Search our records : Francis William Westlake

Surname: Westlake
Forename(s): Francis William
Force: Mercantile Fleet Auxiliary
Unit: HMS Catania
Parents: Theophilus and Anna Westlake
Home address: 2 Sea View, Beer, Devon

William Westlake was born in Beer in 1887, the son of Theophilus Westlake, a fisherman, and his wife Anna.  In 1911 the family lived at 2 Sea View, Beer.

During the First World War William served in the Mercantile Fleet Auxiliary, which was composed of the crews of ships on charter to the Admiralty.   He joined the yacht Patriot on 20th November 1915, and then transferred to HM Yacht Catania on 23rd December that year.  His diary shows that his Christmas was a far from happy one:

Dec 25th

Only six of us aboard and I shall never forget our Xmas Dinner, four soapy Spuds and a piece of salt pork, and we could not leave the Ship to get any, so you can guess we were happy.

Catania went to the Eastern Mediterranean. In harbour at Ismailia in Egypt, he recorded an incident involving a shipmate from Beer:

March 21st   [1916]

One of the P & O liners threw us six tins of cigarettes overboard to us, Herman [Bartlett] jumped over and got two tins with his clothes on, and you should have heard them cheer him.

On occasions, life on board the yacht was a little like it would have been in peacetime as part of the lives of the rich and famous:

April 18th

Prince of Wales on board to Dinner with the Duke.

April 21st

Prince of Wales came aboard and went for a Sail in the Cutter

The Catania spent a great deal of time around the Gallipoli peninsula:

April 17th

We had just got back to Gallipoli from Taranto when about 8 P.M. twelve Drifters came along side, the Austrians had made a raid on them with Cruisers and T.[orpedo] Boats.  Sunk fourteen & several of the others were knocked about a lot.  One Boat had five dead and one badly wounded. They took 58 of them Prisoners, killed eight; our Cruisers and T. Boats chased them but the Austrian Battleships came out to meet them and our Boats had to turn back. It was an awful sight.

Aug 2nd [1916]

I was on watch on the Boat Deck at 11.15 pm and all quiet, when all of a sudden I heard two blasts.  At first I thought it was our boilers blowing off, but you can guess how I felt when I saw it was one of the latest Italian battleships on fire only about 250 or 300 yards from us... we got the boats out and were first to the scene. I cannot explain what it was like but she was a mass of flames aft and there were hundreds of sailors on the Forecastle Head as she was going down...

This ship was the Leonardo da Vinci, which sank in Taranto harbour after a magazine explosion on 2nd August 1916, killing 248 of her crew.

William’s diary relates many other incidents during his war service.  He died in 1959, aged 71.