The Society Men, January 2013
About Captain Joop Berkhout
First of all I want to thank Henk for allowing me to say a few words. My nephew Joop Berkhout, his sister Margot and I are honoured to be here in Chatham at the presentation of your book.
Two years ago, 2010, the remembrance to our great uncle was limited to only the inner circle of our families. This now has come to a change.
At that moment neither one of us knew that in Holland a Dutchman, who by coincidence visiting a cemetery in the Hague, was triggered by a war grave and there after wanted to know all that happened during that naval disaster.
It was in July 2010 that my nephew phoned, telling me that a radioprogram called “address unknown” was hosting a Dutch gentleman who wanted to get in contact with possible relatives of the two Dutch captains. It was all about the book that he had written subject to the sinking of the 3 British cruisers.
Shortly after, on a Sunday afternoon, we together with our wifes, went to the radio studio. Henk and his wife were there and they thought we were spectators wanting to experience how a radiobroadcast came to life.
At the end we were introduced and the surprise and enthousiasm of Henk was overwhelming. He could not believe it. The big silver cup received from the British King, the medal received from the Dutch Prince, the gift of the wife of commander Sells and the extra information we could give were more than he had hoped for. Also relatives of the other Dutch ship, captain Voorham, were there and could provide new information.
Because Joop’s father and mine served as captains during the 2nd world war, for the same Shipping-company as their uncle in 1914, the story of the rescue has always taken a special place in our memory. Despite all the hazards our fathers went through, both were lucky, they after 5 years, mostly at sea, arrived home again.
Most men and young lads on the September 22nd 1914, were not that lucky. One of them, the young man Duncan Stubbs, for some time managed to survive swimming from ship to ship. But despite his efforts he did not survive.
Another man, Commander Sells, also swimming from ship to ship was lucky to be saved by our great-uncle. A gift and accompanying letter written by his wife arrived only a couple of days after the disaster. I take the opportunity to read this letter to you.
Portsmouth, October 3, 1914.
Dear Captain Berkhout,
I hope you will receive this little gift I am sending safely and that it will serve to remind you of the great gratitude I feel for your humanity and great kindness you showed to my husband after the disaster to his ship the H.M.S. Aboukir
I feel sure you will be interested to hear that he is none the worse. He is indeed very well and hopes to be soon at sea again.
You will be glad also to hear that the little midshipman saved by your ship is quiete well and unharmened by his experience. Captain Sells sends you his warm remembrances,
Your gratefully Augusta Sells.
I know that our great uncle was not a man of many words, he went out to do his duty that day. I am not sure what he would think of me reading this letter here.
Henk, you have brought this story to a broader audience and one can say back to life, a tragedy not to be forgotten.
Once again, it is an honour to be here and to have the possibility to meet many people connected to this history.