Fee, Thomas Hugh Cecil Hickland

Fee, Thomas Hugh Cecil Hickland

Lieutenant (E)

HMS Rawalpindi, Royal Naval Reserve

Killed in action on Thursday 23 November 1939 (aged 28)

No known grave

Commemorated:

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Liverpool Naval Memorial, Lancashire, England (Panel 2 Column 1)

Campbell College, Belfast

BIOGRAPHY

Thomas Hugh Cecil Hickland (sometimes Heckland) Fee was born on 1 January 1911 in Everton, Ballymaconaghy and he was the only son of David Alfred Fee JP and Josephine Margaretta Fee (nee Beck) of Baythorpe, Holywood.  David Fee worked as an Estate Agent and Government Land Valuer and, before moving to Holywood, the Fee family lived in Cregagh, Belfast.  David Fee and Josephine Beck were married on 10 July 1906 in St. George’s Church of Ireland Church, Belfast.

Thomas Hugh Cecil Hickland Fee attended Campbell College from 1920 until 1921 and then the University School, Hastings in Sussex.  After leaving school he worked as an apprentice manager in Harland and Wolff Ltd., Belfast and at that time he lived at 8 Pretoria Street, Stranmillis Road.  Later he went to sea to gain engineering experience and he served aboard the SS Rawalpindi.

Built by Harland and Wolff Ltd., Greenock, Scotland and launched on 26 March 1925, the SS Rawalpindi was a passenger ship operating on the London to Bombay route by the P&O Steam Navigation Company Ltd.  She was requisitioned by the Admiralty in August 1939, converted to an Armed Merchant Cruiser (AMC) and renamed HMS Rawalpindi. Thomas Hugh Cecil Hickland Fee was given commissioned rank.

While patrolling north of the Faroe Islands on 23 November 1939, HMS Rawalpindi investigated a possible enemy sighting, only to find that she had encountered two of the most powerful German warships, the battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau conducting a sweep between Iceland and the Faroes.  In his book, The Sinking of the Kenbane Head, Sam McAughtry asserts that the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Jervis Bay had originally been assigned to the Northern Patrol but, at the last minute her windlass was damaged and her place was taken by HMS Rawalpindi.  A year later, on 5 November 1940, HMS Jervis Bay was sunk when escorting Convoy HX-84 and three local men who were serving aboard the SS Kenbane Head (one of the ships in the convoy) were killed.  They were James McNeilly Belshaw from Ballywalter, George McClelland Leckey from Holywood and David John Pritchard from Ballyhalbert.

HMS Rawalpindi was able to signal back to base the location of the German battleships Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Despite being hopelessly outgunned, 60-year old Captain Edward Coverley Kennedy decided to fight, rather than surrender as demanded by the Germans.  He was heard to say, ‘We’ll fight them both, they’ll sink us, and that will be that; good-bye’.  The two German warships shelled HMS Rawalpindi and she sank within 40 minutes.  Lieutenant Thomas Hugh Cecil Hickland Fee was one of more than 230 men who died.  Captain Kennedy (father of the broadcaster and writer Ludovic Kennedy) was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches.  Less than 50 men were rescued.  Scharnhorst was sunk on 26 December 1943 during the Battle of the North Cape and Gneisenau, heavily damaged in an air raid on Kiel Harbour in Germany on 26/27 February 1942, was sunk by the Germans on 23 March 1945 as a blockship (to prevent access) at Gotenhafen in Poland.

A letter from Lieutenant Commander (E) B.J. Dyer, Royal Naval Reserve, was published in the December 1945 edition of The Campbellian:  ‘Lieutenant Fee was in charge of the stokehold during the Rawalpindi action and was shut off from the rest of the ship by water-tight doors. Early in the action there was a hit in the after-stokehold. This caused a slow leak, so that the boilers were slowly put out of action. At the same time, the engine room was badly knocked about, with great loss of life and machinery put out of action. So, you can see that Lieutenant Fee had a job on his hands. However, when I paid a visit, the oil lamp was giving enough light to keep things going, so everybody was calm and collected. Of course, the gunfire was making a terrific din.

The next I saw of Lieutenant Fee was when he reported to me that the stokeholds were flooded, fires all out and that he had shut all the emergency oil valves and ordered all hands out of the stokeholds. No loss of life up to now. Well done, Fee.  What to do now? I told him to take over his boat, get it ready and put all the badly wounded in the bottom. A little later I had a minute to spare to give a hand there and we noticed some blood dripping on the deck. This led to a discovery of a big hole in the bottom of the boat. It did not matter though as a shell burst just below and blew the boat to pieces shortly after.

By this time things were in a pretty bad state, fires all over the place and a great number of casualties. But your friend was still full of beans, certainly showing no signs of the weak heart he was supposed to have.  So, I told him to get in one of the other boats and clear out. There were not many left alive by then and not many boats either. It was very cold and a heavy sea running and just starting to get dark.  I did not see what actually happened but I heard that the boat which carried your friend out of danger was overloaded, being one of the last boats left and a sea caught her and turned her right over, and drowned everybody in her. Wasn’t that rotten luck after missing everything else?

So, you can rest assured that Engineer Lieutenant Fee was one of those that showed them that we still know how to die.  I expect you have heard that there were no decorations for anybody on the Rawalpindi, but I expect that was because everybody there deserved a VC, with Lieutenant Fee right on the front line’.

Lieutenant Thomas Hugh Cecil Hickland Fee was 28 when he died and he is commemorated on the Liverpool Naval Memorial in Lancashire and in Campbell College, Belfast.