Friends of the Somme - Mid Ulster Branch  
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D/SMX 268   Blacksmith William Hugh Freeman
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Dated added: 30/12/2015   Last updated: 01/09/2019
Personal Details
Regiment/Service: HMS Leonian, Royal Navy (British Navy)
Died: 07/02/1944 (Died on Active Sevice)
Age: 23
Summary      
William Hugh Freeman was the son of William Hugh and Mary Freeman. He was born about 1921. The family lived at Church Street, Cookstown, He became a blacksmith like his father. He joined the Royal Navy in the summer of 1938. He was a member of the crew of HMS Exeter which engaged the Graf Spee. Blacksmith William (Billy) Freeman was in service on board HMS Leonian when he died on 7th February 1944, aged 23. The details of his death are unknown.
Blacksmith William Hugh Freeman
Further Information
William Hugh Freeman was the son of William Hugh and Mary Freeman. He was born about 1921.
The family lived for a time at Church Street, Cookstown, William (Billy) Freeman was well known in the Cookstown area because his father, William (Hughie) was a very popular blacksmith.
Prior to the war, young William worked with his father as a blacksmith.
He was a keen motor cyclist and took part in the Cookstown 100 motorcycle race in 1938.
Billy Freeman joined the Royal Navy in the summer of 1938. He was a member of the crew of HMS Exeter, with the rank of Seaman.
William Hugh Freeman was the husband of Iris Elvina Freeman.
HMS Exeter played a heroic part in the battle with the pocket battleship Graf Spee off the River Plate on 13th December 1939. On the morning of 13th December, shortly after 6am, Billy was lying on deck when the order came for ‘action stations’. Distant guns flashed and soon HMS Exeter had received her first baptism of fire.
Seaman Billy Freeman was a member of the crew of one of the 4.7 inch guns that returned fire until the gun itself was disabled by a hit that killed and wounded many men, a piece of shrapnel cutting a hole in Billy’s cap and a slight cut to one hand.
From the Mid Ulster Mail dated 12th February 1940:
Mr William H Freeman, of Church Street, Cookstown, who joined the Navy about eighteen months ago, is a member of the crew of HMS Exeter, which arrived home during the week from the south Atlantic, where she took part in the epic battle with the German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee. The cruiser, which suffered heavily in the action, was given a tremendous welcome on arrival in port.
While serving on board HMS Exeter, Billy served with 14 men from Northern Ireland as well as men from the Republic of Ireland.
Blacksmith Freeman was home on leave on 2nd March 1940 for 28 days to visit his parents in Cookstown. It is recorded that there were very enthusiastic scenes in Cookstown when he stepped off the bus from Belfast at the Transport Board’s parcel depot in William Street where he was surrounded by a large crowd of well-wishers. That evening he was met by the members of Killymoon and Derryloran bands and paraded to his home carried on the shoulders of some of his neighbours. There was much loud cheering and Billy Freeman was heard to say ‘I hope I live to see Hitler scuttle himself too’.
Blacksmith William (Billy) Freeman was in service on board HMS Leonian when he died on 7th February 1944, aged 23. The details of his death are unknown.
Blacksmith William Hugh Freeman is buried in Cupuccini Naval Cemetery, Malta. He is buried in a communal grave, probably due to the lack of space. His inscription reads ‘LEAD, KINDLY LIGHT AMID THE ENCIRCLING GLOOM, LEAD THOU ME ON R.I.P.’
William Hugh Freeman is commemorated locally on Cookstown Cenotaph.
The CWGC record Blacksmith William Hugh Freeman as the son of William and Mary Freeman. He is also recorded as the husband of Iris Elvina Freeman of Devonport, England.
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Relevant Cookstown Area Locations
No Location Region Location Notes Longtitude Latitude
1 Church Street Cookstown South Lived in Church Street 54.636876 -6.743843
References and Links
No Link Reference Map Doc
1 FindAGrave.com Photo of William H Freeman's grave
2 Historial RFA Details of ship and William Freeman
3 militaryimages.net Photo of William H Freeman's grave
4 National Archives UK Ship Name: Leonian 164286
5 Naval History - February 1944 FREEMAN, William H, Blacksmith 4c, D/SMX 268, died
6 War Graves Photographic Project Photo of William H Freeman's grave can be purchased here
Cookstown District's War Dead Acknowledgements 2010-2019