Video: Wartime heroics remembered in Felixstowe

FELIXSTOWE'S brave Second World War Coastal Forces have at last been honoured with an appropriate commemoration.

FELIXSTOWE'S brave Second World War Coastal Forces have at last been honoured with an appropriate commemoration.

A crowd gathered at Landguard where a permanent reminder was unveiled to celebrate the bravery of a few courageous men who shield the Suffolk coastline from Nazi invasion.

A rousing ceremony was introduced by Anthony and Robert Hitchens, sons of Lieutenant-Commander Robert Hitchens, the most highly decorated Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve officer of the war, who in the1940s joined Coastal Forces serving onboard at Felixstowe's Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs).

The MTBs and Motor Gunboats (MGs) fought nearly 1,000 operations against the enemy from HMS Beehive and on Saturday, at the port viewing area at Landguard, their valour was remembered.

Beehive was established at Felixstowe in July 1940 on the site of the Dock Basin - which is now being filled in as part of a port expansion project.

A commemorative plaque was unveiled by Antony Hichens, youngest son of the Lieutenant

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Commander, who was killed in April 1943 and is buried in Felixstowe Cemetery.

Mr Hitchens said: “This is a very overdue event that has come almost 70 years after the formation of HMAS Beehive.

“We are here to commemorate the gallant young men who served here.

“I am not one of the fine fraternity of Coastal Forces but I am lucky enough to say I have been around them for most of my life.

“Many travelled long distances to get here and it is for them and their comrades that we are gathered.”

Members of the public, veterans and their families attended, along with the Mayors of Felixstowe and Ipswich and senior officials of Suffolk County Council, who all acknowledged a two minute silence in memory of the fallen.

The address at the service was delivered in part by Commander Mark Dickens, Royal Navy, son of Lieutenant Peter Dickens, another highly-decorated Coastal Forces veteran of HMS Beehive.

A blessing was led by Padre John Pretyman-Waller who also conducted a psalm and naval prayer.

A second commemorative plaque at Felixstowe port, close to the actual site of HMS Beehive, was unveiled earlier in the day at a short private event.

NORMAN Gillies was one of just two surviving members of the MTB flotilla present at the Landguard ceremony.

Until Saturday morning he was unable to find transport from his Chelmondiston home to the Felixstowe seafront but The Evening Star stepped in to sponsor his journey.

Mr Gillies, 84, was a signaller onboard MTB 489 from September 1944 until the end of the war.

He marched through Felixstowe on VE-Day and took surrender of two enemy E Boats.

“It was a little harbour back then,” he said. “It was lined by torpedo boats on one side and air-sea rescue boats on the other.

“I remember the day I arrived I saw a man being lifted on a stretcher by a crane. I didn't know whether he was alive or dead but I was anxious.”

After the war he found himself stationed at HMS Ganges, learning American signals before the US Navy sailed to the Far East.

During that time he attended a Sunday service at Chelmondiston, where he met his wife of 60 years, Ivy, and has lived there ever since.

“That's where in 1948 I saw a beautiful young lady who would become my wife,” he said.