OBITUARY: Ipswich Town fan died 13 days after wife, in year of 70th wedding anniversary
- Credit: Archant
He cheated death twice during the war, when his ships were sunk in enemy attacks
Teenager Maurice Pink should never have survived. He was in the communication room of HMS Repulse - three decks down and hatches bolted shut - when the battlecruiser was sunk. No-one held out much hope for the unfortunates on his deck, and most did perish. But, somehow, the 19-year-old lived - although he had been thrown against the bulkhead and suffered ruptured eardrums in the explosion.
Good fortune meant a midshipman, acting as cabin boy for the captain, knew about a ladder to the captain's day-cabin. It was dark, and they must have been terrified beyond belief, but they found their way up and out.
After two hours in the sea, naked and swallowing oil while Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales sank in the Gulf of Thailand, Maurice was picked up by HMS Electra and taken to Singapore.
HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales had been defending British territories in the Far East - part of the deterrent against potential Japanese aggression.
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But they'd been left without air cover and were sunk by the Japanese on December 10, 1941 - three days after Japan bombed US ships at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Repulse avoided as many as 19 aerial torpedoes before being struck by four or five. She sank quickly, in eight or nine minutes. More than 500 members of its crew (out of 1,300 personnel) were lost.
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Singapore was captured by the Japanese in early 1942 and most of the HMS Repulse survivors spent four years in Japanese war camps. But Maurice's luck held. He got away on a cattle boat to Ceylon, and on to South Africa on The Empress of Russia.
His war had been eventful long before his ship was downed. At 18 he helped with the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk, France; and in June, 1941, Repulse had for a short time chased the German battleship Bismarck.
In 1943 he joined HMS Spartan, a light cruiser. It was sent to the Mediterranean and on January 29, 1944, supported troop landings at Anzio, Italy, by bombarding the shore and providing anti-aircraft protection.
But Spartan was bombed and sunk. Again, Maurice survived. Within weeks he joined another ship, HMS Aurora, but his nerves were shattered and he was suffering from constant, severe headaches, panic attacks and tinnitus, which led to three months in hospital.
"For many years he would not discuss the war or anything of his naval history, and he suffered from headaches, panic attacks and nightmares," says son Stephen.
"Nowadays, this is recognised as PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) but there was little help after the Second World War."
Maurice later became life president of the HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse Survivors Association, having served for many years as chairman and relinquishing that role only two years ago.
In 2011 the association raised money to build a memorial to the lost ships and men at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.
Two years ago, Maurice represented the survivors' association at the naming ceremony of the new aircraft carrier HMS Prince of Wales at Rosyth, Scotland, and he was immensely proud to meet the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.
Gift for music
Maurice Alfred Pink was born on May 13, 1922, in Barton-upon-Humber, Lincolnshire. Father Samuel had been in the Royal Navy before becoming a coastguard and customs officer. This had taken the family to Oban in Scotland and then the Humber estuary.
When Maurice was very young, they moved again: to Lytham St Annes, Lancashire. Mother Elizabeth then said "no more moves". By then there were two older sisters and two older brothers, plus a younger sister - Doris, who is still alive.
The children were brought up in the strict Pentecostal religion by their mother. She believed in the tangible existence of the Holy Spirit through miracles, the laying on of hands and speaking in tongues. She was a translator for this, and some of the elements of that faith persisted in Maurice.
He went to school in Lytham from the age of five until in 1937, when he was just 14, his parents decided he should go into the Royal Marines as a cadet bandsman. He was taken to Blackpool station, put on a train and waved off.
The story goes that the impetus was his constant "drumming" with knives and forks at the table. This continued throughout his life: he was always "drumming" a beat with his hands.
Maurice was based at the Royal Naval School of Music in Deal, Kent, for more than two years - learning the cornet and being selected to play solo.
He had a natural gift for music, says his family, and could play many instruments, including the piano by ear. His party piece was appearing to play a kettle (using a mouthpiece).
War. Suffolk. Love
In May, 1940, the then 18-year-old was on board a ship to help with the evacuation at Dunkirk. Later, he joined HMS Repulse.
Maurice's job was in the transmitting station, below decks, that sent instructions to the anti-aircraft teams about the required height and angle of the guns.
