Sussex D-Day veteran passed away just days before 80th anniversary celebrations

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A Sussex D-Day veteran passed away just days before the world celebrated the 80th anniversary of the Operation Overlord landings.

Able Seaman (AB) Lewis Curl, a member of the Bognor Regis branch of the Royal Navy association, died in St Richard’s Hospital, Chichester, aged 98.

The Royal Navy Veteran served as a cypher coder on HMS Belfast from 1942 to 1946. In the midst of his service he was granted leave, but on his return to Portsmouth, discovered a telegram recalling him to join HMS Dacres – one of three headquarters ships used during the D-Day landings - off the coast of Le Harve.

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With landing preparations well under way, the only available transport was a freighter packed with army lorries, transport and fuel. AB Lewis hitched a ride but, as it arrived on the French coast, the freighter was bombed and sank. AB Curl survived by jumping into an amphibious vehicle, but it wasn’t the salvation he’d hoped for. Some time after he hopped aboard, it started to overload and sink. As he swam away, the sailor spotted a launch and was landed ashore.

Able Seaman Lewis Curl died aged 98 in late May.Able Seaman Lewis Curl died aged 98 in late May.
Able Seaman Lewis Curl died aged 98 in late May.

After drying out, he skulked along the shore in the dark, walking and hitching rides on friendly army vehicles, finally arriving at the naval base and, from there, to HMS Darces, which was anchored just off the coast.

Typically, only officers admirals and dignitaries are piped aboard ship, but the crew made an exception for 19-year-old Lewis Curl; many of whom doubted he’d even survive. One officer even took him to one side and explained the ship’s company had been taking bets on whether or not he’d make it – the odds were not in his favour.

But AB Curl’s wartime exploits weren’t over yet, and there was still plenty of danger to come. The HMS Darce left for the Bay of Biscay for submarine surveillance and action; it even secured vital German code books, while AB Curl was posted to Rosyth to join HMS Loch Glendhu and returned to the Bay of Biscay.

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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. The ship sailed through the Mediterranean – Suez – India – Madras – Calcutta – Malacca Straights, and AB Curl spent his days with his shipmates “pushing mines away from the ship with long poles”.

As the war in the East continued, AB Curl bravely volunteered for night-searching duty, hunting enemy personnel, but he was struck ill with a tropical disease while ashore. As the Japanese army closed in, the hospital was evacuated, and ASB Curl was left behind alongside three other patients deemed too sick to move by the orderlies. When the staff returned a week later, they found Curl was the only survivor.

Once he’d recovered, he was repatriated back to the UK on HMS Balfleur. After the war, AB Curl, who also served aboard the HMS Mercury, was awarded the 1938/45 Medal, the Victory Medal, Atlantic Star and Bar, Burma Star, France and Germany Star, and Civil Medal.

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