HMS Hood, known within the Royal Navy as “The Mighty Hood” was a 860 foot long, 46,000 ton battlecruiser launched in 1918. In late 1940 she was the flagship for the Home Fleet that stood in reserve for a possible invasion and assisted with convoy protection.
The Home Fleet was based in the Orkney Islands anchorage of Scapa Flow in the far north of Great Britain, ready to intercept German ships seeking to make their way into the Atlantic. On board was a United States Naval officer, Joseph Wellings, who recorded the day in his diary:
Last day of 1940 – up at usual time 0745 – breakfast, a good mile and a quarter walk on quarterdeck, more snow last night – Hills are really very pretty – wish I were home. On bridge watching ship shift berths – Not a very good job – cut mooring buoy. Watched the crew get their ration of rum – quite a ritual.
Called on the Warrant Officers – had a gin(s) (2). Lunch, read, nap – First Lieut. In for a cup of coffee at 1730. Dressed for dinner – at 1830 called on the midshipmen in the gunroom and the Warrant Officers before dinner. Had a very fine turkey dinner.
After dinner remained in wardroom – talked with Warrand, the navigator, and Owens. Just before midnight the officers returned from the C.P.O. party. Browne (Lt. Paymaster) rigged up ships bell in Anteroom of wardroom. At 2400 bell was struck 16 times, an old custom. Captain, Admiral, his staff, exec, and practically all officers returned to Wardroom.
We all drank a toast to 1941 – Peace and Victory. One of the midshipmen from the gunroom came in with a bagpipe and played Scotch tunes. Everyone started to dance the various Scotch dances from the Admiral down to the lowest midshipman. The Wardroom tables were cleared away and a regular party was in full swing. It was a very unusual sight to see the Admiral, Captain, staff, Wardroom, gunroom, and Warrant officers dancing.
Included in the party but not dancing was the Chief Master-at-Arms and Sergeant Major of the Marines. Such a comradeship one would never suspect from the English who are supposed to be so conservative. I was impressed very much. Such spirit is one of the British best assets. This spirit will go far to bring about victory in the end. At 0145 I left the party in full swing and turned in but not before thanking God for his many blessings in 1940 and saying goodnight to my two sweethearts.
Joseph Wellings was later to become an Admiral. The remainder of those at the party were less fortunate – all of HMS Hood’s officers would be lost when she was sunk by the Bismarck on 24th May 1941. Midshipman William Dundas was one of just three survivors out of the total crew of 1,418 – he would have been at the party – but he did not join the ship until 6th January 1941.
The HMS Hood Association has a tremendously comprehensive record of the ship, her crew and their final action. They currently (2015) have an appeal to find photographs of all 1415 men lost on HMS Hood – so far they have collected pictures of 889 men.