The Friends of St. Peter's Berkhamsted

Friends of St Peter's, Great Berkhamsted

Taylor, Clifford d. 12th January 1950

Grave Number 1100

Clifford (Dick) Taylor came from Goole in Yorkshire.  In December 1946 he married Ivy. 

Their married life was tragically cut short when he lost his life on board HMS Truculent, which sunk in the Thames Estuary on the 12th January 1950.   That day the submarine was returning to Sheerness, having completed trials after a lengthy refit at Chatham Dockyard. In addition to her normal complement of crew, she was carrying 18 dockyard workers (fitters and electricians).  (The trials should have taken place on the 13th, a Friday, but due to the captain’s superstition they were carried out a day earlier.)  Clifford was a stoker in the engine room.

HMS Truculent was travelling on the surface through the Thames Estuary at night.  At 7pm, a ship showing three lights appeared ahead in the channel. It was decided that the ship must be stationary, and because Truculent could not pass to the starboard side without running aground, the order was given to turn to port. At once, the situation became clear; the Swedish oil tanker Divina — on passage from Purfleet and bound for Ipswich — came out of the darkness. The extra light indicated that she was carrying explosive material.  The 600-ton Divina had specially strengthened bows for Arctic conditions and the collision created a massive gash on the starboard side and sent the HMS Truculent 80 feet to the bottom of the icy cold river in a matter of minutes. 

Fifty-seven of her crew were swept away in the current after a premature escape attempt, 15 survivors were picked up by a boat from the Divina and five by the Dutch ship Almdijk. Most of the crew survived the initial collision and managed to escape, but then perished in the freezing cold mid-winter conditions on the mud islands that litter the Thames Estuary, without adequate rescue boats on hand – there was a delay of about an hour and a half before lifeboats were alerted.  Sixty-four men died as a result of the collision. HMS Truculent was salvaged on 14 March 1950 and beached at Cheney Spit. The wreck was moved inshore the following day where 10 bodies were recovered. Some bodies were never found. At a subsequent courts-martial, Lieutenant Bowers was found not guilty of negligently losing his ship, but was severely reprimanded on the lesser charge of negligently hazarding her.  The loss led to the introduction of the ‘Truculent light’, an extra steaming all round white light on the bow, on British submarines.

Clifford was 22 when he died, his widow was left with a young son (Richard) who was not quite 2-years old.  Ivy subsequently remarried and had a daughter. On the death of her mother in 2016, Ivy’s daughter promised that she would lay a wreath for Clifford at Christmas and on the anniversary of the tragedy and remember him as best she could.  There is a memorial service every year at Chatham to remember those who lost their lives on board HMS Truculent.  There is also a book written by the last remaining survivor called ‘They were only skulls’ – two chapters of this book are an account of what happened on the 12th January 1950.

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