Coastal Forces Veterans logo
Menu

John Francis Costello


Written by Kevin Costello: Published 11th February 2021


Early Life

John Francis Costello, known as Jack, was born at Colne, Lancashire on 11th February, 1921 to John and Mary Costello. The Costello family formed part of a large Irish diaspora who had emigrated to Lancashire from Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century around the time of the famine in Ireland, presumably attracted by the prospect of employment in an area which lay at the heart of the Industrial Revolution.

His father was known to have originally worked as a stone quarryman. In 1916 during the First World War he had joined the newly formed Welsh Guards, and served as a Guardsman on the Western Front. At some stage, possibly during the war or shortly after, he acquired the skills to operate a steam driven lorry, and then worked as an early road haulage driver transporting finished cotton cloth from the mills in the Rossendale Valley to nearby Manchester.

Jack Costello as a schoolboy and as a teenager
Jack Costello as a schoolboy and as as a teenager

Second World War - Royal Naval Coastal Forces

Jack Costello volunteered for the Royal Navy on 30 July 1941, and after basic training, and a gunnery course on Whale Island, Portsmouth, was posted to the newly commissioned ML 296, a Fairmile 'B' Motor Launch, based initially at Larne, N. Ireland, during its working up. ML 296 along with other boats of the 27th ML Flotilla sailed from Larne in March 1942 to Gibraltar first, and then on to Bathurst, now Banjul in The Gambia, before reaching their final destination at Freetown, Sierra Leone, where he spent nearly two years on anti-submarine, and coastal patrol duties on MLs 296 & 287.

hms-raleigh-basic-training-group-1941
HMS Raleigh basic training class 1941

Crew of ML 296

The crew of ML 296, a Fairmile 'B' Motor Launch of Royal Navy Coastal Forces, pictured in Freetown Harbour, Sierra Leone. Other MLs from flotillas based there can be seen at upper right of picture. Some of these 'little ships' had journeyed under their own power from Britain to West Africa, sailing in convoy from Larne, Northern Ireland to Gibraltar first, before continuing on down to Bathurst (now Banjul) in the Gambia, and then Freetown. Coastal Forces flotillas in West Africa were primarily involved in anti-submarine and convoy protection duties. Freetown was the major hub of a vitally important supply route for the allies, bringing goods and troops from Australia, India and South Africa onwards to Gibraltar and the United Kingdom. Many ships were torpedoed in the waters off West Africa—and off Freetown in particular by German and Italian submarines which lay in wait for passing convoys. This photograph is believed to show Fairmiles at an earlier anchorage in or close to Kroo Bay near the centre of Freetown, prior to the construction of HMS Eland and the provision of new moorings further up river at Cline Bay.

Crew of ML 296 at Freetown, Sierra Leone 1942
Crew of ML 296 at Freetown, Sierra Leone 1942

ML 296 at sea

The crew of ML 296, a Coastal Forces Fairmile B Motor Launch, manning one of the twin Lewis machine guns. The role of the Coastal Forces off the coast of West Africa was one of convoy protection and anti-submarine patrol. The West African coastline was a busy and important allied convoy route and was a prime target for German submarines. Coastal Forces crews had to maintain a constant state of readiness whilst spending days on end at sea in the cramped living conditions afforded by these relatively small craft.

Crew of ML 296 at sea on the coast oFf West Africa, 1942
Crew of ML 296 at sea on the coast oFf West Africa, 1942

Though contact with German submarines was comparatively rare, in one recorded incident ML 263 had her sole charge, the SS New Toronto, torpedoed out from under her during one night time attack, whilst in another incident, ML 251 was rammed and sunk by the corvette HMS Burdock, after being mistaken for a submarine on the surface. Many of the West African Fairmiles also took part in rescue missions, picking up survivors from merchant ships sunk at sea before removing them to a place of safety, and their work in escorting shipping doubtless saved many lives by helping to deter such attacks.

Fairmile crews ashore at Freetown, Sierra Leone
Fairmile crews ashore at Freetown, Sierra Leone

ML 287

After some months on station at Freetown and initially patrolling with ML 296, he was transferred to the crew of ML 287, another launch in the flotilla.

