Brother was aboard British Petrol

(See also Widder, and a letter from a person who's father server on British Petrol.)

Dear Mac Gregory
I have recently come across the excellent Website "Ahoy" run by yourself and Terry Kearns, and like others I was particularly interested in your "Marauders of the Sea WW2".
For some time we have been trying to find out more information about my wife's brother (Walter Leonard Skett) who was lost in WW2. We know he that he was at the Colwyn Bay Wireless College in 1937, and we know of three vessels that he served on as a Radio Officer i.e. SS Uganda (have a telegram dated 1937), the SS Sea Rambler (we have a combined Wireless - Telegraph -Postal Delivery dated June 1939) and the MV British Petrol (1940) which was sunk in 1940..

From your article we were able to find out that he was aboard the MV British Petrol when she was stopped and sank by the German Armed Merchant Raider "Widder" on the 13 June 1940. Along with the rest of the crew (except two who were killed in the action) he was taken as a POW. We are not sure but assumed he was taken on board the Widder which arrived  at Brest on the 31st October, and was later transported to a prison camp in Germany (it may have been Milag Nord).

His mother was then informed by the Red Cross that he was a POW, and she was later advised that he had been shot on the 13th or 14th of May by a German sentry.

We do know from CWGC records that he is buried at the Becklington War Cemetery where it states he "died" at the age of 23 on the 13th - 14th May 1942

I have attached two copies of copies of photographs that were sent by two fellow POW namely JW Williams  15854 and TM Webber  15848

We are not sure whether the group photo is one of the British Petrol crew or of another group of POW. Walter is on the extreme left of the second row (as you look at the picture)

We see that Jan Evans has also recently written you Re the MV British Petrol and he/she states that the POW's were disembarked in France. We wonder if her father would have known or have any further information about Walter.

Like you - we too await the results of Jan's book, and perhaps he/she will inform you of the title in the near future.

Best Regards
Dennis & Elvira (Heath)

Dear Mac Gregory
This is a copy of the original e-mail that went astray.
1   We have been advised that the group photo was one taken of his Barrack's Hut members (at the insistence of the Red Cross we are told)
2   The two fellow POW's referred to i.e. JW Williams  15854 and TM Webber  15848, we are informed by Billy McGee were  the 2nd & 3rd Deck Officers from the SS Cymbeline which was sunk by the commerce raider Widder on the 2nd September 1940.
Dennis & Elvira Heath

Walter L Skett in group photograph

Walter L. Skett


Dennis and Elvira,

The Tower Hill Memorial to Merchant sailors in WW2, I guess Walter is listed here.


I note under the NZ flag the number 72, for those lost from your country, again, Walter would be in that number.

All the best,

Hello Mac

Replying to your last e-mails and first clearing up a point - we emigrated to NZ from Coventry, England in 1967. So Walter joined the Merchant Navy in England shortly before WW2.)

It was on the 16 February after reading Jan Evans e-mail to you Re her father being on the first boat to be sunk by the “Widder (ie the MV British Petrol), and then reading your “Marauders of the Sea” articles, that we decided to see if we could find out more about my wife’s brother who was the Radio Officer on board the British Petrol when she was sunk by the Widder.

After being lucky enough to make contact with you, Billy McGee (Merchant Navy) and members of the Colwyn Bay Wireless College, we have managed to find out more in a fortnight than we knew over the 61 years since his death.

It appears that Walter was left fatherless when his father died in Cerra da Pasco c 1927, and the Marconi company then arranged for the family - his mother, brother (Albert), and sister (Violet - who was born in Cerra da Pasco) to return to England.

The Marconi company then provided Walter with an education (no details known) and he eventually went on to the Wireless College at Colwyn Bay where he qualified c 1937. Apparently well skilled in languages.

His capture by the Widder and his subsequent time spent in Stalag XB at Sandbostel and Milag Nord. Finally resulted by him being shot twice (while wearing slippers, pyjamas and a greatcoat)

As a result of our enquiries we found out that Gabe Thomas had written a book “MILAG: Prisoners of the Kriegsmarine” and that in it there are two eye witness accounts of Walters shooting. The book is now out of print - but Gabe Thomas was good enough to scan the two relevant pages and e-mail them to us. It was saddening to read of Walter’s demise but at least we now know what happened (even if we don’t understand why?).

Radio Officer Skett was 23 when he was killed and Gabe Thomas writes that as far as he knows no one ever stood trial for his death, despite sworn statements being made during and after the war.

The above facts and the additional information which you have sent ( the Lloyd’s List, and the Tower Hill Memorial) has also helped us to build up a small understanding of the conditions and pressures that the MN PoW’s must have been under.

Thank you for helping us Mac

Best Regards,
Elvira & Dennis

Elvira and Dennis,

Thank you for sharing what you discovered about Walter, a sad end indeed for a young man of only 23. After surviving the action with the Widder, to be rescued and taken back to France, off to a POW camp, and to have his life ended in tragic circumstances.

I am pleased to have been able to help, if only in a small way.

Best wishes and Regards,

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