Thanks to Mr. H W Kirtland DFC, Secretary of the 76 Squadron Association, who lived in Fairfield Avenue since 1961 for this story of George Welbourne Stephenson. Captain Stephenson lived at 15 Fairfield Avenue in the 1940s..
George Welbourne Stephenson was born on 11th August 1899.
He went to Trinity House School and became a Sea Apprentice.
In 1940 he was awarded the OBE (Military) for driving off a U Boat with gunfire. His gunlayer received the BEM.
By 1942 he was master of SS Hartlebury when – on 7th July 1942 – it was torpedoed in arctic waters while on a Russian Convoy.
He survived but died in January 1943 from the effects of wounds and exposure. He had also been awarded the DSC (Distinguished Service Cross).
George Welbourne Stephenson is buried in Mill Lane Cemetery.
Here are some accounts of Capt. Stephenson’s bravery and the loss of the SS Hartlebury:
“THE MERCHANT NAVY
BRAVERY UNDER ENEMY ATTACKS
Captain George Welbourne STEPHENSON, master
Alexander CAIRNS, gunlayer
At dawn a U-boat was sighted about 500ft. away, crossing the bow of the ship. The master at once ordered fire to be opened. A rapid and accurate fire probably hit the U-boat. The enemy was forced to dive and was not seen again. The success of the operation was largely due to the master’s skilful seamanship and the accuracy of the gunner.”
“My grandfather was the captain of the Hartlebury on PQ-17.
Captains name George Welbourne Stephenson.
As mentioned, there were a number of survivors from that one lifeboat. What is not mentioned is that time on that lifeboat was grim. It took a number of days to navigate to the Winston-Salem, during which time a number of seamen died and were buried at sea along the way. Approximately 50% of those in the boat were lost at sea.
My grandfathers report mentioned that the U boat surfaced and asked for the name of the ship and who was the captain. They never told the U-boat that the captain was present on the lifeboat. The U boat gave the survivors some bread and booze (gin I think).
My grandfather died at home in Hull as a result of a thrombosis from frost bite received in the frigid waters.
He recieved a DSC for his efforts in navigating the lifeboat to safety.”
“At 1835, the Hartlebury, dispersed from Convoy PQ-17, was hit by two of three torpedoes fired by U-355 and two minutes later by another torpedo. At 1845, a coup de grâce hit the vessel, which sank over the bow within 10 minutes 17 miles 180° from Britwin Lighthouse, Novaya Zemlya. The first torpedoes had killed six mess attendants and the master had to be freed underneath a piece of debris. The explosions only left one lifeboat intact, which was lowered by panicking crewmen and flipped over, throwing the occupants into the icy water. Others jumped into the water and tried to reach the rafts. A total of 29 crewmembers, seven gunners and two naval signalmen were lost. The master and 12 survivors landed at Pomorski Bay, Novaya Zemlya. Seven survivors made it to the American SS Winston-Salem aground at North Gusini Shoal, Novaya Zemlya, were rescued by a Soviet survey ship and transferred to the British SS Empire Tide at anchor in Pomorski Bay. All survivors were later transferred to HMS La Malouine and landed at Archangel on 25 July. The master, George Welbourne Stephenson, survived the sinking but died … within a year.”
Thank you to Pieter Graf for additional information.