VETERANS of HMS Ramillies met in Portsmouth and reminisced about serving in the battleship during the Second World War.
Ramillies was involved in the operations on D-Day on June 6, 1944, and lays claim to firing more 15-inch shells on Normandy beaches than any other battleship in the invasion of Nazi-occupied France.
Veterans met for a church service at St Ann’s Church in Portsmouth Naval Base and dinners at the Royal Maritime Club in Queen Street, Portsea.
The warship was considered fortunate because she did not lose any men in the war despite the best efforts of German submarines.
Recalling D-Day, Bernard Mallion, 84, who was a signalman in Ramillies, said: ‘We were all youngsters – 17-year-olds – and we thought we were impregnable but at the same time when you know someone is trying to kill you, you obviously get frightened.
‘By the end of the day, casualties numbered 2,000, and that was just the Allies.
‘People must remember the freedom they enjoy today did not come cheaply.’
Bob Bennett, 85, who was a stoker in the ship, said: ‘I’d been on watch down in the boiler room until 4am.
‘I popped up for a breath of fresh air and I was amazed to see all the ships there off the Normandy coast. It was an incredible sight. I’m very proud to have been there.’
Veterans recounted one hairy moment on D-Day when three German torpedoes were fired at the ship. However, one passed by on the port side and two went by to the starboard and hit other Allied ships.
Sailors put their good fortune down to a grass skirt donated to the ship by a Maori tribe when she visited New Zealand at the start of the war. The captain was told no harm would befall the ship if he wore the skirt into battle, which he did on D-Day.
Mr Mallion said: ‘Call it Maori magic or what you will, we were extremely lucky.’
‘I consider myself lucky’
LEADING Cook Vic Stamp knows more than most about riding his luck during the Second World War.
The 92-year-old from Portsmouth was working as a milkman when he signed up to the Royal Navy in 1938 – a year before war broke out.
He said: ‘I was living at home with my mother in Regent Street where The News offices used to be. I left one day and said “see you tonight mum” and that was it – I didn’t see her again until two years and four months later.’
On arriving at Portsmouth Naval Base that morning, Mr Stamp was drafted for the war effort.
The lifelong Pompey fan said: ‘There were quite a few of us down there and they split us up into three lines. One was HMS Royal Oak, which was sunk, one was HMS Hood, which was sunk, and my line was HMS Ramillies which escaped unscathed. I consider myself a very lucky man to be alive.’