Archive for November, 2015

What is Armistice Day, what time are we silent and why is it for two minutes?

November 11th, 2015

After Armistice Day, the Tower poppies were to have been removed by 8,000 volunteers

Each year at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month we remember those who fought and died for Britain.

Veterans and their families will join military top brass at The Cenotaph in Whitehall to pay their respects to those killed in conflicts since the beginning of the First World War.

“By holding a poppy to their lips they re showing the nation that they’re ready to mark the two-minute silence in Remembrance of those who laid down their lives,” say the Royal British Legion.

What will happen on November 11?

Schools, offices and churches up and down the country will take part in the two minutes silence at 11am, marking the time when Allied Forces declared an end to fighting with Germany 97 years ago.

The Gurkhas will be among regiments lining the street for the Whitehall ceremony, where singer Cerys Matthews will read an extract from The Times newspaper from October 1915 about the deaths of 41 only-sons in battle.

The Queen will spend the two minutes’ silence privately at Buckingham Palace where she will remember the war dead with her family.

Armistice Day v Remembrance Day

Armistice Day is also commonly referred to as Remembrance Day. Remembrance Sunday always falls on the second Sunday in November.

Why do we fall silent for two minutes?

A member of the armed forces with prosthetic legs pays his respects at the Armed Forces Memorial in the National Memorial Arboretum near Lichfield, Staffordshire

The first Remembrance Day in Britain and the Commonwealth was held in 1919.

Australian journalist Edward George Honey is originally thought to have proposed the idea of a two-minute silence in a letter published in the London Evening News in May 1989.

King George V later issued a proclamation calling for a two minute silence, it said: “All locomotion should cease, so that, in perfect stillness, the thoughts of everyone may be concentrated on reverent remembrance of the glorious dead.”

Why the act of remembrance matters

Royal British Legion standard bearers and brothers Neil and Phil Bushell hold their standards following the Armistice day service at the Royal British Legion village which was attended by Defence secretary Michael Fallon in Aylesford, Kent

The Royal British Legion says: “Great Britain still believes strongly in remembering those who fought not only in World Wars, but the more than 12,000 British Servicemen and women killed or injured since 1945.

“The Royal British Legion supports silences observed during both Remembrance Sunday services and on 11 November, Armistice Day, itself. The act of Remembrance rightly has a place in – and impact on – our lives, no matter which day of the week it might fall upon.”

Why do we wear poppies?

Poppy Day is a British tradition that dates back to the 1920's

The tradition was started by American teacher Moina Bell Michael, who sold silk poppies to friends to raise money for the ex-service community, and the first poppy day in the UK was in 1921.

The poppy commemorates those who have died in war and is generally perceived as a heartfelt nod to those who lost their lives for Britain’s freedom.

In Britain, poppies are on sale to raise money for the Royal British Legion.

Which side should you wear it on?

Some people say left, so it is worn over the heart. Others say only the Queen and Royal Family are allowed to wear a poppy on the right, which is an urban myth.

But a Royal British Legion spokesman said there is no right or wrong side, “other than to wear it with pride”.

The Remembrance Poppy by numbers

Voices of Remembrance: Veterans of World War Two describe their experiences

Armistice Day has also been trending on Twitter

You can watch live as Armistice Day is marked around UK with a two minute silence.

A look at why Britain must find its fighting spirit again.


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Heartwarming moment hundreds turn out for funeral of veteran following Facebook appeal

November 10th, 2015

Nephew Tony Budgett, 51, from Stockport, feared there would only be four mourners at Mr Bryan’s funeral.

• Kind woman pays for veteran’s breakfast on Remembrance Sunday – and then a stranger covers the entire bill

But after a Facebook appeal to honour his uncle’s passing, hundreds turned out for the funeral at Stockport Crematorium today.

Old soldiers, their polished campaign medals worn proudly on their blazers, acted as standard bearers, joined by serving forces personnel and ordinary members of the public as each paid their respects, heads bowed as a bugler played the Last Post at the end of the moving service.

Hundreds turned out for the funeral following a Facebook appeal (Photo: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Mr Bryan’s surviving family have said they were “humbled” by the turnout after around 400 people crammed the chapel and crematorium.

