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Last words from a doomed officer ^ | 28/10/2005 | telegraph

Posted on 10/28/2005 5:14:15 PM PDT by pau1f0rd

At the height of the war in the Atlantic, Lt-Cdr Keith Morrison wrote a last letter to his wife and went to face a heroic death. Sixty-five years later, the newly discovered document sheds fresh light on a remarkable man caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Nigel Blundell pieces his story together, while we reprint the long-lost letter

The 37 freighters and tankers of Convoy HX84 were seven days out of Halifax, Nova Scotia - halfway home but still in mid-Atlantic - when the pocket battleship Admiral Scheer was sighted on the horizon. The convoy's sole escort, an ancient converted cargo ship armed with obsolete guns, turned to meet her.

Lieutenant- Commander Keith Morrison and his bride Margaret

What followed was one of the most heroic actions of the Second World War, as the crew of HMS Jervis Bay prepared for a battle that could have only one outcome. Outgunned, and with no hope of survival, they sailed head-on for the German ship, feebly returning the broadsides of her 11-inch guns.

Crippled and sinking, the Jervis Bay held the Admiral Scheer at bay, allowing the convoy to disperse into a winter storm. All but nine ships escaped. More than 190 of the 256 Jervis Bay crew died.

A footnote to the story has since come to light, during the writing of a book about the battle, that tells a little more about the sort of men who gave their lives in that cold, cruel, unequal struggle.

It is a letter written by the officer who commanded the Jervis Bay in her dying moments. Lieutenant- Commander Keith Morrison wrote it on September 20, 1940, and marked it: "To be placed with my will and in the event of my death to be given to my wife."

Cdr Morrison was last seen, wounded but standing perfectly straight, on the foredeck of his ship as, having launched her last lifeboat, the Jervis Bay sank into the icy Atlantic on the evening of November 5, 1940. And, from the letter he left, we know of whom he was thinking during the final moments of his life... "It will be very hard if I have to die without holding you in my arms again and telling you of that great love I have for you."

Keith Morrison and Margaret Chisholm had married in Sydney in 1935, he a 32-year-old merchant navy First Officer with the Orient Line and she a 24-year-old Australian from a New South Wales farming family. They settled in Dorking and had two sons. Michael, born in 1937, has only a brief memory of being held aloft by his father on one of his shore leaves. Tony, born in July 1940, never saw his father. After the war, Margaret took the children to back Australia. She died in 1957.

"It was only after her death that we saw all her letters," says her son, Mike, now 68, a retired lieutenant-colonel with the Australian Army. "It was humbling to realise how enormously devoted they were to each other and to us boys."

One of the letters, written by Margaret to her family in New South Wales on November 19, reads: "I just can't believe that I will never see Keith again, but I have nothing but happiness and his two lovely children to remember him by, and no two people ever had a greater love and understanding between them as he and I did.

"I know too how much he longed for action and that he had his dearest wish fulfilled by taking part in such a glorious battle. Nothing has been more gallant in the history of the Navy and his two sons have a wonderful example to follow and I pray they may always be worthy of it."

The armed merchant cruiser HMS Jervis Bay

Margaret learnt from survivors of the Jervis Bay that her husband had taken over command of the ship after the captain (Captain Fogarty Fegen, awarded a posthumous VC) and two other senior officers had been killed. Despite being twice wounded, Cdr Morrison organised the defence of his ship as, ablaze from bow to stern, she was raked with gunfire from the Admiral Scheer. Finally, with all but one of her lifeboats burnt, he ordered "abandon ship".

Margaret later wrote: "They say he was as cheerful as a cricket and cheering them all up. There was only one boat left, and there wasn't room for everyone; and it was his duty to see it safely away, so he stayed behind.

"He was standing on the foredeck still perfectly erect with the surgeon and another officer when she went down. The surgeon was badly wounded, but he could stand up and was Keith's greatest friend on board. And so, if it had to be, it's rather wonderful knowing he went like that, in command of his gallant ship and with his greatest friend."

After receiving the letter that her husband had left with his will, Margaret again wrote to her family in Australia: "Keith was so gallant - as indeed were all those men - and his last thoughts, I know, would have been for me, Michael and Anthony and for his mother." Margaret's sons read all of her letters - and the final letter from Keith - only after her death.

Her son Michael says: "She handled my father's death with great resolve, courage and love. Perhaps hers was a loyalty bordering on obsession; but for sure it was love in the extreme. It must have been a sublime relationship and, for my mother, one that never did - nor did she ever want it to - come again."

