WW2 veteran Roger Roberts returns to the water 80 years after surviving sinking ship
The social impact that we deliver across our centres nationwide and more broadly through our parent company, Places for People, is at the heart of what we do, and we are reminded of it daily.
Royal Navy veteran Roger Roberts’ recent story is a prime example.
During the Second World War Roger survived an attack on his ship, HMS Charybdis, when German torpedoes bombarded the vessel causing it to sin. At just 17 years old, he was left stranded in the English Channel before being rescued along with 107 other service men. Tragically, 464 lives were lost in the attack.
Reluctant to relive old memories, he hadn’t ventured back into the water since.
80 years on, at 97 years old, and one of only two survivors still alive – Roger pledged to return to the water as part of his bucket list since moving into Foley Grange in Worcestershire last year.
Care home staff got in touch with our Wyre Forest leisure centre after hearing about his inspirational story, to help him achieve his lifelong dream.
Staff members at our Places Leisure centre invited him down for a swimming lesson last week alongside his care assistant, Holli Whitehouse.
Roger, previously of Harborne, Birmingham, said: “I enjoyed the swimming lesson, but it was a lot of effort for someone of my age. I have to say though, the water was a lot warmer than it was all those years ago in the English Channel.”
“My motto in life is ‘never give up and keep going’ and that’s what made me want to get back in the water.”
Roger was born on April 12, 1925 and signed up to the British Army while still underage at 16.
He was given a shilling and sent home on a train after his sisters contacted the army recruitment team to inform them he was too young.
A year later, aged 17, he enrolled with the Royal Navy in 1943 as a Stoker and boarded the HMS Charybdis – a Dido-class cruiser launched in 1940.
Working in the engine room at the time of the strike, Roger was told to abandon the quickly sinking ship.
"There was ice in the water, and it was freezing. I was lucky. I was a good swimmer. We went into the water and had about two hours in the water trying to find planks of wood.
"We managed to scramble onto the planks and there were 60 men holding onto it. It was very hard. I managed to come out in one piece from the incident, but a lot didn't.
"You had to look after yourself as well as your friends and we all put our arms around each other and eventually we were rescued."
Roger first learnt to swim at primary school and went on to represent Birmingham in district competitions. After surviving the tragic attack, he married wife Adeline and they had one daughter, two grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Sadly, Adeline passed away five years ago. Roger added: “It was love at first sight with my wife and I have a photo of her on my wall in my room at the care home.”
Marilyn, 72, Roger’s daughter said: “I didn’t know about what happened to my dad during the war until I was about 20, as he rarely spoke about it.
“When I found out, I was so shocked. He was very lucky to survive and him and his friend John are now the only two living survivors from the catastrophe.”
Roger’s inspirational story reinforces the importance of learning to swim and the power of coming together as a community to make dreams happen.