Update 28th Oct 2005:
One of the 4 men who survived the shell hit from Bismarck, which seriously damaged the compass platform of HMS Prince of Wales killing 13 men, was the Chief Yeoman of Signals We believe this was Albert, and that it was probably the occasion on which Albert earned his Distinguished Service Medal.
Alfred Edwin Gilbert D.S.M., was a crew member of HMS Prince of Wales at the time of the sinking. He did not survive. He was my husband's uncle, but they never met. I myself am a native of Glasgow, came to Canada in late 1946, and was married shortly after that to Allan StJohn whom I had met when he was on active service with the R.C.A.F. We are now both 85 years old.
Alfred was born 11th Feb. 1905, the youngest of six children. His father George Gilbert was a general labourer on a farm near Ross on Wye in Herefordshire His mother was Elizabeth Greaves. The other children were:
In about 1903 their father became ill with rheumatic fever or something similar, and he "disappeared" while his wife struggled to keep a family of 5 children fed and clothed. Barnardo's Homes offered to take the children, but the mother would only allow Sarah to be taken into care, She was afraid her husband would be angry if he came back and found the children gone, and indeed he did come back, and Alfred was born in due course. There was no happy ending. The family was soon housed in the Ross Union, where the mother and at least one of the children died of tuberculosis shortly after admission. The baby Alfred was sent to Barnardo's, and later to the same foster home where Sarah was already living. She, of course was a schoolgirl of eight or nine years old by then. Sarah (destined to become my mother-in-law) and Alfred both grew up to be healthy robust adults, which perhaps shows the difference a safe environment can make. In 1910 Sarah was sent to Canada, under a Government sponsored scheme. She married an Ontario farmer in 1919. Alfred remained in the care of Barnardo's until 1920 when he went to the Royal Navy.
Most of what is written above is based on data I got from Barnardo's many years ago when I was trying to compile a family tree. I was surprised to learn that they had no record of Alfred after he joined the Navy. They did not know he had progressed to such a responsible rank, nor that he been a war casualty. Sarah had been in touch with Alfred throughout the years and knew he had died in the war, but unfortunately hadn't kept any of his letters, just a few scraps with addresses and on a wee scrap of paper the names and birth dates of his children
This detail is from those fragments - A letter dated January 4th 1937. The family's address was 38 Oakfield Terrace Road, Cattedown, Plymouth.
The ages of Alfred's children noted in pencil by Sarah:
Patricia Winifred born 1931
Alfred jr. born 1934
Allan born 20 July 1936
Two other headings were from HMS Prince of Wales and dated respectively November 26 1940 & February 18 1941. Presumably Alfred's wife, whose first name I have not discovered, wrote to inform Sarah of Alfred's death. Allan was posted overseas in 1942 and he tried to contact his uncle's widow, but was unsuccessful. There has been no contact since then. There were also two very nice studio photos of Alfred in uniform among Sarah's belongings when she died in 1979. One was taken in a Malta Studio - probably in 1926, the other, on a postcard is marked:- " from your loving brother Alfred, 5.5.1923 ". I had a negative made of the Malta one, and sent a copy to Barnardo's. I only found out about his D.S.M. when I found this web site.
Contact Andy (webmaster) with any information.
Information provided by
Catherine and Allan StJohn.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
ALFRED EDWIN GILBERT
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Chief Yeoman of Signals
Regiment: Royal Navy
Unit Text: H.M.S. Prince of Wales
Date of Death: 10/12/1941
Service No: D/J 99570
Awards: Distinguished Service Medal
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 50, Column 1.
Cemetery: PLYMOUTH NAVAL MEMORIAL