Memorial plaque dedicated to John Noel Poingdestre lost on HMS Southwold presented to Malta Maritime Museum

A brass memorial plaque dedicated to John Noel Poingdestre and four other crew members who died on HMS Southwold on 24 March 1942, was presented to the Malta Maritime Museum in Birgu, by Nigel Poingdestre-Eyres. Mr Nigel Poingdestre-Eyres, John’s cousin, presented the plaque to Heritage Malta’s Chief Operating Officer Kenneth Gambin and to the Senior Curator of the Malta Maritime Museum, Emmanuel Magro Conti. The plaque was fixed in the Museum’s Memorial, accompanying other such plaques in remembrance of seafarers who died or are known to have been lost at sea be they from naval or mercantile services.

John Noel was born on 11 November 1912, the son of Louise and John Alfred. His father was from Jersey and went to Portsmouth in the late 19th century to join the Royal Navy. John Noel entered the RN College, Greenwich, London on 30 June 1925, and passed out as Cadet Advanced Class on 31 December 1927, to join the Navy and reported to his first ship, HMS Fisgard, being a shore base.

He was trained as an Engine Room Artificer and in 1941 reported to Cdr Christopher Jellicoe, Captain of HMS Southwold (L 10), a Type II Hunt Class Escort Destroyer which was constructed and launched by  White & Co. in Cowes, Isle of Wight on 29 May 1941. The ship was commissioned on 9 October 1941, and sailed to the Mediterranean on 5 January 1942, to join the 5th Destroyer Flotilla.

On 20 March 1942, together with other destroyers, HMS Southwold carried out an anti-submarine sweep along the planned path for the Malta relief convoy MW10 from Alexandria. The day after HMS Southwold joined convoy MW10 as an escort, it was involved in the Second Battle of Sirte. On the 23rd, HMS Southwold and HMS Beaufort left the convoy to escort the disabled HMS Breconshire to Malta.

On 24 March, while attempting to pass a line to Breconshire, HMS Southwold activated a British mine, by whose explosion, the ship sustained major structural damage, flooding the engine room and cutting off the electrical supply. An officer and four ratings were lost in the ship. While being towed by the Malta tug Ancient, HMS Southwold’s hull split and began to sink but the remaining 159 crew members were rescued by HMS Dulverton.  Before getting to the safety of Valletta, HMS Southwold eventually broke into two parts and sank on 24 March 1942 off Marsaskala Bay, SE Malta, in about 70 metres of water.

HMS Southwold is a designated war grave, the last resting place of the 5 men lost within her. The bell of HMS Southwold was illegally retrieved by divers in the 1990s but was recovered by the Maltese Authorities, which ordered the ship’s bell to be deposited at the Malta Maritime Museum.

For many years, John’s family only knew that he was “lost at sea”, but recently, after some research, the story is now known. As the Poingdestre family has a documented heritage dating back to the 11th Century, it is with pride that their descendants have now provided this plaque in his memory. In the Poingdestre tradition, as from the Norman times, family members with the names Jean, Jacques or John were known as Jack.

John’s family thanked Heritage Malta for its kind help in providing information and making this presentation possible, and the Poindexter/Poingdestre Descendants’ Association, (PDA), for the heritage research. (


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