Peter Hobart Hemery

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Peter Hemery in 1941

by Richard Hemery


Peter Hobart Hemery 1911–1997 was born at 9 Woodville Road Bexhill on 5 December 1911.

His sister was Margaret Anna Hemery, born 1906, who married John Shorrock, they had one son Peter Campbell Shorrock. Pete married Dianne in South Africa, and they had two daughters, Caroline and Stacy. Caroline married Simon and they have two children. The family now lives in Dorset.

His brother was John Patrick Hemery born 2 September 1910 at 165 Waterloo Street, Georgetown. 165 Waterloo Street was Percy Hemery's house, a typical Dutch type colonial house on stilts. John married Margaret Evelyn Gaunt born 19 December 1906 Singapore. She had a son from a previous marriage who took the Hemery name – Michael Hemery who now lives in Sussex. Margaret was the author of a book on boxer dogs. They lived in Tucson, USA, later in life.

Another brother David Beatty Hemery, was born in 1914, but died in 1915 aged less than a year old.

The Shorrocks lived with John, Margarets and Peter’s mother Helen Hemery in Ealing, and Margaret and John’s farewell party when they emigrated to the USA was held there. Later Helen Hemery went to live in a home in Golders Green.

Peter Hemery was educated at King’s School Canterbury and King’s College, Cambridge University, where he studied modern languages. A keen rower, he was part of a boat team that included Alan Turing, the founder of computer science.

The Sacramento Valley

War service

Before the war he was a teacher. He was a radio operator in the Merchant Navy from 1939 to 1945, torpedoed on the ship Sacramento Valley in 1941.

Account of the sinking of the SS Sacramento Valley 6 June 1941 by Peter H Hemery, first radio officer

The ship was torpedoed at about 2.52 am 6 June 1941. (0500 GMT approx). She was struck by two torpedoes in quick succession, one in the engine-room, the other a little aft of this. The ship was not in convoy, and was unescorted. I was turned in and asleep at the time, and did not hear the explosions. I awoke to hear people running about and torches flashing, and the sickening stench of high explosive told me what was wrong. I got out of my bunk and began getting my shoes on. At the same time, the captain came round and shone a torch into the room, saying ‘You’d better send the message out, Sparks, struck by torpedo’. He did not seem greatly worried.
I was taking a long time getting my shoes on the right feet, so when this was done I grabbed a torch and went round to the Wireless room in my pyjamas (this being the first night I had taken my clothes off since leaving the UK). Here I found Mr A J Cutter, the 2nd RO, who was on duty, sending out ‘SSSS’ on the Spark Transmitter. The door of the Wireless Room was blown outwards off its hinges, but everything else seemed to be in order, though covered in coal dust and water (the ship was loaded with coal). Cutter shone a torch on the hot wire ammeter, and I could see there was no radiation on the main aerial. I switched to the emergency aerial, but go no results.
I then switched over to the small ICW transmitter. The valves were OK, and there was the usual 100 m/a in the anode circuit, but no radiation was obtainable on the main aerial. I switched over to the emergency aerial and finally got 2 – 2.5 amps. radiation. I then sent out the distress message three times, and listened. I could hear nothing at first, but found that the connection between the two HT. batteries was adrift. When this was mended, I heard CQA working CQD (coast stations in the Cape Verde Islands), but no reply to my message. After this I sent out the message twice again (in two groups of three); finally I called CQA and asked him to pass the message to the British Consul or Naval Authorities.
The position I sent was 17.22 N 30.06 W, about 350 miles NW of the Cape Verde Islands. There was no reply. Time was passing, and the Captain had been round once or twice telling me to ‘come on’, so I decided to take his advice. The ship was almost on an even keel, and nothing appeared to be wrong apart from the sound of water swishing about down below. I went round the corner, and down a rope ladder to the starboard jolly boat, in which were the Captain, the Chief Officer, Cutter, and the 3rd Officer. I had found time to put on my uniform jacket and raincoat, kept in the wireless room for such emergencies.
We pulled away from the ship and stood by. There was no moon but it was light enough to see the ship at a distance. Even now she was on an even keel, though rather low in the water. The telephone bell on the bridge was ringing continuously, owing to the engine room being full of water. After about nine minutes there was a crash as though something had given way, followed by the sound of rushing water. The ship went down quickly by the bow and slid gently under the water in about half a minute. The total time of sinking must have been about twenty minutes.
The port lifeboat had been smashed by the explosions. The starboard lifeboat got away under the second officer with 34 people. The port jolly boat, a little larger than ours, was under the bosun, with 7 men. Both jolly boats were fitted with tanks to have the advantages of lifeboats. The third engineer and two lascar firemen were killed down below by the explosion.
At dawn we decided to make Eastward for the Cape Verde Islands, or failing that, the African coast. The bosun’s boat sailed away to the southward and we did not see it again, but the other two boats managed to keep together.
The second day it was suggested that it might be better to turn round and make for the South American coast, about 1200 miles. It was longer, but we were in the NE trades, and getting blown out of our course sailing the other way. However we decided to keep going eastward. We had a stiff NE breeze all the time, and a heavy swell. After two days and 19 hours we sighted a ship which picked us up, on Sunday 8 June. This was the British ship Caithness, which took us to Freetown, Sierra Leone.
As far as I know, none of my messages were received. At intervals of about four hours in the boats I sent out a distress message on the lifeboat transmitter, which Cutter had lowered into the boat. But it is questionable whether it was working properly. We heard nothing of the bosun’s boat in Freetown, but when we arrived in Liverpool we heard they were safe, having made the African coast after 16 days.

