Monday, 27 March 2017

Veterans Associations

The HMS Ajax and River Plate Veterans Association


The Association's Badge

I would like to introduce you to this Association, of which this Website’s Author & Creator is an Associate Member.

Membership of the Association is open to all who served at any time in any of the ships carrying the HMS Ajax name or fought at the Battle of the River Plate (in HMS Ajax, Exeter or Achilles). Any of their immediate family, relatives, friends or those with an interest in this part of the Royal Navy's heritage are more than welcome to join as Associate Members.

The Association was formed in the mid-‘60s when about a dozen ex-crew members attended a River Plate reunion in Plymouth. They were so disappointed with the event that they decided to form their own Association. This they did with the first reunion held in 1965 in West Ham, London, with 7 officers and 40 ratings plus “a few wives” attending. Since then it has gone from strength to strength with a membership of 192 inJune 2018 up by 25 over the previous 22 months (Note 1), this comprised -
                                      4 Life members
                                     11 Honorary Members
                                     14 Members ex cruiser crew
                                      54 Members wx frigate crew
                                      90 Associate Members cruiser related
                                       15 Associate Members frigate frigate
                                         4 Others 

The annual reunion and dinner is now a fixed event in the calendar taking place usually on the first Wednesday in October together with their AGM followed with a memorial service next morning. The 2015 Reunion was an exception because it incorporated celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of the River Plate.
HMS Ajax (VII) (as built)
The 1935-1948 Cruiser

A very informative free quarterly Newsletter is published which you can choose to receive electronically.

Periodically various events are arranged by the Association such as:
  •       48th Annual Reunion.  This was held October 2nd &   3rd 2013. The Annual Dinner on the 2nd was attended by 52 members including two Ajax Battle of the River Plate veterans. During the Dinner President Peter Danks announced news from the Mayor of the Town of Ajax that the Town would be contributing C$5,000 to the Memorial Fund, a magnificent gesture. Association membership continues to grow then standing at 144.
  •       April 12th 2014, HMS Ajax Memorial Dedication Ceremony. The dedication of the new memorial designed and gifted by the Association in partnership with the River Plate Veterans and Families Association took place at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire. Full details are given below.  
  •       June 10th to 17th 2014Visit to the Town of Ajax, Ontario, Canada.  A celebration, civic reception and a memorial service were hosted by the Town of Ajax to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of the River Plate. Civic street dedication ceremonies officiated at by the Mayor of Ajax Steve Parish were held at several streets naming them after ships' crew members including Sharplin Drive dedicated to Bob Sharplin, the subject of this website; among those attending were Bob's son Clive and Clive's wife Elizabeth. Some 34 of the Association's members from the UK and overseas attended these Town of Ajax of ceremonies.  
  •       2014, Annual Reunion Dinner.  Originally scheduled for October in Gillingham and Chatham this was moved to be part of the December function at Portsmouth detailed below.

  • HMS Ajax (VIII)
    The 1963-1985 Frigate
  •       December 13th 2014. 75th Anniversary of the Battle of the River Plate.  A church service followed by lunch at the Best Western Royal Beach Hotel in Portsmouth, England, took place on 13th December 2014.   Representatives from the Town of Ajax, Canada, attended. In all some 150 were present. A full report will be anchored here shortly.

The Association has an excellent Website which I thoroughly recommend you visit at

    1. Source - Judi Collis, Membership Secretary, HMS Ajax and River Plate                              Veterans Association (Asocciations 2018 Newsletter)               

Mr Ken Jones

The following message was received from the Association on 18 October 2015:

"It is with great sadness that I have to inform you of the death of Ken Jones. Ken passed away on 17 October (2015) and had been poorly for quite some time. He was a great stalwart of the Association and held many offices and indeed almost single-handedly ran it (for quite some years). He was made a life member in recognition of his hard work.

Ken was in the Cruiser Ajax 1945-47 and lived in Gillingham.

Our thoughts and prayers are with daughters Clare and Elaine and their families".

Malcolm Collis, Association's Newsletter Editor.

As a personal note from this Website Administrator I would add that one of the most significant memorials to Ken are the very large-scale models he hand-built of the three Royal Navy ships Achilles, Ajax, and Exeter who defeated the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee at the Battle of the River Plate in December 1940. The models are housed in the permanent collection of the Museum of the Chatham Historic Dockyard in Kent.  




The Association's Banner
A major fund raising project by the Association was undertaken to fund, design and erect a memorial dedicated to HMS Achilles, Ajax and Exeter and their crews celebrating their heroic action at the Battle of the River Plate during2014 the 75th Anniversary year of the Battle. This was a joint enterprise with the River Plate Veterans & Families Association.

The Association's Badge
The Badge does not conform to the rules of Admiralty Heraldry and
records of its origins cannot be found in the Association's archive.




