TRAWLER TEAPOTS – the other story. HMT DE ROSA

Trawler Teapots – the other story. HMT De Rosa.

A while ago I posted a story about a minesweeper/trawler in World War Two that had inspired a range of teapots for me (Trawler Teapots – the story of HMT River Spey (updated)). I often use a story I have heard or something that has happened around me to kick off a group of pieces. In this case it was the story of a North Sea trawler requisitioned during the Second World War for use as an auxiliary patrol vessel and for which my aunt as a small child was the ship’s mascot. My mother, my aunt and their cousin wrote to the crew regularly and received gifts including a sailor’s collar inscribed with their names. HMT River Spey saved the lives of a crew of downed airmen and had a Lancaster bomber named after her – the trawler not my aunt.

During the time I was working on the pots, my students had asked me about them and I had told them the story. A while later one of them came to see me and asked me if I could help find out anything about a trawler on which her great-grandfather had served and lost his life. The name was HMT De Rosa. Few of the trawlers are well documented and this one less well so than River Spey. I found her in the end and was able to help a bit. I mentioned her in passing at the end of my previous post as ‘another story.’ A relative of another of De Rosa’s crew, having read that post, has asked me to tell what I know.


Oostende drifter O.235 De Rosa sometime between 1936 and 1940. Image:

Like the River Spey, De Rosa was a commercial fishing boat at the beginning of World War Two. She appears on lists of trawlers requisitioned by the British Navy in 1940 and returned to their owners in 1945 but not on those of registered trawlers before or after the war. With a little thought, it became clear that this was because she was not a British trawler but had come from overseas somehow. De Rosa sounded Spanish or Portuguese to me but in the end she turned out to be Belgian.  As O.235 she fished off Iceland with the Belgian fishing fleet in the 1930s and was based at Oostende (Ostend). With that information a story began to emerge. Actually, just to confuse, De Rosa did turn out to be in the pre-war British records but under her original name Deutzia. She was one of a batch of more or less identical steam drifters built by Cochrane and Sons in Selby in 1921-3 for Pickering and Haldane’s Steam Trawling Company of Hull. Named after garden plants, Coleus, Biota, Deutzia, Forsythia, Olearia, Berberis and Ribes, they formed part of an extensive fleet. In 1925 these seven and some other similar boats including one called Cloudbank, were sold off and acquired by SA Oostendsche Reederij – Armement Ostendais in Oostend to fish off Iceland. The floral names were replaced with the names of well-known Flemish and Belgian socialists. H.464 Cloudbank became O.232 Joseph Wauters for instance and H.435 Deutzia became O.235 Fernand Hardyns. In 1930/31 the owners decided to lay up all these vessels and they sat at their moorings waiting for a buyer. I am not sure of the economics – the fishing industry may have struggled in the early 30s – but from what happens next it may have been about the costs of operating steam engines. They sold in ones and twos between 1934-37 and six of the eight were immediately converted to motor-power by their new owners. Ribes went to Iceland, Coleus to France. Biota and Olearia returned to England with the Jubilee Fishing Co in Lowestoft. Forsythia, Berberis, Deutzia and Cloudbank were bought by local fishermen in Oostende the latter two by members of the Danneel family. Emiel Danneel was a 30-year old seaman who went in with a partner to buy Deutzia as a boat of his own. Marcel Danneel (perhaps his brother) bought Cloudbank. Then everyone renamed them!

H.464 Cloudbank O.232 Joseph Wauters O.232 Roger-Robert HMT Roger Robert O.232 Roger-Robert
H.498 Coleus O.233 Kamiel Huysmans O.233 Marguerite ?
H.425 Biota O.234 Paul Pastur LT141 Cicero HMT Cicero LT141 Cicero
H.435 Deutzia O.235 Fernand Hardyns O.235 De Rosa HMT De Rosa O.235 De Rosa
H.468 Forsythia O.236 Burgemeester Debunne O.236 Henriette HS119 scuttled
H.478 Olearia O.237 Hector Denis LT140 Alcor HMT Alcor O.337 Marjolène
H.496 Berberis O.238 Jan de Ridder O.309 Independence sunk
H804 Ribes O.239 Celestin Demblon Skagfirdingur Budaklettur
H = Hull; O = Oostende; LT = Lowestoft. The names and details are taken from Belgian Ships Archive, 11, 2012.

