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 National Lottery Community 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 crew members that lost their lives on the frigate, HMS Mourne – the ship he served on during WW2. This is Eddie’s story in his own words . . .
I joined up at the age of 17 in 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.
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.
I completed my 10 weeks’ basic training at HMS Raleigh in Cornwall and I was then posted to HMS Drake in Portsmouth before eventually joining my ship, HMS Mourne, in Liverpool.
I was glad to join the ship after all that training and I was very excited. 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.
We were part of the Fifth Escort Group assigned to Operation Neptune, the maritime element of D-Day. Our 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. 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) we were called away to sweep the channel further away from the beaches. It was around midday and we were going in to attack a German U-Boat and we were hunting her down when all of a sudden another one got us and we went down in two minutes. The sub had used an acoustic ‘Gnat’ torpedo which homed in on the sound of the ship’s propellers.
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.
I was on the deck with a lad called Edward Bowen from Cardiff when the torpedo hit. We were really good mates and we both got blown up in the air. I remember protecting my face when I hit the deck.
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.
Before she went down, I remember one lad from Barry was holding on to the guard rail and I said to him 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.
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. When I saw how little of us were left in the water, it really hit home. 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 we were eventually picked up by HMS Aylmer and were taken back to Devonport.