Kenneth Thomas PARISH, Able Seaman, H.M.S. Cornwall. Royal Navy. Killed at Sea

 

Kenneth Thomas Parish was born in 1922, the son of William Daniel Parish (1901-1976) and Elsie Lilian Parish (nee Fisher) (1903-1979). His parents had married in Essex in 1922.

Kenneth's siblings included Cyril William Parish (1924-1990), brothers born in 1927 and 1928, and sisters born in 1931 and 1936.

Kenneth worked at the White Hart Garage in Tindal Street before joing the Royal Navy where he  served as Able Seaman, C/SSX 30444, on the heavy cruiser H.M.S. Cornwall.

On what was Easter Sunday, 5th April 1942, 19 year-old Kenneth was killed along with almost 200 other crew mates when in the Indian Ocean around 60 Japanese dive bombers attacked H.M.S. Cornwall and H.M.S. Dorsetshire, sinking them both.

The 10,000 ton H.M.S. Cornwall went down in less than half an hour. At the time of his death Kenneth's parents were living at 9 Railway Square in Chelmsford.

Another Chelmsford man, Gerald William Leslie Wilson was amongst the 179 dead from H.M.S. Cornwall listed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

After his death Kenneth’s mother said: ‘He always wanted to go to sea and gave up his work here to do so’.

A third Chelmsford man, 30 year-old Yeoman of Signals Leonard Cole, eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Cole of 40 Cramphorn Road, survived the sinking and later described his experiences in a local newspaper:

“It was about two o’clock, when we were suddenly attacked. Bombs came screaming down; there were terrific explosions. The Japs had come in large numbers. It was soon evident that we were up against a ferocious concentrated attack, and our guns went quickly into action, firing at the diving ‘planes.

Right in the thick of it all, the Captain (Capt. Mainwaring) was struck by shrapnel. With blood flowing down his side, be kept uttering words of encouragement. ‘Give it to them, lads,’ he shouted. All the time bombs rained down upon the ship and all around it. It was hell. All the time, too, our guns kept firing. Very shortly the ship began to list heavily, and keeping one’s feet was a difficult matter, Only two of our boats remained; the rest had been shattered by bombs, shrapnel, and blast.

But still our gunners stuck to it. And still the Jap ‘planes roared down, releasing bomb load after bomb load. We managed to get what wounded we could into the two remaining boats and pushed them safely off.

When the Cornwall was sinking fast we either slithered or plunged into the sea that was an ugly mess of black oil fuel. The ship went down to the bottom in twenty minutes after the attack, her screws still revolving and her guns still firing.

Survivors held on to fragments of wood; others were squatting as best they could on larger pieces of wood. Hundreds of heads seemed to be bobbing up and down.

As the Cornwall finally sank we all cheered - or those of us who able to do so. I don’t really know why we cheered, Then, in the swirl, we all tried to get together, more for company’s sake than anything else. We were black with the fuel oil - just like nigger minstrels... I was sitting on a plank; others were not so comfortable. The captain was a brick. Although he was up to the chin in water - he was on a sort of raft - he refused medical aid until the Monday afternoon. All the time he was bleeding. Then nearly thirty hours later, in the dusk of the Monday, one of our aircraft came over and signalled ‘Keep your chins up. Help is coming’. Soon afterwards I saw three funnels come up out of the horizon. Never have I been so glad to see a ship before. All of us were picked up and taken aboard.

Probably the most moving incident of the whole narrative is that of the boy telephone operator - he had not long before been recommended for a commission - who, just before the Cornwall sank, rang through to the officer in charge of communications. ‘What I do sir?’ he asked, amid the screaming of the bombs, ‘the telephone station is flooding’. The officer shouted ‘You had better leave the station at once’. ‘I can’t sir’, shouted the boy in reply ‘both my legs are off’.

He was a great chap. I think his arms had gone too. He was a former messenger of mine.”

Kenneth is commemorated by the Chatham Naval Memorial in Kent.

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