-H.M.S. Hood Crew Information-
H.M.S. Crew List

It is estimated that as many as 18,000 men served aboard the 'Mighty Hood' during the operational portion of her 21 year career. Unfortunately, there is no surviving official single listing of ALL men who served in her. Here you will find our attempt at creating such a listing. We are using the few, fragmentary crew lists known to exist, Navy Lists, various official reports, public records, and most importantly of all, inputs from the families of former crew.

Chainbar divider

Peter Frederick Byford

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Date of birth: 11th September 1915.
Place of birth: South Croydon, Surrey, England
Service: Royal Navy
Rank: Ordinary Seaman
Service Number: P/JX 135124
Joined Hood: 15th March 1932
Left Hood: 11th January 1934

Biographical Information: Peter Byford joined the Royal Navy and went to HMS Ganges as a Boy 2nd Class on 21 November 1930. He spent nearly two years in HMS Hood, between 1932 and 1934. After he left the Hood he served on 9 destroyers including the Winchelsea from May 1939 to December 1941. During this time he was mentioned in dispatches for his actions during Operation Dynamo - the Dunkirk evacuation.

Peter's son, John, has sent us a detailed biography of his father, which follows here.

Early Days 1915 – 1930

Peter Frederick Byford was born on September 11th 1915, the first of five children, all boys, to Christopher Henry Byford and Nellie Constance Byford (née Wicks). His father was a motor engineer who served in the Royal Flying Corps during World War 1. They lived at number 68 Brighton Road, South Croydon within three years two more boys, Colin and Kenneth, were born. Stuart and Christopher were born in 1924 and in 1928 respectively after the family had moved to Orchard Way, Shirley on the outskirts of Croydon, a rural area at the time.

Peter won a scholarship to Archbishop Tenison's School in Croydon where he excelled, not only academically but also at sports and in particular swimming and athletics, being a member of the school's winning 4x100 relay race team at the Croydon Schools sports day in 1930. An early taste for the sea came about as his father was fond of sea fishing at Deal, from the beach or from a small boat. He also won medals for life saving. Having been active in the Boy Scouts meant he had a head start on knots when he joined the Royal Navy!

HMS Ganges 1930 - 1932

He'd wanted to join the Navy from an early age to experience life on the open sea his favourite poem, which he'd learnt by heart at school was John Masefield's "Sea Fever". We believe that he went to the Royal Navy Recruiting Office with his father on his 15th birthday (the family story is that my grandfather handed over a box of cigars to the Recruiting Officer to ensure the RN signed him on during a time of cutbacks to the armed forces). He went to HMS Ganges on November 21st 1930, received his service number JX135124, progressed from Boy 2nd Class to Boy 1st Class on May 24th 1931. He was in Mess 34, number 8768.

Talking about his time at HMS Ganges he would agree that accounts of the strict discipline that prevailed were correct but emphasised that while it was strict, it was always fair. Judging by the awards he won for rugby, swimming and water polo, the sporting side of HMS Ganges was a major bonus.

HMS Hood 1932 - 1934

He joined HMS Hood on March 15th 1932. We can't begin to imagine how proud he must have been, firstly when he learnt that he had been drafted to the pride of the Royal Navy and secondly when the day came to join the ship at Portsmouth. She was not long back from a Caribbean tour and remained in the dockyard for repairs until mid May when the ship visited Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands. It's highly likely that most of the family visited him at some point during August. They were in UK waters again that Autumn as part of the Home Fleet, visiting Southend, Hartlepool and Rosyth before returning to Portsmouth in mid November. One surviving postcard to him on board ship, not long after the ship's return, has him in Mess 45. The one seemingly official photograph of him on board ship is with older sailors as one of the rowers for - we think - one of the ship's cutters, perhaps entered in a competition.

