In 1942 the light cruiser HMS Manchester was taking part in Operation Pedestal, supplying the besieged island of Malta and escorting a convoy.
On August 13 she was torpedoed by two Italian motor torpedo boats. Thirteen men were killed in the attack.
Severely damaged, with a hole that a car could be driven through and her engines stopped, her commanding officer, Captain Harold Drew, decided to save as many of his company as he could and scuttle his ship
For this action he was later court-martialed and never held a command at sea again. It broke his heart that he should be thought a coward when his ship never had a chance of making a neutral port.
Other ships rescued 142 of the ship’s company, while 375 men and 27 officers took to the boats and landed on the Tunisian coast held by the Vichy French. They were incarcerated in a prisoner-of-war camp believed to have been a former Foreign Legion fort.
One of these men was Chief ERA Frederick Cecil Comlay of 135, Westfield Road, Southsea, and his son Neil has sent me these photographs and information about his father.
When in the camp he was sent letters from his wife Kathleen and as you can see from the envelope, it was sent by air mail via Madrid.
Can you believe that there was such a thing as air mail in 1942? I have never heard anything like it and wonder if there was some special allowance for marked aeroplanes to fly to neutral countries. I very much doubt it of course, but I would like to know how it all worked.
Before this action Manchester had been damaged by aerial torpedo on July 21, 1941, and was sent to Philadelphia for repairs before returning to Portsmouth Dockyard where final repairs were completed in April, 1942.
In the United States Frederick was billeted with the Bradfield family at 46, Waverley Road, Monoa, Upper Darby, Philadelphia.
He joined the navy in 1930 at HMS Fisgard and worked his way up through the ranks to become a lieutenant. He later saw service in Burma and at D-Day.
At the end of his career he joined the Royal New Zealand Navy and retired in 1965. He died in 1993 aged 77.