My grandmother, Olive Clayton (nee Hatcher), had four siblings growing up in London, including a brother, William Henry Hatcher (Harry).
Harry served in the First World War, where he was taken prisoner, and then served again in the second World War, once again in an active service zone. The Royal Navy promoted him to the rank of Captain in command of various ships in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR).
According to family records, and more research done by my uncle, Geoff Clayton, his Uncle Harry’s ship was under air attack a number of times, and always subject to submarine threats.
Geoff explains Harry Hatcher was captain of many different ships, all under British registry, who after the war was awarded a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE).
My maternal grandparents were Geoff’s mother, Olive Clayton, who met his father, Eric Charles Roland Clayton, after he became fast friends with Olive’s brother, Harry.
Before the First World War, Eric and Harry were shipmates as apprentice officers to the Turnbull Scott line of merchant shipping. Harry took Geoff’s father, Eric, home and introduced him to his lovely sisters, my uncle explains.
As the oldest of the Hatcher girls, Olive was just two years younger than Eric, and they hit it off, Geoff adds.
Harry and Eric were assigned to different ships – Harry went to sea in 1912, while Eric was sailing in the merchant service by 1910.
Harry’s career advanced him to second officer in 1916 (early years of the First World War. Sadly, the ship he was on was captured by the German merchant high sea raider “Moewe” off the Brazilian coast and sunk, Geoff explains. His uncle was taken prisoner of war and transported to a prison camp in Germany, where Harry remained till the end of the War, released in December 1918.
After the Second World War, Harry went on to command other ships. Captain Hatcher was awarded the M.B.E. in 1945 for his meritorious wartime service.
In another family twist, Geoff says at the outbreak of the Second World War, the Canadian National Steamship Company (CNR) steamships on Canada’s West Coast were fitted out for wartime service as naval cruisers – the Prince Henry, Prince David and Prince Robert. These were the biggest and best ships Canada had then, and were do-all ships when armed that carried troops to war zones, he adds.
Geoff says these were in the thick of the action bringing thousands of troops to the infamous Normandy landing, June 6, 1944. They also carried troops to the Italian invasion as well as depth charges and armament for fighting off aircraft and German surface ships, he explains.
Records show after the war these CNR ships were sold to Britain and one was renamed the SS Parkeston, which Capt. Hatcher took command of, and a point of the family co-incidences our history seems to thrive on.
One of Captain Harry Hatcher’s post-war commands was the CNR steamship Prince Henry from British Columbia. As part of Britain’s war debt, they paid for a new ship to be built in Yarrows Shipbuilding yard in Victoria, and the CNR named her the SS Prince George. This was the very ship my Uncle Geoff was a marine engineer officer on, back in 1958.
As my late mother’s cherished brother who lived in Maple Ridge, near my grandparents home in Port Coquitlam, I grew up also seeing my Uncle Geoff often, and we remain in contact today.
My grandparents, Eric and Olive Clayton, were a huge part of my own growing up, particularly my “Nana” Olive, who lived with us in my early teens. I still recall how, as a younger child, I’d loved to sit on “Poppy” Eric’s knee while he gave me peppermints and told me stories of the grand merchant ships where he had served as an officer.
Harry went blind in his early 60s, which our family believes was likely caused by eye strain from two wars on the bridge.
I never met Harry – he died in 1962, the year I was born.
I fondly remember his widow, known as “Auntie Madge,” as a visitor from England when I was a little girl in Vernon, B.C., and an impressive woman who had strong ties to both sides of my family – but that is another story.
Story credits also go to my uncle Geoff Clayton.