Early in 1933 the ship departed on the Spring Cruise to Spain and the Mediterranean. It was ten weeks which left a lasting impression on my father. He enjoyed being in Gibraltar away from the daily onboard routine there was plenty of time for sightseeing and swimming. He had vivid memories of older sailors playing crown and anchor as it was the first time he'd seen a five pound note. Asked if he'd ever joined in, he would always reply that uckers was his favourite board game, cue for another explanation of how that was played. Visits to Algiers and Tangier increased his appreciation of the Spring Cruise. We had no idea if he'd ever gone camel riding at that time but my mother reported that on a holiday somewhere in North Africa over fifty years later he impressed the locals by his ability to ride a camel (and hand roll a cigarette at the same time).

Destroyers 1934 - 1939

He was made Ordinary Seaman on September 11th 1933 while HMS Hood was in Rosyth. He left HMS Hood on January 11th 1934 and joined HMS Windsor. While it was for only seven months, it was his first taste of life on a destroyer. Indeed, after HMS Hood he served on nothing else but destroyers, nine in all. He joined HMS Duncan on October 23rd 1934, the day she departed for Malta, the Suez Canal, Sri Lanka and Singapore. Arriving in Singapore on December 10th, he was soon on his way back to the Mediterranean on board HMS Keppel, spending a very merry Christmas in Sri Lanka. He was on HMS Keppel for eighteen months during which time he was made Able Seaman on March 11th 1935 while the ship was in Gibraltar as part of its Spring Cruise and prior to Combined Fleet exercises. I've read elsewhere (see, for example, 'V and W Class Destroyers 1917-1940' by Anthony Preston, London: Macdonald, 1971) that Mediterranean Fleet destroyers were by and large happy ships and HMS Keppel was no exception. He enjoyed the training for, and participation, in the flotilla regatta. Perhaps the high spot was HMS Keppel's Summer Cruise when it visited Naples, Rapallo, Villefranche and St Raphael the visit to Pompeii was never forgotten, as was every stay in Malta throughout his naval career. Stories about "The Gut" told to my sisters and me were invariably met with howls of disapproval from our mother!

My father was back in the UK at HMS Osprey for the first six months of 1937. We believe it was at Portland where he learnt the skills required to perform the duties of an Asdic operator, returning several times, including when Osprey was based in Dunoon during World War 2. All he would say about his time on HMS Esk in 1937 and 1938 was that serving on a ship patrolling Spanish waters during the Spanish Civil War to enforce the edicts of the No-Intervention Committee was a tedious affair.

World War 2 1939 - 1941

Another V and W Class destroyer, HMS Winchelsea, had been home to my father since May 1st 1939 and a few days after war had been declared the ship was on escort duty and anti-submarine patrol in the Channel and Western Approaches, transferring to similar duties on South West Approaches in December. And then on May 28th 1940 she arrived for deployment in the evacuation of British and Allied troops from Dunkirk. Her first of six crossings to Dunkirk saw the one and only evacuation of troops from the beaches by the ship it was an eventful experience for Peter. Bringing one of the ship's small boats close to the shore it was swamped by desperate soldiers and capsized in shallow water. Getting ashore he found an officer to help refloat the boat but while he was organising this several Stukas commenced dive bombing. He watched in amazement as soldiers flung themselves onto the sand. "What did you do Dad?" we asked as children and heard the same story every time: he fired a service revolver in the general direction of the planes until there were no bullets left in the chamber. After all, he said, if you're on a warship there's nowhere to run and you get on with your duties. On the subsequent five visits she moored against the mole. Each time he was on the mole, embarking soldiers as quickly as possible. On May 31st she was one of the few destroyers not to be sunk while moored against the mole though she was damaged and patched up on return to Dover. HMS Winchelsea brought back 4,017 British and French servicemen on those six crossings. (Figures are from 'B.E.F. Ships' by John de S. Windsor, Gravesend: World Ship Society, 1999.)

Peter was Mentioned in Dispatches for his actions during Operation Dynamo and made Acting Leading Seaman a few days before notice of the award appeared in the London Gazette (No. 34925, page 5071).

