Bristol D-Day hero recalls being thrown from ship in explosion that killed 31

D-Day veteran and ambassador for the British Normandy Memorial Stan Ford, 98, who served with the Royal Navy, meeting a pupil from Norfolk House School
-Credit: (Image: PA Wire/PA Images)


A Royal Navy veteran has recalled being thrown from his ship after an explosion that killed 31 people just weeks after D-Day. Stan Ford, who turned 99 on May 7, served on HMS Fratton, which escorted ships taking people back to the UK and was stationed off Selsey Bill on the south coast on D-Day.

Weeks later, Mr Ford, who is originally from Bristol, suffered lifelong injuries when the ship was sunk by what is believed to have been a midget submarine off the Normandy coast. Thirty-eight members of the crew were rescued but 31 were killed.

On August 18 at 5.30am or 6am, Mr Ford was on duty when he said there was a "terrific explosion". "The explosion detached the gun platform I was on and the gun platform and myself, we went over the side," he said.

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"It was quite a, as you can imagine, heavy piece of metal. I came to in the water." Mr Ford said he was rescued by someone who was looking for survivors before he "went unconscious down on the deck".

He added: "The explosion, it's something else, the nearness you are to it, you don't really hear it, it's just a feeling of going through the air. And then I surfaced and that was it. I was saved and I often ask the lord why me, when we lost 31 of the crew."

Mr Ford has had to walk with leg callipers ever since and he fractured his spine due to the force of the explosion. Speaking ahead of the 80th anniversary of the landings, Mr Ford said he plans to travel to Normandy for the anniversary with the Spirit of Normandy Trust, saying he "wouldn't miss it for the world".

From left, D-Day and Normandy veterans (left to right) Alec Penstone, 98, Gilbert Clarke, 98, Richard Aldred, 99, Henry Rice, 98, Donald Howkins, 103, Mervyn Kersh, 98, Stan Ford, 98, Ken Hay, 98, and John Dennett, 99, with the D-Day Darlings at the D-Day 80 launch event organised by the Spirit of Normandy Trust
D-Day and Normandy veterans (left to right) Alec Penstone, 98, Gilbert Clarke, 98, Richard Aldred, 99, Henry Rice, 98, Donald Howkins, 103, Mervyn Kersh, 98, Stan Ford, 99, Ken Hay, 98, and John Dennett, 99, with the D-Day Darlings at the D-Day 80 launch event -Credit:PA Wire/PA Images

He added: "There are 31 names on one single pillar and I should be picking out names, my friends, on that pillar. I shall remember each and every one of them, and I honour them." Asked why it is important for Mr Ford to go back to Normandy for the anniversary, he said "they gave up their life".

Speaking of his thoughts looking back on the war, Mr Ford, who now lives in Bath, said "to take part, it was a necessary evil but it had to be done". He added: "We don't want it to happen again, but with what's going on in the world, in the Middle East, you don't know when it could flare up again."

The great-grandfather described speaking on stage during the Festival of Remembrance at the Royal Albert Hall in November 2022. He said he told the King he comes from a large family, eight boys and two girls, and all eight boys joined the forces.

He said: "I said that all eight of us boys, we all joined the forces. One of them actually, he was an ambulance driver during the Blitz in London, but to me, he served. When I said that, when I made that comment, about us all joining the forces, [the King] clapped very, very efficiently, he clapped, and the audience followed suit. I was very pleased that someone should know of what we accomplished."