Then came the departure to the Far East and that terrible sinking a fortnight before Christmas, 1941 - and, in 1944, a second beating of the odds when HMS Spartan went down off Italy.
After the war, Maurice was stationed at HMS Ganges at Shotley, outside Ipswich. For more than two years, as a solo cornettist in the Royal Marines Band, he played at dress ceremonies around the country.
Maurice met wife-to-be Sylvia Dakin in 1945 when the Ipswich-born young lady was on her way to post a letter and he was cycling back to HMS Ganges.
They married in 1949, living first in Maidenhall Approach, Ipswich, and then moving to Montgomery Road in 1956. That was after having sons Stephen (who lives in London) and Clive (in the Ipswich area).
The couple also welcomed, much later, granddaughters Eluned and Bethan.
Maurice trained as a carpenter upon leaving the Royal Marines, but was not comfortable on building sites and so opted to work on the railway, where he looked after points and signals.
He later took an electrical course at Ilford before ending as a signalman.
His signalbox at Sproughton was carpeted and had curtains made by Sylvia. Its remote setting made it the perfect place to practise his dance steps, too!
Maurice retired from the railway in 1984, when the box closed.
The beautiful game
Maurice was a keen footballer, playing in goal for his regiment and each ship he served on. He was also in goal for the officers' hockey team, as they needed someone brave enough to play there without pads.
He supported Ipswich Town Football Club - a regular for more than 60 years and giving up his season ticket to Portman Road only a few years ago, when his health began to fail.
Maurice was also a committed England fan and was involved with the supporters' association. This enabled the family to get tickets for England matches, including the World Cup tournament and final at Wembley in 1966.
The family were even invited to the ceremonial dinner in London, and were photographed holding the trophy. Sadly, the pictures never came out.
Maurice saved for four years to travel to Mexico in 1970 and was amazed to stay in the same hotel as the England team. He had been teetotal, and even sold his rum ration during his time in the Royal Marines, but he could get into the hotel bar with the team only if he ordered an alcoholic drink. So that's when he first sampled rum… and he never looked back!
Cure for the blues
Ipswich Town fan Maurice made the news in February, 1998, when he was visited in hospital by two Blues players - after an accident saw him miss Town's 5-0 victory over Norwich.
Then 76, he'd been hurt in a collision with a car on his way to the match. Maurice was admitted to Ipswich Hospital.
As soon as the club heard, it sent two star players to cheer him up: Bobby Petta (who scored twice in that derby triumph) and Kieron Dyer.
They gave him a programme from the game and a ball signed by the team. "This is the best day of my life," said the patient.
"Maurice always replied 'in the pink' whenever he was asked how he was, even when he was seriously ill," says son Clive.
"The Evening Star story shows he had a shattered thumb and knee ligament damage from that accident but still was indignant about being taken to hospital when he wanted to get to Portman Road! Amazing stoicism; and I assume that compared with how badly he was injured during the war, no illness or injury came close since."
Together 74 years
In 1998 Maurice and Sylvia moved to Pollard Court, Holcombe Crescent, in the Belstead Hills area of Ipswich.
Maurice had taken up lawn green bowls and indoor bowls late in life. He represented Suffolk and won trophies and medals. He was treasurer of his bowls club for many years.
As chairman of the survivors' association, even well into his 90s he continued to insist on writing and giving the chairman's report at annual meetings.
He also liked to write poems and recite them at functions. His most well-known turn was to recite, by heart, The Lion and Albert in the style of actor Stanley Holloway.
Maurice developed bowel cancer and survived a major operation three years ago at the age of 94. He took care of Sylvia for six years after she developed Alzheimer's, doing all the shopping and cooking.
Both suffered from extremely poor health this year that required periods in hospital, but were reunited in the Spring Lodge Care Home at Woolverstone. Sylvia died on October 14, and Maurice 13 days later.
"While devastating for Stephen and Clive to have lost both parents within a space of a fortnight, it's rather lovely to think that Sylvia and Maurice were together for 74 years and are now together wherever their souls have gone," says Stephen's wife, Sharon. "They were such lovely and kind parents-in-law to me, too."
A joint funeral service is being held on Saturday, November 9 at 12noon, at Seven Hills Crematorium, Felixstowe Road, Nacton, IP10 0FG.