War hero still swimming 80 years after having to paddle for his life when ship was attacked

A Second World War veteran who had to swim for his life 80 years ago when his warship was destroyed said he is delighted to practise his breastroke regularly these days.

Roger Roberts enjoys swimming with a member of Wyre Forest Leisure Centre
Roger Roberts enjoys swimming with a member of Wyre Forest Leisure Centre

Roger Roberts was serving in the Royal Navy when the ship he was on was hit by German torpedo boats and he had to abandon ship and swim in the freezing water until he was saved.

Roger Roberts with home manager Hannah Atkinson and care assistant Holli Whitehouse

He initially joined the army when he was just 15 years old and underage, but was discharged when his true status was discovered. Later at age 18 he enrolled in the navy in 1943, boarding the HMS Charybdis, a Dido-class cruiser launched in 1940.

In October 1943 it was sunk by the enemy in an ill-fated military experiment to provide anti-aircraft support for slow convoys. Working in the engine room at the time of the strike, Roger was told to abandon the quickly sinking ship.

He and 106 other survivors took to the water, swimming for their lives before they were eventually rescued by the destroyer HMS Wensleydale and taken to Devonport, in Plymouth, but a further 462 lives were lost.

Since then the 97-year-old has only been for the occasional swim, and after moving to Foley Grange care home, in Silverwoods Way, in Kidderminster, last year he told staff that he would love to get into the water more often as he was a very strong swimmer.

He said his favourite stroke was the breastroke.

Foley Grange’s Home Manager, Hannah Atkinson, said she got in touch with Wyre Forest Leisure Centre, who were more than happy to invite Roger to the pool.

When the day came for Roger to take his first steps into the water since the war, he said he couldn’t wait to get started.

He said: "My motto in life is ‘never give up and keep on going’, and that’s what made me want to get back in the water.

"When I first got into the pool, it felt amazing, and I was delighted that Foley Grange could make it happen.

"I was also very glad that this time I was in the water, the water was warm."

Watching Roger’s return to the water, Ms Atkinson said she felt honoured to witness his achievement.

She said: "When I watched Roger getting back in the water, it was a very heartfelt moment and brought tears to my eyes.

"To see Roger so happy and content in the water was amazing, and he was so thankful for the opportunity."

"Thanks to the Wyre Forest Leisure Centre, we’re now able to offer swimming sessions to our residents every Tuesday. Roger is a regular attendee."

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