A fire engine was present, with a poppy on its front and firemen and police officers acted as pallbearers.

Mr Bryan’s funeral is the latest in a number of services for old soldiers with little family left which has been attended by hundreds of members of the public to show their respect for veterans following online appeals.


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Celebrities fall silent for Remembrance Day #TwoMinuteSilence video

November 9th, 2015

The Royal British Legion released a celebrity-filled video reminding members of the public about the two minutes silence taking place on November 11th.

Jools Holland, Lord Sugar, Jessica Ennis and Olly Murrs are all notable people to appear in the 2minute video.

The Royal British Legion said they were “please to welcome the support of host of famous faces.”

Jessica Ennis appears on Remembrance video

Remembrance Day is commemorated every year at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month – remembering all those who gave their lives in war.


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Wiltshire Army town builds war memorial without names of dead ‘for fear of getting spellings wrong’

November 9th, 2015

The town’s mayor, Cllr Chris Franklin, said: “The memorial committee’s decision to omit the names seems to be purely based on it being too much of a risk.

“The war memorial must have the names of those people born and bred in Tidworth who went to war and never came home. The memorial is putting right a glaring omission. It is about our boys who gave their lives in battle.”

“The normal saying is, ‘when you go home tell them of us and say: for your tomorrow we gave our today. The clue there is ‘tell them of us’ – if there’s no names they can’t tell us”

Cllr Chris Franklin

Town councillor Andrew Connelly said: “Put the names of our war heroes on it – they should be remembered by name.

“The people for whom it has been erected will now never be remembered. That defeats the whole purpose of the memorial. I am absolutely furious.”

Daz Stephenson, a member of the committee, said “We’ve done an awful lot of work looking into the names, however there’s a lot of obscurity and we don’t want to get it wrong.

“We would prefer to hand over the memorial next year and leave it up to the town council to do that research and make the decision to put the names on or not.”

Gallery: Moving war memorials around the world
Anti-Tory protesters deface war monument on Whitehall

But Cllr Franklin said: “Quite a bit of research has already been done and adding the names later would be a bit of a damp squib.

“We’re coming up to Remembrance and the normal saying is, ‘when you go home tell them of us and say: for your tomorrow we gave our today.

“The clue there is ‘tell them of us’ – if there’s no names they can’t tell us.”


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Remembrance Sunday: Queen leads nation in tribute to the fallen

November 8th, 2015

Dressed in her customary all-black ensemble with a clutch of scarlet poppies pinned against her left shoulder, she stepped forward following the end of the two-minute silence marked by the sounding of Last Post by 10 Royal Marine buglers.

The Queen laid her wreath at the foot of the Sir Edwin Lutyens Portland stone monument to the Glorious Dead, then stood with her head momentarily bowed.

In recent days, she has discussed her own family’s loss in the First World War, specifically her uncle, Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon, killed in northern France in 1915 and whose body has never been recovered. But after seven decades mourning the losses from so many conflicts at that exact spot, who knows what ghosts flitted though her thoughts.

Queen Elizabeth II at the Cenotaph for the 2015 Remembrance Service

She was joined by King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, who was invited to the Cenotaph for the first time to lay a wreath marking the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands by British troops.

Watched by his wife Queen Maxima, who stood next to the Duchess of Cambridge in the Royal Box, the King laid a wreath marked with the simple message, “In remembrance of the British men and women who gave their lives for our future.”

Vice Admiral Sir Tim Laurence, Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, Queen Maxima of the Netherland and Sophie Countess Wessex at the Cenotaph

His was not the only debut at the Cenotaph. So too, the leader of the opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, who wore both suit and (red) poppy for the occasion.

His bow as he laid a wreath marked with the words “let us resolve to create a world of peace” was imperceptible – and not enough for some critics. Yet unlike the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Battle commemorations earlier this year, Mr Corbyn did join in with the singing of the national anthem.

Remebrance Day The DUke of York, Prince Harry and the Duke of Cambridge

Later he attended a separate remembrance service at a war memorial in Manor Gardens in his north Islington constituency. Mr Corbyn arrived at the event with his dark blue tie switched to red and accompanied by his wife, Laura Alvarez. After a short speech in which he spoke of the “trauma” of Remembrance Day and honouring the fallen, Mr Corbyn read Futility, written by another of the Great War poets, Wilfred Owen.