He didn't talk much about what else happened, the frequent air raids, the lack of sleep, the conditions on board ship (on one voyage back to Dover the ship carried over 1000 soldiers). There was no time to rest after the final voyage as the ship was soon back in the Channel and the Bay of Biscay, assisting in further evacuations from St Malo and St Nazaire before resuming deployment at Liverpool for Atlantic escort defence.

Peter served on HMS Winchelsea until December 1941. Like many of the V and W Destroyers her main duties were on both merchant and military convoy duties. Many depth charges were dropped but no U boats were sunk though my father ruefully remarked that they probably got a whale once. The ship would often return to Liverpool out of ammunition and other supplies. On one occasion there was a major air raid in progress and the ship was moored in the Mersey with all lights out. Although it was in the middle of night, Peter was sent ashore with suitable funds to buy cigarettes for the crew. More than familiar with the city, he sought out a police officer who directed him to the back door of a public house where he would find cigarettes and a warm welcome. He did and the locked in drinkers wouldn't let him leave with the cigarettes without having a pint or three on the house. Never one to seek responsibility, he was finally made Leading Seaman on August 7th 1941. His time on the ship was marked by the sinking of three ships he always remembered them. Firstly the loss of the City of Benares in September 1940 because the Winchelsea had escorted her as part on convoy OB-123 as far across the Atlantic as fuel permitted secondly, the sinking of HMS Hood in May 1941, news of which shocked him more than any other news during the war until 6 months later when Kenneth, one of his younger brothers, was one of over 400 shipmates killed when U-124 torpedoed HMS Dunedin in Mid-Atlantic.

I'm sure that my father wouldn't object to this story going into print: one evening, after returning from another convoy escort duty he was one of several sailors returning to the ship rather the worse for wear. Words of remonstration from the Officer of the Watch on the bridge led to the release of a fire extinguisher over the ship's funnel. We never discovered what punishment - if any - he suffered but all us children were suitably impressed by this display of uncommon exuberance. Our mother would never let him recount the story of an upright piano, several bowls of jelly and the local beer in Sri Lanka.

World War 2 1942 - 1945

Two weeks after the sinking of HMS Dunedin but before news of the ship's loss was known he was back on dry land and at the turning of the year he sailed for the Indian Ocean.

Early in 1942 he left for Sri Lanka the long way round, stopping off in Simon's Town many years later my son took me to see the statue of 'Just Nuisance', the Great Dane who was popular with ratings passing through the dockyard who my father would have known. We know that he arrived at the naval base in Trincomalee not long before the Japanese bombed the harbour facilities and caused considerable damage.

If we hadn't heard much about convoy escort duties, we heard even less about his time at Trincomalee. We do know that he was missing out on a promise made to him by his Uncle Charlie, licensee of the Woodman in Upland Road, South Croydon. Peter was home on leave and would often call in at the public house to see his uncle and have a pint or two. One evening there was a particularly heavy raid by the Luftwaffe. Many of those drinking made a beeline for the nearest air raid shelter but Peter didn't and had the foresight to go up to the roof with buckets of sand. Incendiaries were falling and by his swift action all the fires were extinguished, the pub was saved and Uncle Charlie promised him free beer until the end of the war. My father probably thought about the beer he was missing though we're sure he enjoyed the beer in Trincomalee. He enjoyed the food and learnt how to make curries, something he put to good practice after the war. We heard how big the snakes were and how they'd often find their way into sleeping quarters.

He returned to the United Kingdom in the summer of 1944 not knowing it wouldn't be long before he would be back in the Indian Ocean, preparing for the invasion of Malaya. He was back in the Western Approaches on HMS Impulsive on convoy defence until the end of April 1945 before transfering to HMS Chiddingfold which was undergoing a refit on the Thames. His younger brother Stuart was also drafted to the ship. Sea trials commenced in July and she was deployed to the Mediterranean for exercises prior to joining the East Indies Fleet, in preparation for the invasion of Malaya. The surrender of the Japanese saw the Chiddingfold proceed directly to Singapore instead. Once again it was time to transfer to another ship, in this case HMS Racehorse, and he was soon homeward bound via familiar places.

