Tragic story from the Second World War finally unfolds

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A Dewsbury woman has learned for the first time the tragic circumstances surrounding the death of her father in the Second World War.

Pauline McGowan grew up knowing nothing about how or when her 23-year-old father died, only that he had died at sea.

“I didn’t even know the name of the ship he was lost in,’ said Pauline of Northfield Road. ‘All that my mother ever received was a black-edged telegram saying that he was missing presumed dead.’

A new book, telling the story of how the troopship Khedive Ismail was sunk by a Japanese submarine, has answered many of the questions that have haunted Pauline all her life. The book, Passage to Destiny, is written by Brian James Crabb, whose late father Percival Crabb, survived the sinking.

‘I knew nothing about this terrible disaster or that my dad was involved until I heard about the book,’ said Pauline.

“My mother was only 19 years old when my father died and I was 22 months old. The last time my father saw me was when I was seven months old.

Pauline’s father, Fred Le Gassick, was a motor mechanic in the Royal Navy, and was being transported in the troopship Khedive Ismail, which was carrying just over 1,500 personnel from the Army, Royal and Merchant Navies.The ill-fated troopship was part of five-ship convoy coded KR8 and was on their way from Kilindini, Kenya to Colombo, Ceylon. On Saturday February 12 1944 the troopship Khedive Ismail was struck by two torpedoes fired from the Japanese submarine I 27 and sank in less than two minutes, killing 1,296 people. Only 215 survived. The full facts of the tragic sinking, the third worst Allied mercantile disaster of the SecondWorld War, were not released to the public for 40 years, and these were inconveniently misfiled at The National Archives in Kew.

 The book also recalls the Navy’s difficult, but successful struggle to sink the submarine responsible. After several depth charge attacks the captain of the destroyer Petard was faced with the difficult decision of depth charging through some of the survivors; an act which was dramatically portrayed in the book and film entitled The Cruel Sea.

Fred Le Gassick lived in Battyeford at the time of his death and his name is recorded on the Plymouth Naval Memorial and the War Memorial in Mirfield. Fred’s two brothers, Derrick and Stanley, also served in the Armed Forces, Derrick in the Army and Stanley in the Royal Air Force. Both returned home safely to Mirfield after the war. Pauline said: ‘If the book hadn’t been written I would never have known the full facts of how, or where, my dad died. I am grateful to the author for including all the names of those that went down with the ship, including my dad.’  Pauline is also glad that her three children, Jill, Wayne and Julian, now know the full circumstances surrounding their grandfather’s death. The book Passage to Destiny can be purchased by emailing: briancrabb@talktalk.net or phone 01275 844229 or 07811  582082

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