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Kent sailor proud to highlight Battle of the Atlantic 70th Anniversary events

Kent Sailor proud to highlight Battle of the Atlantic 70th Anniversary commemorations


A naval airman from Ramsgate serving in the helicopter carrier HMS Illustrious recently played his part in raising the profile of the forthcoming Battle of the Atlantic 70th anniversary.

This adds a special poignancy to the Battle of the Atlantic commemorations for me. It really brings the personal nature of their sacrifice close to home
Naval Airman (Aircraft Handler) Chris Heale from Ramsgate, Kent, whose great grandfather died when HMS Repulse was sunk near Singapore in WW2

HMS Illustrious – known to her crew as Lusty – visited Liverpool recently and Naval Airman Chris Heale, 31, was among the ship’s company who welcomed more than 12,000 people on board over the two days she was open to visitors.

In May this year, the 70th Anniversary of the Battle of the Atlantic (BOA 70) will be commemorated with a series of events in Liverpool. The city was home to the Western Approaches Command in the Second World War – it was from here that the struggle against the German U-boat was successfully directed.

The Atlantic campaign was the longest continuous struggle of the War, waged from the first day of the war in September 1939 to the surrender of Germany in May 1945. It reached its climax in the spring of 1943 when the Germans were forced to withdraw their U-boats temporarily from the battle, after suffering crippling losses in what became known as 'Black May'.

Although German submarines rejoined battle later that year, and fought to the bitter end, they never again posed such a threat to Britain's maritime life-lines. But the cost of keeping the nation's supply routes open was fearful: over 36,000 merchant seamen lost their lives and 5000 ships were sunk.

There will be other events commemorating the anniversary, notably in London, where Lusty is due to visit in early May, and in Derry-Londonderry.

Aircraft Handler Chris is serving in the Royal Navy’s last Invincible class aircraft carrier which has recently completed a short maintenance period, and is now back at sea honing her skills as the nation’s operational high readiness helicopter carrier.

Chris was born in Cornwall, but grew up in Ramsgate which is still home to his mum Dawn and his twin sister Charlie and younger sister Zoe. He was educated at Hereson High School. After leaving school he had a range of jobs including car body repair and sheet metal working and he joined the Royal Navy in March 2009.

He said: “I felt as though I needed to do something more and was keen to get myself into an interesting career that would set me up for life.” After completion of specialist training at Culdrose in Cornwall, he joined HMS Illustrious in 2011.

Kent Sailor proud to highlight Battle of the Atlantic 70th Anniversary commemorations

In his core role, Chris is responsible for moving the aircraft squeezed into the hangar inside the ship onto enormous lifts which then carry the aircraft onto the flight deck and then get them ready to fly. To save space, the rotors on the helicopters can be folded away which eases matters, but the whole process of working out which helicopter needs to go where can be very complex.

Chris explained: “It’s a bit like playing Tetris except we simply can’t afford to make mistakes with multi-million pound aircraft.”

Another key element of his job is fire fighting, air crash rescue and life saving, but these are key skills he has fortunately not yet been required to use for real. He continued: “We hope that accidents will never happen, but we need to be ready. We are therefore trained to the same standards as firemen at large airports as well as needing all the skills you will find at your local fire station.”

During his time in Lusty, he has travelled to Spain, Italy, the south of France, Norway and Germany.

His most recent visit began on Valentine’s Day in Liverpool. The ship was berthed on the iconic Merseyside water front for five days where the ship was met by a rapturous welcome. Chris said: “The visit was amazing but really busy. The people of Liverpool gave us all a tremendously warm welcome!”

Chris will be right at the centre of the Battle of the Atlantic commemorations. HMS Illustrious is expected to be berthed in London supporting the activity there in May. Chris said: “We are all really looking forward to visiting London. We know that it will be hard work but there is a real sense of pride that we will be involved in this poignant commemoration.”

Chris comes from a long line of Royal Navy sailors. His father Mervin was an Aircraft Handler who served in HMS Invincible (sister ship of HMS Illustrious) during the Falklands War and HMS Ark Royal in the 1970s. His great grandfather served in HMS Repulse in the Second World War. He was sadly killed when the ship was sunk near Singapore. Chris said: “This adds a special poignancy to the Battle of the Atlantic commemorations for me. It really brings the personal nature of their sacrifice close to home.”

Chris is now settled in Exmouth with his partner Tara, a primary school teacher. He expects to continue serving in Lusty until the summer then hopes to serve in the new Queen Elizabeth class carriers which are expected to enter service in 2016.

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