His brother Tony, 65, who farms near Goulburn, New South Wales, has never taken Australian citizenship.

"That's out of a respect for my father," he says. "I have always been enormously proud that my Dad died for his country, and, although I grew up a real Aussie kid, I have always been patriotically English. I keep my British passport because that part of me is precious, sacred almost. It's how I can keep part of my father. I have always loved him, though I never saw him. But his letter to my mother tells me everything I would wish to know about him. He is an unsung hero."

TOPICS: Miscellaneous; United Kingdom
KEYWORDS: admiralscheer; hmsjervisbay; keithmorrison; maritime; militaryhistory; uk; uktroops; wwii
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To be placed with my will and in the event of my death to be given to my wife

At sea

Lieutenant- Commander Keith Morrison
Lieutenant- Commander Keith Morrison

My Beloved Wife, I hope that this letter may never have to be given to you, for it is about a subject which we never speak of or even allow ourselves to think of.... that is, of my not coming home safely to you and to our children. Nevertheless, I cannot blink at the fact that there is more danger to be faced now than there was last year, or if we meet the enemy in any strength our chances of survival in these coming winter months are not very good.... & so because of that darling I am writing this letter to you to ask you to do certain things, & to tell you a few things.

I cannot thank you enough, my darling for all you have been to me ever since we met... no man ever had a better wife... our separations and our anxieties have been hard, but your courage & cheerfulness & great love have brought nothing but happiness to me.

You can look back over these last 7 years & find happiness at every turn - & I have lived solely & simply for you, & you have done the same for me. You will remember saying Goodnight on the steps of the Macquarie Club; driving to Mittagong, Old Sambo & the cottage: Fountains Abbey, Brittany, how we asked Old Foxey to dinner, our lovely house which has always been a Home, the day that Michael was born - all those things have been ours, and all our happy memories coupled with scores of others which have done so much to make life beautiful & wonderful to us.

I want you to find happiness in all those things, dear heart & if I have to die I don't want it to break your life up or change you. There are two little lives who are going to need you more than ever because I am gone, & you must do your best for them & bring them up to be a credit to you & a mirror of the love in which they were born.

If you ever want to marry again for any reason at all I shall quite understand: you are too young to contemplate living your life alone to its end, & if you do marry I pray that it may be to a good man who can give you that constant companionship & care, which I have never been able to give you. By marrying again you would be in no way unfaithful to my memory, all I want is your happiness.

You have had a hard life as a sailor's wife, but it has brought out all that is gold in you, & not a single flaw shown... As regards our sons darling - two boys will be a hard task for you but always use a firm hand & keep the upper hand too.

It is my earnest wish that neither of them go to sea or join any of the Services as a profession - rather would I that they grew up to the suburban Home life in which you & I would have been so ideally happy: they won't be able to understand that when they are young, but they will as they grow older.

Do not make the mistake of stinting yourself to try and educate them above your means - & maybe no influence at the end of it to help them into a good job. I had to strive for my living & was just beginning to get somewhere... so it can be done if one works hard.

It is a great joy to me when you tell me how generous Michael is with his sweets & toys, & I feel sure that Anthony will be the same. Try to bring them up to appreciate the beauty of nature & things generally - think how much happiness we have gained from a beautiful sunset or a lovely view or an old, old castle. It is a sense not given to everyone. I expect you'll take them to Australia & become good Australians, & you will be very wise if you do. It is a wonderful country & I hold it very dear in my affections - & there will be opportunities there for them than in England.

If I have to die I am not afraid to do so & I know I will have died in supporting a righteous cause. Don't let my death affect the attitude towards the war: and we must win for the sake of civilisation... & if we were to lose, my death & those of many others would have been in vain - & it is hard enough to leave you without that.

There is nothing spectacular in my War Effort to leave behind for my sons, but I die conscious that I have always done my job to the best of my ability & always had the faith and reliance of those above me. Someone has to do the dull work, & until one has actually had to do it one doesn't realise how hard it is, with this prolonged separation from one's loved ones & thoughts of them being bombed or invaded ever present...

Try to bring the children up with a love of the Church such as we have - not religion thrust upon them, but feeling they can turn to God as friend for help.

Not much more, Precious: it will be very hard if I have to die without holding you in my arms again & telling you of that great love I have for you... but pray God that I shan't have to.

God bless you and our darling sons always - you are my Light & my Love & my Life & I have lived just for you. My great sorrow if I have to "pass on", is the sorrow I will cause you - but fight it Beloved... but fight it as we have always fought all our sorrows.

