunctioning main guns. 1428 men died and 14 were wounded on this day, plus 5 killed on Bismarck. The hunt for Bismarck was now on and while Prince of Wales went back to Rosyth for repairs, the rest of the Home fleet joined the hunt and eventually sank the German battleship on 27th May 1941. Out of her crew of over 2,200 men, only 114 survived.

Keighley War Scrapbook Page 15: Keighley News clipping dated 31st May 1941.
In The Prince of Wales:
Oakworth people are proud to have a connection with the Prince of Wales, one of Britain's newest battleships and the one damaged in the recent action with the Bismarck. Mr Peter Silcock, of the Manor Cottage, Oakworth, has a son Robert who was in the navy prior to the war and who is now a Petty Officer with that vessel.

Robert continued to serve on HMS Prince of Wales after her repairs had been carried out at Rosyth and she carried Winston Churchill to meet President Roosevelt for the famous Atlantic Conference, to discuss and declare the Atlantic Charter. After Prince of Wales had returned to the UK with the Prime Minister, she escorted a Mediterranean convoy to Malta, then sailed around The Cape of Good Hope to Durban, South Africa, then on towards Singapore with HMS Repulse. They were sailing along the Malayan coast on a 'Force Z' mission trying to intercept Japanese troop convoys when they were sunk on 10th December 1941 by Japanese torpedo bombers, resulting in the loss of 840 men. The survivors were rescued by their escort destroyers HMS Electra, HMS Express and HMAS Vampire, HMS Tenedos having been sent back to Singapore earlier.

Keighley War Scrapbook Page 22: Keighley News account dated December 1941.
It is now known that mechanician Robert Silcock, R.N., eldest son of Mr & Mrs P Silcock, Manor cottage, Oakworth, who was serving on the Prince of Wales, is safe. Since enlisting as a stoker in July 1933, he has had an adventurous career. In 1934 he became first class stoker, in 1935 assistant artificer and later in that year engine room artificer. He then passed as Petty Officer and finally as mechanician. Silcock left England in 1934 on HMS Hastings for the Red Sea patrol. While hurrying to port on account of infectious disease the ship ran aground and Silcock and another officer were the only men left on board for three months while attempts were made to tow the vessel clear. He was then transferred to HMS Scotsman and later to the Royal Oak in which he was one of the men chosen to carry the Queen of Norway ashore and received a medal to commemorate the event. Silcock was engaged in the sinking of the Bismarck and was on the Prince of Wales during the Churchill-Roosevelt meeting.

Singapore and Tug Yin Ping

The tug SS Yin Ping

Robert survived the sinking of Force Z and was based at HMS Sultan, the Royal Navy base at Singapore Harbour between 11th December 1941 and the Fall of Singapore on 15/16th February 1942. His record shows that on 5th February 1942 he was detailed to HMS Yin Ping, a Chinese tug which had been commissioned for service in the harbour and he was on board when it left Singapore and steamed south towards the Bangka Straits to escape the approaching Japanese forces. Unfortunately she was spotted on 15th February by a Japanese cruiser force, which sunk her with gunfire and sadly Robert was one of those killed. Accounts from those who were there vary, but out of a possible 78 on board, at least 14 survived. However, there may also have been up to 40 RAF servicemen aboard her and their fate and numbers are uncertain.

An account of the sinking of HM Tug Yin Ping:
Captain Atkinson, RN, Captain-in-Charge Singapore, was one of the few senior British naval officers left in Singapore when the Empire Star sailed on February 12. Following the decision on January 31 to abandon the naval base and evacuate all personnel, some key staff had been instructed to remain in Singapore to assist with evacuations. Not all had obeyed this command. Despite explicit orders from Admiral Spooner to remain at his post, the officer in charge of all auxiliary vessels, Commander Bayly, sailed for Java, forcing Spooner to issue an order for his immediate arrest on the grounds of desertion.
Moving between the docks and the command bunker at Fort Canning, Captain Atkinson had continued to carry out his duties with his usual efficiency despite the growing chaos around him. A highly respected officer, Atkinson's sense of duty was such that even when he and his remaining staff were ordered to evacuate, he stayed at his post as long as possible. On the day before the surrender, he and his fellow officers finally boarded a small coal-burning tug, Yin Ping bound for Java. But they had left it far too late. The next day, as the vessel entered the Bangka Straits, a Japanese cruiser lying in wait opened fire. The first of six rounds hit the bridge, killing all but Atkinson and two others. Although the badly injured captain managed to reach the foredeck, he went down with his ship when the vessel, now burning fiercely, sank without warning.

Keighley War Scrapbook Page 68: Keighley News account dated 28th April 1945.
Official news has been received by Mr & Mrs P Silcock of Manor cottage, Oakworth, that their eldest son Petty Officer Robert Silcock, R.N. who was formerly reported missing is now presumed to have been killed in action. He was aged 31 and had been in the Navy since 1933. Petty Officer Silcock was a survivor of the ill fated Prince of Wales when it was sunk in 1941. His wife resides in Cornwall.

Petty Officer Robert Silcock has no final resting place but the sea, and is remembered on the Plymouth War Memorial and his name is here in the Oakworth WW2 memorial garden.

Robert Silcock memorial stone

Source information:
England & Wales, Civil Registration Birth Index, 1837-1915
England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1837-1915
England, Church of England Marriages, 1754-1926
1939 England and Wales Register
England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1916-2005
British Pathé historical collection website
British Army and Navy Birth, Marriage and Death Records, 1730-1960
Keighley War Scrapbook held at Keighley Library
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Ministry of Defence - Departmental Records.

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