Public Service – Commander Peter Meryon

Commander Peter Meryon – WW2 Naval Hero

Peter Louis Meryon was born at Helensburgh on June 27 1920 and sent at 13 to the Royal Naval College, Dartmouth. He was the third generation of his family to serve in the Royal Navy.

He served as a midshipman in the battleship Malaya before the war, and took part in the bombardment of the French fleet at Mers el Kebir. He escorted convoys in the Mediterranean, was at the North African landings, and served on several Atlantic convoys out of Liverpool; in 1943 he protected the Lochalsh-based minelayers in the Iceland-Faroes gap. The following year Meryon was first lieutenant of the River class frigate Nith, which served as a brigade headquarters ship off Gold Beach in Operation Neptune.

Meryon was then involved in an event which gained some notoriety in 1988.

On June 24 1944 Nith was attacked by a secret twin-engined un-manned bomber carrying a 3,500-kilogram warhead which was controlled by a fighter, mounted piggyback on top of it. Meryon watched in horror as this contraption approached in the moonlight, and he ordered everyone on board to lie down; he then started to organise fire fighting, counter-flooding and the rescue of casualties after the bomber crashed alongside, causing an enormous explosion. Later he recalled the pathos of wrapping the bodies in canvas and weighing them down with shells for sea burial while the dead from other ships floated past. He wrote about this event in 1988, but a sceptical Imperial War Museum doubted that the Germans had such technology available to them in 1944. But a researcher interviewed some German pilots who confirmed that these bombs existed.

But Meryon is better remembered as the first naval officer to retrieve secret documents from an enemy submarine. An incident that occurred on October 18 1940 when Meryon was only a 20-year-old sub-lieutenant in the destroyer Wrestler. Around 2100 hours, the Italian submarine Durbo was depth-charged to the surface and the crew immediately began to abandon ship. Wrestler came alongside and, as the Italians were coming up, Meryon led Acting Petty Officer Harold Brown and Stoker Petty Officer George Andrews down the ladder to Durbo’s darkened control room. The sea valves had been opened and the waters were rising. With Sub-Lieutenant Basil Wilson, who joined them from the destroyer Firedrake, they grabbed signal books and secret charts by torchlight. But after five minutes, they, too, had to abandon the sinking vessel.

Forty-six Italian officers and men were rescued, given dry clothes, food and cigarettes, and landed the same night at Gibraltar without knowing that their submarine had been searched. The captured charts revealed the presence of another submarine, Lafole, which was hunted and sunk two days later.

Meryon was awarded an immediate DSC, with which he was decorated at Buckingham Palace three weeks before his father, Edward Meryon, a naval constructor on the Clyde, received a CBE. The episode was kept so secret that it did not even appear in Captain Stephen Roskill’s official history, War at Sea.

Meryon finished the war as first lieutenant of Venus, one of five fleet destroyers of the 26th Flotilla which, early on May 16 1945, surprised and destroyed the Japanese heavy cruiser Haguro and her escorts in a classic night torpedo action.

After the war Meryon trained young sailors at HMS Ganges near Ipswich, and served in the destroyer Alamein, the carrier Indomitable and also the cruiser Sheffield.

After appointments to the Royal Naval Staff College, an air station and the Admiralty, Meryon commanded HMS Rooke at Gibraltar. His final appointment in the Navy was to CENTO headquarters at Ankara, where he developed an interest in archaeology.

Meryon lived for many years at Emsworth, in Hampshire. He died on March 9th 2005 and was survived by his wife Daphne and four children.

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