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A remarkable find has brought to life the voice of a naval officer who served in the RN between the wars. Commander Terence Grogan decided to record his thoughts on vinyl rather than in a diary and posted the discs home whenever he was able to do so. He had bought a small recording machine and managed to keep it with him as he moved around the world and transferred between ships.

His family were generally aware of the existence of the records but thought that they had been lost many years ago. According to his nephew, Peter Jefferson, a number of the records were lying about his grandmother’s house when he was a boy and he used to listen to them on an old wind-up record player. However, it seems that many were thrown out by Mr Jefferson’s mother towards the end of her life.

The records were put on sale on eBay where Dr Harry Bennett, Associate Professor of History and Plymouth University, saw them and decided they might be interesting given that they mentioned HMS Emerald, a light cruiser laid down just after the end of the Great War. He paid £20 for them, half expecting to hear things like the ship’s cat booming though. Dr Bennett decided to donate the records to the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth to ensure their preservation for future generations.

Terence Grogan was an engineer officer who served on a number of ships including the light, E-class cruiser, HMS Emerald in the early 1930s.

Commander Grogan was Commander (E) on the Hood when it was sunk by the Bismarck. He was clearly a man of great abilities who was liked and respected by those around him. He is mentioned with particular affection in Vice-Admiral Sir Louis Le Bailly’s forward to Dr Bruce Taylor’s excellent book on the Hood. Just before the war, the Navy had real problems with the Hood as she was in desperate need of a major refit which had been delayed for far too long. Terence Grogan, together with Hood’s Number One and new skipper was reckoned to have worked miracles to have got her to the point where she was able to re-commission and join the fleet in the late-summer of 1939.

Commander Grogan battled with Hood’s condensers and boilers which were in a terrible state even before she went to war. Grogan’s expertise meant that Hood was able to lead the Prince of Wales into action against the Bismarck at a pace the newer battleship found hard to match.

One of Hood’s major problems were her condensers which were simply rotting away and allowing seawater into the boilers; not a good state of affairs. It was one of Grogan’s enduring headaches and something that he personally reported to Churchill in October 1939. Admiral Le Bailly paid tribute to Terence Grogan’s efforts with the dilapidated engines as the Hood was pounding into the heavy seas to engage the Bismarck. Grogan’s duty station was in the Forward Engine Room control platform. Le Bailly wrote:

I shall always hope that, just as he died, he became aware that the brand new HMS Prince of Wales was having difficulty in keeping up with her twenty-year-old flagship as Grogan drove Hood into her last battle.

Terence Grogan was not just interested in voice recordings. He also made 16mm colour cine-films of life on board Hood. This survives in part and shows how resourceful Grogan was as he would have had to have developed the film himself onboard ship.

Commander (E) Terence Robert Grogan was a remarkable man and it is fitting that his memory is preserved in this extraordinary manner. One feels that he would be particularly pleased.

 

Some quotes courtesy of Dr Bruce Taylor, The Battlecruiser HMS Hood, an illustrated biography 1916 – 1941, published by Chatham Publishing, Naval Institute Press. (This is a very good read and highly recommended – Ed.)

 

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