David George Montagu Hay GC (AM non-exchanger)

b. 25/10/1921 Gifford, East Lothian, Scotland. d. 23/01/1979 Gifford, East Lothian, Scotland.

DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 29/01/1941 off coast of Sierra Leone.

David George Montagu Hay (1921-1979) was born on 25th October 1921 in Gifford, East Lothian, Scotland, the son of Colonel Lord Edward Hay, a career Guards officer and his wife Bridget (nee Barclay). His mother died when he was young, and his father re-married. David’s childhood was not happy as his father and new step-mother often had no time for him. A governess began his education before he was sent to boarding school at St David’s in Reigate, Surrey, from where he got a place at Eton.

David G M Hay GC

After completing his studies at Eton, he tried unsuccessfully to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Guards. Not to be deterred, he ran away to sea, and joined the Merchant Navy in 1939, serving as a Cadet with the Blue Funnel Line and was paid 6p a day for cleaning out the lavatories. When he was on leave, his spent his time on his father’s estate in Scotland working with the gamekeeper. His favourite pastime was shooting.

He was just 19 years old when on 29th January 1941 he was serving aboard HMS Eurylochus off the coast of Sierra Leone, when the German surface raider Kormoran opened fire on the ship. Despite returning fire, the Eurylochus was hit, her upper works being wrecked. As the ship stopped, two boats and two rafts were got away but the rest were shot to pieces. Hay reached a raft, but, although sharks were swimming all around him, he dived in again and rescued the radio officer. A German boarding party examined the cargo holds and found 16 heavy bombers. The German captain, Theodore Detmets, gave the order to sink the ship with a torpedo, but as it was fired a searchlight spotted a lifeboat crew trying to re-board the Eurylochus. Detmets tried to warn them with a “torpedo fired” message but it went unheeded. As the torpedo struck the lifeboat, its occupants disappeared. In all, 38 crew were lost but the remaining 42 were taken aboard the Kormoran.

Shortly after the incident, David transferred to the Royal Naval Reserve, and ended up in Freetown, Sierra Leone where he was Officer in Charge of a small Naval Police Force that had to keep law and order in the town. There was a considerable amount of civil unrest and rioting to deal with. On 4th July 1941, the London Gazette announced that David had been awarded the Albert Medal in Bronze for life saving at sea, and on 29th July 1941, he received his AM at Buckingham Palace from King George VI. He later took part in the North African Landings, an experience which would affect him for the rest of his life with vivid nightmares.

Towards the end of the war, he was given his own command, a mine sweeper, HMS Neave. His task was to go around the British coastline blowing up wrecks that were a hazard to shipping. After demobilisation, David found himself with little money and no career. He decided to go into business with some friends and founded the Chelsea Traders. Shortly afterwards, he married the Honorable Sonia Peake and they went on to have three sons, Edward, Charles and Alastair. The marriage ended in divorce in the mid 1950s.

In 1959, David married again, to Nella Doreen Dutton (known as Dee). He became Managing Director of a contracts firm, William Pepper Ltd. They did work for the National Coal Board, and he also became Director of Martin’s Bank which amalgamated with Barclays. Soon afterwards, Nella gave birth to their twin sons Andrew and Hamish, and this and his long working hours took their toll, and following a health scare, he chose to retire back to Scotland.

In 1964, the family moved to Tavool, a 2,500 acre estate on the Isle of Mull, Scotland. On the estate they kept over 400 sheep and 40 cattle. They were largely cut off from the mainland and David was involved in lobster fishing and he became a committed naturalist. In 1971, following a change in the Royal Warrant, recipients of the Albert and Edward Medals were offered the chance to exchange for a George Cross. David politely chose to decline.

In 1973, with his health failing, he was forced to give up Travool, and move to the old Manse in Gifford, East Lothian. In his final years, he took a seat in the House of Lords, having acceded to the title of Marquis of Tweedale several years before, and was particularly involved in the Devolution of Scotland Bill. David died on 23rd January 1979 in Gifford and was buried in the local churchyard. David’s medals including the AM, 1939-45 Star, Atlantic Star, Africa Star with clasp “North Africa 1942-1943”, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45, 1977 QEII Silver Jubilee Medal, Lloyd’s War Medal for Bravery at Sea and the Royal Life Saving Society Medal are on permanent loan to the Imperial War Museum and displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, having been donated by his son.