Whiston, Leonard

Whiston, Leonard (Len)

Second Officer

SS Testbank (Glasgow), Merchant Navy

Died as the result of enemy action on Thursday 2 December 1943 (aged 24)

No known grave


Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Tower Hill Memorial, London, England (Panel 107)

Bangor and District War Memorial

Bangor Parish Church of Ireland Church (St. Comgall’s)

Regent House School Newtownards


Leonard Whiston was born on 25 February 1919 in Cromer, Norfolk and he was the youngest son of Thomas and Mabel Whiston (nee Harvey) who were married on 2 January 1909 in Grangetown Parish Church of England Church (St. Paul’s), Cardiff.  Thomas Whiston was a Coastguard Officer and for a time he was stationed in Donaghadee before being transferred to Cornwall in 1941.  There the Whiston family lived in Bude.

Leonard Whiston attended Newcastle Public Elementary School and then Regent House School, Newtownards from 1932 until 1935 before going to sea at the age of 15.  He joined the Bank Line Ltd. as an apprentice and his first ship was the MV Lossie Bank.

Leonard Whiston’s brothers, Captain Thomas Whiston, and Chief Officer Arthur Whiston, also served in the Merchant Navy.

Leonard Whiston and Patricia Margaret Cochrane were married on 17 March 1942 in Shore Street Presbyterian Church, Donaghadee and they lived at 6 Manse Road, Bangor.  Their son, Robin Leonard Whiston, was born on 7 April 1943 and was baptised on 16 May 1943 in the Church of Ireland Church of St. Columbanus at Ballyholme.  Children of Thomas and Arthur Whiston were also baptised in that church:

Rosemary Ann (daughter of Thomas and Kathleen, born 10 May 1941, baptised 29 June 1941)

Thomas Hamilton (son of Thomas and Kathleen, born 17 March 1944, baptised 7 May 1944)

Maureen Alexandra (daughter of Arthur and Jean, born 22 June 1944, baptised 7 January 1945)

During the Second World War Second Officer Leonard Whiston served with the Merchant Navy aboard the SS Testbank.  This cargo ship was built in 1937 by Readhead, John and Sons, South Shields and was owned by Andrew Weir’s Bank Line Ltd., Glasgow.  On 2 December 1943 there was a massive German air attack on the port of Bari in Italy with bombers hitting merchant ships unloading supplies for the Allied forces engaged in the battle for Rome.  Seventeen merchant ships laden with nearly 35,000 tons of cargo were destroyed in the attack (five American, five British, three Norwegian, two Italian and two Polish).  Another seven vessels were severely damaged.  Direct hits by bombs and subsequent fires on the American ammunition ships John Harvey and John L. Motley caused massive detonations that severed a bulk gasoline pipeline.  The escaping fuel ignited, and fire engulfed other ships moored close by.  The John Harvey was also carrying 60 tons of mustard gas bombs and many people suffered gas poisoning when these bombs detonated, and this gas was released.

[During investigations in the aftermath of the disaster it was discovered that mustard gas kills white blood cells which, like cancer cells, divide very quickly.  This discovery led to the use of chemotherapy in the treatment of cancer.]

Second Officer Len Whiston’s death was reported in the 27 May 1944 edition of the County Down Spectator and after he died his widow Patricia and son Robin emigrated to Australia.  Second Officer Leonard Whiston was 24 when he died, and he is commemorated on Bangor and District War Memorial; in Bangor Parish Church of Ireland Church (St. Comgall’s) and in Regent House School Newtownards.