Quietly watching among the small crowd was Islington resident and 90-year-old D Day veteran Ken Watts. Then just a teenager, Watts was among the first wave to land on the Normandy beaches with the Devonshire Regiment. Until that day he had never seen a dead body, but then a friend was gunned down standing right next to him.

“I am here to remember the people who died fighting for their country,” he says. As for Mr Corbyn’s views on the futility of war, he didn’t wish to be drawn. “He can discuss it all he wants but he wasn’t there, and I was,” he added.

Of course, honouring those who were there, in whichever of this country’s many conflicts they served, was what yesterday’s events were all about.

The Duke of Edinburgh - Remembrance Day

Following the end of the official service at the Cenotaph, the Massed Bands stirred, the notes from their pipes and drums bouncing off the grand buildings of Whitehall, and a mammoth procession more than 10,000-strong (9,000 of whom were veterans) began marching up from Horse Guard’s Parade.

As they passed they were saluted by the Duke of Cambridge who attended in his RAF Flight Lieutenant’s uniform. Earlier in proceedings, he had laid a wreath at the same time as Prince Harry – wearing the Captain’s uniform of the Blues and Royals – and the Duke of York. It was the first time members of the Royal family have done so ensemble in order to shave minutes off an already long ceremony for the more elderly veterans.

Time takes its inevitable toll on even the most stoic among us, and this year only a dozen World War Two veterans marched with the Spirit of Normandy Trust, a year after the Normandy Veterans’ Association disbanded.

Within their ranks was 95-year-old former Sapper Don Sheppard of the Royal Engineers. Sheppard was of the eldest on parade and was pushed in his wheelchair by his 19-year-old grandson, Sam, who in between studying at Queen Mary University volunteers with the Normandy veterans.

“It is because of my admiration for them,” he says. “I see them as role models and just have the upmost respect for what they did.”

While some had blankets covering their legs against the grey November day, other veterans of more recent wars had only stumps to show for their service to this country during 13 long years of war in Afghanistan.

As well as that terrible toll of personal sacrifice, the collective losses – and triumphs – of some of the country’s most historic regiments were also honoured yesterday.

The Gurkha Brigade Association – marking 200 years of service in the British Army – marched to warm ripples of applause. The King’s Royal Hussars, represented yesterday by 126 veterans, this year also celebrate 300 years since the regiment was raised

They were led by General Sir Richard Shirreff, former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of Nato and Colonel of the regiment who himself was marching for the first time.

“We are joined by a golden thread to all those generations who have gone before us,” he said. “We are who we are, because of those that have gone before us.”


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Store removes Remembrance Day display depicting dead soldier after complaints

November 8th, 2015

He told the Manchester Evening News: “As someone who is ex-forces, I found it in pretty bad taste.

“Everything done by the Royal British Legion is very professional and respectful.

“For someone who has served and seen casualties on the battlefield, or a family member who has lost someone, to walk and see that could really trigger stress. I’m glad it was changed.”

Another person tweeted: “How anybody ever thought this was a good idea at @asda needs their head testing. Absolutely disgusting.”

But some people thought it should have been retained.

Andy Kay wrote on Facebook: “Removed a fallen soldier poppy statue because it offended people. Well it’s removal offends me.”

The Remembrance Poppy by numbers

Prince Harry and Duke of Edinburgh visit Field of Remembrance

And Derek Hanstock said: “Cowards! It’s disgusting that you have removed the poppy display. I’ve spent my last penny in any Asda.”

An Asda spokeswoman said the display was intended as a mark of respects.

She said: “We’re proud to support the Poppy Appeal in our stores across the UK and have been welcoming volunteers from the Royal British Legion into our stores to sell remembrance poppies.

“Our colleagues have been holding fundraising activities in stores to support the Poppy Appeal and it was not our intention to cause offence with the poppy display at the Harpurhey store.

“There were a couple of complaints about the use of the mannequin within the display so a decision was made to remove the mannequin but leave the rest of the display and poppies standing.”


