Distinguished Service Medal, G.V.R. (Apprentice J. Lietch (sic), Mediterranean 27 Feb. 1917), British War and Mercantile Marine War medals, (James Leitch), Shipping Federation Medal for Meritorious Service in silver, named on the edge “J Leitch 27th Feb 1917”. Medal fitted with pin and catch on the reverse.
(Note difference in spelling of surname on D.S.M.)
D.S.M. London Gazette 12 May 1917.
‘In recognition of zeal and devotion to duty shown in carrying on the trade of the country during the War.’
‘We can take another example, that of the Bellorado in the Mediterranean in February 1917. This vessel was carrying a valuable cargo of 5,959 tons of coal. During the afternoon watch a look-out man saw something strange, which he took to be a periscope, just disappearing. From that time onwards a special look-out was kept by the Master and the Chief Officer, who were both on the bridge. About three-quarters of an hour later a submarine appeared on the port quarter of the Bellorado, which was going a little over ten knots at the time, and just finishing a zigzag. (UC42 under the command of Kapitanleutnant , later Vizeadmiral ,Heino Von Heimburg) The impression conveyed was that the submarine’s captain had intended to come up abeam, and found himself to his surprise, about two miles astern. He at once opened fire, but did not score a hit until about the fifteenth round, other shots landing from a cable to half a cable ahead. The Master of the Bellorado had also given orders to fire, and good practice was made from the outset, one shot landing just at the submarine’s stern, apparently scoring a hit.
Then the Bellorado was hit twice, one of the shots striking the wheel house, killing the Master, Chief Officer and an A.B. who was steering, destroying the compasses and disabling the steering gear. The other shot struck the galley, and wounded three men. Meanwhile the gun’s crew kept up an accurate fire, and the Second Officer, who was passing ammunition from that magazine to the gun, heard one of the crew call out that the submarine had been hit. He came up, had a good look at her, and decided that the submarine was going down by the stern. Going up to the bridge to report, he found the bodies of the Master and Chief Officer, and realised that the steering gear being out of order, the vessel was describing a circle. The Third Officer, on his way to the bridge from the wireless cabin, saw a shell hit the submarine just below the conning tower, making her “quiver a bit,” sink by the stern, and go under, stern first, at an angle of 15-20 degrees, firing a final shot at 5.20 p.m., just as she went under. After adjusting her steering gear, the Bellorado reached Malta in safety. She had been saved by such good gunnery.’ (The submarine whilst damaged wasn’t in fact sunk and likely saw breaking the action off being advisable. Heimburg ended the war with 25 ships sunk including 2 submarines)
Between the Wars, Leitch gained his Master’s ticket, and a month or two after the renewal of hostilities he was appointed to the command of the motorship British Science, in which ship, carrying a deadly mixture of 2200 tons of ethelised benzine (high grade motor spirit), 3500 tons of kerosene and 4900 tons of gas oil, he departed with Convoy AN27, bound for Piraeus and Istanbul, in April 1941. Richard Cornish takes up the story in his article “Two Wars But Only One Medal”:
‘Captain Leitch was designated Commodore of the 13 ship convoy and the British Science was the lead ship of the starboard column. On Friday 18 April when off the north coast of Crete, they were attacked by three Italian torpedo bombers, one of which succeeded in making a hit on the starboard side in way of Tank No. 7 containing kerosene. The explosion blew oil all over the ship but amazingly caused no fire. The leakage caused a 4 degree list but this was corrected and she was able to maintain the 8 knot convoy speed. However as they were leaving a trail of oil on the surface the senior escort officer ordered them to proceed independently to Suda Bay where a destroyer would meet them. Unfortunately they were discovered by two more planes of the same type who succeeded in making a further torpedo strike on No. 1 Tank on the port side which made an even bigger hole and blew benzine all over the ship and filled the lifeboats on that side. Once again, incredibly, there was no immediate conflagration but in view of the imminent danger Captain Leitch ordered the ship abandoned in the only two starboard boats. Hardly had the 43 man crew got the boats away and around to the windward side when the petrol ignited and the whole ship was engulfed in flames and ammunition started to explode. Needless to say the column of smoke rising thousands of feet into the air attracted aircraft – Italian, British and Greek. However, it also guided the promised escort from Suda Bay. H.M.S. Hero who picked up all the crew. Her Captain, Commander H.W. Biggs, R.N., stated in his report that all the survivors were soaked in petrol. He also stated he ordered 4 rounds of 4.7-inch to be put into the engine room of the blazing tanker to speed her end.’
In October 1946, however, his name re-appeared on the Merchant Navy’s Reserve Pool and he was given command of the cargo coaster Empire Mayring, which ship he took to Hong Kong where she was sold to the Ta Hing Company. No further details of his subsequent career are known, but he is recorded as having died in Matilda Hospital, Hong Kong, in June 1954.
Buyer purchased the DSM as a single DNW 2011 and the rest of the group 2013 Dixons
A fine combination