Peacetime beckoned.

Post War 1946 - 1991

There were two important dates in 1946: on January 11th he left the Royal Navy and on November 23rd he married Dilys Lewis at St Paul's Church, Herne Hill, South London. Family lore has it that they met on a blind date arranged by Dilys's best friend who was going out with Peter's brother Stuart. They made their home in Herne Hill living with Dilys's parents. Dilys had moved with them to London from South Wales in 1938 and had worked through the war as a GPO telephonist at the Covent Garden Telephone Exchange (her wartime experiences were also dramatic). Many years later she told my sisters and me that Peter had had the opportunity of working for Marconi on anti-submarine equipment but he'd had different ideas on what he wanted to do, namely working with his hands at a skilled occupation and free from supervision to that end he went to night school and trained to be a sheet metal worker. They moved to a new council house in New Addington, Croydon in 1950, only moving again once to a bigger house across playing fields in 1959. He was happy to be working, happy to have a garden in which to grow fruit and vegetables, happy to have enough money to buy rolling tobacco, and, quietly pleased that their three children - Frances, Janet and John - grew up happily.

Every year he went to Navy Days in Portsmouth and every year he took me then my sisters when they were old enough. It was always a big day out, going into the Dockyard, hearing him swop yarns with fellow old salts. He'd never been on an aircraft carrier so visiting HMS Ark Royal was a treat but he'd never go on a submarine, I'd have to go by myself. Needless to say he was delighted when his youngest daughter Frances signed up for 7 years in the Royal Navy in 1977. Her passing out parade in Chatham in 1978 was a splendid day out for him, a rare occasion to wear his suit (almost certainly the one in which he'd got married in 1946!) and for us to experience lunch in the junior rates mess. It was in the navy that Frances met her future husband Alan (he was in for 22 years of which several were onboard HMS Resolution). Alan had also gone to Ganges so Peter and Alan had plenty to talk about.

After leaving school his middle daughter Janet went on to become a school teacher in various locations in South east England while my career was in the British Library.

Peter and his brother Stuart received invitations in 1984 to attend the commissioning of the second HMS Chiddingfold, a Hunt-class mine countermeasures vessel and along with their wives enjoyed the event. In retirement the same foursome would make day trips to France on the route with the longest return sea crossing of the Channel in a day, Newhaven to Dieppe, primarily to be at sea. Only very bad weather would prevent them sitting on the upper deck, smelling the sea air and watching the ships in the Channel go by.

In 1990 his health went into decline and he died in Mayday Hospital Croydon on January 28th the following year. The funeral was in Croydon on February 5th. The committal of his ashes took place on March 19th off Spitbank Fort. The latter was from a liberty ship as the weather was the sort of weather my father would have been used to in the North Atlantic my brother-in-law, then well into his 22 years in the RN, knew that we would want to go ahead even if the Admiral's barge couldn't be used, and ensured it took place.

Dad was not a man of many words but the written word was extremely important to him. He enjoyed reading, particularly the Greek classics, and never lost his appreciation of the poems he had learnt at school. It would be correct to say that the Royal Navy gave him the knowledge, skills and experience to make much of life and take pleasure as and when it could be found. There's no doubt that his first ship, the Hood, gave him such a wonderful start to his career in the Royal Navy.

Additional Photos

Peter Byford Mentioned in Despatches.

Peter Byford in Portsmouth in 1932, holding his youngest brother, Chrissie, with brother Stuart front. Peter's father is on his right.

Peter Byford (front, centre) with the HMS Hood cutter crew, 1932 or 1933.

No known memorials

Commonwealth War Graves Commission
'Register of Deaths of Naval Ratings' (data extracted by Director of Naval Personnel (Disclosure Cell), Navy Command HQ, 2009)
Mr John Byford, son, June 2020.