H.M.S. Exeter pictured above from the Western Morning News of 16 Mar 1942.
H.M.S. Exeter was an 8,500 ton cruiser and was one of 12 warships lost over three days during the Japanese invasion of Java. The battle was from 27 Feb to 1 Mar. The Exeter, of Graf Spee fame – she exchanged shell for shell with the Nazi pocket battleship in the Battle of the River Plate – was last reported about to encounter three Japanese cruisers as she steamed at half-speed with a hit in a boiler-room.
From The Western Morning News, Friday, October 5, 1945 we learn first-hand details of the loss of H.M.S. Exeter from a letter written by P.O. J. W. Bowden, a released prisoner of war.
“It took six of their ships of some size, five destroyers, and four hours to sink us. I was in the water for about five hours, and then a Japanese destroyer picked us up. We lost 66 men altogether in two days actions, and the Japanese lost at least fie ships.”
Of his treatment while a prisoner P.O. Bowden says: “We never knew from day-to-day if our turn was at hand. Many men here died of tropical diseases and starvation because food and medical supplies were scarce. If it had been possible to attempt escape, we would have long ago. Three men did attempt it, with the result that their heads were cut off. They read us the death warrants, just in case if we did attempt it we would know the result.
We had to live on rice and stuff which in normal times we wouldn’t have fed to the pigs, so you can realize how much now we appreciate any English food.”
One of the seamen who died as a prisoner of war was Able Seaman Raymond Douglas Castle, my 4th cousin 1x removed, born to Albert Douglas West Castle and Daisy Victoria Simpson on 5 Aug 1920.