Veteran Seaman Celebrates Return of Neston's VE Commemorative Bench
|Author: Carrie Spacey||Published: 7th November 2011 14:14|
Veteran Merchant Seaman Alan Morton, from Neston, has seen a happy ending to his campaign for the return of the Victory in Europe commemorative bench outside the Town Hall.
The bench, along with another one commemorating Victory in Japan, had been in place since 1995, but was removed two years ago during the renovations to the front of the Town Hall. After months of campaigning, Alan eventually contacted Cllr Louise Gittins who helped to ensure that the newly refurbished bench is now back in place and there are plans to restore the VJ bench to its rightful place as well.
As part of AboutMyArea/NESTON's Remembrance Day coverage, I went along to have a chat with Alan about his life at sea, and his continued dedication to the Merchant Navy.
Born in Liverpool in 1925, Alan joined the Merchant Navy in 1941 at the tender age of 16, the start of a career spanning some 47 years until his retirement as Purser Catering Officer in 1988. He has been a resident of Ness for over thirty years.
During the Second World War, Alan worked as a cook on board a number of vessels, both in the Atlantic and, for two years, the Mediterranean, taking part in numerous operations, including the evacuation at Tobruk and landings at Sicily and Salerno. Alan recalls: "Often we would be putting ashore young lads my own age - barely 17 - and within minutes they would be killed on the beaches."
This recollection, along with many others, came back to Alan relatively recently when he took part in the Cruel Sea Project in 2005. This was a major reminiscence project recording the memories and experiences of Liverpool's World War II Merchant Navy veterans, organised by the Culture Company in partnership with the Everyman & Playhouse, Age Concern and Age Exchange.
Alan said: "We were interviewed individually, but also met up with others and as people described their experiences it would jog my memory and bring back so much that I had blocked out.
"At the end of the day, it was the luck of the draw. Vessels I was working on were shelled and bombed, but never torpedoed, so I survived.
"A journalist in Liverpool once said to a group of us: 'I want to speak to people who were torpedoed.' Of course I replied: 'There's not many about!'"
When the war ended on 8th May 1945, Alan was on board a Shell tanker bringing a full load of fuel back from the States. The very next day was his 20th birthday. After the war Alan continued his sea life, working for some 25 years for the Clan Line. He recalls: "The halcyon days were the 1950's and '60's. We would be at sea for 15 or 16 days, crossing from the UK to South Africa, but then we would get to spend some six weeks in port, with just brief overnight hops from place to place.
Alan pictured on duty during the 1960's.
"In the late '60's we used to take in 28 ports in 90 days, setting off from Haifa, covering the Mediterranean ports then on to Canada, the United States, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan, before doing the same thing in reverse.
"Nowadays it's very different, with new efficiencies in container handling and technology, people spend more time at sea and less in port, so I wouldn't want to go back to it now!"
Alan's wife, Liz, sadly passed away 26 years ago. She often joined him on his peace-time journeys, as the wives of officers were allowed to accompany them in those days. "We had a good life," says Alan.
Alan is now Chairman and Treasurer of the Merchant Navy Association Wirral Branch. He frequently travels to Normandy for D-Day services in June. He says: "They think the world of us over there. They hold placards with 'Welcome to our Liberators' on them. You'd be surprised how interested the young people are, too. They want to know about our medals, hear our stories."
A few years ago Alan applied for a National Lottery 'Heroes Return' grant. This scheme allows WW2 veterans to visit the sites where they served. Alan received some £1200 which, supplemented by his own savings, allowed him to take part in a trip on board HMS Discovery in the Atlantic Ocean, between Lisbon and Cadiz, on a route he had sailed during the war.
He laid a wreath in Merchant Navy colours during a special service organised on board the ship, in commemoration of the merchant seaman who had lost their lives during the conflict.
Each September, Alan takes part in the Merchant Navy Memorial Day at Pier Head in Liverpool. The date, September 3rd, marks the fact that on the same day in 1939, Merchant Seamen were among the very first casualties of the war, when SS Athenia came under attack by a German U-boat.
Alan Morton pictured at the National Memorial
Arboretum in Staffordshire.
Alan has also visited the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas in Staffordshire. He is pictured (right) with the memorial to the ships of his line that were lost during the war. Alan says: "The Merchant Navy has over 300 trees there, each with a name of someone who has given their life in conflict. There is now a new wall, for all those lost since the end of the war. It's a very long wall."
Naturally Alan will be busy this week as Rembrance Day takes place on Friday. On Saturday, as he does every year, Alan will participate in the Ashes Burial Service on the River Mersey. Ashes and flowers are scattered in the water to remember all those lost in conflict.
On Sunday Alan will join veterans from the other armed forces along with youth uniformed organisations and dignitaries at the Neston Remembrance Sunday service. There, he will lay a wreath on behalf of his lost colleagues in the Merchant Navy.
It was a genuine pleasure to meet Alan. A dignified and determined man, who quietly but assuredly kept up the pressure until the commemorative bench was restored to its rightful place. I look forward to seeing him take his proud place in the Remembrance Sunday parade and service in Neston this weekend.