“How the Hermes Association started” as told by Julie Kirkpatrick Grandaughter of Hermes 9 Survivor Edward Nelson- Girtchen Snr”
On a Summer’s day back in 1987, my Granddad, in Mum and Dad’s house, prompted by my Mum, starting talking about being sunk by the Japanese from HMS Hermes on the 9th April in 1942 off Sri Lanka, Trincomalee (then Ceylon) and being rescued by the hospital ship Vita. Bearing in mind this was some 44 plus years since the sinking, no one in the family had heard his story before not even his wife my Grandma.
My Mum Ann, Dad Ted plus Grandma Cath listened intently. It had taken him over 4 decades to talk about the sinking of Hermes 9 in 1942. He spoke about swimming for his life in the sea, being able to see a pilot’s face as the planes swooped so low firing at them in the water. He said one pilot saw him and didn’t fire. Only being 19 at the time he could just remember this and swimming for his life. Emotionally he said to my Dad he just wanted to know if there were any other survivors as he wanted to remember friends he had lost. He really wanted not to forget the men who never returned and whilst he knew he swam for his life, he just had never stopped thinking about those who didn’t return and felt incredibly guilty for surviving. There were no names he could remember but my dad being ex Royal Navy said he would do his utmost to help and make my Grandad’s wish come true. As a family we were filled with wonder, questions and absolute disbelief at how he had remained silent all this time. The quest for a Hermes 9 reunion and the history of the sinking of the ship began.
An advert was placed in the Navy News and within days my Mum, Dad, Grandma and Grandad were inundated with personal letters and stories (all the originals I have together). An emotional first reunion of 32 Hermes 9 survivors, 14 wives and 3 widows was held in the Union Jack club in October 1987. Steered by our Vice President at the time my Dad Ted Girtchen and assisted by my Mum and Grandma, the next reunion was planned and it was agreed it would be an annual event always to coincide with as near as possible, the 9th April as remembrance was at the heart of my Grandad’s wish. It was so unbelievably heartbreaking when my Grandad passed away in February 1988 having only been able to attend this first reunion. Now more than ever the family had a real focus to honour and keep his and so many other Hermes 9 memories alive. At one reunion, not long before my Grandma passed away she said to me “never let them forget how this all started with your Grandad’s story, promise me you will.”
In 1989 Hermes 10 members were invited and along came our longest serving member, Jack Coxon (apart from my Mum who technically is the longest serving). At this time the gentlemen were unsure if they could join the association and I’ll always remember my Dad welcoming H10 members with open arms, many of whom had served in the Falklands, he felt the joining of H9 survivors and H10 members would keep the Hermes memories alive for generations to come. How right he was and this is our mission as we look forwards with the Heritage Trust and the websites plus the Facebook pages.
So much has happened since then that it’s impossible to record or document it all here. What is at the heart of every Hermes family association reunion is friendship, love and remembrance. I am so proud of my Dad Ted and Mum Ann who worked so hard to grow the association in the early years along with my Grandma, assisted then by a committee who devoted so much time and energy to bring the association to where we are today about to celebrate our 35 year anniversary in 2022. It’s fair to say none of this would have happened had my Grandad not said it would be good to remember shipmates who were lost and try to meet any survivors. Equally though we wouldn’t be here today without the true dedication of past and present Chairmen, Presidents and Vice Presidents, Treasurer’s, Secretaries and all who work behind the scenes to keep the association strong, welcoming and up to date. There are no words that can express how grateful we are as a family for this and how proud I know my Dad, Grandad and Grandma would be that the memories are still coming and being kept alive, now electronically which is so special. The efforts to do this by Paul Riley and Andy Trish
are more than appreciated and again there are no words or action I can take to show our gratitude as a family. This really is a team Hermes effort by everyone connected to the ship.
My Dad also ex RN never tried to attend any of this own ship reunions or contact past shipmates, when I asked him about this, he said “your Grandad’s story and reunions are enough for me”. Till he passed away in 2011, my Dad devoted much of his time and energy to the Hermes family to grow the association and above all to honour the men of Hermes 9 plus past conflicts attending the Falklands Pangbourne service every year he could. As an only child he was my rock and inspiration and we miss him so much as a family every day but keep his memory alive within the Hermes Association.
Julie Kirkpatrick (nee Girtchen)
Grandaughter of Ted Girtchen (Hermes 9 survivor) and Dad, also Ted Girtchen (ex Royal Navy) founder member of the Hermes Association.