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Royal Navy personnel help veteran mark his centenary

Royal Navy personnel help veteran mark his centenary
3 February 2023
Sailors from HMS Hibernia joined the centenary celebrations of Royal Navy veteran Henry Morrell Murphy in Bangor, County Down.

Accompanied by the RN’s Senior Naval Officer Northern Ireland, Cdr Rob Milligan, the party was a surprise for Morrell – until a band from his local church, Boys Brigade Old Boys, plus a few pipers, buglers and drummers from the Royal Irish Regiment turned up on his doorstep.

He was escorted to the party by police, family members and a World War 2 Willis jeep. Upon arrival he was piped aboard by buglers from the Royal Irish Regiment, cadets from TS Decoy, and welcomed by the Vice Lieutenant for County Down, Catherine Champion.

Morrell enlisted in the Royal Navy in Belfast, on St Patrick’s Day 1942, aged 19. As today, initial training was conducted at HMS Raleigh, at Torpoint in Plymouth.

On achieving his Ordinary Seaman qualification in August 1942, he moved to HMS Pembroke in Chatham before joining the escort destroyer HMS Haydon, which took part in patrols in the Mediterranean and Operation Husky, the allied invasion of Sicily. As the campaign progressed, Morrell witnessed the blockade of Tripoli, and the landings at both Salerno and Anzio.

Morrell then enlisted on the submarine detection course at HMS Osprey in Scotland and then to HMS Nimrod at Campbeltown.

Drafted initially to HMS Caroline in Belfast, as she served as the fixed depot ship for all the escort ships, Morrell joined HMS Capel in December 1944.

The ship joined the hunt for U-boat 486, which sank the SS Leopoldville on Christmas Eve.

On Boxing Day Morrell came off watch and was on the quarter deck when a torpedo struck his ship.

 “I was blasted clear of the deck with my clothes ripped to pieces and my boots blown off,” he said. “When I hit the sea and came to my senses, I managed to swim to a life raft and climb aboard to join another six or seven survivors.

“After a long two hours, I was picked up by an American Motor Torpedo Boat and taken to Cherbourg Harbour and then on to the American Field Hospital about three miles away.

“Nobody registered my name, rank or ship. After a cursory examination for hypothermia and some food, I was discharged the next morning. No fresh clothes were offered, and I walked barefoot back to the harbour wearing an oil-stained jersey.”

The Capel had been sunk but he managed to get aboard another ship and returned to Belfast.

 “Unknown to me, a priority Telegram dated 30th December 1944 had been sent to my mother in Lisburn but was opened by my father. It read ‘Deeply regret to inform you that your son H M Murphy has been reported missing presumed killed on war service. Letter follows shortly’.”

Morrell’s father didn’t pass that news on until the letter arrived – and later Morrell turned up at his parents’ house.

Morrell finished his war at Chatham Barracks and HMS Wildfire, a shore establishment in Sheerness and was discharged on June 5 1946, returning to Northern Ireland.

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