22 August 2022
World War II veteran recalls the sinking of HMS Repulse in poignant visit to the National Museum of the Royal Navy.
80 years after the devastating attack on HMS Repulse, one of only two remaining survivors from the attack has visited the National Museum of the Royal Navy to see a key artefact from the ship, and recall his experience of World War II.
Royal Marine James (Jim) Wren, now aged 102, luckily survived the attack, which is a key point of commemoration to this day. It saw the sinking of two Royal Navy ships, HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales, and the loss of 840 men.
This attack by Japanese bombers on 10 December 1941 was a heavy blow to the British war effort. What inspired Jim and his family to visit was the National Museum of the Royal Navy’s commemoration of this event. In the Hear My Story (HMS) Gallery the museum had previously held a pair of bells, one from each ship, on display for a special 80th anniversary exhibition.
Jim was more than happy to share his experience of the sinking and the rest of the war, which was regrettably spent in appalling conditions in a Japanese prisoner of war camp.
On his time onboard Jim said, “After final training at Stonehouse barracks in Plymouth I was assigned to HMS Repulse. She was a wonderful ship, with a wonderful captain, he was a real gentleman."
That captain was Bill Tennant, who managed to survive the sinking of Repulse. Onboard HMS Repulse Jim was involved in the North Atlantic convoy, as well as the hunt for the Bismarck.
Will Heppa, curator at the National Museum of the Royal Navy said, “It was a great privilege to welcome Marine Jim Wren to the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth. The 102-year-old veteran is one of the last two survivors of the HMS Repulse sinking. On 10 December 1941, Jim was on board Repulse when it was repeatedly torpedoed and bombed by the Japanese Air Force off the east coast of Malaysia. The loss of Repulse and Prince of Wales left Singapore weakened and reduced British naval effectiveness in the Far East.
As well as seeing one of the bells excavated from Repulse which we hold in the stores, Jim enjoyed showing his family HMS Victory and the dockyard where he worked for several years after the war. He also spoke lucidly and candidly about his experiences of the sinking and his internment in Sumatra after the fall of Singapore in February 1942. It was a particularly sobering experience to meet Jim and hear his stories and it is one which I will find difficult to forget.”
Jim’s powerful story has also evidently caught the attention of the Prince of Wales, who had a portrait of Jim commissioned.
The National Museum of the Royal Navy (NMRN), established in 2009, tells the story of the four fighting forces of the British Royal Navy, the Royal Marines, the Fleet Air Arm, the Submarine Service and the Surface Fleet. The group has museums nationwide and includes the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard with HMS Victory, HMS M.33, and HMS Warrior and the Royal Navy Submarine Museum with HMS Alliance and the Explosion Museum of Naval Firepower, both in Gosport, Hampshire; the Fleet Air Arm Museum, Yeovilton; the Royal Marines Museum (currently closed); HMS Caroline and HMS Belfast, which will reopen soon; and NMRN Hartlepool (including HMS Trincomalee).
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