William Hugh Freeman was the son of William Hugh & Mary Freeman, Church Street, Cookstown, the husband of Iris Elvina Freeman, Devonport, England. Billy Freeman joined the Royal Navy in the summer of 1938. He was a member of the crew of HMS Exeter. William (Billy) Freeman was in service on board HMS Leonian.
Blacksmith William Hugh Freeman was the son of William Hugh & Mary Freeman, Church Street, Cookstown, the husband of Iris Elvina Freeman, Devonport, England. William (Billy) Freeman was well known in the Cookstown area as his father, William (Hughie) was a very popular Blacksmith
Prior to the war young William worked with his father as a Blacksmith and was a keen motor cyclist, having taken 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.
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.
While serving on board HMS Exeter, Billy served with 14 men from Northern Ireland as well as men from the Republic of Ireland.
He arrived 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 of 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 & 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”.
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.
He is commemorated on Cookstown Cenotaph and is buried Cupuccini Naval Cemetery, Malta, Grave Prot. Sec. (Men’s) Plot F, Coll. Grave 111.
Malta (Capuccini) Naval Cemetery, which once belonged to the Admiralty, is divided into two sections, Protestant and Roman Catholic. Most of the 351 Commonwealth burials of the First World War form a triangular plot in the Protestant section, the rest are scattered elsewhere. Among those buried in the cemetery are 44 men from HMS "Egmont", the Depot ship at Malta, and 22 who died when HMS "Russell" was sunk by a mine off Malta in April 1916.
Most of the 694 Commonwealth burials of the Second World War are also in the Protestant section in a plot near the entrance, but there is another group in the Roman Catholic section.