Back in the 1960s, the congregation at Draycott St Margaret’s put up a war memorial plaque in the church. It named the forces personnel of the parish who had died in both world wars.
See – the story of Draycott’s war memorial.
This is the story of Joyce Atkin.
Joyce Atkin (not Atkins) was a nurse, and is the only woman on the Draycott memorial.
She was on a troopship, part of an Allied convoy sailing from East Africa to southern India in February 1944, when her ship, the SS Khedive Ismail, was attacked and sunk by an enemy submarine. The ship went down almost immediately, with a terrible death toll – only some 200 people survived, less than one-eighth of those on board. It was Britain’s third worst mercantile disaster in the Second World War.
She was just 28 years old.
The role of women who die on active service in war is often overlooked by those who construct war memorials, so it is to the credit of the Draycott memorial committee that they ensured Joyce’s name would be there too.
Joyce was born to a farming family in the spot known as Bromley Wood, which is halfway between Cresswell and Hilderstone. Her parents Sidney and Annie had married in Uttoxeter in 1913, and she was born two years later.
(Sidney and family later moved a few miles to nearby Morrilow Moor Farm; he died in 1957).
Joyce seems to have had an adventurous spirit, as, in 1936 at the age of 21, having left Bromley Wood Farm and her parents and three brothers, she enrolled at the Colindale School of Nursing in north London.
Qualifying in 1941, at some point she joined the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service and later took on war duty, in the course of which she met her tragic death.
The incident in which Joyce died brought home to the British public just how involved women had become in the frontline effort in the last years of World War Two.
More than eighty service-women, including medical staff, died in the attack on the ship – and this turned out to be the highest ever death-number of British female military personnel in one single attack.
An extra tragedy in this event was that, although the ship that Joyce was on had already been sunk, the other ships in the convoy were still of course just as much at threat from the enemy submarine; and so two warships in the convoy immediately went after it. The depth charges these warships used against the submarine may well have injured or killed some of the survivors of the SS Khedive Ismail who were still in the water. It was one of those terrible dilemmas of war.
The submarine was eventually forced to surface, when it was destroyed by the warships’ torpedoes.
The news came as a terrible shock to the nation – so much so that the incident became the basis of an incident in The Cruel Sea, a best-selling book by Nicholas Monserrat (which was later adapted into a film of the same name).
Since then the full historical account has been written up in the book ‘Passage to Destiny’ by Brian Crabb.
Though Joyce’s body was never found, she does have an official war-marker. You will find her memorial stone at the Brookwood Military Cemetery in Surrey.
Interestingly, Joyce, as well as being remembered at Brookwood and at Draycott, is also remembered on the war memorial in Leigh village (near Tean). The parish of Leigh is adjacent to the parish of Draycott.
It is not unusual for someone to be on more than one war memorial: most village war memorials were erected, not by the local authority, but by local people, who would nominate any war-dead who had been born or lived in and around the district. Joyce had lived on the ‘border’ between Leigh and Draycott.
With thanks to Bill Pearson and David B Atkin for researching the records.
Can you add any more to this account? We’d be grateful for any knowledge anyone may have. Use the Comments-Box below or email us. Joyce’s service number was 270574
For the stories of all the other service-people whose names are on the war memorial plaque in St Margaret’s, click here