Ever your devoted and loving Xxxxxxxxxxxx Husband.

1 posted on 10/28/2005 5:14:16 PM PDT by pau1f0rd
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To: pau1f0rd

I read this in the Telegraph today, and it touched me deeply. I was literally wiping away tears as my train pulled into London.

2 posted on 10/28/2005 5:16:59 PM PDT by pau1f0rd (Still more majestic shalt thou rise, More dreadful from each foreign stroke.)
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To: pau1f0rd

Impressive and touching...

Thank you.

3 posted on 10/28/2005 5:17:14 PM PDT by DoughtyOne
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To: pau1f0rd

"Mother, please do not grieve but rather console yourself in the fact that I am happy. Try to enjoy the remainder of your life as best you can and have no regrets, for you have been a wonderful mother and I love you. Jim."

North Africa, 1942. Found in the sunglass case of an American pilot killed in the battle for Tunis.

4 posted on 10/28/2005 5:19:37 PM PDT by Cornpone (Who Dares Wins -- Defame Islam Today -- Tell the Truth About Muhammad)
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To: pau1f0rd
Two handkerchief job.

This is why there'll always be an England (I hope).


5 posted on 10/28/2005 5:24:19 PM PDT by MinuteGal
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To: All

This generation has heros as well.

CPL. Jeffrey B. Starr: What the NYT Left Out

6 posted on 10/28/2005 5:25:31 PM PDT by bnelson44 (Proud parent of a tanker!)
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To: pau1f0rd
What a loving and inspirational letter of goodbye! Thanks for posting it.

Its a great shame some cannot understand such honor in the passing of a loved one during a just war (Sheehan).
7 posted on 10/28/2005 5:28:43 PM PDT by singfreedom ("Victory at all costs,.......for without victory there is no survival."--Churchill--that's "Winston")
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To: singfreedom
"Its a great shame some cannot understand such honor in the passing of a loved one during a just war (Sheehan)."

That is the truth. The devotion, loyalty, responsibility and love expressed in this letter are foreign concepts to Sheehan and her ilk.

One can only wonder what her son would have written had he been so inclined just as one can ponder what he would think of the antics of his mother using his death as the vehicle for her self aggrandizement.

8 posted on 10/28/2005 5:40:02 PM PDT by TCats
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To: MinuteGal

My father just gave me a trunk full of the letters he and mother wrote daily during his service (4.5 years) in WWII. He asked me to organize them and put them together in a book for the family.....I have no idea where to begin....Any ideas?

9 posted on 10/28/2005 5:47:41 PM PDT by hoosiermama (FREEPERS...STUCK ON SUPERIOR!)
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To: pau1f0rd


10 posted on 10/28/2005 5:47:49 PM PDT by Constantine XIII
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To: pau1f0rd

Tissue Alert.

That was a wonderful story of Patriotism and Love.

11 posted on 10/28/2005 5:48:46 PM PDT by Cathy
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To: pau1f0rd
Now ... for the rest of the story ...


HMS Jervis Bay

She is an old freighter
Of some fourteen thousand tons.
Standing in the roadstead
Of a port somewhere south of Singapore.
She lists a bit,
As if wearied by the typhoons of the China Seas;
By the whole gales of Tasman;
By the turbulence of wind off Borneo.
Her gear is obsolete,

Her iron skin blistered,
Pocked with rust.
Her engines are rheumatic,
And her saw-tooth screw
Will yield less than fourteen knots . . .
She is the old Jervis Bay
Of Australian registry,
Resting, between tides, from her
Obscure drudgeries,
Somewhere south of Singapore.

She nods at her mooring cables,
Head bent to the dry monsoon.
The Jervis Bay is nodding, half asleep,
When a gig draws alongside,
And there is brought aboard,
Solemnly, a flag with a blue field -
A storied ensign - emblem of Britain's Naval Reserve.
This of itself becomes a rousing circumstance
To one so frowsed, so drably sleeping,
Somewhere south of Singapore.

Up the starboard ladder-way
There comes a new master,
Puffing somewhat with middle age.
He looks about, he looks above, below.
Forward, aft he peers.
His is the manner of a man recapturing a memory.
He is Fogarty Feegan,
Called from retirement
To command the Jervis Bay.
For ten years Fogarty Feegan
Has walked in his English garden,
Watching the roses bud, the violets bloom,
Enjoying each miracle of season
That brings white blossoms to the hawthorn hedge.
But now he has left his barrow and his slips
To bring the storied ensign, with its blue field -
Blue as the violets of his garden -
Bringing it from afar to the old Jervis Bay.

