Mexborough & Swinton Times, February 17, 1940
Home After Sea Battle
Conisborough Stoker´s Story
“Just Our Job and We Did It.”
A Conisborough Sailor´s own story of the engagement at the Plate with the Graf Spee was told to a “Times” reporter on Saturday by Leading Stoker Walter B. Wright, son of Mr. and Mrs. R. Wright, of 1, Dearne Street, who as reported in our last issue is home on a fortnightÂ´s leave from his ship, H.M.S. Ajax.
Wright explained: “The Graf Spee was sighted about 6.10 in the morning by the look-out, and after the first thirty minutes it was a running fight throughout the day. We knew a German raider, probably a pocket battleship was in South Atlantic waters because two or three ships, among them the Doric Star and the Clement had been sunk. I had been doing the middle watch, from midnight until four, and I turned in about 4.15, but I was out again about six, so you see I didn´t get much sleep that morning.
As a stoker I was below deck, but I wasn´t in the engine room: I was at my action station. We could not see the enemy – the Graf Spee would be about 20 miles away – but we could see the smoke of the vessel. The main action lasted about 80 minutes. The Graf Spee kept firing to keep us at a distance and when it got into neutral waters we had to hang back so as not to attract her firing”.
Stoker Wright was asked if the crew of the Ajax were proud of their exploit but he modest fellow, replied with constraint: “We just looked upon it as our job and we did it”. He added that later when they paid a courtesy visit to Montevideo, where they were entertained by the British Colony and also warmly welcomed by the Uruguayans, they could see the control tower of their scuttled opponent sticking out of the water “Just like a monument, and a warning to other German ships”.
On the Ajax, he stated, were a number of Yorkshiremen. There was a leading cook from Wath whose name he believed was Dodsworth, and another man from the Barnsley neighbourhood, and the nearest other sailor was from York. He was loud in his praises of the reception the crew received when they reached Plymouth, and described it “as marvellous – for we are not a West country ship: we are an East country ship”.
Enjoys Sea Life
Leading Stoker Wright enlisted in the Navy in May, 1933, before which he worked at Yorkshire Main Colliery, Edlington, where he had been a “filler” for about twelve months, and he confessed that he enjoyed his sea life and would not go back to the pit at any price. In 1934 he joined H.M.S. York and had six cruises in the American and West Indies Station and arrived back in Britain in September, 1936. The following year he took his leading stoker´s course and joined the Ajax just over 12 months ago. This is his first leave at home for two years, and he has brought his mother a charming South American dancing doll dressed in traditional costume, from Rio de Janeiro.
Leading Stoker Wright is hoping to have a further 14 days leave next month, and though in accordance with war regulations his cap ribbon does not bear the magic title “H.M.S. Ajax”, but just the brief “H.M.S.”, he has been quickly recognised in the streets of the town as ConisboroughÂ´s “Graf Spee” hero, and since the River Plate victory has been the recipient of two gifts from Conisborough folk. The first has been a gift of cigarettes, which will he expects, await him on his return to the Ajax: and the second, a Balaclava helmet from the knitting circle at the Wesley Methodist and New Hill Methodist ChurchÂ´s, and Wright mentioned that he had acknowledged the latter gift in a letter to the minister.
In his trips in South Atlantic waters he has been surprised at the number of Yorkshire people he has met, and of special interest to Conisborough he thought we his meeting with a man in a South American bar. The man Stoker Wright said, asked him where he came from, and after mentioning Conisborough, the man all those thousands of miles away, immediately replied “There´s a castle there, isn´t there”.