Robert William Lewis, mate on the Carry On, who was lost when she detonated a mine in the Thames Estuary off Sheerness.
Type of Vessel: Barrage Balloon Drifter. (Wooden)
Admiralty Number: 3986
Other Names: Moonlight.
Year Constructed: 1919.
Built by: Richards Shipbuilders Ltd.
Built at: Lowestoft.
Engine: Triple expansion, one boiler, single screw.
Gross Tons: 93 tons.
Fate: Mined and sunk in the Thames Estuary with the loss of all crew.
The Moonlight, build for the Admiralty to be used as a minesweeper in World War One, was cancelled in December 1918. In 1919 she was completed, renamed Carry On and sold for use as a fishing drifter.
Requisitioned as a Barrage Balloon Drifter in WW2, the Carry On was stationed outside the Thames Boom, guarding the Convoy anchorage from low flying enemy planes. Following the mining offensive of the Thames Estuary, on the night of the 12 December 1940, by the Luftwaffe, the Carry On was immobilized for three days. When shipping was eventually given permission to move, she started back towards Sheerness along the Medway Channel heading towards the Medway gate in the Thames Boom. She travelled slowly with her engines on low revs, as advised by the Admiralty to avoid detonating Acoustic Mines.
A huge explosion directly beneath the Carry On destroyed it completely. All seven of her crew, six civilians and one Royal Air Force serviceman were killed and listed as MPK (missing presumed killed).
With other mines believed to be in the Estuary, many inside the Boom, the remaining Barrage Balloon Drifters were evacuated with their balloons still flying.
"HELEN BIRCH" a Barrage Balloon Vessel also based at Sheerness.
The Carry On. Built as a minesweeper for World War One, she was converted to a fishing vessel between the wars and used a Barrage Balloon vessel in World War Two.
Photograph by kind permission of Marion Skinner who's grandfather was the mate on the Carry On.
Thank you to Marion Skinner for the following information and whose research unearthed the Casualty List for the Carry On.
Marion tells us, “My maternal grandfather Robert William Lewis was the mate on the Carry On when it was lost with all hands.
I never knew him as he was killed five years before I was born but I have several photographs of him and a selection of letters he wrote to my parents in 1939 and 1940 including one written from his home in Pakefield (Suffolk) dated the 12.12.1940 in which he writes "I am returning to Sheerness tomorrow, Friday, leave Lowestoft at 8 in the morning". This was the last contact he had with them. (The Carry On was sunk five days later with the loss of all her crew.)
I also have the original telegram sent to his only son Robert Charles Lewis (my uncle) who was in the Royal Navy at the time on HMS Dido from his wife which reads "father lost with all hands".
HMS CARRY ON, CREW LOST.
BAXTER, Gordon Eric (25). Deck hand, Fishing Fleet. Memorial: Tower Hill, London.
BURGESS, George William (21). Fishing Fleet, son of Frederick Henry Allan Burgess and Winifred Elsie Burgess. Memorial: Tower Hill.
CHASE, Leonard Claud (62) Deck Hand Merchant Navy. Son of George and Phyliss Elizabeth Chase, husband of Laura Mary Chase of Carlton Colville. Memorial: Carlton Colville (St. Peter) churchyard.
LEWIS, Robert William (57) Mate. Fishing fleet. Memorial Panel 124 Tower Hill.
MULLENDER, George Alfred (66) Cook, Fishing Fleet. Son of George and Elizabeth Mullender, husband of Claribel Mullender of Pakefield, Suffolk. Memorial: Tower Hill.
SMITH, Ernest Harper (49) Skipper. Fishing fleet. Son of James Pye Smith and Ellen Smith, husband of Edith Maud Smith of Lowestoft. Memorial : Beccles Road Cemetery, Lowestoft.
Robert with his wife Ethel. Photographs from Marion Skinner.
The Records show the Carry On was at Sheerness in 1940.
15th September 1940, Nore Command, Sheerness.
Balloon Barrage Drifters (Sheerness): Boy Scout, Carry on, Citron, Comely Bank, Constant Hope, Else and Nellie, Ex Fortis, George and Albert, Inverugie, JT Hendry, Kiddaw, Lavina L, Marinus, Newspray, Our Kate, Rose Emma, Triumph and Young Alfred.
OTHER SHIPS SUNK IN THE GERMAN MINING OFFENSIVE OF THE NIGHT OF THE 12 DECEMBER 1940
Thomas Connolly, Royal Navy, Dec 17 1940, 17 crew lost.
Carry On, Royal Navy, Dec 17 1940, 7 crew lost.
Aquiety, Dec 17 1940, 6 crew lost.
Belvedere, Dec 17 1940, 4 crew lost.
Beneficient, Dec 17 1940, 6 crew lost.
Inver, Dec 17 1940, 17 crew lost.
Malrix, Dec 17 1940, 8 crew lost.
Arinia, Dec 19 1940, 60 crew lost.
Sun IX, Tug. Dec 21 1940, 3 crew lost.
Tic 12, Dec 21 1940. All crew saved.
River Thames, Dec 21 1940, 3 crew lost.
Araby, Dec 27 1940,6 crew lost.
Kinnaird Head, Dec 27 1940, 6 crew lost.
Attendant 88, Jan 1 1940
Pinewood, Jan 3 1941, 6 crew lost.
Lion, Royal Navy, Jan 6 1941, All crew lost.
If you, your father or your grandfather have any additional information about this ship, crew lists, stories, photographs, please send copies of them to be added to our records and this website.
Watch this short video, A Bad Day in December 1940, https://youtu.be/Lw2pW31qH4s
HMT Sanson, a Queenborough minesweeper fitted with SA (Sweep Acoustic), to sweep Acoustic mines. A device similar to a Kanga Hammer, which makes a loud thumping noise, can be seen on her bow in the up position.
Number 30 Barrage Balloon Group had forty Barrage Balloons at Sheerness, thirty-two of which were waterborne. Some of these Barrage Balloon vessels protected the anchorage inside the Thames Boom, others sailed with the convoys.
The Carry On or its Officers are not on the Navy lists for 1939 to its sinking in 1941. It is believed this is because she was manned by a civilian crew.
Barrage Balloon Drifter.
In December of 1940 the Luftwaffe did their very best to stop shipping travelling to the great Port of London. In the week 8 to 15 December, 350 enemy aircraft, each carrying two mines dropped their deadly cargoes in the Thames Estuary and along the East Coast.
On the night of the 12 December 1940, ninety-three enemy aircraft flew over the Thames Estuary and dropped their mines, by parachute, with a quarter of these falling inside the Thames Boom between Sheerness and Southend.
These mines were the new acustic mine, many with delay mechanisms. Shipping came to standstill in the Thames Estuary, but after three days with very few mines being found, the Thames Estuary was reopened.
Seven ships detonated mines and sunk on that day including the Carry On. In the weeks that followed nine more ships detonated mines which had been set on delayed fuses and were sunk.
Counter measures were quickly developed to combat these new mines and Queenborough minesweeper were fitted with SA sweeping capabilities. SA is Sweep Acoustic, a device similar to a Kanga Hammer which makes a loud thumping noise to explode acoustic mine.