This is the second article in the series planned to commemorate the men from Wisborough Green who lost their lives during World War II.
The second Wisborough Green man to lose his life in the Second World War, 80 years ago this month was, like the first, a career naval officer.
Marcus Maunsell was born at Eardenstowe (now Wisborough Lodge) on 2nd March 1919. He was the third child of Arthur Edmund Lloyd Maunsell, a barrister, and Lylie Widenham Maunsell, who were distant cousins. The family could trace its origins back to one Philip Maunsell, Cup Bearer to William the Conqueror with whom he arrived in England. Marcus’s elder brother Lloyd ran a boys’ preparatory boarding school from Eardenstowe before and during the war. (“Boys are taken from 5 years old and are prepared for their Public Schools or the Navy”). In 1947 he founded Hawkhurst Court School.
Marcus joined the Royal Navy and passed out of the Naval College, Dartmouth in 1937. In 1940, he was serving in H.M.S. Venetia, a D-class destroyer which had seen service at the end of the First World War. Decommissioned and placed in the Reserve Fleet, she was re-commissioned in September 1939 and began service escorting convoys in the North Atlantic. In May 1940, she was transferred to operations involving the evacuation of Allied personnel from the Netherlands, Belgium and France and on 12th May she and H.M.S. Vivacious escorted the destroyer H.M.S. Codrington which evacuated the Dutch Royal Family into exile in the U.K.
On 23rd May, Venetia was patrolling off Calais when she learned that the Germans had occupied Sangatte A French destroyer commenced bombardment of the village while Venetia fired on a column of lorries travelling along the Calais road, scoring direct hits. Fire was opened over an hour and a half later on another column of lorries, again scoring direct hits, when orders were received to proceed to Boulogne. In the company of four other destroyers, Venetia arrived off the coast of Boulogne to evacuate troops of the Irish and Welsh Guards who had become trapped by the German advance during the Battle of Boulogne. What followed, documented in the official reports made by the ships involved, reads like the script of a film.
Arriving in Boulogne Bay at 16:45, Venetia conducted a 5-minute bombardment of shore batteries on the cliffs. She then took up position outside the harbour awaiting the evacuation order when at 18:45, 100 enemy aircraft were sighted over the town. These split up to attack the harbour and the ships outside, 30 or 40 aircraft attacking the ships with very heavy low-level and dive-bombing during which the destroyers took evasive action using ‘full speed and full wheel’. No major damage was sustained but one salvo fell 15 yards away from Venetia, exploding underwater with the effect of a depth charge and lifting her stern out of the water.
The aircraft withdrew, but 20 minutes later more arrived and attacked the naval force before retiring after about 10 minutes. The destroyers proceeded to enter the harbour, Venetia in the rear, when at 20:42 shore batteries opened fire with high explosive shells and scored direct hits on Venetia. The Germans directed heavier fire on Venetia in an apparent attempt to sink her and block the harbour, to prevent further evacuation. A shell hit the ship aft and started a fire which prompted the crew to jettison her torpedoes and some burning life rafts. Another shell hit her ‘B’ gun turret, blowing overboard and killing some of the men there. Gunfire also inflicted casualties on the bridge, putting it out of action and causing the ship to go out of control and run aground bow-on to the jetties.
One of the other destroyers, H.M.S. Venomous, realising that the Germans were firing on Venetia from a captured coast artillery emplacement in a fort on a hill overlooking the harbour, opened fire in support. The first salvo went over but the second blew off one side of the fort and much of the hillside it stood on, silencing the heavy guns. The crew observed pieces of artillery falling down the hill. For good measure, Venomous then shelled and destroyed some field guns. Of Venetia at this stage, the captain of H.M.S. Wild Swan in his report said ‘All guns left with crews were firing; a stirring sight in view of the state of the ship.’
Reprieved, Venetia refloated herself and at 21:00 backed out of the harbour at full speed, under the control of a junior officer of the Royal Naval Reserve acting on his own initiative and steering from the wheelhouse, the bridge being incapacitated. At 21:30, badly damaged and with 20 crew killed and 11 wounded, she set course for Dover, having been unable to evacuate any troops.
Sub-Lieutenant Maunsell, the ship’s Navigating Officer, had been on the bridge when he was killed, at about 20:45, probably by shrapnel. All the occupants of the bridge were killed or wounded the captain, Lieut. Commander B.H. de C de Mellor, sustaining serious injuries.
As well as on our village’s war memorial, Marcus is commemorated on Panel 36, Column 1 of the Plymouth Naval Memorial on Plymouth Hoe, which commemorates men of both wars who were lost or buried at sea.