His voice rolls against the breakwater.
His big hands grasp the teakwood rail.
He swears a bit, and finally
The Jervis Bay awakens.
Soon a battery is supplied -
A small one -
Guns of five-inch calibre.
Then, with a hundred young reservists for her crew,
The Jervis Bay puts out to sea,
From somewhere south of Singapore.

Captain Fogarty Feegan
Has a distant rendezvous
With other old masters,
Summoned from retirement,
Called by their King
From their little farms,
From their office stools,
From their fireside chairs,
From the cities and the shires -
For threefold war - earth, sky, sea -
Beggars the world. Ships go down . . . each day go down,
And bottoms must be had
To bear cargoes to Britain. Up from tropical waters,
Through Suez, through the Strait of Gibraltar,
Out and across the Atlantic,
And to the Americas.
In a harbour of the North,
And with brave haste, the old hulls
Are laden to their loading lines
With cargoes for Britain.
Captain Fogarty Feegan
Listens to the rumbling of winches;
Hears the samson posts creak;
Hears the chains and blocks complain;
Harries his first Officer, Mr. Wilson, with commands,
As things needful for the life-beat
Of England's great heart
Are stowed aboard.
"Hurry, damme, Mr. Wilson, sir!"
He shouts to his First Officer.
"We are not sleeping now, Mr. Wilson,
Somewhere south of Singapore!"

From a Canadian bay,
From behind the fog-bank of November dawn,
A convoy line puts out;
Thirty-eight ships put out to sea
With cargoes for Britain,
A consignment to help sustain
The life-beat of England;
Goods to provision an isle
That for a thousand years
Has prized the freedom
And the dignity of Man.

The gun crews of the Jervis Bay
Sleep beside their battery.
They seem young seminars
With parka hoods cowling their heads
To keep out the cold sea-rime.
Night falls, a great and sombre hymn
The night of November fourth -
Nineteen hundred and forty years since Our Lord -
Is an anthem of wind and small, following sea.

The morning comes like a priest,
Upholding a golden monstrance.
The morning of the fifth
Finds the Jervis Bay and her convoy
Strung like a procession of pilgrims against the dawn.
The ship's sounds;
The practice rounds are fired.
The sun is on the meridian,
And Fogarty Feegan shoots the sun
For latitude.
Eight bells again,
And Fogarty Feegan shoots the sun
For longitude.
And then, at five o'clock
The lookout calls from the crows-nest:
"Ship, sir, off the starboard bow!"

Through his glass.
Fogarty Fcegan makes out smoke -
A black gargoyle in the sky -
East by south-east,
Then sights a ship, hull down.
And now a battleship
Comes boiling over the horizon.
She opens fire with heavy guns.
Captain Fogarty Feegan telegraphs his engine room
To strain the boilers till they burst.
He bellows. curses, brings to bear
The popguns of his battery
Against the Goliath armour of the battleship.
He sends up smoke to screen the fleet.
He orders all the consoy ships to scatter wide and fast.
Then Fogarty Feegan
Sets out alone to meet the battleship.
Five-inch guns against eleven-inch guns.
Egg-shell hull against Krupp plate.
"Damme, Mr. Wilson, sir," he shouts,
"We're not hearing mandolins today, somewhere south of

This is a mad thing to do
This sea-charge of the Jervis Bay,
Yet a sky of dead admirals looks down
From the Grand Haven,
Looks down at Fogarty Feegan,
Whose senile tub
Steams bow-on for the battleship.
Nelson, Drake, Beatty, Harwood;
Yes, and the Americans:
Porter, Farragut and John Paul Jones,
All look down in wonderment.

And now a burst of shrapnel rakes the Jervis Bay,
And tears the right arm from the sleeve of Fogarty Feegan.
He does not fall.
He grasps the teakwood rail with his other hand.
Masking his agony with bellowings that rise above the guns.
Nor will he let a tourniquet
Be placed upon the stump.
He waves the stump, and Mr. Wilson knows
(And the sky of dead admirals knows)
That if a hand were there.
It would be making a great fist.
Still steaming toward the battleship,
Fogarty Feegan keeps his little guns ablast.
The eyes of the setters
And of the pointers
Grow black and blue from the recoils -
Their eardrums dead.

