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New Prince of Wales remember sacrifices of ill-fated wartime namesake

15 December 2016
Sailors of Britain’s newest aircraft carrier paid a double tribute to their wartime namesake, 75 years after she was sunk.

Crew gathered in Staffordshire and Rosyth to remember the 840 men killed on December 10 1941 when HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse were sunk by Japanese air attack just three days after the raid on Pearl Harbor.

The two capital ships – codenamed Force Z – had been dispatched to the Far East to deter Japanese aggression.

Not only did they fail to do that, but they did not have adequate air cover when ordered to attack Japanese forces invading Malaya.

It was humbling to lay the wreath on behalf of the ship’s company and remember those men who gave their lives for their country.

PO Craig Roberts

They were pounced upon by Japanese bombers and, despite putting up a dogged fight – Prince of Wales especially – both ships were on the bottom of the South China Sea within two and a half hours of the first enemy attack.

It was the first time two capital ships had been sunk by air power in open water; henceforth the aircraft carrier would replace the battleship as the ultimate surface ship.

So it was fitting that when the name Prince of Wales was resurrected after more than seven decades it was given to the second of Britain’s new 65,000-tonne carriers – and that her crew should remember their forebears.

A small group of sailors from the carrier – due to be formally named (the modern equivalent of a traditional launch) in 2017 – made the 600-mile trip to Alrewas in Staffordshire and a service of remembrance alongside members of the HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse Survivors Association at the National Arboretum where a monument stands in memory of those lost.

“It was humbling to lay the wreath on behalf of the ship’s company and remember those men who gave their lives for their country,” said caterer PO Craig Roberts.

The carrier’s Senior Naval Officer Capt Ian Groom added: “Understanding our heritage is a vital part in building the ship’s identity and the team ethos of the men and women who will serve in HMS Prince of Wales over the next 50 years.

“Today is a stark reminder of the ultimate sacrifice our namesake made and we commemorate those who tragically lost their lives 75 years ago.”

Meanwhile, 88 members of the ship’s company gathered on the flight deck for a similar tribute, led by Chaplain Mike Meachin, and featuring the moving final conversation between Capt John Leach – Prince of Wales’ Captain – and his son Henry before the battleship left Singapore for her date with destiny.

“The Ship’s Company are acutely aware of the sacrifice that their predecessors made for our nation,” said training officer Lt Cdr Angela Armour.

“They aspire to be fit inheritors of the legacy of this great name, and forge a new proud chapter in the history of the ship.”    

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