Fairmile B Motor Launch ML 287
ML 287 was the second of Jack's postings while at based at Freetown
A leave pass for ML 287 granted to Jack Costello
A leave pass for ML 287 granted to Jack Costello

Service Record

John Francis Costello
HMS Raleigh 30 July 1941 – 3 October 1941
HMS Excellent 4 October 1941 – 31 October 1941
HMS Hornet 1 November 1941 – 16 November 1941
HMS Racer II 17 November 1941 – 31 March 1942
HMS Cormorant (Base staff) 1 April 1942 – 31 May 1942
HMS Edinburgh Castle (Base staff) 1 June 1942 – 30 November 1942
HMS Philoctetes II (Base staff) 1 Dec 1942 – 6 November 1943
HMS Edinburgh Castle 7 November 1943 – 13 December 1943
HMS Hornet 14 December 1943 – 15 February 1944
HMS Drake 16 February 1944 – 4 August 1944
HMS Shrapnel (Hounslow) 5 August 1944 – 19 January 1945
HMS Drake 20 January 1945 – 14 March 1945
HMS Eaglet (Queen Charlotte) 15 March 1945 – 21 June 1945
HMS Drake 22 June 1945 – 25 August 1945
HMS Mayina 26 August 1945 – 8 October 1945
HMS Lanka (Kale) 9 October 1945 – 20 December 1945
HMS Mayina 21 December 1945 – 13 February 1946
HMS Drake 14 February 1946 – 24 May 1946

On his return to the United Kingdom he was posted to HMS Shrapnel at Hounslow for training as an Ordnance Mechanic, and on passing out was promoted to the rank of Petty Officer. In August 1945 he was posted to HMS Mayina, a large Allied transit camp in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, for onward passage to the Far East. Initially sent to Singapore, he was returned to Mayina after the surrender of the Japanese forces, and finally returned home in February 1946 for demob in May of that year.

Petty Officer John Francis Costello
Petty Officer John Francis Costello
Petty Officer John Francis Costello
Petty Officer John Francis Costello

Marriage

Having met his future wife, Sarah Elizabeth McGrath (born 16 February 1918) while posted to HMS Racer at Larne, the two were to marry there in May, 1952. John Francis died on 4 April 1983, aged 62, and his wife Sarah on 31 March 2018, aged 100.

The Wedding of John Costello and Sarah McGrath in 1952
The Wedding of John Francis Costello and Sarah Elizabeth McGrath in 1952

Football

Football played a large part in Jack's life and in his youth Jack had captained Bacup schoolboys. At one point he came to the attention of Charlton Athletic who expressed an interest in him, but the story goes his father wasn’t keen on him playing football and wouldn’t sign the necessary papers, so on leaving school he had to find employment in one of the local mills instead.

Jack Costello as a schoolboy
Jack Costello as a schoolboy

He volunteered for the Navy as soon as they would accept him, commencing his basic training aged 20, in July 1941, and while in the Navy he continued to play football during his time ashore at Freetown, Sierra Leone, where he had been posted, both in Inter Services matches, and in Joint Services teams against Sierra Leone in their national stadium.

>Naval message showing team selection for a Navy v Army football match at Freetown, Sierra LeoneNaval message notifying the team selection for a Navy v Army football match at Freetown, Sierra Leone
Naval message showing team selection for a United Services v Sierra Leone football match played at Freetown
Naval message notifying the team selection for a United Services v Sierra Leone football match played at Freetown
Match flier for a United Services v Sierra Leone football fixture
Match flier for a United Services v Sierra Leone football fixture
Royal Navy football team at Freetown, Sierra Leone
Royal Navy football team at Freetown, Sierra Leone
Royal Navy football team at Freetown, Sierra Leone
Royal Navy football team at Freetown, Sierra Leone
Royal Navy football team at Freetown, Sierra Leone
Royal Navy football team at Freetown, Sierra Leone

Football had continued as a mass spectator sport throughout the war years, using a variety of temporary leagues and flexible team arrangements, and when Jack returned to the UK in 1943 to commence Petty Officer training which he completed at HMS Eaglet, Liverpool, he managed to get some games with nearby Stockport County. After a further posting abroad taking in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, and Singapore, as part of the build up to the invasion of Japan, he was finally demobbed in 1946.

A number of clubs expressed an interest in having him on their books, and he had a trial arranged with Charlton Athletic, but joined Bangor City instead, to be closer to his recently widowed mother in Lancashire.

Bangor City FC

Early on in his career with Bangor City Jack played in the preliminary round of the FA Cup twice. On both occasions Bangor City was drawn against St Helens Town. On both occasions St Helens had the former PoW Bert Trautmann playing in goal for them, the second match played in 1949 being his final game before signing for Manchester City. Bangor knocked them out in the 1948-49 season 0-4, and for a second time in 1949-50, 0-3, making for seven goals put past the legendary keeper!

Many of those playing in these fixtures had served in the armed forces, some having seen promising football careers interrupted by the war, including James Fazackerly at right full back for Bangor, who also served in the Navy, playing football for forces sides whenever possible.

Bernhard Trautmann & Jack Costello
Bernhard Trautmann & Jack Costello

As a youngster in 1930s Germany Bert Trautmann excelled at sport, but like others of his generation was drawn into the Hitler Youth movement and slowly indoctrinated. At age 17 he joined the Luftwaffe as a communications specialist but failed the exams and became a paratrooper instead. Be served throughout the war, seeing a great deal of action, before eventually being captured in France in 1944. He was held as a prisoner of war in camps at Northwich, and later Ashton-in-Makerfield, volunteering for a bomb disposal team, and playing for the camp football team against local sides. On his release in 1948 he spurned repatriation in favour of an offer to play football with St Helens Town, who at that time were in the Liverpool County Combination.

1948 St Helens Town v Bangor City FA Cup Preliminary Round Tie
1948 St Helens Town v Bangor City FA Cup Preliminary Round Tie
1948 St Helens Town v Bangor City FA Cup Preliminary Round Tie
1948 St Helens Town v Bangor City FA Cup Preliminary Round Tie
1949 St Helens Town v Bangor City FA Cup Preliminary Round Tie
1949 St Helens Town v Bangor City FA Cup Preliminary Round Tie
1949-st-helens-town-v-bangor-city-fa-cup-tie-1
1949 St Helens Town v Bangor City FA Cup Preliminary Round Tie

Jack played four seasons with Bangor City during which time they won the Lancashire Combination Cup. In addition to the league and cup fixtures he also played in matches for the North Wales Football Association.

Jack Costello wearing a Welsh jersey for the North Wales Football Association
Jack Costello wearing a Welsh jersey for the North Wales Football Association
North Wales Football Association v Scotiish Joint Football Association match programme 1948
North Wales Football Association v Scotiish Joint Football Association match programme 1948
Bangor City FC Lancashire Combination Cup Winning Team 1948-49
Bangor City FC Lancashire Combination Cup Winning Team 1948-49
Bangor City Football Team 1949-1950 at Blackpool Illumunations
Bangor City Football Team 1949-1950 at Blackpool Illuminations

British Railways

British Railways was created by the Transport Act of 1947 out of the former private railway companies which included the LMS and the LNER. He joined British Rail early on at Rawtenstall, and continued to work on the railways throughout his life. In the early 1950s he moved with his wife to Scotland, taking up a position initially at Castle Douglas, before gaining promotions at Burnmouth, Glasgow, and Stranraer. He lived and worked in Scotland for some twenty years before returning to England where he died in service with the railways at Leamington Spa in 1983.

Jack Costello on the railways at Rawtenstall</figcaption></figure>
Jack Costello on the railways at Rawtenstall
Snow Plough at Pinwherry Station, Ayrshire, Scotland
Snow Plough at Pinwherry Station, Ayrshire, Scotland
Jack Costello at the Naval Memorial at Plymouth Hoe in the mid 1970s
Jack Costello at the Naval Memorial at Plymouth Hoe in the mid 1970s

Lest we forget