U-boat sinking led to lifelong friendship

A FASCINATING archive charting the life of a heroic Navy sailor during and after World War Two has come to light.

Dennis Frank Hughes served in the Royal Navy with distinction during WW2 and went on to enjoy a decorated 27-year service in Staffordshire and West Midlands Police, rising to become a detective constable.

But one of the defining moments of his life occurred in May 1944 in the treacherous seas of the Ionian.

Mr Hughes was a leading seaman gunner on the T Class destroyer HMS Termagant when the German submarine U-453 was spotted off the coast of Calabria, southern Italy.

The Termagant, aided by HMS Tenacious and HMS Liddesdale, sank the submarine but the three destroyers rallied to rescue the sub’s crew.

Mr Hughes bravely pulled aboard a German sailor by the name of Hans Baumers who, along with his shipmates, was then transferred to prisoner-of-war camps via the port of Taranto.

Described in his Navy papers as a sheet metal worker from Wednesbury, in the Black Country, West MIds., Hughes joined the Navy as a boy in 1938. After various postings, he served on the ill-fated HMS Hood for a month but was transferred to another vessel shortly after the outbreak of war in September 1939.

Hood went on to be sunk by the German navy in May 1941 leaving just three survivors – 1,418 men perished in the sinking.

It was not until long after hostilities ended that Mr Hughes saw an advertisement in a magazine which, incredibly, was from the U-boat survivors thanking their rescuers and inviting them to visit Germany.

During the trip, from September 25-28 1987, the British visitors were presented with bronze plaques of the submarine.

At the time, Mr Hughes said: “It is nice that after all the suffering of the war we are all the best of friends.”

Mr Hughes and his wife Mary – pictured above on their wedding day, April 3 1943 – spent four days on the Traben-Trarbach on the River Moselle with the U-453 veterans and Hughes and Herr Baumers became lifelong friends, making regular trips to see each other for reunions.

Friends in Germany were among the many who paid tribute when Mr Hughes passed away in 2002 aged 81.

The archive includes the bronze plaque, Mr Hughes’ medals, formal photographs and others taken during reunions, an original framed Mentioned in Despatches certificate dated 1945 and a vast amount of paperwork in both English and German recounting first-hand accounts of the sinking of U-453 on May 21 1944.

Mr Hughes’ medal group consists of 1939-45, Atlantic, Africa and Italy Stars, M.I.D. Emblem on Africa Star, Defence and War Medal, together with his Police Long Service/Good Conduct medal, the Malta Commemorative Medal and Medallion for Crete.

The archive sold for £190 on October 1 at The Lichfield Auction Centre.

Nick Thompson, medals and militaria valuer at Richard Winterton Auctioneers, said: “Mr Hughes’s story is made more significant because of his humane actions in the Second World War.

“U-453 was one of the few sunken German submarines where the crew of 43 men all got off alive. They were taken prisoner but they survived – they owed their lives to the ship that picked them up.”

The archive’s historical significance is strengthened further by a glazed frame containing a parchment style coloured scroll relating to the WW1 service of Mr Hughes’ father, Private Frank Hughes, who was from the Ocker Hill/Toll End area of Tipton, West Mids, and served with the 1st Battalion Suffolk Regiment from September 8 1914 until his demobilisation in March 1919.

“The scroll retains much of its colour and is a fitting tribute to a soldier who served in Belgium, France, Egypt, Salonika and Italy,” added Mr Thompson.

“A lot of families have medals which have been handed down through the generations but it’s only when you start digging that the story comes out.

“It’s important for people to keep hold of photographs, press cutting and any related ephemera – such as with Mr Hughes’ archive.

“There are hours and hours of reading here, making this lot an interesting and special capsule of both sides of conflict during WW2.

“But this is also just the tip of the iceberg – there’s further research for a keen collector to carry on.”

An example of this is Mr Hughes’ talent as a footballer – he is understood to have been a member of the police football team and also played for Tamworth FC in the Birmingham Combination league.

The archive contains a cutting from a local newspaper of a letter from a friend at the time of Mr Hughes’ retirement, which says he was the only footballer the writer saw score a goal from a goal kick while standing on the 10 yard line.

“The goalkeeper mis-kicked the ball, it went head-high to Dennis and he said ‘thank you very much’,” the letter says.

Nick Thompson carries out free valuations of medal and militaria items at The Lichfield Auction Centre from 9.30am until noon every Tuesday.

Philip Bridge carries out free valuations of coins and banknotes at the same location between 9am and 12 noon every Tuesday.

Visit richardwinterton.co.uk, call 01543 251081 or email office@richardwinterton.co.uk.

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