Battle of the Atlantic celebrations marked in Pembroke Dock

Western Telegraph: PICTURE: Martin Cavaney Photography. PICTURE: Martin Cavaney Photography.

War veterans, the higher echelons of the Royal Navy and Air force, and people from as far afield as Australia were among those who braved the rain and wind for Sunday's Battle of the Atlantic 70th anniversary memorial service in Pembroke Dock last week.

At 12 noon, a parade went from Pembroke Dock Community School to the Dockyard Chapel, where Air-Commodore Andrew Neal unveiled and dedicated a memorial plaque. A planned open air service was moved inside to Pater Hall and conducted by Rev Michael Brotherton MBE, assisted by Pembroke Dock vicar Rev Nicky Skipwortth, with music by Pembroke Silver Band.

May 1943 is considered to be a pivotal period in the Battle of the Atlantic and Pembroke Dock's flying boats were in the forefront of the action, protecting convoys and seeking out the German submarines. The Milford Haven Waterway was a major convoy assembly port as well as the base for naval escort vessels.

An heroic moment in Pembroke Dock's wartime story was remembered at the service, which recalled the encounter over the Bay of Biscay on June 2nd, 1943, between a Sunderland EJ134 from 461Australian Squadron and eight Junkers Ju88 fighters of the Luftwaffe. In an hour-long battle the Sunderland fought off countless attacks and its gunners definitely shot down three of the Junkers and damaged others.

After this dramatic battle the bullet-riddled Sunderland made it back to Cornwall and successfully landed on a beach. One crewman was killed and others injured. The crew returned to operations, but died just ten weeks later while on another Bay of Biscay patrol. Patricia Swain, sister of the Sunderland's pilot, Flight Lieutenant Colin Walker, flew from Australia to attend. "My father was a methodist minister, so Colin's leadership and knowledge of people was developed from an early age and he managed to use them very well," she said.

Speaking about her brother and the Sunderland crew, Patricia added: "They cared deeply for one another and used to fly as one unit whenever they went out. It was a terrible blow when all of the others perished just two months later."

Pembroke Dock Sunderland pilot Ron Currell, who flew with 201 squadron out of Pembroke Dock, said: "We would do up to 18 hours at a time taking off from here. "We were given the position of the convoy that we had to meet up with, but the convoy was never where we were told it was. We found them with our radar and stayed with them for about four of five hours.

"It must be remembered that the only communication we had with them was using morse code. We couldn't use any radio equipment because we might give away our position to the enemy.

"It was a wonderful sight when we first saw the convoy - there were as many as 60 merchant ships crossing the Atlantic all in a line." The service was the culmination of a weekend of events coordinated by Pembroke Dock Sunderland Trust. Project manager John Evans said: "There has been a constant stream of people coming from all over the place throughout the weekend. This is one of the most epic stories of our Pembroke Dock and we have been very privileged to have veterans here."

Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire MP Simon Hart: "I think this is a great tribute to Pembroke Dock. People forget sometimes the major role this part of the world played in the war. This is a fitting reminder and a great prelude to next year's bicentenary."

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