Laurence V. Strong

Written by Jonathan Strong (son)

Below: Laurence Vezey Strong as a Sub-Lieut.

Profile

of

Laurence Vezey Strong DSC MiD   (Laurie)

Born on 21st January 1918 and educated at Tonbridge School, Laurie left School in April 1935 when his Father sent him on a European Tour. He subsequently joined the family printing firm – “Henderson & Spalding” - and went to The London School of Printing between 1936 and 1937.

In June 1939, he was worried that his OTC training at school meant he would be likely to be called up for the Army but he wanted to go to sea and didn’t want to be what he described as ‘canon fodder’. So he tried to join the RNVR through HMS President but was told that the Navy was not recruiting.

On Trafalgar Day after war had been declared, he went to his local recruiting office and indeed a Petty Officer did suggest a Commission in the Army. His persistence in wanting to join the Navy led to him being called up as a rating for training in signals (a “bunting tosser” in Navy slang).

After a Medical (Grade 1) on 8th December 1939, he was sent to HMS Royal Arthur at Skegness (the requisitioned Butlins Holiday Camp complex). He passed out as Ordinary Signalman (First Class) in March 1940 but with a white cap band having been identified as ‘officer material’.

At the beginning of April 1940, he joined an old Welsh ‘smokestack’ trawler – ‘HMT Brecon Castle’ -converted to a minesweeper and operating in the Falmouth, Dartmouth and Plymouth area.

In August 1940 he attended a Preliminary Selection Board at HMS Defiance, Devonport and then passed Final Selection at HMS Excellent, Portsmouth at the beginning of October. He received his Commission on 13th December 1940 as a Temporary Sub-Lieutenant and was immediately posted for officer training to HMS King Alfred, Hove (nicknamed ’The Pub’ because it had been a hotel before the war).

On 26th October 1940 at St. Nicholas’s Church, Rochester, Laurie had married Honor Mary Battersby Stewart, whom he had known since childhood and with whom he shared a Godmother.

In January 1941, he was posted to HM ML 240 as First Lieutenant. She was being built and commissioned at Bowness and after sea trials sailed to Scapa Flow where Admiral Jellicoe’s battleship - the Iron Duke - was her depot ship. The Iron Duke had been bombed, was partly submerged and was being cannibalised for parts. One part fell in Lieut. Strong’s hands! – a brass pulley wheel from an ammunition hoist. He had this fashioned into an ash tray which sat on his desk until he died.

On 10th February 1942, he was transferred as Signals Officer to HMS Boadicea, which was on convoy escort duties in North Atlantic. Within 2 weeks he had been appointed as Navigating Officer. This ’B’-Class destroyer (H65) took part in a number of convoys across the Atlantic and one down to South Africa before she joined PQ15 in Iceland. The convoy had assembled at Oban and sailed for Iceland on 10th April 1942 and then onwards to Murmansk arriving 5th May. She returned to UK waters with QP12 later in May. On 31st May 1942 he gained his Watch-Keeping Certificate.

Iced bows of HMS Boadicea during PQ15
















Above: Iced bows of HMS Boadicea during PQ15

On 16th August 1942 he was sent to HMS Vernon, Brighton for further training and received his Commission as a Lieutenant on 4th November 1942.

In April 1943 he had embarkation leave before shipping with others his MTB (sometimes referred to as “The Spitfires of the Sea”) to Malta and onto Sicily to support the Allied landings as part of 24th Flotilla. MTB 81 then served in the Adriatic harrying the Germans and dodging them to supply the guerrilla forces operating in Greece and Yugoslavia and ferrying agents to and from secret rendez-vous.

12th July 1943 Laurie sank a U-Boat near the Straits of Messina. The U-Boat had surfaced directly ahead of his MTB and he had to order “all engines full astern” in order to give his torpedo time to arm itself and hit its target before the submarine dived again. His quick thinking and success was rewarded with a DSC.

2nd December 1943 the Luftwaffe carried out a surprise attack on the Allied-held port of Bari on the East coast of Italy and sank many merchantmen and naval vessels. There was considerable loss of life with the harbour ablaze. News of the attack was embargoed until 1980 because one US cargo ship – SS John Harvey - was carrying mustard gas, contrary to the Geneva Convention. The “Powers that Be” apparently believed that the Germans retreating through Italy might resort to the use of chemical weapons and the Allies wanted to be able to retaliate. Lieut. Strong and his crew on MTB 81 and with a Flag Officer aboard, helped in the rescue operations including securing a warp on a burning supply ship and towing it out of the harbour. He was mentioned in despatches for this bravery.

24th September 1944 he was appointed as a Staff Officer Operations, Western Mediterranean based in Malta until 7th July 1945 when he returned home to see his daughter for the first time. She was born on 31st October 1942. He and Honor had a second daughter and a son.

Laurence Strong - Wedding Day 26.10.40

Laurie was very proud to have been given the 40th Anniversary Commemorative Medal in 1991 and The Medal of Ushakov in 2013. At least the Russian Government recognised the vital importance of the Allied Russian Arctic Convoys eventually leading to that Country’s success in forcing the German retreat from the Eastern Front. He was equally proud to receive the long awaited Arctic Star from the British Government before he died on 25th February 2014 aged 96. He is buried at St. George’s Church, Benenden, Kent.

 

 

 

 Left: wedding day 26.10.40