Book remembers 834 men who died on WWII battleship

Basingstoke Gazette: The Reverend Cannon Jo Stoker and Kenneth Toop Buy this photo » The Reverend Cannon Jo Stoker and Kenneth Toop

A BOOK remembering the 834 men who died on a Second World War battleship is now on permanent display in a Basingstoke church – thanks to the efforts of one of the survivors.

Kenneth Toop is one of the last survivors of HMS Royal Oak, which was torpedoed at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands at the start of the war on October 14, 1939. He was just 16 at the time, and was asleep along with the majority of the 1,208 crew when the German U-boat attacked at 1am.

Now 89, Mr Toop, of Downsland Road, Basingstoke, has arranged for a memorial book, commemorating the lost lives of those on board, to be housed at St Michael’s Church. The book lists all the names of those who perished, is signed by HRH The Princess Royal, and is in a glazed and locked desk alongside Mr Toop’s folded ensign from the ship. The book is a replica of the one crea-ted for the 70th anniversary of the sinking, which is kept in Orkney.

Mr Toop, a father-of-two, said: “All you can do now for your friends who are lost is to think about them and pray for them, and remember them and support their relatives.”

Family members of those who died in the tragedy attended a special service at St Michael’s, to dedicate the memorial to HMS Royal Oak. Mr Toop said the night the ship sank has stayed with him throughout his long life. He added: “It was horrendous and it’s something that affects your whole life, although you don’t think about it all the time.

“I was only a boy. I managed to escape from where I was sleeping, got to the upper deck, and stayed on it while it was going up. But there was a point when I had to slide off.

“It’s a miracle anyone survived – the water was so cold.

“You can’t think of the future – you are just hoping that someone comes and saves you. “I swam around for a time and then banged into a catamaran which had floated when the ship went down. There were two blokes on it.”

The ship sank in just seven minutes, but Mr Toop was safe on the catamaran where he stayed until help arrived. The grandfather-of-four was allowed home for 14 days survivors’ leave, after which he went back to sea on HMS Manchester.

In November the same year, he was back in Scapa Flow before sailing to Malta in a convoy. He stayed in the Royal Navy until 1953 before returning to Basingstoke where he spent the rest of his working life with the local electricity board.

The Reverend Canon Jo Stoker, rector at St Michael’s, said she is “thrilled” the memorial book will be in the Memorial Chapel permanently. She added: “Ken has been a member of the church for all his life, and we have always known about and prayed for the Royal Oak. “It’s a good place for people to visit the book.”

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