'Amazing' Wigan Second World War hero and country's last surviving submariner dies at 101

Moving tributes have been paid to a popular Second World War veteran who has died at the age of 101.

Wednesday, 22nd September 2021, 10:22 am
Updated Friday, 24th September 2021, 1:27 pm

Harry Melling, who lived in Newtown, was Britain’s last surviving submariner from the war.

Wiganers took him into their hearts after he was targeted by a callous thief four years ago and the veterans community made sure his wartime efforts were recognised.

His nephew Matthew Melling said he died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday, with his death coming as a shock to the whole family.

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Harry Melling

Matthew said: “He was an amazing man, loved by everyone he met because of his character, integrity, honesty, ability to make people laugh for his outspoken sense of humour and because he defined the word ‘gentleman’.

“As many people know, he was more than my uncle, he was the Man Of The World to me - an amazing role model not only to me but I think quite possibly most people he met over 101 years. Being the last surviving submariner having served for our country in the Second World War. He taught me what it means to be a man.

“With such incredible memories together, we look back fondly and treasure the times we spent together especially over the last few years.”

Mr Melling’s service between 1939 and 1945 was remarkable, with him and the other crew members of HMS Osiris serving in the Mediterranean, where they played a role in the allied invasion of Sicily and even travelled as far as Kenya.

Harry Melling

In an interview with the Wigan Post, he said: “The Mediterranean was a hot sea, it was far too busy and it was very dangerous. It was more or less only submarines operating there.

“However, it was a good life on board. I got to do things and see things I would never have normally done or seen.

“We had to go all round the south of Africa and then up to Kenya because it would have been too dangerous otherwise. I must admit for someone of my ilk to be going to the middle of Africa was an eye-opener. I was only in my early 20s so it was a real education.

“It was quite claustrophobic and the smell after diving was foul, although you got accustomed to it.”

Harry Melling meets Prince William

After the war, Mr Melling worked as a cobbler with his brother and father at Melling’s shoe shop in Newtown.

He married wife Gladys, who died around 20 years ago, and although he had no children, he was close to his nieces and nephews.

Matthew said he “idolised” his uncle Harry, visiting him twice a week and phoning every day, and they made some special memories together.

One of Matthew’s favourite memories was pushing his uncle’s wheelchair around the Wigan 10k course, where the “ladies’ man” enjoyed the attention they received.

He said: “I think everyone that met him will have a story that resonates with them. He brought out the best in everybody because he showed how good you can be by being honest and saying things how they are. That’s something he always did, whether it was politically correct or not, he said what he thought.”

The pensioner made national headlines in 2017 after he was the victim of a callous and cowardly attack. An intruder pushed him to the ground, pulled his trousers down and stole his wallet.

The veterans community rallied around, with £1,500 being donated to an online fund-raising appeal for him.

Command warrant officer Andy Knox was so moved by Mr Melling’s plight that he visited him in Wigan and invited him to a prestigious Gambit dinner marking 117 years of operations beneath the waves.

He was then invited to every major event organised by the tight-knit community of those who have served the country beneath the waves and rubbed shoulders with everyone including Prince William.

Last year he marked his 100th birthday in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic and a party at Wigan Armed Forces Hub had to be cancelled.

But Submarine Flotilla personnel presented him with crests from the two submarines he served on, mounted either side of a personal letter of congratulations from the head of the Royal Navy Submarine Service, Commodore Jim Perks.

Mr Melling celebrated his 101st birthday in April at Alexandra Grange care home in Newtown, where more than 500 cards were sent to mark the milestone.

Matthew said: “He’s been more than an uncle. He’s been like everybody’s uncle over the last few years, since everyone became aware of him. What everyone did for him after that was fantastic. He had so much support and it’s been phenomenal.

“Thank you everyone that has sent messages to me and to the family, including everyone from the Navy, Thank you everybody for everything you have done for us over the last 10 years.”

Plans are now being made for a funeral to be held on Friday, October 15, with details to be confirmed.

Matthew also hopes to create a permanent memorial for his uncle, with one option being a fund-raising run to buy a bench at Alexandra Park, where Mr Melling enjoyed walking.

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