Primmer, Reginald John

Primmer, Reginald John (Reggie)

Assistant Steward

SS Kenbane Head (Belfast), Merchant Navy

Died as the result of enemy action on Tuesday 5 November 1940 (aged 19)

No known grave


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Tower Hill Memorial, London, England (Panel 60)

Ballyphilip Parish Church of Ireland Church, Portaferry

Family grave headstone in Ballyphilip Cemetery Portaferry


Reginald John Primmer was born at 9.50 am on 21 February 1921 at 48 Seagrove Road, North End, Portsmouth, Hampshire, and he was a son of John Henry and Violet May Primmer (nee Tanner) who were married on 19 March 1919 in St. Patrick’s Church of Ireland Church, Coleraine.  Violet Mary Tanner (aged 30), daughter of George Tanner, was born in County Armagh and, before she was married, worked as a Post Office clerk.  At the time of their marriage, John Henry Primmer (aged 31) was stationed at HMS Victory in Portsmouth.  John Henry Primmer served with the Royal Navy in the Coastguard Service and in 1932 the Primmer family moved to The Square, Portaferry with their two children, twins Reginald John and Dorothy (Dot) Violet (aged 11).  When the children were born their father was serving with HMS Vindictive.

Before the war, Reginald John Primmer served as a commis waiter aboard the RMS Queen Mary and then the RMS Franconia.  During the Second World War he served as an Assistant Steward in the Merchant Navy aboard the SS Kenbane Head.  This ship was built in 1919 by Workman, Clark and Company, Belfast and was owned by G. Heyn and Sons Ltd., who operated the Ulster Steamship Company (Head Line).

In November 1940, the SS Kenbane Head was sailing from Halifax in Nova Scotia to Great Britain in Convoy HX-84 with more than 30 other merchant vessels escorted by the armed merchant ship HMS Jervis Bay.  The convoy was intercepted by the German battlecruiser Admiral Scheer which had been commissioned in November 1934.  Hopelessly outgunned, HMS Jervis Bay engaged the enemy and was sunk in the process.  However, this gave the convoy time to scatter.  The Admiral Scheer was only able to sink six other ships, five from the convoy (Beaverford, Fresno City, Kenbane Head, Maidan, Trewellard) and one sailing independently (Mopan).

The SS Kenbane Head went down at 5.30 pm on 5 November 1940, off the coast of Greenland with the loss of 23 men.  The tanker San Demetrio was set on fire by the Admiral Scheer and later salvaged.  Other crew members from North Down/Ards who lost their lives aboard the SS Kenbane Head were James McNeilly Belshaw from Ballywalter, George McClelland Leckey from Holywood and David John Pritchard from Ballyhalbert.  On 9 April 1945, the Admiral Scheer was capsized in Kiel harbour, Germany by RAF bombs dropped during a raid.

Assistant Steward Reginald John Primmer was 19 when he died on 5 November 1940 and he is commemorated on the Tower Hill Memorial in London; in Ballyphilip Parish Church of Ireland Church, Portaferry and on the family grave headstone in Ballyphilip Cemetery.  Reggie’s twin sister Dorothy was serving with the ATS in Holywood.

Reggie’s effects amounted to some £199 and probate was granted to his father.  His father died on 17 December 1951 (aged 62) and his mother died on 26 January 1976 (aged 87).