Petty Officer Telegraphist Derek Arthur Cook, RN

Before you read this ..
.. charge a glass with whisky and raise it, with me, to my "Ganges Personality" and good friend Derek A. Cook, a former Post Office Telegram boy from York who joined HMS Ganges in November 1945 and shared with me the experiences of the Annexe and Drake 201 Class, remaining my best friend during the short period I stayed there. From the Annexe we were allocated in 40 Mess, opposite the Post Office and under the Mast, at the top of the short covered way.

Derek and I met the day before we swore our allegiance to the King and received his 'shilling', which we spent on bangers & mash, and apple pie & custard, at a restaurant in the City Centre. On that day we also received our railway warrants to Harwich: a tiresome journey which culminated late on a dark winter's night with a steam boat trip across the river to Shotley where we were welcomed with a fish & chip supper, bread & butter and a piping hot pot of cocoa.

Actually, the Andrew had screwed up! Surely not! They'd ordered us to attend Manchester's Recruiting Centre in Albert Square a day earlier than scheduled, but at least the recruiting officer was upmarket and resourceful. He'd arranged for us to spend the night in the officer's quarters at the seamen's mission in Salford. It was our only taste of commission.

As we progressed in Drake Division, Derek and I were 'volunteered' for the boxing team. He won his early bouts easily. As a middleweight I had my work cut out to uphold the Division's honour but did eventually defeat Michael Oswald Port! on points. Mike was from Truro in Cornwall. Where is he now, I wonder?

I don't remember when, on behalf of several messmates, I first asked Derek what his initial 'A' stood for. I do remember that despite being badgered repeatedly for an answer, he remained reticent about it. He treated the question by assuming a silent air of mystery, so naturally we wondered whether it might be Aloysious. I did ask him - but he smiled, and said nothing.

Eventually I stooped to surreptitious glances at envelopes addressed to him, but they all said the same - 'Derek A. Cook'. So I gave it up as an impossible task after deciding that whatever his middle name was, it was probably an embarrassment to him. Or maybe he was being deliberately mysterious? Maybe it was just plain old Arthur or Albert or maybe even Alan or Arbuthnort?

In 1948 Derek A. Cook arrived in Shanghai with HMS Amethyst. When it was damaged during its trip up the Yangtze he was one of several of the ship's company to reach safety overland.

Heaven alone knows how many of his shipmates asked that same old "A" question without getting a satisfactory answer, but eventually another good friend and former sparker from 201 Class, Chris Walklett asked and was told - Aloysious. So maybe it was as I'd always suspected?

Alas, Derek A. Cook crossed the bar in February 1999. He never became an Association member, although he renewed contact with the class of Drake 201 a couple of years after two fellow classmates had organised a reunion to celebrate the 50th anniversary of their joining the RN.

Recently, I paid belated respects to his widow, Wendy, and finally resolved the "A" mystery. Trouble is, at the age of 71 my memory isn't what it once was; I sometimes can't remember a thing and it's so frustrating! All I can do is offer my apologies to all members of all ships companies which might have asked Derek about his middle name, and been left wondering and frustrated by his reticence.

It was a joy and a privilege to have had Derek A. Cook as a friend all those years ago. He was a serious, reliable sort of guy and a great friend. And since friends never betray confidences, he may rest assured that my lips are sealed. Sorry lads, but his great "A" mystery must remain forever unresolved!

Following my appeal in the last issue of the Ganges Association Magazine, I offer my sincere thanks to those former friends and shipmates of Derek A. Cook who were able to tell me that, alas, my former friend had crossed-the-bar early in 1999 at the age of 71.

I also requested information about our joint friends Ronnie Smethurst, from Bolton, who joined Ganges with us and, I am told, was probably allocated to 19 Mess and not, as I had thought, 40 Mess.

Anyone who remembers Ronnie may like to know that following a local newspaper appeal for information I have learned that he lost his life in a road accident in Scotland around 14 years ago.

After serving his "12", Ronnie married and lived for a while in Portsmouth. He later moved back to Bolton and was on holiday hen he died. He hid at least part of his life under a bushel, never mentioning to us that he had played football as a junior for Bolton and also played for his county of Lancashire.

My thanks to all who contacted me.

-Peter Wright

(Transcribed and submitted by Kenneth Carling)


Page published Sept. 2, 2009