Tragic secret of HMS Dasher

MEARNS Community Week kicks off this Saturday — and the East Renfrewshire U3A will be uncovering World War Two secrets with the help of a guest speaker.

Presenting research from his book The American Connection to the Sinking of the HMS Dasher is 72-year-old John Steele — and he’s anxious to point out a Newton Mearns link.

John co-wrote the book with wife Nora after overhearing a conversation between pensioners in his hometown of Ardrossan, where the ship went down.

He told The Extra: “These three ladies were having a chat about a big ship — an aircraft carrier — which sank in the Clyde.

“They knew the survivors had come ashore with some of the fatalities, but that’s all. It got me thinking that perhaps a few people had perished, but as I began to research it I realised there were hundreds more from all over Scotland”.

According to John’s findings, 379 men perished when the HMS Dasher blew up and sank on March 27, 1943.

Mystery surrounded the incident and survivors and relatives were advised not to talk about the event, allowing it to go largely undocumented until John and Nora began writing in 1992.

The book has since seen four editions as more people have come forward to share their stories.

John, a former heating company manager and now retired, continued: “Hundreds of families have come to our house asking where it happened.

“I had the privilege of interviewing them all and the first thing many ask is if they can talk about it now”.

John’s East Ren engagement is especially poignant as one documented case is that of Newton Mearns man John Ian Russell Walker.

Sub-lieutenant Walker was a member of the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, and was lost at sea on the HMS Dasher, aged just 21.

Mr Steele explained: “I found out his parent’s names, Ernest Gordon Walker and Margaret Boyd Walker.

“Like the rest of the families, they received a telegram which said ‘we regret to inform you that your son was killed in wartime services’.

“There was no information whatsoever on where it happened or what happened”.

John and Nora continue to work on the subject, publishing articles and pictures retrieved from those involved.

He added: “It was prolonged and unnecessary suffering for those families, but many have come across the book and made the connection with their own loved ones, then got in touch with me and found out more.

“It’s fascinating to listen to people sharing their stories, and I always get so wrapped up — in hearing them, and in trying to help”.

John Steele presents the secrets of the HMS Dasher at Fairweather Hall, Wednesday from 1.30pm, as part of the U3A open doors meeting.