P/X 9504B Acting Petty Officer, R.N.R.

This is the sixth article in the series to commemorate the men from Wisborough Green who lost their lives during World War II.

Francis Goodchild, known to his family as Sonny, was born on 23rd January 1911 in Roorkee, India, the son of William and Mary Goodchild.  William was a career soldier in the Royal Artillery.

Within a year, the family returned to the United Kingdom, and took up residence in Horndean, Hampshire.  William was still in the army, and would serve right through the First World War, being discharged in the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major in August 1919.

In 1927 Sonny joined the Merchant Navy and made his first voyage on the Orient Line’s S.S. Osterley as a 16-year-old Deck Boy.

William and Mary and their family moved to Wisborough Green at Easter, 1935.  After leaving the army, William had found employment with Butser Turf and came to the village with the company when it laid the turf on the cricket pitch.   He was approached by Colonel Bailey, of Bowyer’s Court, who offered him work and a home in North Lodge.

Sonny married Ethel (Bobby) Scott in Gosport, Hampshire in 1936 and the couple settled in Cowplain near Portsmouth.  He was now employed by the Cunard White Star Line sailing on passenger liners such as R.M.S. Aquitania and R.M.S. Berengaria on the Southampton to New York route.  Following his marriage, he made several voyages on the R.M.S. Queen Elizabeth.

He had enrolled in the Royal Navy Reserve in 1930, as many Merchant Navy men did, and was called up for military service on 29th August 1939.  By now, his parents were living at 1, Laurel Cottages in Wisborough Green.

In September 1943, Sonny was serving as an acting Petty Officer aboard H.M.S. Puckeridge, a Hunt class Escort destroyer.  On 6th September, while en-route alone from Gibraltar taking important messages to Oran, at about 20.15 hours Puckeridge was hit by two of four torpedoes fired by U-boat U-617 which struck the after magazine and detonated, and the ship sank within eight minutes about 40 miles east of Gibraltar.   191 crew were saved, but 67 (some sources say 62) lives were lost, including that of Sonny Goodchild.  Six days later, U-617 was attacked by depth charges dropped from two aircraft of the R.A.F. and abandoned off Morocco.

Shirley, the child of a friend who was taken in as a baby and brought up by the Goodchilds, remembers the shock and grief that his parents suffered when Sonny was killed.  Bobby remarried in 1949 but kept in touch with the Goodchilds, and travelled to Wisborough Green for Sonny’s brother George’s 80th birthday in 2001.   Mary died in 1958 and William in 1961.  Both are buried in St Peter’s churchyard.

As well as the Wisborough Green war memorial, Sonny is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial which commemorates members of the Royal Navy who have no known grave.

My grateful thanks to Sheila Atkinson and Pam Earnshaw, nieces of Sonny Goodchild, who provided much information about him and his family, together with the family photographs.

Andrew Strudwick