South West Wales

Freshwater West memorial for sunken WWII vessels

The service was held on the beach of Freshwater West in Pembroke, 70 years after the disaster
Image caption The service was held on the beach of Freshwater West in Pembroke, 70 years after the disaster

Seventy nine men who died when two World War II ships sank off the Pembrokeshire coast have been remembered 70 years on.

The British landing craft went down near Freshwater West after getting into difficulty in a storm in 1943 while travelling from Belfast to Cornwall.

Only three people survived the disaster and many bodies were never recovered.

Two plaques bearing their names were unveiled at Freshwater West and a memorial service was also held.

Docking denied

The landing craft - which were used to deliver troops, equipment and supplies - were on a test journey to see how seaworthy they were when they hit bad weather.

They had initially left Belfast for Falmouth and after briefly docking in Holyhead the weather conditions rapidly deteriorated.

For reasons unknown the vessels were denied permission to enter harbours in Fishguard and Milford Haven.

The open-decked ships continued in the storm until they reached Freshwater West, but by this point they were in serious difficulty.

The local lifeboat at Angle was undergoing repair at the time and the lifeboat men were left without a means of rescuing the men from the ships.

In a further tragedy, six crew members from HMS Rosemary, who also tried to help, died as their rescue vessel was engulfed by a huge wave.

The wrecks of the ships remain on the seabed off the Pembrokeshire coast.

A friend lost

Stephen Morris, 88, from Llansaint, Carmarthenshire, lost his friend Dilwyn Davies when the ships sank.

"Dilwyn and I came from the same village and joined up for the Royal Marines together," he said.

Image caption Plaques were unveiled to the men who died

"I later joined the Commandos and Dilwyn was on landing craft as a marine.

"The day of the sinking they were on exercise before the landing in Sicily and the landing craft had guns on them and they were top heavy."

He said that he was "cut up" after learning of his friend's death at the age of 18 but could not go to his funeral as he was not allowed to leave his training base in Scotland.

Instead he ensures that he pays his respect every year at a plaque in Thornton Cemetery which is dedicated to those that lost their lives in the disaster.

He welcomed the decision to commemorate the victims with plaques on the beach.

"The sinkings really affected people," he added.

Pembroke town councillor David Boswell said: "To think that 79 sailors perished on that dark horrible night is unbelievable.

"That night it was cold, pitch black, disorientating: the middle of a storm.

"Maybe it's my army blood as an ex-serviceman, but I just don't think they should be forgotten."

Military associations including the Royal British Legion and Royal Naval Association attended the memorial service on the beach.

The memorial slates are two inches thick and the size of pool tables, but will have to be taken home at the end of the day as they have not yet been given planning permission.

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites