Eastbourne D-Day veteran’s chance to say a final farewell to lost friends

Eastbourne veteran Patrick Thomas and historian John Philips
Eastbourne veteran Patrick Thomas and historian John Philips

An Eastbourne veteran who was the last survivor of a sunken WW2 ship could soon have the chance to say a final goodbye to his lost comrades.

The ship which Patrick Thomas, 93, barely escaped with his life from is being searched for after all these years thanks to his good friend John Henry Phillips.

John and Patrick take to the roads

John and Patrick take to the roads

The process of finding the ship is now being made into a documentary called No Roses on a Sailor’s Grave.

Patrick said, “The ship was my home and my shipmates my family. I remember them as 19-year-olds with our lives ahead of us but the wreck of our ship is now their grave.

“I want the tragedy of that day to be remembered forever more. The making of this documentary has awakened old memories.”

On D-Day the Royal Navy telegraphist boarded his ship in Portsmouth as thousands of soldiers prepared for a day that changed history.

But on June 25, 1944, his ship was sunk by an acoustic mine, killing 35 of the 40 men on board.

Knocked unconscious, 19-year-old Patrick awoke in the English Channel in time to see his friends and craft sink and vanish from history.

Now Patrick believes he may be the only crew member left alive. Unsure exactly where the ship went down, he and the families of the crew have never had a place to honour the fallen. Only four of the dead were given a burial.

But then, two years ago, military historian and conflict archaeologist John Phillips, 25, was offered a spare room by the veteran. After hearing Patrick’s story, John promised to locate the ship, document it, and install a permanent memorial on the coast.

Filmmaker Daniel with Patrick and John

Filmmaker Daniel with Patrick and John

Undeterred by the gravity of his promise, his friend’s age, and the fact he can’t scuba dive, John set about the search during summer, piecing together official records and Patrick’s diaries and memories to narrow down the location of the ship.

He said, “Every year we lose more of these heroes and with them goes vital history that can never be retold. This is one of the last chances for a project like this to be undertaken with one of the last of the greatest generation alongside for the journey.

“I could find the wreck and build the memorial in ten years’ time but with Patrick here to see it, it means so much more. This is more than a shipwreck search. It is about commemoration, remembrance and a promise to a friend.”

The whole process is being recorded for a documentary directed and produced by award-winning Canadian filmmakers. They’re hoping to raise around £35,000 to produce a full-length documentary called No Roses on a Sailor’s Grave.

To find out more, view early film footage, and donate to the project visit: indiegogo.com/projects/no-roses-on-a-sailor-s-grave-history