War Veteran celebrates 99th Birthday

A SURPRISE musical birthday for 99 year-old war hero Morrell Murphy was certainly in tune with his milestone celebration. Such is the high regard that this Bangor man is held in that the dedicated members of 10th Bangor Old Boys Pipe and Bugle Band were keen to show their appreciation. After enjoying a birthday dinner with his daughter Jean, grandchildren and great grand-children, Mr Murphy and his family were treated to a ‘wonderful’ surprise musical performance.

The band played a selection of tunes for Mr Murphy, including ‘Happy Birthday’ with band leader Brian Hall praising his friend as ‘an amazing man’ who he believes was a ‘real hero’. Mr Murphy’s bravery in the liberation of Europe from Nazi oppression in World War II was recognised at a special ceremony organised by Ards and North Down Borough Council. Mr Murphy was just 19 years-old when he joined the Royal Navy in 1942 – and it was during his brave service as a submarine detector that he would survive the horrors of war when his ship was torpedoed and sank. The local man, alongside other local veterans, was presented with a specially commissioned silver poppy in recognition of their brave service in 2019 at Bangor Castle.

Speaking to the Spectator, Mr Murphy described his musical birthday as a ‘wonderful’ surprise after he had enjoyed spending his special day with his loved ones. Recalling his service, Mr Murphy explained he initially trained in Cornwall, London and NewcastleUpon-Tyne before joining HMS Haydon, reaching the Azores in Christmas 1942 before heading on to Gibraltar. He said: “We met up with a convoy and took it to North Africa and Sicily in July 1943. The convoys were escorted to Algiers with the object of taking the Italian mainland.” Mr Murphy witnessed history with the Salerno Landings in Italy that saw the Allied amphibious landing on mainland Italy, and they travelled up the Strait of Messina. He recalled how they escorted American troops and accompanied the first convoy into Naples where he was able to see Mount Vesuvius. Interested in searching for submarines, Mr Murphy completed his training in Dunoon in Scotland, before he was transferred to Belfast and joined a flotilla of hunt destroyers.

 In 1944, he was serving on HMS Capel that had made contact with a German submarine on Christmas Night and had made several unsuccessful attacks. Mr Murphy recalled: “It was just before Christmas 1944 and we were searching for submarines, doing a lot of firing depth charges and trying to catch it. There were 10 ships in a row all searching the area.” He recalled the ‘terrible activity’ of Christmas night with depth charges and explosions – but nothing could prepare him for the events on Boxing Day when Mr Murphy’s ship was torpedoed and sank.

He said: “I was on duty on Boxing Day morning and I went up to the quarter deck. I went up and there was a terrible explosion in the ship. I was blown off into the air and my clothes were ripped off. We never tied our boots, so they were always loose and they fell off.” Blown clear of the ship, Morrell managed to get into a life craft. He said: “When I hit the water I landed on my back, I was lucky there was no flotsam.” Fortunately after just two hours he was picked up and taken to an American hospital about three miles from Cherbourg. After recovering from hypothermia, he was discharged the next morning. With few clothes, barefoot and with little to eat, he made his way to the harbour and began his journey back to Belfast. Mr Murphy said: “I went barefoot from the hospital and made my way to the docks at Cherbourg. I got on one of our own ships and I remember asking could they give me a pair of shoes.” Unknown to him, a priority telegram dated December 30, 1944 had been sent to his mother in Lisburn, stating he had been reported missing, presumed dead on war service.

There was an emotional reunion when the young war hero returned home to greet his mother and father. Grateful to be alive, Mr Murphy is always mindful of his 80 shipmates who were unable to return home. Friend and fellow church member Brian Hall was delighted to organise the special musical birthday celebration saying: “We wanted to surprise him on his 99th birthday. “Morrell was going to have dinner with his daughter and I said to him it’s going to be a big birthday, you are in your 100th year.” He spoke of his admiration for his friend saying: “We are all members of Ballycrochan Presbyterian Church and I have got to know him over the years, and have so much respect for Morrell. “He would do the Remembrance Citation at Ballycrochan Presbyterian Church and I would play the Last Post.” Praising his friend, Mr Hall said: “He is a true gentleman, he lives by himself and tends his garden. He says ‘I’m a bit slow on my feet’ but I say we can give him that, he is 99 years-old.” Mr Hall said: “I have so much respect for Morrell. He really is an amazing man. Some people talk about heroes, football and rugby heroes, but this is a real hero.”