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Voices of Remembrance: Veterans of World War Two describe their experiences

November 7th, 2015

Ammunition was limited though and pilots like Mr Farnes could only fire for around fifteen seconds in total before they ran out of bullets. “You would come down (on an enemy plane) have a quick burst of four or five seconds and then possibly break away and have a look round,” said Mr Farnes, “and if it was clear you’d go back and have another go.”

Laurie Weeden was also a pilot but his plane was a glider, flown into occupied France on D-Day. In the back of his Horsa glider he carried a jeep and an anti tank gun to be used by the Allies to recapture Northern France. “Ahead of us we could see the bombing of the Merville Battery,” he says, describing the coastal fortifications the Germans had set up to defend the coast, “ a line of tracer went up in front of us and as it hadn’t hit me I presumed it was (aimed for) the chap ahead of me. Or perhaps it was a German aiming at me and was not a very good shot.”

David Burke

Having trained with the Post Office before the war, David Burke arrived in Normandy as a signals sergeant on ‘D-Day + 2’, attached to Canadian forces.

In the subsequent advance through northern Germany, he witnessed Bergen-Belsen.

‘I’ll tell you about concentration camps: if you’re downwind of it, it can sicken you. You never forget the smell.’

Servicemen and women from the two World Wars and later conflicts will be remembered on Sunday at memorial services across the country, with the main service taking place at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London.


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‘The young generation should know’: Britain’s forgotten Merchant Navy heroes

November 6th, 2015

It wasn’t until the year 2000 that seamen who flew the ‘Red Duster’ – the MN ensign – were granted the right to march as an official body in the Cenotaph commemorations. The veterans marching on Sunday 8 November will be representing those civilian seafarers who have perished in defence of the country: 16,000 in the First World War, at least 35,000 between 1939 and 1945 (the proportion of dead being greater than in any of the fighting services) and a small number in the Falklands war.

“I thought of the men who have been forgotten, wiped off the map”

Donald Hunter

More than 140,000 merchant seamen are reckoned to have been at sea at any one time in the Second World War. They transported food, raw materials and fuel to Britain, and carried troops, equipment and explosives to fighting fronts. These ships – not those of the Royal Navy – were generally the targets of enemy mines, torpedoes and shells. As Hunter says of the Normandy landings, ‘If you sink the transports and drown the troops you don’t have a problem, do you?’

One aspect of Merchant Navy history that is still neglected is the contribution of foreign seamen. Many thousands from India, Hong Kong, the Caribbean, west Africa and elsewhere served on Second World War ships.

These are a few of the facts. What follows is something of the reality. It was gloriously sunny autumn weather the week I met the men who appear in these pages. Britain looked like a country you would put your life on the line for a thousand times over, and that is what each of them did.

Ronald Quested, Radio officer, Second World War

Ronald Quested, now (left) and as a young radio officer during the Second World War (right)

Birkenhead, October 1944. Ron Quested, a newly qualified radio officer, is watching stevedores loading cargo into the hold of the SS Samnebra, a Baltimore-built Liberty ship. ‘When I looked, they’d got sacking round their hobnailed boots. The bosun was standing next to me.

I said, “Why have they got the sacking there?”, and he said, “They’re loading up TNT. It’s to stop sparks flying.’’’ Quested was 17 years old. He had a twin brother, Len, who was about to serve on the Arctic convoys, and a 16-year-old sweetheart back in Essex. ‘We loaded up and I thought, “Oh my.”

But I never took any notice of it after that. I’m one of these blokes that doesn’t get upset very quickly.’

“After three months you’re thinking, where is my home?”

Ronald Quested

From this moment till the end of the war, he and the Samnebra were inseparable and, on his own admission, lucky. They travelled, in a series of convoys, through the Mediterranean, across the Atlantic to Baltimore, back through the Suez Canal to Bombay and Colombo and on to South Africa without once facing direct attack (though a tanker in one of his Atlantic convoys was blown up).

‘But every second of every minute of every day, you could have had a torpedo in you. Nobody could tell you how many U-boats were around.’

Fear apart, for a teenager who had never been abroad before it was an interminable, disorientating experience. ‘For the first three months, it’s an adventure; everything is new to you. After three months you’re thinking, where is my home? You’re going from one port to another port, one country to another country. And from six months to 12 months you’re beginning to say to yourself, I don’t think I’ve got a ruddy home!’

