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HMS Medway brings back memories for Rochester woman whose father served on last one in Second World War

As the latest HMS Medway was commissioned in Chatham last month, it sparked many memories for some as our memories man Peter Cook discovered...

The arrival of the river class offshore patrol ship HMS Medway to No 2 Basin, Chatham, bore a special significance for Margaret Denness, of Canon Close, Rochester.

HMS Medway on the China Station with some of her submarines. Picture: Maggs Denness (18091589)
HMS Medway on the China Station with some of her submarines. Picture: Maggs Denness (18091589)

Her father, Wallace Anderson Marsh, was a writer aboard a former HMS Medway, the first purpose-built submarine mothership that was sunk during the Second World War.

By then, Wallace had moved on and was to lose his life while serving on board a destroyer off Norway in 1940.

He was buried at sea.

Margaret, or Maggs as she is generally known, never knew her father. She was 14 months old when he died; her brother Roy was six.

“For a long while I wasn’t sure if my father had ever seen me,” she said.

Wallace on shore leave during the maiden voyage of HMS Medway. Picture: Maggs Denness (18091906)
Wallace on shore leave during the maiden voyage of HMS Medway. Picture: Maggs Denness (18091906)

“He was away at sea most of the time. But my godmother showed me a picture of him holding me at my christening.

“It meant a lot to know he had been there.”

The HMS Medway on which he served was launched in 1928. Her task was to support 18 submarines during peacetime and a further three during wartime.

Wallace and Ivy on their wedding day at St Paul's Church, Chatham. Picture: Maggs Denness (18091909)
Wallace and Ivy on their wedding day at St Paul's Church, Chatham. Picture: Maggs Denness (18091909)

She carried diesel fuel for them, generators to recharge their batteries and torpedoes to re-supply them.

Wallace was aboard the vessel when she set off on her maiden voyage to the China Station. He must have been a keen photographer, because he left a very full album of pictures documenting that voyage, now in Maggs’ possession and much treasured.

June 1942 saw the ship at Alexandria, Egypt, as German Panzer troops advanced upon the town.

She helped demolish port facilities to prevent them falling into enemy hands and then took on board 1,135 personnel as part of an evacuation operation.

Three days later, despite an escort of a light cruiser and seven destroyers, she was torpedoed and sank. Around 30 men were lost.

HMS Eskimo being patched up in Norway after being torpedoed SUBMITTED (18091344)
HMS Eskimo being patched up in Norway after being torpedoed SUBMITTED (18091344)

Later, Wallace served aboard the sloop HMS Folkestone, before moving to HMS Kent, a heavy cruiser built at Chatham Dockyard and launched in 1926.

She also underwent a voyage to the Far East, which is documented in a second photo album Maggs now has.

She also has letters Wallacewrote to her brother, Roy, written while he was at sea, and after Maggs’ birth.

He tells him: “Look after mum and Margaret. You are stronger than them.”

In a nostalgic letter written to Roy in 1935, when the boy was just a year-old, he tells him he is playing the piano for him despite rough weather at sea.

HMS Medway docked at her berth in Chatham after the ceremony
HMS Medway docked at her berth in Chatham after the ceremony

“We are shipping seas over the focastle and it is impossible to go on deck,” he writes, and expresses the hope his son will never become a sailor and spend long periods of time away from his family and home.

At that time, Wallace Marsh was leading supply assistant on HMS Kent.

He was born in Luton and in the 1911 census he and his parents are recorded as living in East Street, Chatham.

His father, also called Wallace, was a dockyard worker.

The younger Wallace was baptised at St Paul’s Church, Chatham, where in 1936 he married Maggs’ mother, Ivy. He went to Holcombe School and worked at Chatham Dockyard before joining the Royal Navy at the age of 22. He was 36 when he was killed.

The Guard take up their position on the dockside for the HMS Medway commissioning ceremony at Chatham on September 19. Picture: Chris Davey
The Guard take up their position on the dockside for the HMS Medway commissioning ceremony at Chatham on September 19. Picture: Chris Davey

This was aboard HMS Eskimo during the Second Battle of Narvik when a torpedo from a U-boat blew the bows off the vessel.

She was patched up by shipwrights from the fleet repair ship Vindictive and towed back to England to be repaired.

She was later sent to the Mediterranean where she supported the Allied invasion of North Africa. She was again damaged after being bombed but repaired. Towards the end of the war she served in the Far East.

For more Medway Memories including the continuation of our rags to riches tale of author Lena Kennedy, see the current edition of the Medway Messenger.

To read about the Armed Forces and how they have served Kent and beyond, click here.

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