William Joseph Jeffries

William Jeffries on enlistment in 1941

William Jeffries on enlistment in 1941

Date of birth: 13th August 1911
Place of birth: Southampton
Service No.: P/KX130316
Rank: Stoker 1st Class
Regiment / Division: HMS Impulsive (D11)
Died: IJanuary 16th 1944 aged 32
Death location: Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands


Life before the commencement of WWII

In 1941 at the age of 30 William was living with his father Frank at 56 English Road, Shirley, Southampton; his mother Catherine (Kate) having died when he was quite young.  He was employed as a milk delivery-man by the nearby Shirley Branch of the Co-operative Dairies when on the 14th May he was mobilised into the Royal Navy and selected for training in the Engine Room Branch.

Naval Service

William reported for duty to HMS Royal Arthur, a pre-war holiday camp at Skegness that had been commandeered by the Admiralty for use as an induction centre for the large numbers of men at that time being conscripted for war service.  After initial training at this establishment (with hands –on training in an old WW1 battleship), William was drafted to the Royal Naval Barracks Portsmouth, HMS Victory; today known as HMS Nelson.  He was there for only a few days before being sent to HMS Raven – a Royal Naval Air Station situated at Eastleigh Airport – for training in ‘fire-fighting duties’.  On the 13th July 1941 he was drafted to HMS Daedalus, another Naval Air Station, at Gosport, for the purpose of carrying out these duties.

HMS Impulsive c. WWII

HMS Impulsive c. WWII

HMS Impulsive pre-WWII carrying mines

HMS Impulsive pre-WWII carrying mines

HMS Impulsive ship's crest

HMS Impulsive ship’s crest



On the left – HMS Hecla, a WWII Destroyer depot ship with more Destroyers alongside – giving an example of a depot ship in operation. On the right HMS Tyne, post WWII.

After about a year at Daedalus he learned that his close friend George James, who had been ‘called-up’ by the Army at the same time as William, and posted to the RAC (Royal Armoured Corps – tanks), had been reported as ‘Killed-in-Action’ in the Western Desert.  This made William decide to volunteer for “sea-going action duty” and on the 6th May 1942 he joined HMS Impulsive (D11) which was attached to the Destroyer Depot Ship HMS Tyne, Western Approaches.  For the next 18 months, with William as an active member of Impulsive’s engine-room, the ship served with distinction in the North Atlantic and on Russian Convoy duties, which were extremely hazardous!

Karl Brandenburg

Karl Brandenburg

The sinking of U-457
In September 1942, Russian convoy PQ 18 was in the Barents Sea, headed for Murmansk in Russia, as part of the ‘Fighting Escort’ – and under the command of Lt/Cdr Edward Gregson Roper, DSC, RN.   aT 0330 IN THE MORNING OF THE 13TH, u-457, commanded by Korvettenkapitän Karl Brandenburg – managed to torpedo the Oiler Atheltemplar. Although the damage from the torpedo did not sink her, she was so badly damaged as to be totally disabled, and with a known five U-boats in the area circumstances dictated that no escort could be detached to take her in tow, so it was decided to sink her.

At 0300 the following morning (16th), Brandenburg judged the moment right to take U-457 – currently on the convoy’s port bow – through the screen and dived.  As he did so he was spotted by HMS Impulsive (D11). Impulsive immediately obtained Asdic Contact, holding this until within 50yds before dropping a pattern of depth charges – set at 50ft – plus a calcium flare to mark the spot.  On the destroyer’s return to the spot she found oil and wreckage, including a black leather glove, some wooden debris and pieces of paper.  She then dropped a pattern of depth-charges set at 500ft (the depth of water in the area being 120 fathoms (720ft)) over the point where the oil was coming; that was the end of U-457. There were no survivors from the crew of 45.

Location of the sinking of U-457

Location of the sinking of U-457

At the point of the sinking U-457 and HMS Impulsive were in the Barents Sea 410 miles north-east of Murmansk, in position 75°05’N, 43°15’E. U-457.  The Type V11C was a unit of an attacking German U-Boat ‘Wolf-Pack’.   She was on the 4th day of only her third operational patrol and did not have a very long service record. The three ships she did ‘claim’ were vessels previously damaged and abandoned from the ill-fated PQ17.

Confirmation of U-457’s end can be found in German Naval U-boat losses.

The above information was found in the book Convoy – Drama in Arctic Waters by Paul Kemp.

At the time of William’s untimely death, his ship was moored alongside the depot ship in Scapa Flow and when crossing a gangway (in the dark) between his ship and a vessel lying alongside, he tripped, struck his head and fell into the freezing water.  He was rescued unconscious by shipmates and taken to the depot- ship’s sickbay where doctors attempted to revive him, but due to the length of time he was in the water and the intense cold, he succumbed and died.  He was buried with full military honours at Lyness Naval Cemetery, with most of his ship’s company in attendance.  Owing to the severe travelling restrictions in place during the war and the distance involved, the family were unable to attend.  His father Frank received letters of condolence from the ship’s First Lieutenant and Engineer Officer, also the Flotilla Padre based in HMS Orwell, a destroyer in Impulsive’s flotilla.

William Jeffries' headstone and a view of the Lyness Cemetery at Scapa Flow.

William Jeffries’ headstone and a view of the Lyness Cemetery at Scapa Flow.

Impulsive at this time was under the command of Lt Philip Bekenn, RN.  Not many Lieutenants were ever given command of a destroyer, but here was a man with an already proven record as a “First Lt” (Executive Officer and 2nd in command) in destroyer service and in-line for promotion to Lt/Cdr.

Lyness Naval Cemetery is on the Isle of Hoy, Orkney, Scotland.    William is buried in Plot P, Row 2, Grave 53.

William was entitled to the 1939-45 War Medal, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star and will soon be awarded the Arctic Star.


Researcher: Terry Randall with many thanks to Mrs Christina Barnard and Mrs Betty Sykes, the nieces of William Jeffries, for their valuable input to this research.
Published.: 3rd September 2014
Updated: Insert dates here

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