When war broke out in 1939, as in 1914 many men and women prepared to do their patriotic duty in defence of the country. The Sayers brothers from Gorebridge were no exception.
Following in their father’s footsteps, a veteran of the Boer War and the First World War, five brothers were serving with the forces. George was a regular soldier with the Royal Artillery since 1930, Robert enlisted in the Navy in 1939 aged just 16. Chris was serving with the army as a piper, was badly wounded at Dunkirk and lucky to survive, while Thomas and Owen were both serving with the Seaforth Highlanders.
Our tale begins with Robert, who was an able seaman on-board the pride of the Navy, the mighty Hood. Built just after the Great War, she was a magnificent ship, long and elegant, with formidable guns. She toured the world between the wars, flying the flag around the then British Empire.
However, by the time the Second World War started, she was becoming dated, under-armoured and prone to taking on water in heavy seas. Despite this, every man who sailed in her believed her to be at least the match of anything on the high seas. To many she seemed invincible.
In May 1941, intelligence was received from Norway that the German battleship Bismarck had slipped anchor and was making her way into the Atlantic to attack allied convoys. Bismarck was a colossus of a ship. Modern and exceptionally well-armed, she could devastate any convoy she came across.
In response, a task force including HMS Hood was despatched to intercept and sink her. On May 24, 1941, Hood sighted Bismarck in the Denmark Straits and, along with the Prince of Wales, she began to shell Bismarck, but did not record any hits.
Bismarck returned fire and after only a few shells had been fired, one of them plunged through a gun turret on HMS Hood triggering an explosion which ran the length of the ship, breaking her back and causing her to sink in just three minutes. Only three men survived from her crew of 1418 men. Robert Sayers, aged just 18, went down with his shipmates.
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