Remembering Ken Toop
Family and friends of Kenneth (Ken) Toop gathered on the 9th June 2015 at St Michael's Church Basingstoke to say goodbye to one of the last survivors of the Royal Oak which was sunk off Orkney in 1939.
Ken was educated at St John’s School Basingstoke before joining the Royal Navy at the age of 15. He had intended to work on the railway but joined up in 1938 with his friend Eric White. His first sea-going draft was HMS Royal Oak. At the age of 16 as a ‘Boy 1st Class’ he was the youngest member of the ship’s company to survive a torpedo attack while at anchor in Scapa Flow. 834 lives were lost, only 386 survived. Of 163 Boy Seamen, Boy Telegraphists and Boy Signalmen only 37 survived. In an interview with the Basingstoke Gazette in 2009 Ken said that “One might think that it’s impossible to be on a ship and be struck by a torpedo and not hear it. But there is plating that is six inches thick. The first torpedo struck and I never heard it. The chap next to me said: ‘You better get up – something’s happened.’ I never saw him again."
After a short period of survivor’s leave, Ken was drafted to HMS Manchester and then to HMS Ceylon. He travelled widely in the Service visiting Korea, Japan and the United States. He left the Royal Navy in 1953. He worked for the Southern Electricity Board as a linesman and eventually foreman on a Live Line Team. He retired after a further 28 service.
It wasn’t until the 1970’s that Ken’s daughters became aware of his escape from the sinking Royal Oak. This came about because he had begun to take an active interest in the Royal Oak Association. He was its secretary for 15 years from the late 1990s. It was an all-consuming role that he and his wife Lillian performed together writing hundreds of letters every year to other survivors and the families of the bereaved.
He was an indefatigable campaigner for the Association and was the driving force behind improvements to the memorial at Scapa Flow and the creating a home for a second memorial book in the Memorial Chapel of St Michael’s Church in Basingstoke in Hampshire. This was entirely appropriate as this was the county from where the many of the Royal Oak’s ship’s company were recruited. Every year, Ken and Lillian would travel first to Portsmouth and then to Orkney to attend the annual memorial services and reunions. They made an immense number of long lasting friendships in the process.
Ken died at home on 27th May 2015 after an extended period in hospital. He is survived by Lillian, his wife of 68 years and his daughters Sue and Penny.