He is a cheery yet phlegmatic character (88, ‘fighting fit’, and the standard bearer for his local Merchant Navy Association), but some, he says, didn’t cope so well with the experience. People drank heavily.

Relationships broke up. The captain of a ship Quested was on after the war, a veteran of the Battle of the Atlantic, blew his brains out in his cabin. ‘This is the effect war can have on a merchant seaman,’ he says.

But Quested was made stronger by wartime service. ‘I really felt as if I’d been educated in geography and meeting people from all over the world,’ he says. ‘I felt confident in going anywhere and doing anything. You went away a boy and you came back a man.’

He left the Merchant Navy in 1950 and had a successful career as an electronics engineer. And he made his own ruddy home, marrying that childhood sweetheart, Betty, in 1953 and settling in an Essex village. Five children, 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren later, they are still together.

Martyn ‘Zak’ Coombs: Assistant purser/stretcher bearer/ward orderly, Falklands war

Martyn 'Zak' Coombs, now (left) and during the Falklands war (right)

By the surreal disposition of war, the music room of the ship on which Zak Coombs served during the Falklands campaign was converted into an intensive-care unit.

He remembers a badly burnt soldier being stretchered in, a victim of the bombing of the supply ships Sir Tristram and Sir Galahad. The man’s hands were in plastic bags. When he asked for a cigarette, Coombs put one in his mouth. ‘Then I realised I was going to strike a flame in front of him, and I said, “I’m going to make a flame, is that OK?” And he said, “Yeah, well, you’re not going to light a cigarette otherwise are you?’’’

This is just one of many moments that Coombs recalls (with a sort of ferocious tenderness) from the 113 days in 1982 in which his civilised civilian world was turned on its head. In April of that year he was 32 and working as the assistant purser on the SS Uganda, a P&O passenger ship that specialised in educational cruises for children. ‘I sat on the desk selling stamps and arranging phone calls and sorting problems. I was a receptionist. In a hotel.’

“It’s funny. I didn’t know how serious it all was. Do you shut it away? I don’t know”

Martyn ‘Zak’ Coombs

The Uganda was docked in Alexandria in Egypt when war was declared. She was requisitioned as a hospital ship, and after a three-day refit in Gibraltar took about 100 medical staff and Royal Marines bandsmen (who worked as stretcher bearers) aboard and sailed for the South Atlantic.

In addition to his duties as assistant purser, Coombs volunteered to be a stretcher bearer and ward orderly. The Uganda took on 730 casualties. These included 150 Argentinians, one of whom, a teenage conscript, sticks in Coombs’s mind because he washed the blood and filth from his face. ‘He didn’t speak any English and I didn’t speak any Spanish in those days. It was quite difficult. They were very grateful for what you did for them.’

He saw some terrible lower-limb injuries and witnessed great suffering and bravery but does not recall breaking down at any point while the fighting was going on and the casualties were coming in.

Argentine tanks move down a street on the Falkland Islands

‘It’s funny. I didn’t know how serious it all was. Do you shut it away? I don’t know. Because it wasn’t happening to you. You were outside looking in.’ But the floodgates opened afterwards when he was reunited with his girlfriend, Tracey (who became, and remains, his wife).

Coombs continued to work for P&O, retiring two years ago after 37 years’ service. He and his wife live in a village near Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. For some time after the war he was reluctant to wear his South Atlantic Medal (awarded to military personnel and civilians for service in the Falklands), believing that what he went through could not compare with the suffering of the young men who passed through his ship (though now, he says, ‘I’m very proud of wearing it’).

His mind constantly returns to those injured men. As they left the Uganda he would ask each of them, when they reached their military hospitals back in Britain, to call Tracey and tell her he was OK. And, invariably, they did. ‘That’s the abiding memory I carry with me of those times, that so many men who had so much else on their minds would take the time to do that for me.’

Donald Hunter: Radio officer, Second World War

Donald Hunter, now (left) and as a teenage radio officer (right)

During the D-Day landings, from June 6 through to early August 1944, Don Hunter (now 89) made nearly 40 runs between London Docks, Tilbury, and Juno Beach, braving the German guns through the Strait of Dover, which pounded the convoys to ‘smithereens’. Hunter was an 18-year-old radio officer (‘and gunnery officer and fire control officer’) on the Empire Pickwick, an LSI (landing ship, infantry) that ferried troops and equipment to the Normandy beaches.

