Donald Birks RN – Engine Room Artificer

Donald Birks RN 1943 Portrait

Don Birks 1943

In 2017 the Centre received material for the archive relating to Engine Room Artificer Donald Birks RN who was drafted on board HMS Dulverton, a Type II Hunt class destroyer, in late October 1943. A mere two weeks later, on 13 November 1943, his ship was attacked and hit by a glide bomb from a German aircraft five miles off the Greek island of Kos in the Aegean Sea. The ship was badly damaged in the attack and was scuttled after all known survivors were taken off. Along with 77 of his shipmates, Don was reported missing in the incident, but his death was not officially acknowledged until the end of the war when all hope of his survival had gone and he was presumed to have gone down with the ship.

The material received by the Centre has been put together by Don’s niece, Mrs Veronica Boxford-Brookes, in the form of two scrapbooks containing Don’s letters home to his family, service documents, photographs, and correspondence relating to his death.

Don Birks was born in the Ecclesfield area of South Yorkshire in October 1921, the youngest of five brothers and with one sister. Like many young men in the area he worked at a local ironworks after school, being employed there as a fitter and turner. He was also studying at night school for his Mechanical Engineering trade qualifications.

Don joined the Royal Navy in the spring of 1941 and did his initial training in Portsmouth. In a letter home to one of his brothers in May 1941 he talks of the bombing that the Portsmouth area was enduring:

’We get pretty stiff raids down here but you’ve just got to sit tight & get used to them. There’s a lot of damage down here, you can’t walk anywhere without seeing ruins it’s absolutely terrible’

Before long he was posted overseas and, in July 1941, he joined HMS Resource, a fleet repair ship, with the Mediterranean fleet at Alexandria, Egypt as an Engine Room Artificer. He was to remain on the Resource until October 1943 based in Egypt apart from a brief voyage to S Africa over the Christmas/New Year of 1942/43. Don missed home very much as is evident from his letters:

‘It’s surprising how I should like to see the soft, cool greens, blues and oranges and browns not forgetting the predominant greys of England …. you miss all the beautiful scenery of your own surrounding district when you get away from it…’

There are frequent references in his letters to the length of his overseas tour being two years, making his probable return to the UK sometime around the Summer/Autumn of 1943. Sadly that was not to be. He left the Resource in October 1943 for a brief couple of weeks on board HMS Woolwich before transfer to the destroyer HMS Dulverton on 30 October 1943. On 10 November 1943, three days before his death, he wrote his last letter home ending poignantly:

‘…. wishing you all at home a very Merry Christmas also a very Happy New Year making this one the third miss’

Almost certainly before they received his final letter, Don’s family received that most dreaded of wartime communications, the official telegram, in which they were informed by the naval authorities that he was missing.

Donald Birks RN 'Missing'Telegram

D Birks, ‘Missing’Telegram

Don’s ship, HMS Dulverton, had been deployed in the Aegean Sea in support of the Allied garrison on the island of Leros which had just been invaded by the Germans. On 13 November 1943 she was attacked by a number of German aircraft and one launched a glide bomb which struck the Dulverton. The ship was badly damaged, and surviving crew members were taken off by another RN ship. It must then have become apparent that the Dulverton was not salvageable and she was later scuttled by HMS Belvoir. A total of 78 of the Dulverton’s crew, including the Captain and of course Don, were unaccounted for and were listed as missing.

A glimmer of hope for Don’s survival came with a letter from the Navy in January 1944 which stated that the ship had been sunk just a few miles from enemy occupied islands, and there was therefore a possibility that Don had survived and become a Prisoner of War.

Donald Birks RN letter dtd 8jan44

RN letter dated 8 Jan 1944

Hopes were further kept alive by a letter the family received from Mrs Buss, the wife of the Dulverton’s Captain, in March 1944. By then she had been informed that her husband was presumed to have been killed but, regarding other missing crew members, she wrote:

‘It is known that some of the crew reached Turkey and were interned, and some reached Cos (sic) which had then, or shortly afterwards, been captured from us by the Germans’.

Nothing further was heard however until, in June 1945, the Navy informed Don’s family that he must now be presumed to have been killed on the night of the action, 13 November 1943:

Donald Birks RN letter dtd 19jun45

RN letter dated 19 June 1945

Donald Birks was aged 22 at the time of his death and, as a certified Engine Room Artificer 4th class, had achieved the rank of Chief Petty Officer. As well as his letters and other documents, the Centre is honoured to hold Don’s medals as part of his collection.


Donald Birks Medals

Donald Birks – Medals