Naval heroes honoured in town

A TOWN has finally honoured the 217 men who lost their lives when a German U-boat torpedoed its adopted warship 60 years ago.Only nine of the 226 crew on board HMS Kite survived the attack by German submarine U-344 as it tried to protect a vital Arctic convoy in August 1944.

A TOWN has finally honoured the 217 men who lost their lives when a German U-boat torpedoed its adopted warship 60 years ago.

Only nine of the 226 crew on board HMS Kite survived the attack by German submarine U-344 as it tried to protect a vital Arctic convoy in August 1944.

Just two remain alive, but on Saturday one, Lionel Irish, proudly unveiled a permanent memorial to his former comrades at the Braintree and Bocking Public Gardens.

The town, like many others in Britain, had taken part in Warship Week by investing in National Savings Certificates.


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By 1941, a total of 99 official savings groups working under the motto "the quicker you work the quicker the end" had been formed in the town at factories such as Critall's and Warner's along with other employers including the White Hart Hotel.

Their success meant that by March 1942, the town was able to adopt the anti-submarine ship, HMS Kite, as its own.

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Residents took the crew to their hearts and would send them parcels, letters and cigarettes and in return the Kite's crew gave the town a model of their ship.

But on August 21, the friendships were destroyed. The Kite was escorting a huge convoy to Russia in the icy waters of the Greenland Sea.

The weather was cold and dull and planes flying from one of the carriers reported U-boats ahead of the convoy and Kite was ordered to go to the area with the destroyer, HMS Keppel.

At around 6.44am two explosions echoed around the waters as Kite was torpedoed. She took just 90 seconds to go down.

Mr Irish was one of just 16 men pulled from the oily, icy waters and seven of those died from hypothermia within hours of being rescued.

On Saturday, the 81-year-old Cornishman's eyes swelled with tears as he asked guests at Braintree to remember his lost friends.

He said it was a "great honour" to be invited to unveil the memorial, which was witnessed by his wife, Kathleen, civic leaders and other veterans - including some of those who pulled him from the water.

He had been married just 12 days when the attack happened.

"I don't remember much from being in the water other than it was terrifying and cold," said Mr Irish, who now lives in Stratford-upon-Avon.

"But I had this beautiful image of my Kathleen in her bright white gown holding a bouquet of flowers.

"It was that which kept me going and I've prayed about what happened every day since. I'm not the hero - I got off."

Also watching the unveiling were two of the men on board the Keppel, which was just 100 yards from the Kite at the time of the blasts.

Stoker 1st Class Joseph Bennett has written extensively about his wartime experiences. In his account of August 21, 1944, he wrote: "We thought the next torpedo was ours. Held up by their lifebelts, they (the Kite's crew) were floundering and struggling in the icy water, absolutely smothered in the filthy gluey oil.

"It was a dreadful sight. Many, it was plain to see, were already dead. You cannot imagine what it was like to stand some eight feet above and watch them die before you could help them."

Telegraphist Gordon Copson, from Hornchurch, looked into the distance as he recalled the horror of helplessly watching men die around him.

"There was so much oil in the water, you couldn't do much - we couldn't grip the men's arms properly, they just slipped off.

"I'll never forget it."

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