Those big guns aside, his hairiest moment came when the convoy he was on was attacked by German E-boats (fast torpedo boats). ‘This torpedo missed us; you could see the track of it in the fluorescence on the water. It missed our stern and hit the [nearby] tanker, which went up in flames.

“You’d see some of our troops who had landed that morning coming back at midday in black bags”

Donald Hunter

‘We weren’t allowed to pick up survivors, the theory being that if you stop you also become a target, and the cargo is more important than lives, I’m afraid. It’s a sorry truth of war. I was looking down from the bridge, horrified to see these men struggling in the water and we weren’t picking them up.’

The beach itself was another hell. ‘They had big guns along the clifftops. They were aiming at us, not the Royal Navy.’ But it was his own side that inflicted lasting damage. HMS Belfast was lying alongside the Pickwick at one point, bombarding the German positions. ‘It blew my hearing away [he indicates the hearing aid in his right ear]. My ears bled. We didn’t have earplugs. We didn’t even have steel helmets. Badly equipped.’

Hunter chuckles a fair bit when he talks about his war. There are silences too. D-Day wasn’t the half of it. ‘I spent more time in the Battle of the Atlantic than I did in Normandy. I was attacked by mines, U-boats, bombers. We had the bloody lot.’

The 2nd Battalion U.S. Army Rangers march to their landing craft in Weymouth, England, on June 5, 1944

Hanging in the hallway of Hunter’s house in Kent is the certificate confirming him as a Chevalier in the French Légion d’Honneur, awarded in 2004 for his participation in the Normandy landings. He married his wife, Jean, in 1947 (when she brings tea and biscuits, he hugs her and says, as if he still can’t believe his luck, ‘We’ve been married 68 years!’), left the Merchant Navy in 1950 and worked for British Aerospace as an electronics engineer.

But Juno Beach is never far from his mind. He has one memory in particular: a ‘coffin ship’ would anchor alongside his boat during the landings. ‘You’d see some of our troops who had landed that morning coming back at midday in black bags. They’d lay them on the deck while they identified them. That was a reminder of the reality of war. It’s hard to talk about.’ He falls silent, then adds, ‘The younger generation should know really.’

Leonard Dibb-Western: Deckhand, Second World War

Leonard Dibb-Western, now (left) and as a mess boy, aged 15 (right)

Len Dibb-Western says the neighbours in his Somerset village haven’t a clue about his past. ‘I never tell them; they never ask me.’ So here’s telling them. The old chap (just turned 90) with what can only be described as a twinkle in his eye had lived a hundred lives before many lads’ voices break.

His first ship, which he joined as a mess boy in June 1941, at the age of 15, was a Norwegian tanker on the Atlantic convoys between Britain and north America. He chose a Norwegian ship because the money was so good – ‘£30 a month. I gave my mother £10. She cried. She’d never had £10 before in her life.’ In 1942 he was on the bridge of another Norwegian ship in the Gulf of Mexico when she was hit, but not sunk, by a torpedo.

‘I was thrown across the bridge and knocked my head,’ he recalls. ‘No damage though. Too thick, I think.’

“They’re gone. That’s life, isn’t it? No heroes. Only survivors”

Leonard Dibb-Western

After contracting malaria in west Africa, he joined his first British ship in 1944 – a shock to the system. ‘There were no sheets or pillowcases, just blankets. A donkey’s breakfast to lie on. Know what that is? Straw mattress. But they gave us an extra blanket to go up to Russia.’

This ship, the SS Fort McMurray, was part of Convoy JW 57, which sailed from Loch Ewe to Murmansk, fending off U-boats attacks, and on to Bakaritsa. The Russians, he says, were very suspicious of the British. ‘They put a notice up in our mess room. If you associate with any women you get five years in the salt mines. I wish I’d kept that.’

The ‘poor devils’ who unloaded the cargo were female political prisoners. The ‘water’ on the dining table at Bakaritsa was vodka. ‘It nearly killed us! The Russians laughed. It was great times really.’