A salvo comes with the top roll of the battle-ship,
And now the ensign -
Emblem with the blue field -
Is shot away.
Enraged, bloody, rocking on his heels,
Fogarty Feegan roars
"Hoist another ensign, damme, Mr. Wilson, sir!
Hoist another flag,
That we may fight like Englishmen!"
A boatswain procures a flag from the locker -
A flag used for the burial of the dead at sea.
"Here, sir," he cries,
As to a brace he bends
The Banner of England.

The Jervis Bay, ablaze from stern to bow,
At dusk, still fires her puny guns,
And will not change her course.
Salvos from turrets,
Guns three-over-three,
Make great geysers grow about
The old ship's wake.
But still her guns give voice.

And now she's struck below the water-line.
Her boilers go.
The Jervis Bay begins to settle by the stern.
Yet, sinking, still she faces her antagonist.
Then the waters begin to close over her.
The waters close over Fogarty Feegan,
And over the flag
That once was used for burials at sea.
And now night spreads its shroud.

Of thirty-eight ships in the convoy,
Twenty-nine are saved,
Their cargoes saved,
To help sustain the life-beat of England,
While from the sky dead admirals look on,
And claim Captain Fogarty Feegan for their own.

The Jervis Bay goes down -
Goes down as no mere casualty of storm,
To rust out, fathoms deep, in common grave
With sisters unremembered by the years.
The Jervis Bay - of Australian registry,
From somewhere south of Singapore -
Goes down in the history
Of an Isle that for a thousand years
Has prized the freedom
And the dignity of Man.


12 posted on 10/28/2005 5:51:51 PM PDT by BluH2o
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To: snippy_about_it

A good one to ping to the Foxhole crowd. No sea monsters, I promise.

13 posted on 10/28/2005 5:55:18 PM PDT by U S Army EOD (LET ME KNOW WHERE HANOI JANE FONDA IS WHEN SHE TOURS)
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To: hoosiermama
Hi All-

Mounted on stable acid-free paper that won't damage the old letters or fragile ink. I'd put it in chronological order to weave a story of the war.

~ Blue Jays ~

14 posted on 10/28/2005 5:56:04 PM PDT by Blue Jays (Rock Hard, Ride Free)
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To: TCats

I think the poor young man probably wrote no such letter because he knew its sentiments would fall on deaf ears. I feel SO sorry for that youngster and I admire his courage.

15 posted on 10/28/2005 5:57:30 PM PDT by singfreedom ("Victory at all costs,.......for without victory there is no survival."--Churchill--that's "Winston")
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To: bnelson44
I don't regret going, everybody dies but few get to do it for something as important as freedom. It may seem confusing why we are in Iraq, it's not to me. I'm here helping these people, so that they can live the way we live. Not have to worry about tyrants or vicious dictators. To do what they want with their lives. To me that is why I died. Others have died for my freedom, now this is my mark."

God Bless America, and thank you young man, for all of time.

16 posted on 10/28/2005 6:02:53 PM PDT by Thebaddog (K9 4ever)
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To: hoosiermama

Good luck on your letters! How about a inexpensive scanner and log them in chronologically? His letters - and her replies? Might be hard due to the long time delay of several weeks between mail calls. Or - Put his in chrono and hers in chron and on the pc you could have a split screen and scroll throght the letters for a reply?

My mom has many of her letters still (although I think she tossed a bunch). She said they had their own "code" as my Dad couldn't divulge any of his comings and goings. It would be something like "I understand your aunt is going to Chicago." (Chicago being some code word for somewhere that they had discussed before he shipped out!)

17 posted on 10/28/2005 6:03:04 PM PDT by geopyg (I BELIEVE CONGRESSMAN WELDON! (Ever Vigilant, Never Fearful))
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To: Blue Jays

They are numbered. So just have to sort the stacks in order....Would like to copy them somehow, but don't know if that is possible.

18 posted on 10/28/2005 6:04:19 PM PDT by hoosiermama (FREEPERS...STUCK ON SUPERIOR!)
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To: pau1f0rd
" . . . and we must win for the sake of civilisation...",

So it must be for every generation, for the wars against evil must always be won . . . 'for the sake of civilization.'

Evil apparently does not disappear when vanquished. It emerges over and over again, for it is the tool of choice for tyrants and terrorists.

19 posted on 10/28/2005 6:06:41 PM PDT by Eastbound
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To: pau1f0rd
Crying here.
20 posted on 10/28/2005 6:07:04 PM PDT by Semper911
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