WW2 hero’s wartime deeds recalled in family presentation

A 92-year-old naval veteran from Leicester has been presented with a framed tribute to his war hero brother.

Michael ‘Mick’ Orme and his family had lost track of the some of the personal effects and details of their eldest sibling Ralph, a telegraphist/air gunner with the Fleet Air Arm killed nearly 80 years ago.

He distinguished himself in action in a lumbering Fairey Fulmar fighter/reconnaissance aircraft in the Mediterranean, before dying in a flying accident over Northern Ireland in 1942.

Ralph was an inspirational figure to his younger siblings – three out of four of them, including Mick, followed his example and joined the Royal Navy.

So when Captain Stephen Thompson, whose parents have lived in the same street in Blaby as Mick for more than half a century, learned that the family had misplaced some of the key mementos from Ralph’s career, he set out to help.

Capt Thompson, who retired from the Navy in 2018 after more than 37 years’ service and now is the build manager for Britain’s next-generation Type 31 frigates with the Defence Equipment and Support organisation, delved into a remarkable family history.

Mick served between 1946 and 1948 as an Able Seaman (Torpedo Direction), following his older brother Dennis (an air mechanic in the Fleet Air Arm from 1941 until 1946) and sister Barbara, who served in the Wrens from 1943 to 1946 as boat crew, including helping to load troops for D-Day on the River Hamble in Hampshire) and re-joined post-war, finally leaving in 1964 as a Chief Petty Officer Regulator (police officer).

“Apparently, Denis, Barbara and Mick where all inspired to sign-up after hearing Ralph’s tales of adventure when home on leave,” said Capt Thompson.

Mick has lived in the same street as my parents since the early 1960s and helped to spark my interest in the navy when I was growing-up. It was only recently that I found out his elder brother Ralph was killed while serving in the Fleet Air Arm.

Captain Stephen Thompson

Ralph Orme joined the Navy in 1936 aged 15-and-a-half and eventually trained as a telegraphist (radio operator) and rear gunner.

When he completed training he was assigned to HMS Ark Royal and the Fulmars of 808 Naval Air Squadron, taking part in the hunt for Hitler’s flagship Bismarck, and numerous sorties in the Mediterranean, where the carrier spent most of her career – until she was sunk in November 1941.

During that time he earned a Mention in Dispatches and the Distinguished Service Medal for bravery, including a dogfight with several Italian biplanes in his very first encounter.

The 19-year-old fought off every enemy attack on his crippled aircraft – even when the bullets on his machine-gun ran out.

According to his citation: “Having exhausted every alternative method of warding off stern attacks, he finally used wads of paper which he hurled at the attackers, twice causing an enemy fighter to cease fire and break away.”

That citation joins Ralph’s medals – DSM, Africa and Atlantic Stars, 1939-45 Star and War Medal, and a small leaf denoting the Mention in Dispatches – plus a detailed history of his service and two photographs of the sailor in uniform in a special display case which Capt Thompson presented to a delighted Mick at his Leicestershire home.