It was nice to see members and friends once again at the March meeting. Not all that many, of course, but the reasons for this lie with the passage of time which, rather sadly, takes such things beyond our control.
With much regret we learnt of the death of John Lloyd, a long time member of the London Branch. John had been unable to attend meetings for a considerable time due to illness. His service in Royal Naval Coastal Forces was seen as important to the family. John's medals were carried at his service in Harpenden: the Branch's White Ensign was in place and the Naval hymn "Eternal Father..." was included in the service.
Nick Carter and the Branch Secretary attended, both as representatives of the London Branch and as friends of John. It was all really quite touching. And thanks to the family, the Navy showed its colours.
Nick is our oldest Branch member and still gets around at ninety four. On the occasions when medals are worn (the service being one of those times) he is proud to have his own on display. Having joined the Navy as a boy seaman in 1933, he has been able to amass a collection of them, against which few would be able to compete. It made the more modest WW2 effort worn by the Secretary look like a starter pack. Fully laden, they give Nick a slight list to port and have the advantage of attracting old ladies!
Ted Else phoned with some unwelcome news concerning Branch member John L. John was taken ill when on holiday and he has since been diagnosed with a serious illness. Ted has spoken to him and John wishes to say that he will be indisposed for quite some time to come. Ted will be keeping in touch.
Of other members who once were able, but cannot now, get to the Belfast (or only with difficulty) Ken Gadsdon is "not so bad" – probably saying that this is one way of coping – Edna Randall (who has her own difficulties said that Wallis is prone to falls "but keeps getting up" – all credit to Wallis, John Williamson is not all that great, and has been away recently on one or two respite breaks, Doug Elliott is confined to the house and gets about with the assistance of a Zimmer frame. He has a carer who calls to get him up in the mornings and one to see that he is safely in bed at eight each evening. In spite of this he sounds very cheerful and close contacts with his local church may, for him, make things much more easy to accept. Dennis Reeve is another one on familiar terms with a wheelchair for moving about. His daughter comes and sees him every day, but in spite of the time lapse, Sybil is ever in his thoughts, a pleasant, rather than a sad reminder of times that used to be.
With best wishes
A few days after the service for John Lloyd, the Secretary received a note from his son to thank the Branch for providing the White Ensign used to drape the coffin at the service. "Many said what an honour, and were very interested to be told the reason".
That was a nice comment to make!
Able Seaman William Savage VC
March saw the anniversary of the daring raid of 1943 on the port of Saint-Nazaire in the west of France. Sixteen Fairmile ‘B’ motor launches of Coastal Forces took part in the operation, along with MGB 314 and MTB 74. The raid proved highly successful, achieving its principal aim of disabling the large dry dock, and denying future use of it to the German navy for the remainder of the war. Casualties amongst the sailors and commandos taking part in the raid were high, and included Able Seaman Bill Savage, gunner on MGB 314, who was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross (VC).
Commander Ryder, in overall control of the Coastal Forces units on the night, said of him: “Able Seaman Savage showed conspicuous gallantry and skill and devotion to duty as gun layer of the pom pom in MGB 314 during the St. Nazaire Raid. Completely exposed and under heavy fire from time to time, he engaged positions ashore with great accuracy. He also replied with vigorous and accurate fire against ships which attacked us on the way out. It is regretted that Savage was killed at his gun, but he is submitted that his high standard of devotion to duty should be recognised.”
Bill Savage was born in Smethwick in the West Midlands in 1912, and later moved to the Winston Green area of Birmingham after getting married. His widow Doris, reluctantly had to sell his VC and other medals in 1990, and the former Coastal Forces Veterans Association were instrumental in helping to raise part of the £55,000 needed to purchase them for the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, where they are currently kept.
More recently, on learning that the VC had been locked away in the museum for the past eight years due to lack of available display space, and only available for viewing by appointment, Sandwell Council which covers Smethwick, made a loan request to the Maritime Museum for the medal to be displayed in his home town. Birmingham Museums & Art Galleries had also expressed an interest in securing a temporary loan of the medals.
London Branch recently contacted the National Maritime Museum to obtain an update on the situation, and a spokesperson for the organization informed us that although they had been in discussion with Sandwell Council about the possibility of a loan of the VC, it had not been possible to find a venue that met the security standards they must adhere to when lending objects from the permanent collection – of particular importance with a small, portable and valuable item.
It’s not clear if this statement extended to facilities that may have been on offer by Birmingham Museums & Art Galleries, though this is unlikely, since they are the main repository for the Staffordshire Hoard, a highly valuable collection of Anglo-Saxon gold, for which the museum is planning a new, dedicated, exhibition space, and which most likely commands all their attention at this time.
The Maritime Museum did also tell us that they are hoping to display the medals in the museum later this year, with the proposed location being their new Voyagers Gallery. Voyagers will tell the story of Britain and the sea, illustrating the “contemporary significance of maritime histories and the personal stories of our island nation”. As well as the medals, the museum also holds related memorabilia such as the ensign used to drape AB Savage’s coffin, and we look forward to the possibility of the valiant work performed by Coastal Forces being put before the general public, in one of London’s premier tourist attractions.