War vet­eran Ernest marks big day in style

Harefield Gazette - - NEWS - by SALINA PA­TEL salina.pa­tel@trin­i­tymir­ror.com Twit­ter: @Sali­naPa­tel1

A SEC­OND World War vet­eran who sur­vived Bri­tain’s worst mar­itime dis­as­ter has turned 100.

Ernest Beesley, of Perivale, marked the mile­stone rid­ing in a vin­tage car, danc­ing the Ten­nessee Waltz and be­ing ser­e­naded.

He was chuffed to get a card from the Queen as well as a note from singer Dame Shirley Bassey.

As a young man he served in the Royal Engi­neers dur­ing the Sec­ond World War and was posted aboard the HMT Lan­cas­tria, which was sunk by a Ger­man air raid killing 4,000 men, women and chil­dren on June 17 1940.

Born in Walling­ford, Ox­ford, on Septem­ber 30 1917, he says his 72 year mar­riage to late wife Doris was the key to his long and happy life.

The ex-ser­vice­man has also turned his pas­sion to gar­den­ing to keep his mind and body sharp, he said.

Speak­ing from his care home in Uxbridge, where he was sur­rounded by friends and fam­ily on his big day, Mr Beesley said: “It was a won­der­ful day, one of the best days of my life.”

Mr Beesley, who had been work­ing on rail­way lines in Brit­tany, was on the Lan­cas­tria as it evac­u­ated troops from France, shortly af­ter the Dunkirk.

Fewer than 2,500 peo­ple sur­vived the dis­as­ter, the largest loss of life from a sin­gle en­gage­ment for Bri­tish forces in the Sec­ond World War.

He tells of the thou­sands of troops and civil­ians sent to the coast­line to es­cape the con­ti­nent, with his group sent to the ill-fated Lan­cas­tria.

He was be­low deck tak­ing a shower when the fa­tal air raid be­gan.

He said: “I had my shower and came back to where my kit was. I’d only been stood there for min­utes when there was this vast ex­plo­sion and the ship seemed to leap out of the wa­ter.

“A bomb had fallen down the ship’s fun­nel and just blew it to bits re­ally.

“I don’t re­mem­ber pan­ick­ing, it was all very calm. I knew the ship was go­ing to sink and I had to get away from it.

“I’d man­aged to get a life jacket and I jumped off and swam, prob­a­bly about a quar­ter of a mile, un­til I saw a navy corvette head­ing to­wards me.

“At first I thought it was go­ing to hit me, but the crew threw me a life raft which I was able to board.”

He was hit by cramp and fell into the wa­ter from the crowded life raft, where he spent more than an hour be­fore be­ing res­cued.

He was picked up by a boat, which he helped row to res­cue other sur­vivors and was later col­lected by a larger ves­sel be­fore be­ing taken back to safety in Ply­mouth.

Mr Beesley spent seven years with the Royal Engi­neers un­til 1946.

He and his wife lived in Perivale, west Lon­don, be­fore he moved to the care home in 2009.

They did not have chil­dren but he is close to his nieces who were among the loved ones tak­ing part in his birth­day celebrations.

Ernest with his card from Dam Shirley Bassey; (be­low left) get­ting mar­ried to Doris in 1941; (be­low right) he served dur­ing the Sec­ond World War

Sec­ond World War vet­eran Ernest Beesley in a vin­tage car while cel­e­brat­ing his 100th birth­day

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