Royal Navy veteran dies days before D-Day anniversary

Topic: Fighting arms Storyline: People

Royal Navy veteran Lewis Curl has died days before the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

AB Curl, who served from 1942 to 1946, was a cypher coder on HMS Belfast. He was granted leave but on his return to Portsmouth a telegram awaited, recalling him to join HMS Dacres off Le Harve.

The only available transport leaving for France was a freighter packed with army lorries, transport and fuel. Arriving off the French coast, the freighter was bombed and sank. AB Curl jumped into an amphibious vehicle but that was quickly overloaded and started to sink.

As AB Curl swam away, a launch appeared and he was landed ashore.

After wading ashore and drying out, he proceeded along the coast in the dark, walking and obtaining lifts on an army vehicle, finally arriving at the naval base where he was taken by launch to HMS Dacres, who lay at anchor just off shore.

Able Seamen do not get piped aboard ship, but 19-year-old Able Seaman Lewis Curl did. An officer took him to one side and told him the ship’s company had bets on if he was going to make it. The odds were against him.

HMS Dacres then left for the Bay of Biscay for submarine boat surveillance and action, securing German code books. On returning to Portsmouth, AB Curl was posted to Rosyth to join HMS Loch Glendhu and returned to the Bay of Biscay.

In 1945, he arrived at Glasgow for the VE Day celebrations then immediately after to Portsmouth to join HMS Swiftsure bound for the Far East. Through the Mediterranean – Suez – India – Madras – Calcutta – Malacca Straights, “pushing mines away from the ship with long poles”.

He volunteered for night searching for the presence of Japanese personnel and become infected by a tropical disease while ashore. The hospital he was in was then evacuated when the Japanese came too close.

AB Curl was left in the ward as he was “too ill to move”. The staff returned a week later to find he was the only remaining survivor out of the four left behind. After convalescing, he was repatriated back to the UK on HMS Barfleur.

AB Curl, who also served in HMS Mercury, was awarded the 1938/45 Medal, the Victory Medal, Atlantic Star and Bar, Burma Star, France and Germany Star, and Civil Medal.

A member of the Bognor Regis branch of the Royal Naval Association, Lews died at St Richard’s Hospital in Chichester on May 22, aged 98.