Donald Cremer


William Robinson Clarke

‘The Cream Of The Royal Navy’

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Joining the Empire Windrush in Bermuda were ten Royal Navy midshipmen all earmarked to become leaders in the Navy of the 1950s and 60s. All but one, who was killed in 1951, fulfilled their potential and had successful careers in the senior echelons of the Navy.

Donald ‘Don’ Henry Cremer, born in Mauritius in May 1929, was one of the ten. The son of a Lancashire-born civil servant who served abroad, Don joined the Navy when he was only 13. In June 1947 he left Southampton on the RMS Aquitania destined for Halifax, Nova Scotia to join HMS Sheffield and continue his training from the ship’s base in Bermuda.

The Navy spotted the Windrush as an economical mode of transport so arranged for the ten young officers to sit their exams early so they could leave Bermuda on June 11, 1948, three months earlier than planned.

Don’s first impression of the Windrush was that it looked impressive from the outside but less so inside. At least he had a cabin, which he shared with two others, an improvement on the hammocks in the cramped communal areas of the HMS Sheffield.

Don found the journey pleasant enough but a bit boring. The Welfare Officer was reluctant to allow sporting activities as he considered them too dangerous although Don did recall a tug-of- war match between the Navy and the Army.

Each day at 10 am, a representative from each of the Army, Royal Navy and RAF would meet. Don said little of importance was ever discussed at those get-togethers.

The ship had a permanent staff of RAF officers with responsibility for the troops on board. Don estimated there were about 200 Army personnel, along with 20 from each of the Navy and RAF. The passenger list does not reflect the presence of approximately 240 service personnel, indeed four of Don’s fellow midshipmen do not appear on the official records. Clearly, there were many more than 1,027 passengers on board the Empire Windrush.

Don singled out Flight Lieutenant Johnny Smythe for particular praise as, even though he was originally travelling as a passenger, he did most to help prepare the West Indian passengers for their arrival in England. Don was not aware of any great fuss accompanying the arrival of the ship at Tilbury.

In August 1956, Don married schoolteacher Yvonne De La Haye in Solihull. Don was by then a Lieutenant. Navy colleague Peter Stanford (later Sir Peter) was his best man.

Don and Yvonne had two daughters, one of whom became Head Girl at the Royal Naval School in Haslemere, Surrey. Don was very active in the school, being a member of the Royal Navy School Society Committee.

After reaching the rank of Commander, Don took early retirement from the Navy and forged a second career with Post Office Telecoms, which later became British Telecom. Don lives in Haslemere.

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