NOSTALGIA: Special award made to RAF pilots who saw action in naval battle

The United States Coastguard Cutter Tampa torpedoed with the loss of three Portsmouth men.

In November 1940 the Town-class cruiser HMS Manchester was on her way to Malta carrying RAF pilots when she was sent to engage Italian warships including two battleships. It became known as the Battle of Cape Spartivento in the Mediterranean.

In a short exchange of fire in which the heavy cruiser Berwick was hit once and Manchester hit an Italian destroyer with a broadside setting it on fire, the action ended.

The certificate made up by the crew of HMS Manchester for RAF pilots but given to all the ships company.

Serving in Manchester was the late CPO Fred Comlay. His son Neil, from Drayton, dropped me a line.

After the battle somebody in Manchester thought it would a good idea to issue certificates for the RAF personnel on board to say they had been in a naval gun action. Eventually enough certificates were made for everyone on board.

Next month is the 77th anniversary of the battle and Neil wonders how many, if any, of those certificates still exist. Does anyone have one in the back of a draw somewhere?

•I received an e-mail from David Swidenbank, the vice-chairman of the Porthcawl Museum in Wales telling me they are researching how U-boats affected Wales and the Welsh in the First World War.

Having a rest before the climb we see two horses and a cart at the junction of Portsdown Hill Road and Bedhampton Hill. (Barry Cox collection)

In September 1918 the US Coastguard cutter Tampa was sunk in the Bristol Channel by U-Boat 91 commanded by Wolf Hans Hertwig with the loss of all hands.

Among the dead were 10 Royal Navy sailors and five civilian dockyard workers who were all returning to postings in the UK from Gibraltar.

In the USA the Tampa is held in great esteem as her sinking marked the largest loss of life by part of the US armed forces in a single action during that war.

Its link with Wales is twofold as the only recovered bodies were washed up near Lamphy, west Wales and one unidentified sailor is buried in the local church.

The same scene where the two horses took a rest in days past. It is now a five-armed roundabout.

The other link is that in the 1920s the only surviving piece of wreckage ( a lifeboat identity plate) was found on Rest Bay beach, Porthcawl. This plate is now held in a museum in Washington DC.

David says: ‘We are also helping the US Coastguard who would like to hear from any descendants of those lost on the Tampa as they plan events next year to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking.’

Among those lost were two shipwrights from Portsmouth dockyard and a sailor.

Petty Officer James Frederick Brettt, 31, was based at HMS Victory Barracks and lived at 128, Prince Albert Road, Eastney, with his wife Winifred.

Last week my colleague Chris Owen included a fascinating piece about the germ of an idea 300 years ago which led to the foundation of Portsmouth Grammar School. The minutes of a meeting of the Grand Jury at Portsmouth Quarter Sessions on October 23, 1717, recorded: What a misfortune the Town is in generall under for want of a Grammar Schoole. Its a quote still used in the front of the schools termly diary printed for parents and pupils. To mark that 300th anniversary, heres a picture of headmaster James Priory bringing history to life as he visits one of the Reception classes and relates the story of the anniversary . He says: It was great fun to spend time with some of the youngest members of the school and tell them a little about our history. They were certainly a very enthusiastic audience!

Shipwright Henry Walter Vaughn, 27, was the son of James and Caroline Vaughn of 43, Herbert Street, Landport, and Edward Skyrme, 44, lived with his wife at 28, Widley Road, Stamshaw.

If anyone has any knowledge of these three men or anyone else lost on the Tampa please contact me.

Five minutes after I replied to David he wrote back to say he had heard from Edward Skyrme’s great, great grand niece now living in Australia.

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