ONE of the Second World War’s largest overlooked tragedies was remembered at a poignant memorial service.
People gathered at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial on Southsea seafront to mark 70 years since 837 men lost their lives in the sinkings of HMS Neptune and HMS Kandahar.
The disasters took place on December 19, 1941, when Neptune hit four mines in an uncharted Mediterranean minefield off the coast of Libya.
A total of 764 officers and men died when the cruiser capsized, leaving only one survivor who was rescued after spending five days in the water.
The sinking stands as the Royal Navy’s fifth worst loss of life during the Second World War.
But the tragedy grew when destroyer HMS Kandahar entered the minefield to try to tow Neptune out and struck a mine – killing a further 73 men.
Christine Corner, 70, of Grove Road, Gosport, is a member of the Neptune Association and laid two wreaths at the memorial yesterday morning.
She said: ‘It is something we do every year, we lay a wreath or a cross to pay our respects. We are all relatives of those who died. It is a small group but we are happy that we can remember them.
‘We are so grateful that we are alive today because of their sacrifice during the Second World War. I am glad that we can remember them and are able to keep their memory alive today.’
Mrs Corner lost her 18-year-old brother-in-law Arthur Corner when HMS Neptune sank and said the tragedy had a huge impact on her community.
‘The telegrams were all received on Boxing Day,’ she said. ‘The feeling was of sheer devastation and grief.
‘One overwhelming factor was that it was never talked about, that was the way it was back then. For those who experienced the war and came home, they just didn’t want to talk about it – it was just so painful.’
Liz Dean, 69, of Amberley Road, Gosport, lost her uncle Cyril Hambly who served on HMS Kandahar and was awarded a medal for his bravery at sea.
She said: ‘People are getting older and it is important to pass on their memory to the next generation. They must all be remembered.
‘The family were just absolutely devastated to hear about the tragedy and the death of my uncle.
‘I was told my uncle had a very good nature, he was kind and he always wanted to help people, he hoisted so many out of the cold water that night.
‘The Neptune Association allows people to exchange stories about what happened and find out about the people that lost their lives 70 years ago.’
The association has published a history of the tragedy – Mediterranean Minefield: Disaster of HMS Neptune – which can be bought by contacting Mrs Corner (023) 9260 1165.