BMMHS Zoom Afternoon Talk: Ships & Stars & Isles

Ships & Stars & Isles

Speaker: Mark Taylor

BZTAfternoon 4th May 2021

Tuesday 4th May 2021; 2:00pm

Ships & Stars & Isles

An illustrated talk based on a collection of some four hundred letters that Billy wrote home to his parents whilst serving in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during WW2.

Few of the men and women who returned from active WW2 service were keen to speak about it. Mark Taylor’s father, Billy, told him little – he’d served in the Navy from 1939-46, been at Dunkirk, been awarded some medals, but he never said much more. When Mark was in his late twenties, Billy died.

More than twenty years later Mark took early retirement. Anticipating some free time, he asked his mother to agree to let him research his father’s war record at the MOD. Jean first met her husband just after the war and she suggested that Mark might also like to look through a box of papers which had come from his paternal grandparents’ house. In the top of the wardrobe Mark found a large box tied up with string. Opening it, Mark discovered hundreds of letters which were written by Billy to his parents throughout the war, along with photos, documentation and various objects from his travels. After the war his parents had kept the letters, Billy had re-inherited them on their deaths and Jean had kept the papers after Billy’s death in 1983.

As he read the letters he saw that his father was a skilled and witty writer who had described a naval life, both routine and in action, from the Dover Patrol via the Dunkirk evacuation (where Billy was awarded the D.S.M.), Atlantic convoys, U-boat encounters, the invasions of both North Africa and France, and ultimately the Japanese surrender in the Far East. In that time Billy rose from the rank of Ordinary Signalman to that of First Lieutenant and served in shore stations as well as converted trawlers, a paddle steamer, a corvette and two frigates in locations as far apart as Scapa Flow and Surabaya. 

Despite the constraints of the censor and his audience, Billy’s letters revealed his thoughts as well as his experience. Here was a complete story of Billy’s naval career which was not only a valuable historical record but also a precious personal insight into his father’s life. 

Mark felt sure that his father had wanted him to find them, and that he should try to publish them.

Mark used the internet to find some of Billy’s shipmates and their families and tied in some of their memories and photos with his father’s accounts. He edited the letters and added nearly two hundred footnotes following extensive research. The result was a book published in 2009 (Ships & Stars & Isles published by Woodfield Publishing – ISBN 1-84683-077-X).

Ships Stars and Isles
Gordon Augustus ‘Billy’ Taylor (RNVR)
ships & stars & isles
Ships & Stars & Isles published by Woodfield Publishing
SWWEC Second World War Experience Centre
Donations for this talk will help to support the SWWEC

About the Speaker - Mark Taylor

South Stoke resident for 25 years.

Married, two children, three grandchildren.

Keen tennis player.


Worked for 30+ years in the finance industry both in the UK and offshore.

Retired in 2004 and in May 2005, as a result of a rather fortunate discovery following a family discussion prompted by the 60th anniversary celebrations of V.E. Day, began a journey researching his father’s service record in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR) during WW2. The talk (and a book published in 2009 under the same name) is the result of that research.

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