Alrewas, Staffordshire 
This report was written and kindly contributed by Peter Danks,
President, HMS Ajax and River Plate Veterans Association
 After more than 2 years in the planning, a memorial to mark the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the River Plate, which took place on 13th December 1939, was unveiled by four veterans who served in HMS AJAX and HMS EXETER.  The dedication took place at the National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas, Staffordshire on Saturday 12th April 2014.  Present were His Excellency Sir Lockwood and Lady Smith, the High Commissioner for New Zealand who represented the New Zealand manned HMS ACHILLES; Vice Admiral Peter Wilkinson, CB CVO, President of the Royal British Legion; Commodore Paul Hammond, representing the First Sea Lord and Mrs Paul Hammond; Captain Tom Tulloch, RCN, Canadian Naval Adviser representing the High Commissioner for Canada and Mrs Tulloch; Councillor Lisa Lambert, Deputy Lord Mayor of Calderdale. Representatives of the Uruguayan Ambassador were also present as were members of the British Uruguayan Society including Tristan Millington-Drake, grandson of Sir Eugen who was the British Minister in Uruguay at the time.  In addition there were family members of Commodore Henry Harwood, who commanded Hunting Group G at the Battle, including his two sons Henry and Stephen as well as many families of the ships’ companies of HMS AJAX and HMS EXETER.
    Malcolm Collis introduced the service in front of over 250 spectators.  Commodore Hammond reflected on the performance of the three cruisers at the Battle and also relayed a message from Admiral Sir George Zambellas, the First Sea Lord, in which he said that the Battle was a fine example of fighting spirit.  He was followed by Sir Lockwood Smith, whose address reflected the part HMS ACHILLES, crewed by New Zealand sailors, played in the Battle and also events which have taken place in Auckland to mark past anniversaries.
    The service of dedication was conducted by the Reverend Paul Kerr and after Basil Trott, one of the survivors, had read the Exhortation, the Last Post was played by a retired Royal Marines Bugler, followed by two minutes silence and then Reveille.  Then came the moment everyone was waiting for.  The memorial was covered in a black cloth over which draped the Commodore’s actual Broad Pennant which had flown in HMS AJAX, his flag ship, during the Battle.  John Garrard and Ted Wicks (HMS AJAX) and Basil Trott and Jim London (HMS EXETER) pulled the cords which unveiled the wonderful memorial to gasps among the spectators – gasps of surprise and delight at what they saw.
    The Memorial Committee had worked closely with Keith Rackham, the stone mason, of H L Perfitt Ltd of Norfolk, on the design and inscription on each side of the memorial which was made of polished granite from India.
    In attendance were 10 leaders and 20 sea scouts/explorer sea scouts from the 1st Hampton Hill ‘Achilles’ Sea Scouts and the 4th Thames Ditton ‘Ajax’ Sea Scouts.  Standards were paraded from the HMS AJAX and River Plate Veterans Association, the City of Lichfield Royal British Legion and HMS EXETER Association – their banner was paraded by one of the Sea Scouts.

    On completion of the service Sebastian Harwood buried a time capsule containing a record of those who served at the Battle and sacrificed their lives during the war; together with records of those who supported the commissioning and dedication of the memorial.
    Cameras clicked feverishly as spectators strived to photograph the veterans and dignitaries beside the memorial and then with their families and friends.
Lunch was then held in the marquee where Captain Stephen Harwood led the speeches, followed by thanks from Commander Henry Harwood.  In this and in a separate interview both had mentioned “how appropriate it was that, in addition to memorials in Uruguay, Canada and New Zealand, there was now one in the UK”. Captain Tom Tulloch read a letter of greetings from Mayor Steve Parish, mayor of the town of Ajax, which was named after the cruiser.
    Peter Danks, Chairman of the Memorial Committee, thanked everyone who had attended the Dedication and said this was the first of three events to mark the Anniversary.  In June members of the HMS AJAX and River Plate Veterans Association will travel to Ajax, in Canada, to share in their celebrations.  Ben and Jonathan Harwood will present their grandfather’s day uniform to the town.  On 13th December, a lunch will be held in Portsmouth to mark the actual anniversary.
  On completion of lunch Jonathan Harwood gave an excellent presentation on the Battle highlighting how life was in the three cruisers during the Battle.  In a separate interview he stressed the need to pass on the importance of such events to future generations.
    Sarah Montgomery, managing director of the NMA said:
“Reaching the 300th Memorial milestone is very exciting for us and illustrates the ever growing significance of the National Memorial Arboretum as the place where our nation remembers.
        We are delighted to have marked this landmark along with the  River Plate Veterans’ Associations,
        whose memorial is a very welcome addition to the Arboretum”.

 The Riverplate Veterans & Families Association

This Association, known to all it’s Members as the RPVFA, was founded by Veterans from HMS Exeter with it’s first meeting, not unnaturally, in Plymouth. Membership was open to crew members of all three Royal Navy ships who successfully fought the German pocket Battleship “Admiral Graf Spee” on 13 December 1939 in what became known as “The Battle of the River Plate”. There are currently two Exeter veterans of the Battle of the River Plate still attending reunions, both 94 years old and quite fit.

As time moved on, inevitably, Veterans crossed the bar (passed away), so the membership was widened firstly to include direct family members and then to extended family. The membership now includes sons, daughters, grandchildren and other relations of the original veterans who now continue to carry the torch.

An Annual Reunion takes place over the first weekend every October in Plymouth. In addition the Royal New Zealand Navy’s Adviser from New Zealand House in London as a representative of the cruiser Achilles (which was a Royal New Zealand Navy ship (Note1) with a predominately New Zealand crew) usually attends as do Associates who served in the destroyer Exeter of more recent years.

Currently, there are two Exeter veterans of the Battle of the River Plate still attending Reunions, both 94 years old and quite fit, whilst the rest of the attendees are the sons, daughters, grandchildren and other relations of Exeter veterans.

Just one newsletter is sent out each year — it reflects what was done over the previous year as not all members attend the Reunion plus any other matters of interest that have been brought up either by veterans or from outside queries. The newsletter is sent out with the details for the forthcoming Reunion.

It has always been a rather informal association and although there is a Chairman, Treasurer and Secretary they do not have a committee nor do they hold an Annual General Meeting or charge subscriptions. Any matters are discussed at the Reunion and by paying their way as they go with those costs being reimbursed by holding a raffle during the Reunion which together with a few donations keeps the expenses mostly covered.

For details of Membership you are invited to contact the Secretary Mr Jim Smith, an ex Royal Navy man now representing his Father who was in Exeter at the Battle and has since crossed the bar.

To contact Jim Smith use this link: