June 30, 1942 is a date that has been etched in Charles Blakey’s memory for over 70 years.
It was the day that the 91-year-old from Ilkeston, who signed up for the Royal Navy aged 19, survived a sinking ship.
Part of HMS Dolphin (Fort Blockhouse) fleet based at Royal Navy headquarters in Collingwood, Hampshire, the submariners would do three week patrols in the Atlantic, Far East and Mediterranean.
At a recent meeting of the Submarines Association Derbyshire, held at the Sir John Warren in Ilkeston, Charles recalled the day that the submarine depot ship he was aboard, HMS Medway, was sunk by the Germans: “The Germans were coming in,” he said, “We had about 40 miles to go to El Alermein - all of the submarines in the fleet were moving there but they were advancing so quickly,
“We got torpedoed by German submarines and went down in about 12 minutes. We got the order to abandon ship.
“I had to swim and was taken aboard the destroyer HMS Hero, I had no life jacket and could barely swim, I just kept going. Fortunately I made it and they pulled me aboard.”
When Charles reached dry land in Beirut he was put in a army transit van with nothing but flip flops and pyjamas to his name. Just a few weeks later he was drafted to another ship but caught dysentery so had to leave.
HMS Medway was the first purpose-built submarine depot ship. When it was sunk it had been sailing to Lebanon escorted by seven destroyers.
Some years later Charles met one of the 29 fellow survivors of the Medway. Out of pure coincidence, it was during this search that he also ended up meeting one of the men who had fished him out of the sea.
He added: “I still think about it a lot. I suppose we weren’t that worried at the time because we were young.
“I came from a village that was as green as grass, there was this chappy who seemed to know all about the Royal Navy so I said I’d follow him down when he went.”
The monthly meet-ups of Royal Navy veterans are a chance for the former submariners to share stories.
Ron Slater, 85, from Stanley joined the Navy at 17 in 1946 when World War Two had ended. He said: “I enjoyed my life on the submarines and have fond memories. The lads all stuck together – all for one and one for all.”