British men, women and children celebrating 'Victory in Europe Day' in the street

His war finished on a picaresque note when he found himself in the clink in Singapore (for some light pilfering of cargo) and was set to work splicing hangman’s nooses for Japanese war criminals being held in cages there. Since then he has worked in a jam factory and as a cabinetmaker, and was a retained fireman for 17 years. But the four teenage years he spent in mortal danger remain ‘the best times of my life’.

He has stayed in touch with shipmates but the pool of memories is drying up. Poring over his photos of veterans’ gatherings, each man shipshape in his white beret, he points out the ones who have died since the pictures were taken. ‘They’re gone. That’s life, isn’t it? No heroes. Only survivors. That’s what I always say.’

A history of the British Merchant Navy

17th century

The British Merchant Navy can be dated back as far as this century, when the Royal Navy attempted to register all seafarers as a source of labour in wartime. The fleet grew considerably over the following decades, benefiting from trade opportunities in India and the Far East.

First World War

Following the British merchant shipping fleets’ services in the First World War, King George V officially names the service the Merchant Navy. Approximately 14,661 merchant seafarers were killed during the war.

1928

George V names Edward, Prince of Wales, ‘Master of the Merchant Navy and Fishing Fleets’, a title he relinquished on abdicating the throne in December 1936. The title has since been held by George VI and Elizabeth II.

Second World War

In 1939, the British Merchant Navy was the largest in the world. During the war the Merchant Navy lost 54% of their fleet and 32,000 seafarers.

Falklands War

A total of 52 merchant ships from 33 different companies are taken from trade; 72 men served during the war.

2000

Following years of lobbying, Merchant Navy Day becomes an official day of remembrance on 3 September.

2012

The fleet consists of 1,504 ships and is still one of the largest in the world.


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Prince Harry and Duke of Edinburgh visit Field of Remembrance

November 6th, 2015

The Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Harry have paid tribute to Britain’s fallen soldiers by opening Westminster Abbey’s Field of Remembrance.

Both Philip and Harry laid their crosses of remembrance in front of two wooden crosses from the graves of unknown British soldiers from the First and Second World Wars.

Prince Harry meets members of the armed forces and veterans during a Service in the Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey (Getty)

The Last Post was played before a two-minute silence. The prince and his grandfather then walked around plots containing more than 100,000 crosses and chatted to veterans and families of those who had lost loved ones.

The Duke wore his Royal Navy day ceremonial uniform and an overcoat, while Harry wore his Blues and Royals frock coat.


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Germany still paying pensions to Spain’s Nazi volunteers during Second World War

November 5th, 2015

The German government has continued to pay pensions to Spaniards who volunteered to fight for the Nazis in the Second World War.

Berlin is still honouring an agreement made with the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, whose regime encouraged volunteers to sign up to fight for Hitler against Communist Russia between 1941 and 1943.

In a written reply to a parliamentary question by Left-wing MP Andrej Hunko, Angela Merkel’s government admitted that it was still paying out over €100,000 (£71,000) a year in pensions to survivors and relatives of troops from the so-called Blue Division, in whose ranks Spanish volunteers fought on the Eastern Front.

The current annual bill to German taxpayers stands at €107,352, which is granted to 41 veterans who were wounded while fighting for the Nazis, eight widows of former fighters, and one orphan of a Blue Division volunteer.

Mr Hunko, of The Left (Die Linke) party, said it was “a scandal that 70 years after the war, Germany is still paying more than €100,000 a year to Nazi collaborators”.

He added: “At that time, those people volunteered to join the German fascists to fight on their side in the war of extermination in eastern Europe. For me it is incomprehensible that the German government should stick to those payments when so many victims of the war are still waiting today for their rightful compensation.”

The agreement to pay pensions to Blue Division veterans was made between Franco’s government and the Federal Republic of Germany in 1962.

The German government said that 47,000 Spanish volunteers had fought for Nazi Germany under an agreement between Hitler and Franco, part of a deal which prevented Spain from entering the war too quickly after the three-year civil war won by Franco’s fascist forces in 1939 with help from Nazi Germany and Benito Mussolini’s Italy.

The written answer also said that 22,000 Blue Division members were either killed, wounded or declared missing in action during the war, without dividing the different groups of casualties. Other estimates put Spanish dead on the Eastern Front at around 5,000.


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