The name De Rosa puzzled me until I discovered that Emiel Danneel’s wife’s name was Rosalie Delanghe. Marcel Danneel almost certainly had two sons called Roger and Robert. When war broke out in late 1939 most fishing went on as usual. Only the Alcor (Olearia) in Lowestoft was requisitioned as a minesweeper straight away. In May 1940 the failure of the British Expeditionary Force and the forces of Belgium and France to contain the Nazi invasion had a direct effect on the fishing fleets. By May 21 the decision had been made to evacuate as many troops and their equipment as possible through Dunkirk. Famously many small boats from the east coast of Britain joined in the effort between the 26 May and the 4 June. Our own HMT River Spey was there. In practice there must have been large numbers of French and Belgian craft involved too. The Belgian fishing boats seem to have become spread out along the English Channel because Henriette (Forsythia) was captured by the Germans in La Rochelle in June. Independence (Berberis) was leaving Dieppe on the 21 May when she was bombed and sunk with the loss of the lives of one of the crew and 21 refugees. How many people can she have been carrying? Belgium surrendered on the 28 May and France on June 22. De Rosa and Roger-Robert arrived in England in May and June, probably within days of each other.  The picture is one of heroic efforts to escape and to help others escape.

O.232 Roger-Robert

Oostende drifter O.232 Roger-Robert. Undated. Image from Belgian Ships Archive, 11, 2012 copyright Belgian Ships Archive.

The foreign boats arriving in the UK were pressed into action fairly quickly. Roger-Robert was requisitioned in October and De Rosa in December. All the requisitioned boats were modified for naval use. Some like River Spey had been built by the Admiralty in WWI and could be adapted quickly but most had to spend some time in port being refitted. Once ready they were formally enrolled in the Royal Naval Patrol Service (RNPS) and christened His Majesty’s Trawler – HMT – retaining their original names, whatever they were. Over in La Rochelle, Henriette was going through the same process to become HS119 a German navy patrol boat – vorpostenboot. Tracing the active service of the RNPS trawlers is not easy. Paul Lund and Harry Ludlam’s book Trawlers go to War  is helpful. It uses diaries and reminiscences to give a picture of what it was like. The crews were made up of the trawlermen themselves, Royal Navy Reservists as skippers and latterly conscripts assigned to the service. They had a reputation for being rough and ready and were frown upon by the rest of the navy at least initially. Many of the boats served around the shores of the UK but they were sent all over the world. HMT De Rosa seems to have stayed local. She was listed in Jan 1942 as at Poole in Dorset where she was ‘in care and maintenance pending reallocation.’ On the 18 Feb 1944 39 year-old Leading Seaman William R Thorpe was killed aboard her. He was my student’s great-grandfather. According to his family he was shot whilst engaging an enemy aircraft with the De Rosa’s anti-aircraft gun. A Suffolk man with a family background in the fishing industry typical of many who served on the trawlers, he is buried in Cathays Cemetery in Cardiff where his wife’s family lived. Entirely by chance, his gravestone is illustrated on the Wikipedia page for the RNPS. No other casualties are listed by the War Graves Commission for any of our RNPS trawlers although the death toll was high for the service in general.


Grave of Leading Seaman William R Thorpe of HMT De Rosa. Cathays Cemetery, Cardiff. Image Wikipedia Creative Commons/Motacilla 2013.

In 1945 the surviving requisitioned trawlers were returned to their respective owners. De Rosa and Roger Robert returned to Oostende and their former lives. De Rosa was refitted and given a bigger engine in 1960 but was broken up in 1966. From 1955 Roger Robert is listed as owned by Marcel and Roger Danneel – perhaps Roger had grown up and followed the family trade. They sold her in 1961. She developed a leak and engine problems and sank in 1963. Emiel Danneel may have sold De Rosa but he remained in the fishery business as a shipowner. In the late 70s he was one of the owners of O.129 Amandine, originally built in 1960. Amandine is well known in Oostende. She was the last of the Iceland trawlers to sail from there and is now preserved as a maritime and fisheries museum.

Hopefully this is some help or at least a starting point. I will keep looking.

Minor updates 06.12.15

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1 Response to TRAWLER TEAPOTS – the other story. HMT DE ROSA

  1. Pingback: Trawler Teapots – the story of HMT River Spey (updated 23/5/15) | Clay and Fire

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