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Survivor of U-boat attack is laid to rest in sunken battleship in which 800 of his comrades died
When three torpedoes from a German U-boat smashed in quick succession into HMS Royal Oak in the early hours of October 14, 1939, the result was devastating.
Within 13 minutes of the attack, she had exploded, rolled over and sunk – claiming 833 lives.
Just 375 crewmen survived. One of them was Fernleigh Judge, a 19-year-old Royal Marines bandsman who managed to scramble overboard into the freezing waters before being rescued.
In the ensuing years, he never forgot the shipmates who lost their lives on that terrible morning. And now he has had his dying wish fulfilled – to have his ashes laid to rest in the hull of the sunken vessel.
The wreck of the 29,000-ton battleship lies on the harbour bed at Scapa Flow, Orkney.
Mr Judge, who died from thrombosis aged 88 in May 2008, was desperate to return to the remote Scottish anchorage to pay final tribute to his fallen comrades.
But he was unable to make the 600-mile journey from his home in Peterborough.
After his death, close friend and neighbour Patrick Lyons arranged for him to receive the final farewell he wanted.
His ashes were buried by a team of Royal Navy divers from nearby Faslane submarine base. They took the casket down to the wreck as part of their annual dive to replace the ship’s ensign.
One of the divers, Able Seaman Billy Miller, placed the casket, wrapped in a small white ensign, through one of the portholes of the ship, which lies on its side around 90ft below the surface.
Mr Lyons, 74, who had known Mr Judge for more than ten years, said: ‘The Royal Oak was pretty much all Fernleigh spoke of for all the time I knew him.
‘He was haunted by memories of what happened and desperately saddened by the death of so many crewmates-He was too poorly to go back in person, so this was his only option.’
After the sinking of Royal Oak, Mr Judge served on the cruiser HMS Devonshire. He remained in the Royal Marines after the war as a bandmaster.
He had no living relatives in the UK after his wife Madge died in 2002, aged 81. His two sons and one daughter live abroad. Kenneth Toop, secretary of the Royal Oak Survivors’ Association, carried his ashes to Orkney.
Mr Toop, 85, said: ‘I was contacted by Fernleigh’s neighbour who asked me to make the burial happen. I was honoured to fulfil his wishes.’
Mr Toop joined the crew of the Royal Oak aged 15, just six weeks before it was sunk while moored at Scapa Flow. A U-boat under the command of Gunther Prien had managed to penetrate the harbour, despite the sunken block ships designed to prevent it.
Royal Oak was one of five Royal Sovereign Class battleships constructed between 1913 and 1917. It served in the First World War, taking part in the Battle of Jutland. It is now an official war grave.
*Articles that were submitted by “Jerry” Judge to the RN Memories web site can be seen here