Canning Jan Ps


It is some years since I have seen Bill Canning, and, having corresponded with him for much of the year I finally managed to meet up with him at his home in Somerset.

Bill was a Wilson Run winner and despite his advancing years he is very spritely and met me at the door as I walked up the drive. He had cooked a fine lunch and I was offered the chair by the window as we tucked in to homemade shepherds pie, followed by mince pie and cheese.

Bill, for those of you who don’t know, was Captain of HMS Broadsword during the Falklands conflict. I was Head of School during 1982, when the Navy was dispatched to the South Atlantic and I can remember sending a telegram to HMS Antelope, (to which Sedbergh School was aligned), when it found a bomb lodged in its bow. Bill remembers the bomb exploding and said it lit up the night sky, taking HMS Antelope with it.

Bill recounted his personal experience during the sinking of HMS Coventry. It was hit by three bombs and within twenty minutes had capsized, throwing over 200 men into the South Atlantic Sea. Bill describes the encounter as his ‘Cruel Sea’ moment (a reference to the film of the same name starring Jack Hawkins) where he had to decide whether to rescue the men or keep fighting. He continued the fight, made the area safe and then effected a rescue. ‘It was the right thing to do but a difficult decision at the time’ he said.

Bill is clearly a brave individual. He is very understated, he doesn’t glorify war, he simply had a job to do and did it to the best of his ability in challenging circumstances. It was a great honour to meet him, to ask him how one prepares for the enormity of such events, and how you lead under such duress.

If you want to know the answers to such questions Bill hopes to visit Sedbergh in the Summer when we will interview him on camera. We very much look forward to welcoming him. In fact it would be a great honour.

Jan van der Velde

Director of Alumni Development