P H Hemery First Radio Officer SS ‘Sacramento Valley 5 August 1941


A couple of extra points my father did not record at the time but told me later. They saw no sign of their attacker. The position stated differs slightly from their reported position. This could be my father’s memory or the lack of time to take an accurate position, or maybe the reported position is incorrect. My father most regretted leaving two Crown coins in his cabin, and a radio he had just bought from a fellow crew member for 5 shillings. During nearly three days at sea before being rescued, another crew member became mentally disturbed and had to be restrained to stop him attacking his fellows. My father served in the Merchant Navy during the whole of the war, in the Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean, and Mediterranean Sea theatres, without any other incident or attack from enemy forces.

Explanation of unfamiliar terms

  • ICW – interrupted continuous wave, a type of radio transmitter
  • RO – radio officer
  • m/a – milliamp
  • HT – high tension
  • Lascar – an Indian seaman

In 1944 a son was born to Peter, and Pete was adopted by his sister Peggy and her husband John Shorrock. Pete Shorrock married Deanne (Dee) in South Africa, they had two daughters Caroline and Stacey. The family returned to England. Caroline married Simon Robinson, and they have 2 children Joshua and Emily. Stacey married Peter Moss.


After the war he worked in the Merchant Navy until 1957. He became interested in Scientology, and worked as L Ron Hubbard's secretary during his early years in East Grinstead, at Saint Hill Manor. It was there that he met my mother, who was nanny to the Hubbard children. He married Mary Read in 1962, and they had three children, Richard Hemery born in Felbridge in Surrey in January 1963, and Michele and James born December 1965. Following the example of his father Percy, who married, aged 56, a woman 25 years his junior, Peter married at 51 a woman 25 years younger than him.

He was expelled from the cult of Scientology for misconduct around 1964, worked in a shop in East Grinstead, as a telephone exchange operator, and for many years as a technical translator, specializing in marine insurance.

Peter Hemery died in Hinckley in 1998 and was buried at sea off the Isle of Wight, according to his wishes.

The Family of Mary Read

Mary Read married Peter Hemery in 1962.

Joseph Dominey married Flora Jane Smith in December 1887. Among other children was Dolly Dominey who married Alfred Edward Read in the 1930s. This couple were the parents of Mary Read.

John Smith born 1836 Dalwood Devon married Elizabeth Smith (nee White) born 1835 Axminster Devon. They had eight children, William C Smith born 1860 Chardstock, John Smith born 1862 Hawkchurch, Susan A Smith born 1863 Axminster, Bissie E Smith born 1864 Chardstock, Sarah A Smith born 1865 Axminster, Flora Jane Smith born 1867 Axminster Devon, Walter G Smith born 1869 Musbury and Sydney Smith born 1870 Musbury Devon. In 1861 John and Elizabeth were living in Southmoor Hawkchurch Dorset, he was a head farm bailiff. There was one child William and a sister in law Emma White, born 1842 Axminster. In 1871 the family was living in Axminster Road Musbury Devon with eight children. John was a head agricultural labourer.

Mary Dominey born 1784 Cudworth Somerset, maiden name and husbands name unknown, had at least two children, William Dominey born 1808 Cudworth, and a daughter who married a Prower. William Dominey married Elizabeth Dominey born 1804 Stock Somerset. They had at least one child, George Dominey born 1822 or 1823 Ilminster Somerset. George married Eliza Dominey born 1829 Chillington Somerset. They had eight children, Ann Dominey born 1849 Knowle St Giles, John Dominey born 1854 Knowle St Giles, Rosa Dominey born 1856 Knowle St Giles, Joseph Dominey born 1860 Knowle St Giles and Frank Dominey born 1862 Knowle St Giles, Marwood Dominey born 1864 Knowle St Giles, Hannah Dominey born 1866 Knowle St Giles and Noah Dominey born 1869 Knowle St Giles.

The children of Peter Hemery

Richard married Nicky Ide-Smith in 1992, and they have one child, Annabel Victoria Joy Hemery who was born in Guildford in 2006. Michele married Alistair Crooks in 1990, they have 2 children Jennifer and Christopher, born in 1992 and 1995 respectively.

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