Tributes paid to ‘luckiest sailor alive’ from Gosport who has died aged 93

Chris Peacey
Chris Peacey
Arthur Bailey from Cosham ''Picture: Malcolm Wells (180606-7076)

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A SECOND World War naval veteran who called himself ‘the luckiest sailor alive’ has died in his hometown of Gosport.

Tributes have been paid to Chris Peacey, who has been described as a ‘top-rate’ seaman who was always ‘immaculately turned out’.

Chris Peacey when he was 22

Chris Peacey when he was 22

The 93-year-old dodged death on several occasions during his naval career.

As a boy sailor he was part of the first, and only, crew of battleship HMS Prince of Wales - and later was a guest of honour at the naming of the new HMS Prince of Wales.

Within two months of completing his training, 16-year-old Chris was on his first mission on Prince of Wales, as she chased down the German battleship Bismarck in the north Atlantic.

Prince of Wales was damaged during the engagement, with other warships going on to sink the German battleship.

HMS Prince of Wales

HMS Prince of Wales

Later, in December 1941, Chris dodged death once again when Prince of Wales was blasted by Japanese planes near Singapore after being spotted by a Japanese submarine.

The ship and the battlecruiser Repulse were soon sunk by airborne torpedoes.

As his ship sank 327 men went down with her including her Captain but 17-year-old Chris was able to swim away from his sinking ship and was rescued by British destroyers that arrived to help. He was soon back in Singapore Naval base less than a week after he left the port.

Returning to UK Chris spent much of the rest of the war serving in a landing craft which took part in the landings in north Africa, Sicily, Anzio, Normandy and Malaya on board LST 163.

Then a decade after being sunk off Singapore, Chris qualified in Gosport as a submariner in the spring of 1951 and joined the doomed boat HMS Affray,

But days before joining the boat Chris had a motorbike accident at Bursledon near Southampton and broke his arm.

He was being treated by medics when the submarine sailed – and later sank claiming the lives of 75 sailors.

Retired Lieutenant Commander Mike Critchley was Chris’s friend having first met him in the 1960s – and said he was a very lucky man.

‘Chris was my training Petty Officer when I was a Dartmouth cadet in 1963,’ said Mr Critchley. ‘A “top-rate” senior rate who was firm but fair with us keen, young and very inexperienced trainee officers during our very first months at sea.

‘Only in later life did I get to hear of him swimming away from HMS Prince of Wales as she sank in 1941 and then to escape sailing on the submarine Affray on her last and fateful journey before sinking with all her ship’s company off the Channel Islands.

‘He had a “lucky” motor bike accident so remained ashore. He was a fortunate man indeed as were so many young officers to have had him as our instructor so many years ago.’

Chris retired from the navy as a Chief Petty Officer, having served on several ships and instructing trainee officers with the Dartmouth Training Squadron.

On leaving the navy he went on to serve as a civilian at HMS Centurion in Gosport until retirement. He lost his young daughter in a road traffic accident while he was serving in the navy and his wife Beryl predeceased him.

Last year, Chris was one of a handful of veterans from battleship Prince of Wales to visit the new aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales.

He died on March 24. His funeral is at 1pm on Monday at Portchester crematorium – St George’s Day.

It is hoped some sailors from the new Prince of Wales will attend the cremation before his ashes are scattered in the Solent.