The letter of commendation from the Southern Railway management. It took two months to send it.

NOSTALGIA: We had more backbone during the war

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On this day in 1940 Cecil Fletcher loosened the rear door of a parachute mine.

It had been retrieved from a field in Kent and delivered to HMS Vernon Mining Department (now the site of Gunwharf Quays).

In J Turner’s 1955 publication Service Most Silent, he recalls what happened next:

‘The suction of the rubber jointing-band between it and the main body yielded a bit. A sudden whirring sound. A blinding flash. A roar. Then blank.

‘Hodges and Forest looked up quickly to see the roof blown out of the mining shed.

‘[Commander Sayer’s] window shook. He thought it was a bomb in the city. Lieutenant Hight was with him. Both looked out of the windows. A sailor rushed in. “There’s been an explosion, sir.”

‘An ambulance moved across to the shed. [Commander] Sayer and Hight ran over.

‘An incredible sight. Blackened men, brutally burned, were being helped out by the south door. The shed was a shambles. The sky gaping through the roof. Glass – and blood.

‘A contorted figure flung into a corner. A sailor collecting charred remains...putting them on a trolley. A leg.

Mr [Reginald] Cook, commissioned gunner, was dying before their eyes. No one could save him. Little was left of Fletcher.’ – from John Sadden’s The Portsmouth Book of Days.