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Welsh veteran recalls how he was lucky to survive D-Day torpedo attack 70 years ago

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Area:
Wales
Programme:
Heroes Return
Release date:
8 11 2013

As we prepare to remember those who died in the line of duty on November 11th, a Welsh D-Day veteran whose ship was sunk by a German U-Boat with the loss of 110 lives recalls how he was lucky to have survived.  

Thanks to an award from the Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return programme, 87 year old Eddie Linton from Newport recently visited the beaches of Normandy for the first time to lay a wreath in memory of the 110 fellow crewmembers that lost their lives on the frigate, HMS Mourne - the ship he served on during WW2.

Eddie is one of numerous veterans from Wales who have made or are making a poignant return to the places where they served during the war. The Big Lottery Fund’s Heroes Return programme has to date awarded over £1 million to more than 830 Second World War veterans, widows, spouses and carers from Wales for journeys in the UK, France, Germany, the Middle East, Far East and beyond.

Eddie recalls with sadness the first time the War hit home for him: “I remember walking to school and my friend looked a bit down so I asked him what was wrong,” recalls Eddie.

“‘My brother has been killed, he got blown up on HMS Adventure’ (1939) he said. I think she was the first ship blown up in the War and it brought it all home for me and I knew then what it was all about and how sad it was.” 

Eddie joined up at the age of 17 in September 1943.

“When I went down to Cardiff Queen Street to sign up the first time, they wouldn’t accept me because I had a deferred job,” he says.  

“I waited another two weeks, went back and told them that I wasn’t working and that’s how I got in. My Dad didn’t like the idea at all but I said to him that I was going and he went berserk. Then he and his mate next door ended up joining the army together. He was based on the AK-AK anti-aircraft guns and the search lights up in Gloucester. My two brothers were also called up, so all the boys in the family were involved in the War. I also had an Uncle who was killed at Dunkirk.”

After completing his 10 weeks’ basic training at HMS Raleigh in Cornwall, Eddie was posted to HMS Drake in Portsmouth before eventually joining his ship, HMS Mourne, in Liverpool as an Able Seaman.

“I was glad to join the ship after all that training and I was very excited,” says Eddie.

“I remember we sailed out of Liverpool for the first time at night. There was a Scotsman onboard the vessel with us and every time we left a harbour he’d be playing ‘The Mountains of Mourne’ on the bagpipes on the bridge of the ship. He did that when we took part in the D-Day operations. I remember sailing out at eleven o’clock at night and it was a bit eerie hearing the sounds of the bagpipes as we sailed out in the dark. But all in all, I just took it as it came really. You’re pretty fearless at that age.”

HMS Mourne was part of the Fifth Escort Group assigned to Operation Neptune, the maritime element of D-Day.  The flotilla's mission was to defend the western approaches to the invasion beaches against U-boat attacks.  

“There wasn’t actually any training for D-Day because it was all top secret,” says Eddie.

“We just had the signal and we were called into action. Our job was to sweep the English Channel for mines and German U-boats in preparation for D-Day to make it safe for the ships. This was the day prior to D-Day. We sailed out at night and I had the morning watch at 4am. When I got up to my look out post it really hit home. I could see all the ships, thousands of them – you’ve never seen anything like it – it was just amazing. We knew then something big was going to happen and there was definitely a little bit of excitement.”

On June 15th 1944, HMS Mourne was called away to sweep the channel further away from the beaches. She was going in to attack a German U-Boat and was hunting her down when all of a sudden, disaster struck. Around midday, the Mourne was torpedoed by another submarine, the U-767, off Wolf Rock in the English Channel.  The vessel immediately blew up and sank rapidly after the forward magazine exploded.  The submarine had used an acoustic ‘Gnat’ torpedo which homed in on the sound of the ship's propellers.  A staggering 110 sailors perished on the ship that day and only around twenty men, including Eddie, survived the disaster. 

“We were going in to attack a U-boat but before we got her another one got us and we went down in two minutes,” recalls Eddie.

“The majority of the casualties died in the initial hit and it was one hell of a blast. When it hit us a huge fireball went up in the air. They’d hit us directly in the magazine section and all that went up. The poor devils down below never stood a chance – no chance at all.”

Both Eddie and a fellow crewmember from Cardiff, Edward Bowen, were on the deck when the torpedo hit and they both got blown up. That was the last time Eddie would see his close friend.

“I remember protecting my face when I hit the deck,” says Eddie.

