Each year I write about Valentine’s Day in a less than romantic way. This year is no different…
In 1945, a load of MTBs (Motor Torpedo Boats) were docked in Ostend Harbour. It was the 29th flotilla, a fleet of small craft which patrolled the coast towards the end of the war. The next day they were due to take part in just such a patrol and so a lot of the crew were having a good time ashore…fortunately.
The ships were refueled and being watched over by a few sailors when suddenly there was a massive ‘woomph’ and the boats were suddenly engulfed in flames. No one knows what caused the sudden conflagration though suspicions centred around a dropped cigarette.
Of course, the biggest problem was that all the boats were fully armed with all manner of ammunition including torpedoes.
To quote Ken Forrester who witnessed the event:
Someone was running past me, so I ran while pandemonium was going on. Ammunition was exploding, torpedoes going off, pieces of flaming boats everywhere – Coastal Forces Veterans website
It was quite simply, awful. The boats were crewed by both British and Canadian sailors. The boats were British.
Of the 31 MTBs and other assorted craft moored in the harbour, 12 of the boats blew up and 62 sailors died. It was the “…greatest single loss of men and boats of Coastal Forces…” during the war. Or ever, I assume.
It took until 2003 for a memorial to be organised at Ostend but, finally, an unveiling took place and the awful tragedy commemorated. I wonder whether relatives gather on every Valentine’s Day to think about this terrible loss of life…or whether they go out for a romantic dinner.
This is one of those moments in the war that has been largely forgotten by all but, I assume, relatives of those involved. While supping on chocolates and drowning in wine, maybe we could spare a few thoughts for those poor sailors at Ostend who would never see another Valentine’s Day.