in the beginning
My reason for studying the family history was to find the truth. For many years as a youngster I had listened to stories of treasure ships, pirates and spies. The stories seemed more exciting than books like 'Treasure Island' and 'The Scarlet Pimpernel'. As with all legends, there is a thread of truth. However, the obsession with the family history I soon discovered was not spurred by the excitement of discovering where the treasure lay hidden, or proving our links with Frederic Chopin, or even our Royalist connections. No, these crazy pursuits all came much later. The family obsession began with John Francis Chopin my great grandfather. He , like myself, wanted the truth. He was brought up as an orphan when his parents died tragically while he was still an infant.
Allan Purnell ... this is a true story
On 15th December 1971, Mr Jones the cadet training officer for Houlder Brothers called the young apprentice at home and gave him joining instructions for his next ship. The young cadet officer reminded Mr Jones that he had promised him Christmas at home this year. He asked him to stand-by for further instructions. An hour later he called back with the exciting news that he was to join the ‘SS Clymene’ in Singapore on the 5th January. In due course the cadet met up with the other ships officers at Heathrow Airport and was surprised to see his best friend and fellow cadet officer, Paul, was not among the group…
…In the early hours of the morning of the 11th May 1972, while monitoring the radio, the cadet heard news of a collision between a British Freighter and a Liberian registered tanker the ‘Tien Chee’. A recurring nightmare alerted him to the possibility that this was the ship his friend Paul had been assigned, sure enough a week later the ‘SS Clymene’ docked at Wellington (New Zealand) and his worst fears were realised that among the entire crew, officers and passengers who died was Paul Hambly. The ship was the ‘MV Royston Grange’ a refrigerated ship carrying a cargo of meat and butter to the UK from Argentina. 40 years on and retired from the British Merchant Navy, that young cadet officer still sees the pictures in his head of that fateful day of the ship he had originally been assigned, but the one in which his best friend Paul died. Many years later in a frenzied and vitriolic attack, Alan Purnell accused that young officer of insubordination. At the tribunal it was an offence which neither he nor the tribunal had any concept of. The young cadet, having spent five years in the navy, felt better qualified to answer the charge of insubordination than a panel of impeccably dressed officers of the tribunal. He thought the correct information would be transmitted to the tribunal by his accuser, Alan Purnell and that this point would be rejected by the tribunal. The truth of the matter was that the order was countermanded by the Operations Director and thus negated the charge of insubordination (the OD is two ranks superior to the Area Manager). The tribunal should have been made aware of these facts and this would have been borne out by the witnesses had they been allowed to attend.
The name of the ship was the ‘MV Royston Grange’ and the name of the area manager ‘Alan Royston Purnell’, if that isn’t a sick twist of fate then I don’t know what is. The tribunal was the Exeter Industrial Tribunal and if you are looking for an impartial fair and judgemental tribunal then you will need to look elsewhere because this is not it.
More true stories coming soon....