War hero, SWW champion and author Tony dies at 97

North Devon Gazette

Southampton’s last ARP (Air Raid Precautions) hero from WW2 has died in South Molton at the age of 97. Â
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Tony Chapman was an ARP messenger, aged just 16, when he received an ARP commendation for delivering messages during a heavy air raid in 1941. Â

Tony had vowed to fight back after having seen Southampton’s historic High Street burn down in the fire storm of 30th November, 1940. He volunteered and joined the Royal Navy in 1942 and, after training as a telegraphist, Tony joined Coastal Forces.Â

Many years later, Tony made an emotional return to the spot from where he witnessed the High Street being destroyed by a huge firestorm in 1940.Â

A total of 120 Nazi planes staged a six-hour attack on Southampton, dropping 800 bombs and killing 137 people.Â

On his first day on active service, 24th October 1943, Tony was involved in the Battle of Smiths Knoll, when 30 E Boats were engaged in trying to destroy an East coast convoy. Â

Half of Tony’s crew were killed or wounded when his gunboat, MGB 607, rammed and sank E Boat S63. Tony’s crippled boat was saved from destruction by Lt Roger Lightoller, son of Herbert “Titanic” Lightoller, who commanded the other gunboat in their unit, MGB 603. Â
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Roger’s second in command was Patrick Troughton, the actor who later played Doctor Who 2. Following service in the North Sea, Tony was posted to the Mediterranean and Aegean, where his boat ML 838 took the surrender of Kos in 1945.Â

After the war, Tony joined the Ordnance Survey and was employed surveying bomb damage in Plymouth, Bristol, the East End of London and Portsmouth as part of the post-war rebuild. Â
Tony became interested in Sewerage and water treatment and studied to become a member of the Chartered Institute of Water and Environmental Management. After service in several local authorities, he ended his working career as the South West Water manager responsible for bringing drainage and sewage treatment in North Devon up to modern standards.Â

Tony retired early to follow his other interests of gardening, sport and walking. Tony did most of his serious walking in his 70s and 80s completing the South West Coast Path, Two Moors Way, Offas Dyke and forays in Wales and Switzerland. He wrote several Walking Books and donated his archive of 20 years walking on Exmoor to the Exmoor Society.Â

Tony published his War Memoir “The War of The Motor Gun Boats” on his 89th birthday at the Appledore Book Festival in 2013. He was persuaded to publish because the book would promote interest in Coastal Forces and their long-awaited museum in Portsmouth. Tony made several trips to Portsmouth to further the cause and record his experiences for their archive.Â

Commander Rupert Head, director of the Coastal Forces Heritage Trust, said: "Through his book he was able to capture the lost voices of many thousands who served - their hopes, fears and above all their outstanding achievements. Few books have managed to do this.Â

"Tony served his country with distinction, both at sea and before he even went to sea."Â

The Air Raid Precautions department gained prominence across the UK in the 1920s and 1930s, with every local council was responsible for organising ARP wardens, messengers, ambulance drivers, rescue parties, and liaison with police and fire brigades.Â

From 1 September 1939, ARP wardens enforced the "blackout". Heavy curtains and shutters were required on all private residences, commercial premises, and factories to prevent light escaping and so making them a possible marker for enemy bombers to locate their targets.Â

With increased enemy bombing during the Blitz, the ARP services were central in reporting and dealing with bombing incidents. They managed the air raid sirens and ensured people were directed to shelters.Â

Tony Chapman was a genuine war hero, from a generation to whom we all owe so very much. Â

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