Express & Star

War veteran, 97, recalls moment ship was attacked as he recalls how swimming saved his life

“When I’m in the pool I feel joy” says a Royal Navy veteran who had to swim for his life when his warship sank with heavy losses during the Second World War.

Veteran Roger Roberts, 97, has begun swimming more regularly at Wyre Forest Leisure Centre

Roger Roberts, now 97, was a Stoker serving on the warship HMS Charybdis, a Dido-class cruiser that was struck along with HMS Limbourne by German torpedo boats in a naval disaster near Guernsey in October 1943.

Despite the sombre memories of the past he has not been put off from swimming and has been enjoying the activity at a leisure centre after telling staff at Foley Grange care home, in Kidderminster, that he would love to get into the water more often.

Roger who was born, in Harborne, in Birmingham, he explained how being able to swim helped to save his life.

He said: “I was discharged from the army because I was too young. I managed to sneak in at 15. After that I decided to learn a skill and I became a machine tool fitter in Selly Oak. Then I enrolled in the Royal Navy because I had some experience as an engineer.”

“On the day of the incident we were expecting something to happen, but we weren’t expecting to be ambushed by the motor torpedo boats. I was down in the engine room which had two boiler rooms. I was changing watch after working on the water desalination when there was a shudder. We were given the instruction to abandon ship and you jumped and hoped for the best.

“There were people hanging on to the sides, some couldn’t swim and it was chaos. There were life jackets. I just tried to stay afloat. All of a sudden we could see a ship coming and it came between us and our ship. They were looking for us. They dragged us up out of the sea and dropped us on deck.

“By then I was very tired and spent. I turned to my rescuer and told him that.

“I remember that I didn’t like the experience at all. I couldn’t feel my fingers. We were rescued by HMS Wensleydale. Some didn’t make it. Some were missing in action. All were my friends and comrades.

“After a while we started singing again and cracking jokes. There is just two of us left who were rescued from HMS Charybdis. There is a fellow in Bristol.”

Roger was among just over 100 to survive in a rescue mission when the ship and HMS Limbourne came under attack in an ill-fated military experiment to provide anti-aircraft support for slow convoys in the Bay of Biscay.

He said for decades after the war ended the survivors made annual trips to visit war cemeteries. Many of the bodies of those involved washed ashore in Guernsey, Jersey and France, which were all occupied by German forces.

Military service later took him to Italy, he had a stint as a volunteer driver with the British Commandos at a base in Scotland, and also served in Palestine.

After leaving the military he worked at the former Rover plant, in Longbridge, until retirement.

When he moved into the Silverwoods Way complex last year, arrangements were made for him to visit Wyre Forest Leisure Centre, where the staff were more than happy to let him use the pool.

“My favourite stroke is the breaststroke. I can manage between five to 10 yards and I like to float on my back. When I’m in the pool I feel joy.

“My leg doesn’t work as it used to, but the exercise helps it and I can push myself up through the water. I hope to carry on swimming for as long as possible,” he added.