“I got up and I didn’t know which way to jump. As she started to go one way, I jumped over and touched the side of the ship as I went down. We both went up in the air but I never saw my mate Edward from Cardiff again. He was killed and went down with the ship. I felt so sorry for him. He lived with his Nan and his little sister and I had feelings for his sister at the time. We were good mates and I’d spent some time with him in Cardiff. But there you go, that’s war I suppose. I never saw his family after the War and I’ve often wondered about them.”

“When I went overboard into the water, it seemed like I was never going to reach the surface - it felt like ages. People say your life flashes before your eyes in situations like that but my only thoughts were for my family. My first thought was ‘I’ve got to get out of here quick’ so I scarpered and that was the end of that. I looked over and I saw the ship go down. The propeller was still turning at the back as she went down head first.”  

Some of the harrowing memories of that fateful day have never been far from Eddie’s thoughts: “One lad from Barry was holding on to the guard rail and I said c’mon Taff, jump in the water or you’re going to miss the boat. ‘No’ he said, ‘it’s only a false alarm’. He went down with the ship and I never saw him again. He wasn’t injured, he just couldn’t swim and the poor lad was frightened.”

The explosion had obviously attracted attention because a Sunderland flying boat arrived shortly afterwards and dropped a large rubber dinghy for the men in the water. 

“We were about and hour in the water and then we got on a Carley float and we just sat around then waiting for someone to pick us up,” says Eddie.

While he was clinging to the float, Eddie remembers an American aircraft, a Liberator Bomber, circling over the wreckage.  The plane flew low enough for Eddie to see one of the aircrew leaning out of the side-gunner's position clutching a camera and taking photographs. 

“When I saw how little of us were left in the water, it really hit home,” recalls Eddie.

“Most of us that survived were in pretty good nick but I hurt my face and my side. A few were in a real sorry state though. The ships we were with had to carry on because if they hung about they would have been hit as well. When it all settled down, they would come back and pick up the survivors. We were in the water for about four hours I would suspect.”

After several hours in the water, the survivors were eventually picked up by HMS Aylmer and were taken back to Devonport. Eddie was then taken to RNH Stonehouse in Plymouth for treatment to the facial injuries and deafness he suffered during the explosion onboard the ship. When the War ended, he was awarded the 1939-45 Star; the France & Germany Star, with the Atlantic Clasp; and the War Medal 1939-1945.

The pilgrimage to Normandy was the first for Eddie in nearly 70 years.

“As I laid down a wreath for the Mourne my thoughts were with them all that day,” says Eddie, who hopes to return for the 70th anniversary next year.

“It’s important that the Big Lottery Fund pays for trips like this. I’ve always wanted to go and I didn’t make it last year. I’m going to go again next year being fit and well.”

Big Lottery Fund Wales Director, John Rose, said: “On Remembrance Day we will pay tribute to those who died in the line of duty. A huge debt of gratitude and recognition is owed by today’s society to the men and women who served across the world during the Second World War. They built the peace and protected the freedoms we enjoy today.”

The Big Lottery Fund has extended its Heroes Return 2 programme. The programme has no fixed deadline for applications. This will ensure Second World War veterans from the UK, Channel Islands and Republic of Ireland who have yet to take advantage of the funding opportunity since the programme opened in 2009, now have more time to apply for grants to cover travel and accommodation expenses to enable them to make trips back to places across the world where they served. They can also receive funding to take part in an official commemoration in the UK. For details contact: Heroes Return helpline:  0845 00 00 121 or visit www.biglotteryfund.org.uk/heroesreturn

Wartime photos of Eddie Linton are available. Eddie is also available for interview and filming opportunities. Please contact Oswyn Hughes at the Big Lottery Fund press office on 02920 678 207.                                                               
                                                                                                                               

 

Further information

 

Big Lottery Fund Press Office – Oswyn Hughes: 02920 678 207
Out of hours contact: 07760 171 431
Public Enquiries Line: 0300 123 0735                          
Textphone:  0845 6021 659
Full details of the Big Lottery Fund programmes and grant awards are available on the website: www.biglotteryfund.org.uk


 

Notes to editors

 

  • The Big Lottery Fund (BIG), the largest distributor of National Lottery good cause funding, is responsible for giving out half the money raised for good causes by the National Lottery.
  • BIG is committed to bringing real improvements to communities and the lives of people most in need and has been rolling out grants to health, education, environment and charitable causes across the UK since June 2004. The Fund was formally established by Parliament on 1 December 2006. 
  • Since the National Lottery began in 1994, over a quarter of every pound spent by the public has gone to good causes. As a result, over £30 billion has now been raised and more than 400,000 grants awarded across arts, sport, heritage, charities, health, education and the environment.

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