The Reverend Ron Paterson MBE (1916-2009)

Ron Paterson died on 16 December 2009 and on 23 December members of the D-Day and Normandy Fellowship attended a moving Service of Thanksgiving for his life at St Peter’s Church, Bishop’s Waltham. The following account of Ron’s career in the Second World War is taken from a memoir written for the occasion by his friend Peter Watkins. The concluding sentence explains why Ron’s role in helping to set up and run the D-Day and Normandy Fellowship was of particular importance in his life.

“Ron joined the Royal Navy at the age of 16 in 1932. When the Second World War broke out in September 1939 he was serving as a Sub-Lieutenant in HMS Sandwich blockading Chinese waters in order to keep German cruisers there. His next posting was on convoys escorting merchant ships from the USA and Canada and also on the convoys to Murmansk, for which he was awarded the Atlantic Star. A particularly memorable convoy in November 1941 was Sydney-Clyde Convoy No 7 consisting of 39 ships, nearly half of which were lost to German submarines. He was lucky to survive such hazardous assignments. By this time HMS Sandwich was due for a refit and Ron’s next ship was HMS Nelson, which he joined, now a Lieutenant, at Scapa Flow and which was then sent for escort duties bound for Murmansk. At the end of 1942 he sailed from the Clyde for Gibraltar to support Operation TORCH, the Allied landings in North Africa. His ship went on to escort convoys bringing supplies for the relief of Malta until it was torpedoed and obliged to limp back to Gibraltar for repairs.

Ron’s first command was Landing Craft Gun (Large) 831, built on the Clyde. It was not dignified with the title ‘HMS’, but nonetheless had a crew of three officers, 40 marines and 12 sailors. Among the complement was French Chief Petty Officer who, like all free Frenchmen fighting under British colours, was obliged to use a pseudonym instead of his own name. This man chose the name ‘Horatio Nelson’, so Ron had under his command no less a person than ‘Horatio Nelson.’ He brought LCG(L) 831 from the Clyde to Southampton in preparation for the D-Day landings. The flotilla commander, however, had stranded his craft so Ron was obliged to surrender his command to a senior officer.

Instead Ron was appointed Staff Officer Operations to Captain Colin Maud RN, who was to be the Beachmaster on JUNO beach on D-Day. Captain Maud was a charismatic figure who had commanded a destroyer that was sunk in Arctic waters. He survived in the water for more than an hour because, he maintained, because he had ‘knocked back a bottle of whisky’ before jumping overboard. As a result he ordered all men under his command to carry a bottle of whisky when they landed – an order obeyed to the letter.

Ron reported for duty in HMS Vectis at Cowes in early April 1944. He was equipped with invasion maps and was liaison officer with the 3rd Canadian Division and with the staff of the PLUTO oil pipeline at Shanklin, Isle of Wight. He took part in trials and exercises and on 3 June collected a khaki uniform, pistol and survival equipment. On 5 June he sailed from Spithead to join the invasion fleet. As Assistant Beachmaster he landed with the assault infantry on JUNO beach where there were liable to be heavy casualties. As his beach party ran ashore from the landing craft at 07.45 that morning he recited to his men Nelson’s prayer before the battle of Trafalgar:

‘May the great God, whom I worship, grant to my country, and for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and glorious victory; and may no misconduct in anyone tarnish it; and may humanity after victory be the predominant feature in the British fleet … To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend.’

He waded ashore with his party near Courseulles holding above his head a brief case with maps, operation orders and, of course, the bottle of whisky, carried on Captain Maud’s orders. They set up headquarters and monitored the flow of men and vehicles over the beach, sorted out traffic jams, removed and marked obstacles and supervised the embarkation of the wounded for return to the UK. They worked until midnight and began again at first light. Work continued until 19 June when a huge storm halted traffic. Ron spent five weeks on JUNO beach until Cherbourg was captured, living in a German pillbox. He was present when King George VI, Winston Churchill and General De Gaulle visited JUNO beach and was responsible for their safety.

Before the end of July 1944 Ron was back in Britain preparing for service in the Far East, in the war against Japan. In August he sailed for the Pacific and was stationed in Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia and the Solomon Islands. In October Ron’s ship joined the American 7th Fleet in the Solomon Islands as Task Force 75 to take part in the liberation of the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Ron believed that the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was justified because it saved great numbers of Allied lives that would inevitably have been lost in an invasion of Japan and liberated the Japanese themselves from the fanatical regime of which they had become victims. When the Japanese war ended in August 1945 Ron was placed in charge of 600 American troops on his ship in Manila for the passage to Manus and here he saw at first hand the appalling physical condition to which they had been reduced during three years in Japanese captivity. It was then that he resolved to devote the remainder of his life to the cause of peace, justice and reconciliation.”

The Reverend Paterson’s own recollections of the D-Day landings can be found here.