Tony Chapman, who has died aged 97, joined Royal Navy motor gunboat MGB 607 after completing his training in October 1943, a few days after his 19th birthday. On the same day it sailed with its flotilla to defend a convoy off the east coast of the UK against German S-Boats.
These fast enemy torpedo-boats were often detected by wireless intercept stations on the British coast, mainly by German-speaking Women’s Royal Naval Service personnel, who became skilled in recognising not only which enemy boats were at sea but also what tactics they were employing.
Chapman’s MGB 607 rammed and sank S-63 in a short but savage close-range action at Smiths Knoll off Great Yarmouth in which half Chapman’s crew were either killed or wounded. The crippled MGB 607 was saved from sinking by MGB 603 from the same flotilla, commanded by Lieutenant Roger Lightoller, the son of Herbert Lightoller, of Titanic fame. Its First Lieutenant was Patrick Troughton, a future Doctor Who.
Anthony John Chapman was born on October 9 1924 in Southampton to Ernest Chapman, a Merchant Navy baker who had also served in the Army during the First World War, and Asenath (née Thorpe).
He was educated at Itchen Grammar School but left without qualifications to work for the Gas Board. Aged 17 he joined Southampton’s Air Raid Precautions Department as a messenger and earned a commendation in July 1941 for faithfully delivering messages amid falling explosives after the telephone system was destroyed.
He was also very active in dealing with incendiary bombs. He was one of the last surviving people to have seen Southampton’s historic High Street destroyed in a fire raid in November 1940.
He joined the Royal Navy on his 18th birthday. He trained as a telegraphist and volunteered for submarines – but he needed his father’s permission since he was under 21, and this was withheld because he thought it would be too dangerous for his son.
Chapman went, instead, into Coastal Forces, and had a very active war. After further service in the North Sea he joined motor launch ML 838 in the Aegean as a leading telegraphist and was present in her when the German garrison on Kos island surrendered in 1945. He was awarded the Greek Liberation Medal in addition to his British campaign medals.
After the war Chapman joined the Ordnance Survey and helped to assess bomb-damaged cities including Plymouth, Bristol, Portsmouth and the East End of London as part of the reconstruction process. He subsequently became interested in the treatment of water and sewage and became a member of the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management. He ended his working career as manager of the South West Water Authority, where he brought drainage and sewage systems in North Devon up to date.
He retired early at 56 and spent the rest of his life in South Molton, where he followed his passions for golf, gardening, writing and especially walking. He had never done anything half-heartedly, and walked up hill and down dale with careful planning and a fast pace. Apart from Offa’s Dyke and other long walks in the UK he walked in other countries including Switzerland.
Chapman wrote several books about walks in North Devon, each starting with the title Walking to Good Purpose. In the 1960s he served as a skipper in the RN Auxiliary Service and had always kept in touch with old friends through the Coastal Forces Veterans’ Association.
He wrote a book, War of the Motor Gunboats, which was published on his 89th birthday at the Appledore Book Festival in 2013. It gave a sense of a life lived joyfully and was well-reviewed.
He married Margaret, but they were divorced without issue. He later married Lucy Kingdon, a widow with two children. She died in 2020 and he is survived by his stepdaughter and stepson.
Tony Chapman, born October 9 1924, died December 19 2021